When Hamas launched its offensive into Israel, appalled by the butchery and the human toll it would bring on, I tried to pierce through the fog of war, through all the fear and all the loathing, and to focus instead on what could end the endless cycle of inhumanity. What was its root cause? Hamas? The Israeli settlers? Netanyahu? The Palestinian Authority? Israelis? Palestinians? No. While all of the above are actors in a vile drama, they are not its author, its creator. Who, or what, is?
My answer: The decade-long construction of a permanent, ironclad Apartheid. Apartheid IS violence! That’s the root cause of the endless violence. And, so, my first comment immediately after the brutal Hamas Offensive (on 7th October) read thus: “The path to ending the tragic loss of innocent lives – both Palestinian and Israeli – begins with one crucial first step: the end of the Israeli Occupation and Apartheid.”
On 8th October, during an interview in Berlin (click adjacent icon and read the full text below), I refused to condemn either Hamas or the Israeli settlers committing atrocities across Israel-Palestine. Instead, I condemned us, Europeans and Americans, as the true villains who, for decades, we stood idly by while the underlying cause of these atrocities, Apartheid, became a fait accompli.
Why did I not take the easier route of, on the one hand, condemning Hamas and, on the other, championing the rights of Palestinians? Because I wanted to make the point that it is we, Europeans and Americans, who must be condemned. Because it is we, Europeans and Americans, who, with our patronisingly ritual moralistic condemnations (whether one-sided or equidistant), have been making Peace impossible in Israel-Palestine.
Let me explain why I say this. Why do I condemn us, Europeans and Americans, rather than Hamas, settlers, Netanyahu or any of the other actors in this drama? Because we have allowed our governments to allow successive Israeli governments to believe that, instead of a Peace Treaty, Israel can contain the Palestinians behind fences and a whole architecture of Apartheid either to keep them there as sub-humans or to cause them gradually to leave for distant lands. Because we have allowed Israel to force upon Palestinians a cruel dilemma: Either die a terrible, silent, gradual collective death or take up arms and, often, take with them innocent people.
How are we, Europeans and Americans, allowing this? We allow this by keeping dead quiet when Palestinians are suffering killings, evictions, war crimes. By dismissing Israeli war crimes (like those committed now that Gaza is being turned into a parking lot) as “inevitable”, as Acts of God – like a Volcano erupting as is its wont, as its nature dictates. And by issuing stern condemnations of Palestinians, calling them ‘animals’ and ‘savages’, when some of them lash out violently, brutally, in response to the slow genocide the Apartheid state is calculatingly foisting upon their families and communities. This stance of ours, with our ritualistic condemnations of Palestinian violence and acceptance of Israel’s right to commit war crimes in self-defence, is the perfect gift to the extremists on both sides: Hamas love us for it, since we confirm Western indifference to Palestinian suffering. Settlers and Netanyahu, on the other side, also love us for it, since it us a green light to reinforcing their Apartheid and ethnic cleansing program.
“But, Yanis”, friends and foes ask me “do you not have a moral duty to condemn Hamas’ atrocities?”
My answer to friends is unequivocal:
There is nothing that can justify deliberate violence against non-combatants. Attacking Israelis at a rave is wrong, bombing Palestinian hospitals is wrong, abducting Ukrainian children is wrong, torturing Russian prisoners is wrong… In fact the nationality, the identity, of the victim or of the attacker is utterly irrelevant. Either targeting innocents is ALWAYS wrong, no matter who does it, or you are indulging in selective outrage (e.g., Ursula von der Leyen) which is tantamount to excusing your side’s war crimes while strongly condemn the other side’s war crimes. This is the end of ethics, the end of any chance of International Law worth its name.
My answer to defenders of Israel’s right to impose Apartheid is also unequivocal:
If you did not condemn Israel’s killing of unarmed journalists, doctors and children, you lost the right to condemn Hamas’ atrocities now. The Geneva Convention on war crimes either applies to everyone or no-one. And anyone invoking it against the weak while exempting the powerful is committing an obscenity.
In summary, those who demand from me a condemnation of Hamas or of Israeli Settlers or of any of the belligerents in Israel-Palestine will not get it: Because such ritualistic condemnations by us, Europeans and Americans, throw fuel into the fire – they are part of the problem, not the solution. What we MUST do I explained in that controversial interview:
“This incredible tragedy must be converted into an opportunity for us Europeans [and Americans] to wake up and to redeem ourselves by demanding that we collectively take the first decisive step toward Peace. And that is the destruction of the state of apartheid. Just like we did in South Africa.”
In summary, it is precisely because I am appalled by the never-ending cycle of atrocities perpetrated by both sides that I refuse to participate in ritualistic selective moral outrage along with those who strategically turn a blind eye to the source of all atrocities: Israel’s Apartheid.
Frequent, pressing questions
Surely, Israel is nothing like South African Apartheid and Hamas is nothing like Mandela’s ANC!
