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Recognising the real enemy in Gaza

By Jed Lea-Henry - posted Monday, 18 August 2014


‘Stockholm Syndrome’ is a condition by which the kidnapped, imprisoned or abused develop a positive emotional attachment to their hostage taker. The trauma of captivity and subjugation induces misdirected feelings of sympathy and self-identification with the very actions and agents that are imposing the oppression and captivity - a subconscious self-protection of the ego. The relationship between the civilian population of Gaza and their governing authority Hamas is best understood as an en masse expression of Stockholm Syndrome.

Despite how heavily one prefaces and footnotes ones language, It is impossible to make comment on any manifestation of the Israel-Palestine conflict without leaving committed supporters on either side feeling as if you have inexplicably excluded vital information. And by virtue of this, seemingly denied accurate context from which to make respective claims to justice. Due to this, it is worth approaching such issues in carefully.

Though by way of a brief and insufficient preface - the nature of Israel’s latest offensive in Gaza should be open to criticism and criminal investigation, just as their settlements in the West Bank, their illegal acquisition of a nuclear arsenal, their existential domination and control of both Palestinian populations, and their tacit reticence toward a two-state peace accord based on precise 1967 boundaries should be.

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Israel by no means represents a beacon of reason and peace within a region of hatred and violence, as its ardent proponents seek to portray it. However, the nature and severity of the current harm being suffered by the people of Gaza is predominately perpetrated by their own governing authority, Hamas.

To defer to the work of justice theorist Thomas Pogge, the current injustices within Gaza that are attributable to Israel amount to ‘interactional’ or ‘directly’ inflicted harm, whereas what is overlooked, and what is often considerably more pernicious, is ‘institutionally’ inflicted harm – and here Hamas is the single greatest enemy to the civilian population of Gaza.

Imagine yourself as a child whose house is surrounded by antagonistic and physically violent neighbours. Imagine your father is manifestly unable to protect you against their constant threats and physical assaults, while the local police force is unwilling or unable to assist your family. This is a tragedy and an intolerable injustice. Now imagine that your father becomes so obsessed with his personal failure and the perceived insult to his pride that, rather than seeking to achieve the best outcome for you and your family in spite of the less-than-ideal circumstances, he pursues with all your family resources a determined, yet impotent violent offensive against your neighbours. This in turn invites greater levels violence and suffering upon you and your family, by means of direct retaliation from neighbours in response to your father’s attempts at violence. It is impossible to view this situation without acknowledging that despite your neighbours causing you to suffer a continuing injustice (direct harm), your father also is similarly responsible for the nature and degree of your suffering (institutional harm) – this is the relationship Hamas has with Gaza.

Following a comprehensive, and appreciably free and open victory in the 2006 legislative elections, accompanied by a brutal militaristic assault upon their sister organisation Fatah, Hamas has existed as the governing authority for the people of Gaza. And importantly, it is the only significant power centre in the enclave.

From a government responsible for the well-being of a such a desperate and in-need population, you would expect Hamas to be primarily concerned with delivering humanitarian aid and economic development, and acquiring international assistance for such efforts – whereas the only sustained policy focus of Hamas has been on the surviving presence of the Israeli state.

Pathologically anti-Semitic to the point of holocaust denial, and constitutionally committed to destruction of the Israeli state and the death or expulsion of its entire Jewish population, Hamas publicly celebrated the September 11 terrorist attacks and later denounced the killing of Osama bin Laden. Such ideological posturing has seen the list of countries willing to support Hamas steadily degrade to the point of international isolation. This isolation effectively denies the citizens of Gaza access to the international assistance and investment that represents their best hopes for humanitarian relief and long-term development.

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And this is all within the context of economic decay in Gaza. After seven years of Hamas rule, the government is, by any measurable sense, bankrupt. Unemployment is over 40 percent, there has been a systemic and notable contraction in private enterprise, perpetual power shortages correspond to eight hours of blackouts daily, the majority of Gazan households are reliant upon humanitarian aid, over a third of all Gazans are living under World Bank designated poverty levels, and although statistically economic growth can occasionally seem promising, the long-term trend has been that of steady economic decline.

As a simple cost-benefit calculation, in terms of their explicit ideological commitments, Hamas collects significantly more political capital from the suffering of its own population, than from material improvements and increasing standards of living.

In the purely military context, it is easy to accuse Israel of war crimes or crimes against humanity due to the asymmetrical capabilities within the conflict. Through the work of German philosopher Immanuel Kant it is demonstrated that the relative morality of certain actions cannot be understood simply in terms of consequences – in this case, in terms of statistics indicating comparative causalities, injuries and material destruction. Rather, a consideration of the motivations and intentions behind the relevant actions is of central significance.

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About the Author

Jed Lea-Henry is an Australia born academic. After graduating from La Trobe University with majors in Political Science and Philosophy, Jed completed his post-graduate education in International Relations at Deakin University. His research has covered a broad range of topics, including humanitarian intervention, civil conflict, violence prevention, regional development and moral philosophy. Jed is currently an Assistant Professor in Humanities and Social Sciences at Vignan University, and the host of the Korea Now Podcast. You can follow his work, or contact him directly at http://www.jedleahenry.org/

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