James M. Wall, senior contributing editor of Christian Century, the house organ for mainline Protestantism in the United States, has returned to a common theme in his writings – the supposed reasonableness and desire for peace on the part of terrorist movements explicitly calling for Israel’s destruction. Previously, Wall downplayed the PLO’s hateful rhetoric toward Israel. Now Wall is working to gain acceptance for Hamas, which he recently described, along with Hezbollah, as a “Muslim non-governmental group.”
Wall’s ongoing habit of covering hateful rhetoric with a gloss of benign innocence is readily apparent in his Nov. 26, 2006 column titled “Give hudna a chance.” In this piece, Wall condemns the Bush Administration, Israel and the international community for isolating Hamas after it won control of the Palestinian Authority in January.
Like a bunch of bankers foreclosing on farms during the Great Depression, the quartet and Israel cut off funds to the new government. This is not the way a democracy is supposed to work.
Wall suggests that Israel, the United States and the international community have an obligation to financially support the Palestinian Authority regardless of the aims of those who controls it, and goes so far as to absurdly state that Hamas is like the the innocent and hapless refugees from the Dust Bowl rather than a group that has proudly admitted to murdering Israeli civilians in the pursuit of Israel’s destruction.
Wall also encourages the Bush Administration and Israel to respond to a proposal for a “long-term truce” or hudna recently put forth by Hamas. Quoting a New York Times column by Ahmed Yousef, a senior advisor to Palestine Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, Wall characterizes the hudna as a “legitimate and binding contract” that “extends beyond the Western concept of a cease-fire and obliges the parties to use the period to seek a permanent, nonviolent resolution to their differences.”
A concept that is derived from the Qur’an, writes Yousef, would be honored by Hamas as far preferable to military conflict because “war dehumanizes the enemy and makes it easier to kill,” while a hudna “affords the opportunity to humanize one’s opponents and understand their position with the goal of resolving the intertribal or international dispute.”
Will the U.S. and Israel listen? Or will they ignore the offer and press for a Palestinian civil war as the next step on the road to Syriana?
This passage is emblematic of Wall’s tendency to portray the intentions of rejectionist groups in the Middle East in the most in a benign manner while ignoring or downplaying facts that suggest patently hostile intentions toward Israel.
The evidence of Hamas’s enmity toward Israel is overwhelming. For example, in February – just after the group took control of the Palestinian Authority – Hamas posted a video on its website in which a suicide bomber expressed a desire to drink Jewish blood. “We are a nation that drinks blood, and we know that there is no blood better than the blood of Jews,” the bomber stated.
Wall also ignores statements denying Israel’s right to exist issued by Hamas in the weeks before the election that brought it to power. For example, in a debate with Palestinian Minister Muhammad Dahlan of Fatah, Mahmoud Al-Zahar (who currently serves as the PA’s foreign minister) asserted that Israel was an enemy.
Israel is not a partner, and we will not maintain security cooperation with it as [the PA]. We will not cooperate with it economically or in any other way. Our ally is the Arab and Islamic nation. …
We will not negotiate with Israel. …
Improving the situation will not come through collaboration with Israel. All our problems have come from Israel. (MEMRI, Jan. 25, 2006)
On Jan. 18, 2006, the Guardian quoted Zahar as describing Israel as a “foreign body” that will never be tolerated by Palestinians:
“It’s our land,” said Dr Zahar. “Nobody among our sons and grandsons will accept Israel as a legal state. … Israel is a foreign body. Not in this generation, not in the next generation, will we accept it here.” (Jan. 18)
And on Palestinian television, Zahar said:
We do not recognize the Israeli enemy, nor his right to be our neighbor, nor to stay [on the land], nor his ownership of any inch of land. … Our principles are clear: Palestine is a land of Waqf [Islamic trust], which can not be given up. (Jan. 17, translated by Palestinian Media Watch)
Hamas’s enmity toward Israel has not abated. On Oct. 6, Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniya reaffirmed Hamas’s refusal to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, telling a crowd of thousands of supporters at the Yarmouk soccer stadium in Gaza City “I tell you with all honest, we will not recognize Israel, we will not recognize Israel, we will not recognize Israel.” (New York Times, Oct. 7, 2006)
Nevertheless, Rev. Wall seems content to call on the U.S., Israel and the international community to view Haniya’s “hudna” as a step toward a permanent settlement of the conflict.
