To date, there has been negligible attention given to what will be the ultimate fate of the approximately 2.3 million people living in the Gaza Strip enclave in Palestine. In response to the October 7 Hamas attacks, Israel, with the full backing of the United States, has undertaken a military campaign to destroy all infrastructure in Gaza, including homes, buildings, mosques, churches, hospitals and roads. Israel has decided to cut off all food, water, medical supplies and electricity for Gaza except for a minimal allowance of international aid through the border crossing from Egypt into Gaza.
So far, more than 22,000 people in Gaza have been killed in the war launched by Israel under the pretext of eliminating Hamas, and nearly all residents of Gaza have been forced to flee from their homes in order to avoid the relentless military campaign. Urgent action is required to prevent either of two catastrophic outcomes for Gaza: a Shoah or a Nakba. Shoah is the Hebrew word for catastrophe and refers to the Holocaust or the mass annihilation that the Nazis systematically carried out against European Jews. The other alternative for Gaza is the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians out of Gaza, which would constitute another Nakba. The Nakba, which is Arabic for catastrophe, refers to the ethnic cleansing of over 700,000 Palestinians that was carried out by Israeli and Zionist militias during the formation of the State of Israel.
Either catastrophe, whether it is a Shoah or a Nakba, would be a grotesque violation of international law and would rank among the top atrocities in modern world history. International law requires that Israel, as the occupying power, let the people of Gaza live and to integrate the Palestinians into Israel and be granted equal rights.
Background on Israel’s Support for Hamas
Israel helped to create Hamas, which is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, in order to undermine Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Diplomat Charles Freeman stated, “Israel created Hamas. It was a project of the Shin Bet, which had a feeling that they could use it to hem in the PLO.”
Israel supported Sheikh Ahmed Yassin by allowing him to establish mosques, schools and charities in Gaza. The mosques, charities and schools were used as recruiting vehicles and to support political organizing for Islamists. In 1978 the Israeli government formally licensed Yassin’s Islamic Association. In the West Bank and Gaza, Israel fostered the creation of local councils that were supportive of Yassin and the Muslim Brotherhood and were opposed to the PLO. Israel gave paramilitary training to up to 200 members of these Islamist groups and the Shin Bet recruited paid informants.
Israel regarded violence between Hamas and the PLO as beneficial. For example, Islamists and the PLO fought each other in West Bank universities. Israel’s military governor of Gaza in the early 1980s, Yitzhak Segev, stated that he was responsible for financing Hamas: “The Israeli government gave me a budget and the military government gives it to the mosques.”
In 1983, there was an incident in which critics of Yassin suspected that he was working for the Israeli Shin Bet. Israel arrested Yassin for ordering members of the Islamic Center to collect weapons and was sentenced to 13 years in prison. He was released after one year and claimed that the purpose of collecting the weapons was to combat other Palestinian factions instead of Israel.
Israel viewed Hamas favorably because its Islamist ideology was in opposition to the PLO’s Arab nationalism and could be used to undermine the PLO’s quest to establish a Palestinian state. Islamists opposed nationalism including the creation of a secular Palestinian state and, instead, were primarily focused “on the necessity of Islamizing Palestine and the Arab world.”
Martha Kessler, a senior analyst for the CIA, stated that “We saw Israel cultivate Islam as a counterweight to Palestinian nationalism.”
During the Palestinian Intifada in 1987, the PLO accused Hamas and Yassin of colluding with Israel and reactionary Arab regimes. Arafat asserted, “Hamas is a creature of Israel, which, at the time of Prime Minister Shamir, gave them money and more than 700 institutions, among them schools, universities, and mosques.” Arafat also said that former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin described Israel’s support for Hamas as a “fatal error.”
It is important to note that Israel has continued to support the existence of Hamas in Gaza to serve as a counterweight against the Palestinian Authority, despite the fact that Hamas has launched numerous suicide attacks against Israeli citizens and that Hamas and Israel have fought wars against each other in 2008, 2012, 2014 and 2021. Israel has also supported Hamas although the Palestinian Authority has recognized Israel since 1993 and seeks to create a Palestinian state based upon the pre-June 1967 borders alongside Israel, while Hamas has refused to recognize Israel and is considered to be a terrorist group by Israel, the United States, and the European Union.
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