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‘To Fight is to Exist’: Hamas, Armed Resistance and the Making of Palestine



It is not a particularly novel academic endeavour to explore Hamas’ armed resistance. Nevertheless, this essay contributes to the conversation by deliberating on the organization's military faction through the stories my informants told of their experiences and memories of resistance. With these stories in mind, I argue Hamas’ resistance is revered among Palestinians because of its ability to unmake and make for the Palestinian struggle. Hamas’ armed struggle, while incapable of defeating Israel, minimally unmakes by rendering its victims fearful and by challenging the viability of maintaining the occupation. In doing so it exacts far greater human and material costs from Palestinians than it does from Israelis. Nonetheless, I argue resistance makes by allowing each act of resistance to be named as a Palestinian act of resistance and its tragic repercussions as an occasion of Palestinian suffering. In this way, while an occupation is perceived by Palestinians as an effort to efface their legacy of existence from their historic homeland, violence permits the colonized to arrest this process of unnaming by ensuring that Palestine and its inhabitants’ Palestinianness are recognizable both to their adherents and their adversaries.
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‘To Fight is to Exist’
Somdeep Sen
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Hamas, Armed Resistance and the Making of Palestine
Somdeep Sen
University of Copenhagen, Denmark
armed resistance
It is not a particularly novel academic endeavour to explore Hamasarmed
resistance. Nevertheless, this essay contributes to the conversation by
deliberating on the organizations military faction through the stories my
informants told of their experiences and memories of resistance. With these
stories in mind, I argue Hamasresistance is revered among Palestinians
because of its ability to unmake and make for the Palestinian struggle.
Hamasarmed struggle, while incapable of defeating Israel, minimally
unmakes by rendering its victims fearful and by challenging the viability of
maintaining the occupation. In doing so it exacts far greater human and
material costs from Palestinians than it does from Israelis. Nonetheless, I
argue resistance makes by allowing each act of resistance to be named as a
Palestinian act of resistance and its tragic repercussions as an occasion of
Palestinian suffering. In this way, while an occupation is perceived by
Palestinians as an effort to efface their legacy of existence from their
historic homeland, violence permits the colonized to arrest this process of
unnaming by ensuring that Palestine and its inhabitantsPalestinianness are
recognizable both to their adherents and their adversaries.
interventions, 2017
Vol. 19, No. 2, 201217,
Somdeep Sen
© 2016 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
What muqawama or resistance provides for a populace striving for liberation
was rst made evident to me on a late Friday afternoon in June 2013 when
Bahaa gave me a tour of Rafah. As we negotiated its trash-lled streets,
sites of former Jewish settlements and the numerous resistance training
grounds that dot this destitute border town, Bahaa recounted his life in a ter-
ritory that was under direct Israeli military occupation until 2005. While his
anecdotes largely conrmed the image of Gaza as a canvas of Palestinian
hopes dashed and rights denied, it was Bahaas account of being trapped
with two thousand other Palestinians at the Egyptian terminal of the Rafah
border crossing during the 20062007 civil war that towered above the
rest. Having described the trauma and experience of captivity under the
watchful gaze of the Egyptian army, he continued:
The day that we were freed one of these masked Qassam
guys came over the wall
and red two shots. Then the gate blew up and ve to six black jeeps pulled in. They
told the Egyptians sorry, but we cant keep our brothers and sisters suffering. They
then asked the Egyptians to put all the passports in a box and told the Palestinians
that if they wanted their passport, they should follow them. (Author interview, Gaza
Strip, June 2013)
I responded, Its like a movie isnt it?Bahaa laughed: It was.
What is particularly interesting about this anecdote is that despite Qassam
ghters having exercised minimal violence during the rescue operation, it
stands formidably as a tale of the poetic allure and cinematic potency
imbued in the mere exhibition of the ability to kill. Violence, as a phenom-
enon, is often perceived as a breach of moral and ethical codes and therefore
deemed illegitimate, unacceptable, irrational and bestial (Riches 1986,12).
But imagining the balaclava-wearing ghters, gun in hand, rescuing stranded
Palestinians from a condition of utter destitution, to me, didnt evoke a sense
of illegitimacy. Instead, in Bahaas account, the gun was recounted as
embodying a palpable goodness that, with cinematic air, appeared at a
time of crisis and was able to remedy the preceding narrative of suffering.
Of course, the goodness of violence in this story isnt one I had experienced,
but was related to me by my informant. To be sure, while conducting eld-
work, I was never witness to Palestinian resistance activities and therefore
am not able to provide a factual account of its violence. However, through
my ethnographic encounters, what I was able to gather were stories my infor-
mants much like Bahaa told of their experience and memories of resist-
ance. In this essay it is through these stories that I deliberate Hamasrole as
an armed resistance and explicate the manner in which its muqawama has
a life and nds meaning on the path to Palestinian liberation.
