Rashid Khalidi: “Destroying Hamas as a political institution, as an idea, is impossible” | International

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Rashid Khalidi (New York, 75 years old), American historian and writer of Palestinian-Lebanese origin, specialized in the Middle East, admits that he has lived through better times, that the situation is difficult. He remembers the war that he suffered firsthand in Lebanon in the seventies of the last century, far from his current office at Columbia University in New York, where he teaches classes and from where he responds by video call. . He is affected because he has family in the Gaza Strip whom he lost track of; overwhelmed by media requests to analyze the escalation of violence between Israel and Hamas, but also by the pressure that the academic world in the United States suffers against those who criticize Israel: “It reminds me a little of the worst days after September 11 [de 2001]when there was a lot of Islamophobia,” Khalidi maintains with a vehemence that grows with each word, “as if he were in the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War.” The essayist presented the book last May in Madrid Palestine, one hundred years of colonialism and resistance (Captain Swing).

Ask. You closely follow what is happening in Palestine and Israel. Did you expect this escalation of violence?

Answer. No. I was as surprised as the Israelis. I must admit that I am not a current analyst; I'm not there. I was last in March and not in Gaza. I was in Jerusalem and the West Bank. But I didn't expect this escalation at all.

Q. Through his family, he has studied and lived through the wars between Arabs and Israelis since 1948 and the offensives in the Strip since 2006. Is this different?

R. It's something different. Palestinians remembering the trauma of 1948 [declaración del Estado de Israel y expulsiones de sus tierras] that their grandparents or parents experienced see what is happening in Gaza as a new chapter in the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. I hope those fears do not come true. I hope that people are not forced to leave Palestine, that they can return to their homes. But more than half a million, perhaps three-quarters of a million people, have already been displaced. My nieces-in-law have left Gaza City and I don't know where they are now. That brings to mind the memory of Palestinians who had to leave their homes many times, but especially in 1948.

Q. What was Hamas after with its attack in southern Israel?

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R. I don't know what's in the minds of the people who made the decision. The Hamas military commander spoke of ignoring the Palestinians, of Jerusalem, of the siege of Gaza, of prisoners. And he talked about Israeli settlements and the way settlers are expanding them with government support, harassing and attacking Palestinians, as well as repression in the West Bank. I don't know if they are the real reasons. The first, which is to ignore the question of Palestine, seems obvious.

There has been a process of normalization, of total absence of political horizon for the Palestinians. What are they told? More confiscations and thefts of their lands. More movement of people outside their homes. More repression, fewer rights and no self-determination or end to the occupation. This is what Israel offers. And that is what the United States pays and arms. That would seem an obvious motivation. And what happened in Jerusalem during the summer, when a thousand extremist religious settlers stormed the Temple Mount of Jerusalem to pray. They want to transform the third holiest site in Islam into a place of Jewish prayer. I don't say it, they say it. And they are doing it.

A journalist asked me if Hamas was trying to stop the normalization process between Israel and Saudi Arabia. I think they are trying to push to put Palestine back on the map. They have done? I don't think so. They care? I'm not sure. Now they are trying to roll back some of the atrocities that were committed [en el ataque a Israel]saying that there was chaos, that it wasn't them, that they didn't want to do it. There are photographs of fighters hugging babies. They realized something went wrong.

Q. Israel defends that it wants to eradicate Hamas forever, is it possible?

R. When Israel says that, it is using the term Hamas to refer, in reality, to the deaths of more than 3,500 Palestinians, most of them civilians. I think they would love to eradicate Hamas as a government, as a political, religious and cultural structure, and as a military structure. I don't think they can do the first two things. I don't know who can govern Gaza, but I don't think anyone else can take it on. Whether they kill all their leaders, whether they kill all the armed militants, they will remain there as a political force, even if the Israelis occupy or leave. So destroying Hamas as a political institution, destroying Hamas as an idea, is impossible. Annihilating its military capabilities is possible, but only to a limited extent and for a limited time.

