The Ideological Mystification of Palestinian Resistance

In the Zionist ideological architecture, any discourse on Palestine has to be prefaced by the question “Do you condemn Hamas?” The underlying rationale of this question is that anti-colonial violence is a symbol of “barbarism” that needs to be met with absolute contempt. In its place, we are enjoined to follow the path of “civilization,” which means asking the Palestinians to engage in a respectful dialogue with Israel. The difference between the two approaches is encapsulated in the respective status it accords to Israel: the violence of national liberation regards Israel as a colonial machine of brutality, while the notion of dialogue treats it as a partner in a conflict resolution process.


Ever since the initiation of the Oslo peace process in 1993, the mainstream Palestinian narrative – embodied in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) – has come to revolve around a narrow perspective that accepts the territorial partition of Palestine. The origins of the Palestinian question are to be located not in the Nakba inaugurated by the Zionist-colonial war of 1948 but in the 1967 war that led to the capture of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Consequently, the problem then becomes of establishing a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 borders, with the unstated assumption that Israel is interested in the creation of such an entity. The rhetorical criticism of Israel’s plan to formally annex Palestinian land always alludes to the viability of a two-state solution. However, this is hardly the case. According to former Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces Moshe Yaalon, “Israeli withdrawal to the perilous 1949 armistice lines…would not achieve peace – they would weaken Israel and invite war by denying the Jewish state strategic depth and topographical protection against Palestinian rocket and other attacks.”

Being a settler-colonial state, the actions of Israel are motivated by the aggressive logic of containing and destroying indigenous sovereignty. Whereas the international consensus thinks that the Israel-Palestine “conflict” is a result of a lack of reciprocal dialogue and an inability to compromise, Zionists have been clear that their ethno-nationalist state will inevitably encounter Palestinian resistance. Here, international law, mutual recognition, and economic and security cooperation have no relevance; what matters is the containment and destruction of Palestinian steadfastness and hope. In the words of the Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky:

My readers have a general idea of the history of colonization in other countries. I suggest that they consider all the precedents with which they are acquainted, and see whether there is one solitary instance of any colonization being carried on with the consent of the native population. There is no such precedent. The native populations, civilized or uncivilized, have always stubbornly resisted the colonists, irrespective of whether they were civilized or savage…Every native population, civilized or not, regards its lands as its national home, of which it is the sole master, and it wants to retain that mastery always; it will refuse to admit not only new masters but, even new partners or collaborators. This is equally true of the Arabs. We may tell them whatever we like about the innocence of our aims, watering them down and sweetening them with honeyed words to make them palatable, but they know what we want, as well as we know what they do not want. They feel at least the same instinctive jealous love of Palestine, as the old Aztecs felt for ancient Mexico, and the Sioux for their rolling Prairies…Every native population in the world resists colonists as long as it has the slightest hope of being able to rid itself of the danger of being colonized. That is what the Arabs in Palestine are doing, and what they will persist in doing as long as there remains a solitary spark of hope that they will be able to prevent the transformation of “Palestine” into the “Land of Israel.”

With Arafat’s return to Gaza in 1994 and election as the head of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in January 1996, Palestinian anti-colonial resistance was replaced by the anemic language of state-building. Based upon neoliberal conceptions of good governance, the Palestinian state came to center around law and order, rather than national unity or democratic praxis. Institution-building and fiscal transparency for the development of a viable private sector became more important than the decolonization of the apartheid system. The large bureaucracy of the PA became a tool for imposing local dominance over a constricted set of people and space, instead of functioning as a strategy for blocking Israeli settlement constructions, ending the separation of Palestine into non-contiguous units and inaugurating a national liberation dynamic. While a repressive police and prison system was created in Gaza and West Bank, no independent and transparent judiciary was set up. Given the PA’s entanglements in the Zionist reality of settler-colonialism, it found itself unable to mount a sustained challenge to Israeli power.

Toufic Haddad characterizes the Oslo peace process as a form of “political rent extraction”: through the provision of Western-backed economic rents (donor aid to the PA), imperialist powers aimed to de-radicalize the Palestinian movement and strengthen Israel as an outpost of Euro-Atlantic dominance in the Arab region. This, in turn, would help secure the conditions for a wider process of economic exploitation in the Arab region (oil extraction, unobstructed trade routes). Crucially, this project was dependent upon the PA “acting as a sub-contracted apparatus for the Israeli occupation on two main levels: “security” (of Israeli citizens, settlers, army etc.) and administrative, (be it with regards to health, education, basic services etc.)”. The Hamas government challenged this colonial arrangement by refusing to recognize Israel, Zionism, and the US-controlled peace process. It rejected the subcontracting of security functions and instead constructed a political, military, and social order dedicated to resistance. It developed alternative sources of supply to the Paris Protocol, which grants Israel significant control over Palestinian fiscal sovereignty. Lastly, Hamas restructured production, taxation, public resource deployment, agriculture, etc. to provide a modicum of economic relief to the people.

The Logic of Armed Resistance

Operation Al-Aqsa Flood was so traumatic for the Western liberal consensus because of the visible way in which it foregrounded the political vocabulary of resistance in the place of the technocratic jargon of negotiations. Hamas’ attacks have been perceived as an outburst of atavistic and anti-Semitic military violence, repudiating the much vaunted policy of reasoned dialogue. However, Hamas has itself affirmed in its 2017 charter that its belief in armed struggle arise not from primitive sentiments but from a concrete analysis of the Zionist project, which is settler-colonial in character: “Hamas affirms that its conflict is with the Zionist project not with the Jews because of their religion. Hamas does not wage a struggle against the Jews because they are Jewish but wages a struggle against the Zionists who occupy Palestine. Yet, it is the Zionists who constantly identify Judaism and the Jews with their own colonial project and illegal entity.”