Nelson Mandela was never in doubt that Palestinians lived under Apartheid. [He also knew well that Israel was, openly, the best ally of the White Supremacists in Pretoria.] Desmond Tutu, a hero of the anti-Apartheid movement in its place of origin, understood it also – and articulated it beautifully.
Hamas is of course nothing like the ANC. [I never said it was.] But Israel’s Apartheid is modelled on the Apartheid the ANC fought. The simple point here is that Apartheid (South African or Israeli) IS violence and, thus, begets violence. And the only way to stop violence is to end Apartheid – not moralistically to condemn violence while turning a blind eye to Apartheid.
Is Israel not engaged in a war for its very existence?
No, it is not. Israel is a nuclear-armed state with perhaps the most technologically advanced army in the world and the panoply of the US military machine (including aircraft carriers at the ready) having its back. There is no symmetry with Hamas, a group which can cause serious damage to Israelis but which has no capacity whatsoever to defeat Israel’s military, or even to prevent Israel from continuing to implement the slow genocide of Palestinians under the system of Apartheid that has been erected with long-standing US and EU support.
Are Israelis not justified to fear that Hamas wants to exterminate them?
Of course they are! Jews have suffered the Holocaust which was preceded with countless pogroms and a deep-seated antisemitism permeating Europe and the Americas for centuries. It is only natural that Israelis live in fear of a new pogrom if the Israeli army folds. However, by imposing Apartheid on their neighbours, by treating them like sub-humans, the Israeli state is stoking the fires of antisemitism, is strengthening Hamas and, in the end, contributes to the awful insecurity consuming Jews in Israel and the Diaspora. Apartheid against the Palestinians is not the Israelis’ best defence – to put it mildly.
What about antisemitism?
It is always a clear and present danger. And it must be eradicated, especially amongst the ranks of Palestinians fighting for their civil liberties – as well as from the hearts and minds of their supporters in the rest of the world. For my take on Antisemitism, please see this.
Do I condemn Hamas’ atrocities?
I condemn every single atrocity, whomever is the perpetrator or the victim. What I do not condemn is armed resistance to an Apartheid system designed as part of a slow-burning, but inexorable, ethnic cleansing program.
So, do I think that what Hamas did a week ago is a legitimate act of resistance? Or ‘just’ a criminal atrocity?
Breaking out of the illegal Fence, and battling with the Israeli army that is caging Palestinians in, was not an atrocity. Killing civilians (old or young) was a repugnant atrocity. Like in every war, war crimes are indefensible.
Why don’t Palestinians pursue their objectives by peaceful means?
They did. The PLO recognised Israel and renounced armed struggle. And what did they get for it? Absolute humiliation and systematic ethnic cleansing. That is what nurtured Hamas and elevated it in the eyes of many Palestinians as the only alternative to a slow genocide under Israel’s Apartheid.
What should be done now? What might bring Peace to Israel-Palestine?
An immediate ceasefire. The release of all hostages (Hamas’ and the thousands held by Israel). And a Peace Process, under the UN, supported by a commitment by the International Community to end Apartheid and to safeguard Equal Civil Liberties for All. As for what must replace Apartheid, it is up to Israelis and Palestinians to decide between the Two-State Solution and the solution of a Single Secular State. [For what it is worth, DiEM25’s position, which was reached after a long and energetic debate, was that the Two-State solution is now obsolete and a Single State with Equal Civil Rights for All is the most realistic solution. See this.]
“Those who try very hard to extract from people like me, from DiEM25, a condemnation of the attack by the Hamas guerrillas will never get it. And they will never get it for a single reason. Those who care about humans without discrimination, who care equally for a Jew and an Arab, must ask themselves a very important question: What exactly is their idea of the cessation of hostilities? That Palestinians are going to lay down their arms and go back into the largest open-air prison in the world where they are constantly suffocated by the Apartheid state? In other words, back in South Africa in the era of Apartheid, what was the problem? Was it that some members of the Black Resistance, including the ANC but not only the ANC, took up arms against the South African regime and sometimes killed innocent people? No, that was not the problem. The problem was Apartheid. Apartheid, whether it is practised in South Africa or in Palestine-Israel, is always going to procure violence because it is a violent, misanthropic system. Any human being living on the wrong end of Apartheid will either die a terrible, silent death or rebel and, often, take with them innocent people. The criminals here are not Hamas, not even the Israeli settlers who are killing Palestinians. The criminals are us, Europeans and Americans. Every single member of our German society, our French society, our Greek society, the United States society. We have participated in this crime against humanity over the decades by keeping our mouths shut as long as there is no trouble down there. As long as people are dying outside the reach of cameras. As long as it is Palestinians who are dying and not the occupiers. So, this incredible tragedy must be converted into an opportunity for us Europeans to wake up and to redeem ourselves by demanding that we collectively take the first decisive step toward Peace. And that is the destruction of the state of apartheid. Just like we did in South Africa.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=avtX-CWmVG8