This June marks the 10th anniversary of the takeover of the Gaza Strip by the Palestinian group Hamas. After the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 the world saw an opportunity for Palestinians to achieve dignity, genuine self-determination and a better life through peaceful coexistence with Israel. Instead Palestinians under the rule of Hamas in Gaza have suffered oppression, hardship, war and deprivation. Political oppression in Gaza has been documented by Freedom House. Human Rights Watch has been unrelenting in its charges that Hamas has engaged in war crimes against Israeli and Palestinian civilians. The human rights situation in the West Bank under Palestinian Authority rule is also cause for serious concern, and has been documented by Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Eid among many others.
A few weeks ago Hamas released a revised version of its 1988 Charter, a document that defined the purpose and vision of Hamas as the violent destruction of the Jewish State of Israel. The new document no longer defines Hamas as “the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood,” perhaps an attempt at better relations with Egypt, which has banned the Muslim Brotherhood and imprisoned many of its leaders. The new charter also omits an odious claim in the 1988 document that Muslims are called upon by God to kill Jews. The document continues to state that the mission and purpose of Hamas is the violent destruction of Israel. There is scant mention of any obligations to the welfare of the almost 2 million Palestinians living in Gaza.
The document states that Hamas is willing to accept a Palestinian state based on “1967 borders” (the 1948 armistice lines), but this is not acceptance of the “two state solution,” which calls for a commitment to sustainable peace and coexistence between Israel and Palestine. Instead, Hamas remains committed to the violent destruction of Israel, stating that “resistance and jihad for the liberation of Palestine will remain a legitimate right, a duty and an honor for all the sons and daughters of our people…” The document refers to “Palestine, which extends from the River Jordan in the east to the Mediterranean in the west” and incorporates the entirety of what is now Israel into “Palestine.” The new charter is consistent with past calls by Hamas leadership for violence against Israelis. After the document was issued Hamas leaders publicly reiterated their intentions toward Israel.
We strongly recommend that all Presbyterians concerned about the human rights of Palestinians read this document, which is about 10 pages in length and can be accessed by clicking here. The PC(USA) has for years suffered intense lobbying by self-described “advocates of Palestinian rights” to demonize and pressure Israel, claiming that Israel can somehow “end the occupation” without Palestinian cooperation. Hard facts, and the new Hamas charter is a prime example, sharply contradict this narrative. Israel “ended the occupation” of Gaza more than 10 years ago. The Palestinians living there were not “liberated”, and have instead suffered greatly. Ending the conflict, not the occupation, will benefit both Palestinians and Israelis, and is the only real path to ending Palestinian suffering.
We have no quarrel with those calling for Israeli policies toward Palestinians to face scrutiny, yet how can one argue that the suffering of Palestinians under Palestinian rule somehow does not also matter? Palestinian suffering must end, and can only end when the many Palestinians who want peace and a better future for their families can speak freely and choose new leaders who will lead them to dignity and self-determination through peaceful coexistence with Israel.
The Palestinian people in the West Bank and in Gaza are today denied the freedom to choose their leaders and move forward. Without this fundamental right they remain tethered to the delusional, dead-end vision of groups like Hamas. We call upon the Presbyterian Church (USA) to recognize this, and reject and abandon malevolent movements, with the international Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement a prime example. The strategy of some within the PC(USA) of demonizing and delegitimizing Israel, while doing nothing to end Palestinian suffering, is an abject failure.