By Ray Hanania
There is, apparently, one benefit of being labeled a terrorist organization: It means you don’t have to be held accountable for your immoral leadership.
If only Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas had that problem, he would not be the target of so much criticism from the activist community. It is not surprising that activists dislike Abbas, as he is the leader of the mainstream political movement that signed the failed peace accords with Israel’s government.
Abbas had big shoes to fill when he succeeded Yasser Arafat, a Palestinian hero demonized incessantly by Israel’s supporters. Arafat made peace with Israel, but the fanatics on both sides did everything possible to undermine that peace, killing his Israeli partner Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and sending suicide bombers to target civilians.
But terrorists don’t have to be held accountable the same way that governments are. Hamas, for example, is the spearhead of a radical anti-peace movement that includes allies such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the extremist mullahs of Iran. The leaders of Hamas have used their base in the Gaza Strip to focus their opposition to Israel. And anyone in Gaza who challenges their iron-fisted rule pays the price, either being harassed and expelled or mysteriously killed. Journalists in Gaza who have exposed Hamas’ corruption have been vilified, bullied and silenced. You take your life in your hands by daring to challenge Hamas in Gaza and sometimes even in the West Bank.
Unlike Abbas, who is criticized for his policies of trying to work with Israel and overseeing an often overzealous political movement that violates the basic human rights of its citizens, Hamas is labeled as a terrorist organization. As a result, no one really wastes their time reporting on the bullying and harassment that has taken place in Gaza for years.
I have been to Gaza twice, first in 2000 and then again in 2007. Both times I met with Palestinian journalists. I know that they are afraid to speak about the oppression from Hamas, but can speak freely about Israel’s oppressive and violent policies.
So why do the activists criticize Abbas and the PA yet remain virtually silent when it comes to Hamas? Amnesty International has been very clear that the authorities in the West Bank and Gaza, the PA and Hamas, respectively, have engaged in policies that repress dissent, arresting demonstrators, opponents, critics, journalists and human rights activists. So why single out the PA and Abbas and be silent on Hamas?
The primary reason is that the PA was established through a peace process that the activists oppose. A secondary reason is that, while Abbas governs in an almost impossible situation, his government is not a true government at all, but rather one constructed by a broken system controlled by Israel — an apartheid state that discriminates against people based on religion and ethnic and national identity.
Last month’s killing of anti-Abbas activist Nizar Banat in PA custody was certainly disturbing. That is not how governments should work and there must be accountability. But it was easy for the activists to rally in outrage at Banat’s murder. It is not so easy or so desirable for them to rally against Hamas’ outrages.
The activists complain that the PA has used its forces to restrict protests directed at Abbas’ offices. Of course, any government is going to restrict protests at the office of the president. They do that everywhere. But you won’t see protests in Gaza against Hamas. Worse is that you won’t see the activists complain about the oppression and abuses of Hamas because to do so would undermine their own partisan agenda.
Certain activists support Hamas because it more forcefully opposes peace with Israel than the PA. They support Hamas because it is aligned with the same groups that fund the radical activists, from Hezbollah to Iran and their allies in between. They are silent on Hamas and critical of Abbas because it serves their political interests.
So, when the PA crosses the line when it comes to human rights — and I am not saying Abbas should not be castigated in such circumstances — the criticism is resounding. But when Hamas crosses that same line, the activists are silent or at least restrained.
This hypocrisy displayed in the way the activists target the PA and Abbas while closing their eyes to similar and much worse abuses by Hamas weakens the Palestinian drive for national empowerment and statehood.