Q. Can the Palestinian National Authority be an alternative in Gaza?

R. One of the big problems the Palestinians have is the lack of strategic thinking and young, inventive leadership. We have an old, corrupt leadership in Ramallah that is politically bankrupt, that has no ideas, that has defended a strategy that failed decades ago. It failed after [los Acuerdos de] Oslo [de 1993]. It failed before the Second Intifada. They have empty minds and most Palestinians hate them for being collaborators with Israel. They do not constitute an alternative for the Palestinians. Now this is what Israel would want, of course. Israel and the United States created this type of Authority.

That's not what the Palestinians thought they were going to do, what they intended [Yasir] Arafat and the PLO [Organización para la Liberación de Palestina]. But that has been the result for the last 25 years or more. And it's something Hamas can feel. You destroy a political alternative. They make it function as a security subcontractor for Israel, while stealing more land. After the 2006 elections, Hamas joined a coalition government that was willing to negotiate. Why did they join a coalition government? Why did they offer a 100-year truce? If they wanted to kill Jews, how could they kill Jews in a 100-year truce?

That was a door that the United States, Europe and Israel slammed shut and did everything possible to disrupt that Government. If you can't go to the International Criminal Court or do BDS [boicot a productos israelíes] and you can't protest non-violently because you're being shot in the Gaza Strip or in Ramallah, so you pick up a gun. It doesn't seem very difficult to understand, but of course we don't want to know that story; We don't want your bloodthirsty murderous terrorists. They kill babies, women and children. They are pure evil. There is no story.

Q. Hard to talk about history these days when the narratives are so harsh.

R. Impossible. How can you talk about context when you're talking about pure evil? You know this is a Manichean worldview. It is the inquisition against heretics; Good against evil. There is no conversation. There is no discussion. There is no background. There is no story in that kind of black and white situation. And that is what this Administration [de Joe Biden] has created in the United States and Western governments are creating in the United Kingdom, France and elsewhere.

The writer Rashid Khalidi, during an interview conducted at Casa Arabe, in Madrid, last May.Santi Burgos

Q. The US has once again shown its strong support for Israel. You live there. Did you expect anything else from Biden?

R. I believe that Biden, at least until October 7, was one of the most pro-Israel presidents in US history. He has always been guided, like other US presidents, by electoral calculations. What will get me re-elected? But even given those facts, his unconditional commitment to Israel, his willingness to grant enormous advantages to [Benjamín] Netanyahu, who insulted him and who has alienated most of his own people and most of the American Jews who offered to meet with him, has surprised me at what level he has adopted an Israeli narrative. I can speculate on the reasons, but I think he went further than he expected.

Q. Has Biden achieved anything with his trip to Israel? Maybe delay the ground assault?

R. I think Biden's trip was intended to accomplish two or three things. One is to ensure that there is no escalation involving Hezbollah and Iran. Biden cares about the election. If he is held responsible for starting a war in the Middle East, he will lose the election and he knows it. Any escalation involving Iran or a major expansion of the conflict between Hezbollah and Lebanon will sink Biden in 2024. The second goal is to remove the American hostages and, ideally, remove more hostages. And the third thing is to allow some humanitarian aid.

Q. That seems to have been achieved.

R. It may happen, perhaps, at some point. I think he was also giving the Israelis time not to launch the offensive while he was in Israel. I don't think they're ready for that; that they know exactly what they want to do. Biden's visit may have been designed to help change that. Because part of the trip was towards the United States.

Q. If Israel eventually reoccupies Gaza, what would it mean for the Palestinians?

R. It would inflame the resistance. They can kill, they have killed about 3,500 people. They will kill more. They will empty part of the northern Gaza Strip. If Israel stays, there will be resistance. Another thing Biden was trying to tell the Israelis is not to occupy. He said it publicly before leaving. They don't want it, unlike the Israelis, who are blinded by anger and the desire for revenge. One of the things the US is trying to do is convince these people to come back to the land. What are you doing after occupying Gaza? Did it go well the first time? Bring in five veterans of the occupation of Gaza from 1967 to 2005 and let them tell you what it will be like. It will be five times worse. And I am sure that some military on the Israeli side and some intelligence personnel, as is often the case, will side with the Americans against the politicians in the field of war.

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