ST. LAWRENCE PROFESSOR SAYS HAMAS VICTORY 'NO SURPRISE'
The comments below reflect Professor Collins' scholarship
on this topic.
CANTON -- The Hamas election victory in Palestine may have caught many Americans off
guard, but according to an expert at St. Lawrence University, it was not at all
"To anyone who's been following the situation closely," says Assistant Professor of
Global Studies John Collins, "it's hardly surprising. Indeed, given that the Israeli
occupation has been going on for nearly 40 years, and the dispossession of the
Palestinian people for nearly 60, it's a wonder that more Palestinians didn't turn to
Collins is the author of the 2004 book Occupied by Memory: The Intifada Generation and
the Palestinian State of Emergency. He says that one of the reasons Americans have
such trouble understanding the election outcome is that "there is a tendency in
this country to view the conflict between Israel and Palestine almost exclusively
through the terms provided by the Israeli side. This is why we hear so much about
Hamas needing to 'renounce violence,' but nothing about Israel needing to renounce
the things that lie at the root of the entire conflict, including the rejection of
Palestinian rights, the creation of settlement colonies and the occupation of
Palestinian land. If you view Israeli violence as inherently legitimate, then of
course you're going to see Hamas as an obstacle to peace. But if you look at
things from the perspective of the weaker and more victimized party, the Palestinians,
you see that the primary obstacle remains the occupation."
What might help us understand, according to Collins, is trying to imagine ourselves
in the Palestinians' place. "Imagine how Americans would react if their land was
taken from them in order to give another people a homeland," he says. "After decades
of being dispossessed, living in refugee camps, watching more land being taken every
day, suffering high levels of violence and poverty, and feeling generally abandoned
by the world, surely Americans might consider turning to more violent and
confrontational means to liberate themselves from this kind of existence."
Collins also says that there are additional reasons for Hamas' rise in popularity.
They include "disenchantment with Fatah cronyism and corruption, appreciation for
the social services that Hamas provides, and, among a smaller segment of the
population, a genuine desire to pursue Islamist politics at the national level."
Co-editor of a 2002 book of essays titled Collateral Language: A User's Guide to
America's New War, Collins also points out that the terms used to describe the
conflict have an influence on how Americans feel about it.
"Discussion of the conflict almost never includes the word 'colonization,' even
though most of the world knows that is exactly what's going on," he says. "You don't
even hear the word "occupation" much any more. What this shows is that Israel and
its allies in the Bush administration have succeeded in controlling the terms of
debate. They have succeeded in applying the categories of the "war on terrorism" and
deflecting attention away from the Palestinians' right to resist occupation."
Further, Collins says, "I think it's important to remember that U.S. and Israeli
leaders use these terms for their own political benefit. The terms that Palestinians
use are much more in line with the international consensus on the issue, that the
occupation must end completely, that the settlements are illegal and that no one
has the right to tell Palestinians to be complicit in their own oppression."
Posted: January 27, 2006