1 Hamasarmed
interventions 19:2 202
In proposing a study of Hamasarmed resistance I draw on, and speak to,
an already vibrant collection of scholarly works that have explored both the
signicance of an armed struggle to the Palestinian quest for statehood
(Sayigh 1997) and the importance of heroism and martyrdom to the Pales-
tinian national being (Khalili 2007; Matar 2011). These works can be placed
alongside studies on Hamas (Gunning 2007; Jensen 2009) that delineate the
organizations genealogy and rise to prominence within the Palestinian pol-
itical landscape. Drawing on the ethnographic data I collected in the Gaza
Strip, the West Bank, Egypt and Israel between 2013 and 2014, I contribute
to this discussion by beginning my deliberations with the story of violence as
was inscribed into the Palestinian struggle by my informants. Subsequently,
with these stories in view, I argue Hamasresistance nds relevance and
reverence for colonized Palestinians in light of its ability to unmake and
make. Returning to Bahaas anecdote, one could contend that while a
display of the ability to kill at the border crossing didnt dismantle the block-
ade of the Gaza Strip, albeit momentarily and minimally it unmade the con-
dition of suffering when Qassam ghters rescued the stranded travellers.
Similarly, while Palestinians nd themselves stranded in a settler colonial
condition since the Nakba (Collins 2011,1948), it is unlikely that
Hamasrockets or tunnel operations would be capable of unmaking the
occupation in its entirety. I claim that through each rocket and tunnel,
Hamasmuqawama minimally unmakes by rendering the occupier fearful,
with hopes of eventually forcing the perception (on Israelis) that the occu-
pation is too costly a venture to maintain. Of course, any attempt to resist
routinely exacts far greater material and human costs from Palestinians
than it does from Israelis. In Bahaas account the trauma, injuries and
deaths that line the path of resistance were absent. But in the background
of his anecdote are memories of a civil war and, following Hamastakeover
in 2007, three major confrontations with Israel that have left Gaza reeling
with thousands dead and billions of dollars in material damage. In view
of such a high cost of resisting, the making ability of violence may seem
indiscernible. However, I argue resistances creative potential persists, as
an armed struggle emphasizes the existence of Palestine and my informants
Palestinianness. In Rafah it was the case of Palestinians being rescued by an
armed Palestinian faction that evoked a sense of euphoria and accorded
cinematic allure to the Qassam operation. Similarly, Hamasarmed struggle
against the occupation is able to make by allowing each act of resistance to
be perceived as a Palestinian act of resistance and the subsequent tragic
repercussions be they injury, trauma or death as an instance of Palesti-
nian suffering. It is then at the conuence of its ability of unmake and make
that, in my informantsstories, Hamasmuqawama nds meaningfulness on
the path to Palestinian liberation. As a destructive force, resistance nds
value as it minimally challenges the viability of the occupation.
Somdeep Sen
Concurrently, as a creative phenomenon, it nds resonance for the colonized
by allowing the signature of Palestine and my informantsPalestinianness
both relegated to non-existence by the settler to materialize in each act of
resistance and its consequent tragic repercussions.
Theorizing HamasArmed Resistance
In late 2013 I arrived in Israel for eldwork and was immediately confronted
with the moral, ethical and political quandary of presuming a certain syno-
nymy between resistance and violence. Laleh Khalili has argued that studying
violence in the Middle East is not only a fraught endeavourbut also one that
frequently buttresses a hysterical mainstream narrativethat privileges cul-
tural explanationsand echo[es] the racism of an early scholar era. Conse-
quently, I wondered, by talking about violence when referring to Hamas
resistance, was I also stepping into a terrain of prejudice and paranoia
(2013, 791)? Treading such a terrain of prejudice frequently seemed unavoid-
able, especially during my interactions with Israeli academics. While
presenting my research at Ben Gurion University, when I claimed that my
Hamas-afliated informants didnt evoke Islam in their discussion of resist-
ance, one audience member scoffed: That is strange to hear. Islamist
groups not talking about Islam!(eld notes, Beersheba, January 2014). At
Tel Aviv University, despite my presentation not drawing parallels between
Hamas and jihadi organizations, one attendee asked, Im wondering if we
are going to see Hamas aligning with global jihad? Not exactly al-Qaeda
but something like al-Qaeda(eld notes, Tel Aviv, January 2014). For my
Palestinian friends, my transgression was different. As I allowed the discussion
on Hamas to be wrapped in the terminology of terrorism and jihad, they
deemed my activities in Israel to be tantamount to giving voice to the logic
of the colonizer. Seeing a picture of me on a social networking website
giving a presentation at the Moshe Dayan Center, a Palestinian acquaintance
noted: Im pretty shocked you know Moshe Dayan led the massacre in the
Dahmash mosque in Lydd? And the [Moshe Dayan] center was initially
funded by his pals?