The birth of Hamas on December 14, 1987, was the result of a change in the traditional Muslim Brotherhood policy of the Islamization of society, which aimed at “preparing the generations for a battle”. Now, in the midst of the First Intifada, a confrontational viewpoint was adopted, in which Islamists had to participate with other Palestinian factions in a general uprising against Israeli settler-colonialism. Thus, Hamas’s emergence was rooted in the repudiation of the illusion that normal ideological propaganda or Islamic cultural purity could disrupt apartheid. This attitude is reflected in Hamas’ governmental formation, which avoids any illusions of Palestinian sovereignty. In the words of a Gaza-based photojournalist working for Hamas-run Al-Aqsa TV: “For me the muqawama [resistance] is the most important. We are under occupation, and therefore we need resistance. We need a mixture [of government and resistance], but the military wing is the most important part. There is no other way…We don’t have a balance because of Israeli attacks. They have destroyed our infrastructure and prevent us from conducting proper governance. So, we are continually catching up. We are not progressing but ‘breaking even.’ [The] only thing people have is resistance.”

Instead of considering the October 7 attacks as an instance of ethno-nationalist savagery, it needs to be understood as an inevitable and justified response to a murderous occupation. The condemnation of Hamas ignores how the group functions as an outlet for Palestinian resistance after the exhaustion of peaceful methods (criminalization of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, brutal repression of the “Great March of Return” of 2018-19 etc.). According to a survey released on March 14, 2023, by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR), an increasing number of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, specifically 58%, express backing for “armed confrontation and Intifada,” a rise from 55% in June 2022. The poll indicates that support for the dissolution of the PA has increased to 52% from the previous 49%. Over the period from June 2022 to March 2023, backing for a two-state solution has decreased from 32% to 27%. The survey highlights that 74% of Palestinians now “believe the two-state solution is no longer practical or feasible due to the expansion of Israeli settlements,” an increase from 69% in just three months.

“Led by Hamas,” writes Asa Winstanley, “the armed factions in Gaza have become increasingly sophisticated, developing their own rocket technology to the point where they are able to strike targets over practically the entire territory of occupied Palestine (present day Israel).” The combination of rockets and a sprawling network of underground tunnels means that a ground invasion of Gaza has become a costly endeavor for Israel. This military strength also has a political dimension. Supported by the Axis of Resistance (Iran, Syria, Yemen, Hezbollah, Iraq), armed struggle functions as a symbol of unity. In 2021, during the ethnic cleansing of Sheikh Jarrah and the raids on Al-Aqsa Mosque by Israeli settlers, armed groups in Gaza sought to unite all Palestinians as well as the Arab world under the banner of occupied Al-Quds and Al-Aqsa Mosque. They threatened to strike Israel if it didn’t stop the attacks on Al-Aqsa. When Israel ignored the warning, Gaza began launching missiles on Tel Aviv and Palestinians living within Israel and the West Bank started attacking settlers. This chain of events connected Gaza, the West Bank and the 1948 Palestinians.


The condemnation of Hamas comes along with a moralizing standpoint in which armed resistance is decried as a futile method that will only anger and provoke the Israeli state. But the Israeli state will remain aggressive and brutal regardless of the way in which Palestinians behave. The central point is to conceive of Palestine not as a “side” in a symmetrical conflict but as an object of the unilateral bloodthirstiness unleashed by a settler-colonial state. Given this asymmetry in which Palestinians represent a completely eliminable people, it is essential to upend the sense of entitlement that enables Israel to embark upon brazen genocide. The Zionist state wants others to see it as a perpetual victim, which automatically leads to sympathy and the consequent legitimization of heinous acts. Israel is not a victim; it is an occupying power whose racist insularity prevents it from understanding how its wounds are self-inflicted. There is no safe or smooth way for the occupation of a people who don’t wish to be occupied. The maintenance of colonialism is a painful and unsustainable endeavor. Khaled Hroub remarks: “Hamas leaders say that Israeli society as a whole should pay the price of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, just as much as Palestinian society is paying the price for that occupation: fear and suffering should be felt on both sides.”

Expressing moral outrage at the deaths arising from Hamas’ attacks is supposed to denote a universalist morality. However, this universalism immediately tips over into the racist demonization of Palestinians as Islamist savages unable to comprehend the rules of civilized dialogue. Moralizing judgments lead to an imposition of our views upon others; they don’t reduce the distance between our status as external observers and the direct experience of those whom we are talking about. Instead of condemning Palestinian violence as unjustifiable, we have to step outside of our societies and try to understand a society in which apartheid, massacre, dehumanization and exploitation have rendered violence an absolute necessity. What we think about anticolonial violence is irrelevant; what is relevant is the structural logic that has produced such a form of resistance. Emad Moussa comments: “The calculus for most Palestinians…is straightforward. It is a choice between the heavy-priced armed resistance and the greater evil of national oblivion. Any option in-between – say by replacing self-determination and sovereignty with minimalist economic incentives, without ending the occupation – is unsustainable. It will always be a state of purgatory, neither here nor there, but nonetheless dehumanizing and continually on the verge of implosion.”

Yanis Iqbal is a student and freelance writer based in Aligarh, India. Read other articles by Yanis.