In addition to overlooking Hamas’s public refusal to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, he also ignores competing interpretations of hudna in Islamic tradition. Hudna is not necessarily the prelude to peace Wall suggests it is. In fact, there is ample evidence to support the notion that Hamas’s offer of a hudna is an attempt to stop the fighting long enough for the group to rearm. Egyptian-born journalist Magdi Allam offered this description of the concept of hudna to the Jerusalem Post in June 2006:
When [Hamas] talks only about a hudna it is actually saying that it doesn’t recognize Israel’s right to exist. It is not talking at all about peace and a just and permanent solution as we all want for the sake of the two people. But isn’t a hudna better than violence and bloodshed? What does a hudna mean? From an Islamic point of view the hudna only means a temporary cessation of war activities. It is based on the Hudaibiyah example when the Prophet Muha mmed preferred not to enter Mecca. He waited for one year to prepare new forces to invade Mecca and occupy it. This hudna does not mean recognition of the other side and its right to exist. It only means winning some time to prepare for achieving what they really want. When we examine Hamas’s ambitions we see that its constitution calls for the destruction of Israel and the establishment of an Islamic state based on the sharia law. (Empahsis added)
More recently, Khaled Mashaal, a Hamas leader currently living in exile, was quoted in the Jerusalem Post as stating that if its demands regarding Palestinian right of return were not met within six months, Hamas can still lead an Intifada despite its hudna offer.
The report notes that
… Mashaal’s words were backed up by Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who asserted that in all the time he had served as prime minister, he had never taken steps against Palestinian armed groups or prevented them from carrying out operations.
Speaking at a rally the al-Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria, Haniyeh said his government did not condemn resistance but embraced it.
He emphasized that the Palestinian people would not give up a “single grain of the land of Palestine, nor would it relinquish the right of return for Palestinian refugees.” (Jerusalem Post, Dec. 5, 2006)
All of this suggests there is real uncertainty over the meaning of hudna, but even if Wall’s more hopeful interpretation of its meaning – derived as it is from a Hamas spokesman doing PR for the organization – were to be authoritative, it still falls far short of the land for peace deal as detailed under UN Resolution 242 which Wall has invoked numerous times in his writings about the Arab-Israeli conflict.
This resolution calls on Israel to withdraw from territories taken in the Six Day War in exchange for a termination of “all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”
The hudna offered by Hamas, which according to Ahmed Yousef would require “an immediate end to the occupation” does not offer a termination of violence, but merely its postponement.
This is not the first time Wall has ignored or downplayed Hamas’s hostility toward Israel. In a piece titled “Dealing with Hamas” published on March 6, 2006 Wall penned the following passage:
In a post election analysis, Assam Tamimi, head of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought in London, quoted the words of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, who was head of Hamas before he was assassinated by an Israeli missile. Yassin had said that Hamas “shall never recognize the theft of our land, but we are willing to negotiate a ceasefire as long as a generation, and let future generations on both sides decide where to go then.
Wall’s dependence on Tamimi as is outrageous given his long history of calling for violence against Jews and the destruction of Israel. According to a translation by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) in 2004, Tamimi penned an article titled “A Stroll in Hell” in which he called upon the Arabs to open “the locked gates of Jihad.” Once the Arabs do this, Tamimi wrote, “the Jews who come back from the corners of the earth dreaming of the promised paradise will go back to where they came from.”
In October 2003 Tamimi admonished viewers of Al-Jazeera Television with the following:
“Don’t forget, in the long-term the outcome of this conflict isn’t about how many Palestinians die, it is about how many Israelis die. The Israelis can’t fight or match the willingness of the Palestinian people to sacrifice their lives.”
And in mid-2001, Tamimi said that Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders will be insufficient to settle the conflict permanently:
In the short term, only full Israeli withdrawal from all the areas occupied in 1967 and total evacuation of all Jewish settlements built in this area, may bring some peace – for a while – to the region. However, in the long term, Israel has no future, and the Jews who support Israel and Zionism, and especially those who have chosen to migrate to Palestine to occupy the lands and homes of the Palestinians, should reconsider their positions. Eventually, Palestine will return to the Muslims as it did after more than a century of occupation by the Crusaders about 10 centuries ago.
There is more. According to a MEMRI translation of an article published in an official Palestinian newspaper in 2000, Tamimi said of the Israelis: “Yes, behind them is only the sea, and either they get on boats to return from whence they came, or they will drown in the sea. This is Israel’s bitter end…”
In addition to downplaying the importance of Hamas’s hostile rhetoric, Wall also ignores acts of violence perpetrated and tolerated by the group during putative cease-fires. During the 12 calendar months before its electoral victory in January 2006, Hamas perpetrated, or took credit for at least five acts of violence against Israelis. These attacks include a mortar attack on Jan. 2, 2005, the detonation of a bomb at Karni Crossing (followed by attacks that killed six Israelis), a suicide attack in Beersheva on Aug. 28, 2006 and the kidnapping and murder of Sasson Nuriel of Jerusalem in September, 2005.
Wall’s most recent column follows a well-worn pattern evident in his writings about the Arab-Israeli conflict. Hateful rhetoric and violent acts by groups committed to the destruction of the Jewish state are downplayed and Israel is portrayed as an intransigent aggressor nation.