As a means of narrative control, the Israeli government’s propaganda, and that of its allies, has desperately attempted to demonize and breed misconceptions about the nature of the Palestinian violent resistance to occupation.
Western governments (and Israel) and their media apparatus have for years attempted to conflate the Palestinian armed struggle with the terrorism of Daesh and Al-Qaeda, equating a national cause with a purely Islamic one.
Knowing that most people just don’t have the time to investigate the issue, often the Israeli propaganda line is to confine all Palestinian resistance as falling under the banner of Palestinian political party, Hamas. This creates an easy “they are Islamic terrorists, like the ones that did 9/11” card for the Israeli government and condemns all armed resistance from the occupied Palestinian population as “Islamic terror”.
The reality is, however, that for most of the history of the Palestinian armed struggle against Israel, secular groups have been at the forefront of resisting occupation, and Islamic groups are a relatively new trend. During the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s Islamic Palestinian armed groups were very few and far between and were all but unknown to the majority of the Palestinian people.
The most popular groups, historically speaking, were, or branched off of, the Arab Nationalist Movement (ANM) and Fatah. The Fatah Party, led by Yasser Arafat, famously led what became known as the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). Fatah used to be the single most popular Palestinian political party, which of course used its armed guerrilla fighters to attack Israel from countries such as Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. Back in the 50’s 60’s 70’s and even throughout the 1980’s the parties belonging to the PLO were called terrorists and treated by successive Israeli administrations as a group they would never negotiate with.
The ANM, was also secular and in fact one of its leaders George Habbash, a Palestinian Christian, later founded the notorious Popular Front For The Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The PFLP, which rivaled Yasser Arafat’s Fatah as the second most influential Palestinian political party, was and still is a group which largely follows Marxist values. The PFLP were perhaps the most loathed group of all by the Israeli government and still is. Clearly the “Islamic Radicalism” which Israel claims to be fighting, was never a problem with the PFLP, or if it was then Israel needs to re-define the term because it’s hard to believe many of the atheist members of the group are fighting for an Islamic State.
The reason religion only came into the question later, was to do with key pivotal moments in the Middle East and resistance to colonial/imperialist violence.
It is most important that we understand that the Palestinian movement is one which aims to liberate the country of Palestine from the Israeli settler colonial entity which has invaded it. The politics, strategies, and tactics of Palestinian political parties differ greatly, but they all agree upon one thing, they are there to fight occupation and create a Palestinian State.
The Hamas movement was created in 1987, its founder was a wheelchair bound man named Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. The group’s roots came from the Mujamma Islamiya, a social Islamic group which primarily was responsible for charitable acts and spreading Islamic traditions in the Gaza Strip. Hamas as an organisation only began engaging in a real armed struggle from the early 1990’s, when it established the al-Qassam brigades – its military wing – and never truly intended to head into politics the way it ended up doing.
Another now prominent Islamic group also formed in 1981 and is called Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), this organization has a large support base in Gaza now, but for some time was largely under the radar. PIJ largely stays out of politics and lets most of its actions be seen through Saraya al-Quds, its armed wing.
Hamas and PIJ are the only two prominent Islamic political parties in Palestine, the other major groups like the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), PFLP, PF-GC, Fatah and others are all secular. PIJ also has only a small following in the West Bank.
In the latest round of tensions between Israel and Gaza, last month, all Palestinian political parties came together to fight the Israeli government. However, I would bet that you have never heard about the secular nationalists, democratic socialists, marxist atheists, and others, all working with Islamic groups. All we heard was the “Hamas are firing rockets” and that’s it, then we are fed the outdated Hamas charter from the 1990’s and a slew of ridiculous “what if” scenarios which usually end up comparing Hamas to al-Qaeda and Daesh. Also another important point is, Hamas does not cut the heads of their victims, like some claim, and there are plenty of women in Gaza who don’t wear a headscarf and aren’t killed for it like the Western media would have you believe.
The Palestinian armed struggle is legitimate under the fourth Geneva convention, an occupied people have the right to liberate themself from under the rule of their illegal invader. Palestinians can only be viewed in two ways by Western media and even in many pro-Palestinian circles in the West, as terrorists or as victims, but never as a people with a just cause fighting a brave battle for freedom.
Palestinian society is extremely diverse and the ideology held by its people spans from far-left to conservative; many Palestinians are Christians and their are even many atheists. One thing, however, that all Palestinians share in common, is that despite their religion or political positions, they are all persecuted and suffer alike under Israeli Apartheid rule. The battle for Palestine is not about religion, or any specific view from right or left, but instead about an illegal foreign occupier and a native people’s battle against it, and their pursuit of human rights.