There have been too many comments from Israeli political, military and religious leaders suggesting that all Palestinians are legitimate targets because they support Hamas or that they voted for them and are, therefore, complicit in the group’s many crimes. Here are a few examples of the comments:
The President of Israel, Isaac Herzog, said: “It is an entire nation out there that is responsible. It’s not true this rhetoric about civilians not aware, not involved. It's absolutely not true.”
An Israeli Knesset member, Meirav Ben-Ari, said: “The children of Gaza brought it upon themselves.”
And the Israeli Minister of Defence, Yoav Gallant, described the current war: “We are fighting human animals.”
Statements of this kind, in which an entire group of people are demonised or seen as responsible for the actions of a few, are sheer bigotry. This is the very same racism that when applied to other groups (such as Jews, blacks, or Native Americans) has led to pogroms, persecution or genocide.
In the first place, it’s important to note, as I do in my book Palestinians, the Invisible Victims: Political Zionism and Palestinian Human Rights, political Zionism has long promoted this view of the indigenous people of Palestine as less civilised, more violent and less worthy than the settler movement that sought to displace them.
Theodor Herzl, the Austro-Hungarian Jewish journalist and political activist, termed his project as “an outpost of civilisation against barbarism”. This was echoed by Chaim Weizmann, the first president of Israel, who appealed for support from the West by describing the Zionist/Arab struggle as one between “the forces of destruction and the desert and the forces of civilisation and building”.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has used similar dehumanising rhetoric. Just last week, in the Knesset, he described the ongoing conflict as being between 21st century progress and “the barbaric fanaticism of the Middle Ages” and a “struggle between the children of light and the children of darkness”.
Over the years, Israeli political and religious leaders have also referred to Palestinians as “cockroaches that should be crushed” or “snakes that should be killed”. It is true also that some Arabs make derogatory and unacceptable comments about Jews.
But that said, what about the claim that “all Palestinians support Hamas”. As we at Arab American Institute frequently poll across Palestine and Israel, we have data that can debunk that characterisation.
In our last poll in Gaza (July 2023), of 1,200 Palestinians, only 11 per cent identified themselves as Hamas supporters – as opposed to 32 per cent who said they were with Fatah. Eleven per cent hardly constitutes “all Palestinians”.
As for the claim that Palestinians voted for Hamas and are therefore culpable for their behaviour, this is the same dangerous generalisation that holds all Americans responsible for the actions of the US government, or that holds all Israelis, or Jews, responsible for the atrocities committed by the government of Israel. But more to the point, most Palestinians didn’t vote for Hamas, and those who did, didn’t vote for them for the reasons being suggested.
In our 2006 poll, the Fatah margin over Hamas in Gaza was 34 per cent to 29 per cent. If that’s the case, then how and why did Hamas win the 2006 legislative elections?
In the first place, the Hamas margin of victory in that year’s election was only 44 per cent to 41 per cent. Hamas took control of the legislature because of the way seats were apportioned and because of divisions in the Fatah ranks. Next, while “pundits” say Hamas won because of the PA’s corruption, polling tells a different story.
The outcome of the 2006 election was shaped by a classic “throw the bums out” message. Both parties, Fatah and Hamas were viewed as equally corrupt. In any case, corruption wasn’t the main issue in that election. Because Palestinians had lost hope in peace and the achievement of an independent state, they identified their most important concerns as the release of the thousands of Palestinians who were in prison and the need for internal security.
Interestingly, when we asked them if the prospects for negotiating peace with Israel were dependent on the outcome of the election, a strong majority (including 70 per cent of Hamas voters) said they would choose Fatah. But peace wasn’t in the offing and they knew it.
So instead, what voters said to the incumbent Fatah was: “You’ve been in office for 10 years and gotten nothing from Israel – no state and no peace – so let’s see what the other guys can do.”
To go from this to justifying killing innocent Palestinian civilians because “all Palestinians are Hamas” and therefore responsible for their actions is both racist and unsupported by facts. It is the same despicable logic used by those who justify killing innocent Israelis because of the hideous actions of their government and military.
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