This then was the crisis of perception that I faced when studying Hamas
resistance through the conceptual scope of violence. For some, such a con-
ception indicated that Hamas was synonymous with the threatof global
terror. For others, irrespective of my political positionality, my efforts in
Israel reected a statement of credence being given to the ethos of the occu-
pation. It would of course be impossible for me to control the manner in
which my work will be read. Nevertheless, as a means of contravening
some of these instinctive reactions, I begin by recognizing the politics of
interventions 19:2 204
terming an act or phenomenon as violence one that often demands a con-
demnation of the violent act before scholarly engagement (Hage 2003,65
68). In contrast, the term resistance is imbued with a sense of legitimacy in
that it is seen as necessary in the sociopolitical reality in which it emerges.
This distinction is evident in particularly interesting ways in the context of
the IsraeliPalestinian conict. In Israel, a pre-state Jewish paramilitary organ-
ization like the Palmach is unequivocally deemed to be a resistance faction
despite its participation in what Ilan Pappe (2007) has termed as ethnic cleans-
ing during the Nakba. Similarly, when I used the term violence to signify
Palestinian resistance activities during an interview with a Palestinian activist
in Ramallah, I was promptly reminded: For us it is resistance not violence
(author interview, Ramallah, January 2014). Then, with such opposing nar-
ratives informing our (albeit politicized) perception of violence and armed
resistance, I realized that the choice of either term (violence or resistance)
would deem my work as either justifying the death of Israelis or undermining
the Palestinian right to self-determination and statehood. But in using the
terms interchangeably I perceive acts of armed resistance as inherently
violent and Hamasidentity as an armed resistance as valorized only
through its ability to carry out violent acts. For instance, in Bahaas anecdote,
it was the exhibited ability to use violence that gave credence to Hamasstatus
as a muqawama. In the same vein, categorizing acts of armed resistance as
violent, to me, doesnt render them illegitimate, immoral or unethical.
Neither does it warrant unequivocal condemnation before academic delibera-
tion. Instead, such a conception acknowledges that armed resistance, in its
ability to injure, maim and kill, serves a purpose for the people that indulge
in it (individually or collectively) and for the context say of Palestinians
stranded at a border crossing that deems its prevalence necessary.
Having then somewhat manoeuvered out of the quandary of presuming a
synonymy between armed resistance and violence, I would still need to
explicate what violence, for this essay, stands for. Here it is important to
note that Hamasresistance, as was once described by an Israeli academic,
is not just bang, bang, shooting or soldiers(eld notes, Beersheba, January
2014). Often, it takes on a more symbolic role whereby resistance not only
persists through its practice (of violence) but also in the celebration and
exhibition of the ability to injure, maim and kill. For instance, while in
Gaza, I once came across a banner displaying a Qassam ghter with the
Haram al-Sharif an iconic symbol of Palestinian aspirations in the back-
ground, a gun in his left hand and a blood-stained bullet-riddled helmet of
an Israeli soldier under his left boot. To be sure, this pictorial representation
of resistance itself is incapable of violence. But, much like the Rafah rescue
operation, it does serve a certain exhibitory value. It may be unable to
injure, maim or kill, but nonetheless it displays and celebrates the presumed
ability of the gun to decimate the oppressor and liberate the colonized. To
Somdeep Sen
an extent, one could credibly retort that these are just symbols. But faced
with the methodological limitation that I wasnt witness to resistance activi-
ties during my eldwork, in this essay I have chosen to blurthe boundary
between the act of violence and the symbol, celebration, exhibition or
recounting of resistance. And since I was unable to access the former, in
the pages that follow I often deliberate on Hamasresistance through the
latter namely, the story of violence displayed in the meaning inscribed
into armed resistance by my informants. Here I agree with Banu Bargu
that to understand violence we would need to make it speakable. In the dis-
cussion below I then give voice to violence by placing injuries and wounds
next to words, images next to concepts, affects next to arguments(Bargu
2013, 806) and, as noted earlier, explicate an armed resistances ability to
unmake and make.
Armed Resistance and Unmaking for Palestine
Be it in literary musings on the colonizeds struggle for liberation (Boehmer
2005, 172) or in Kwameh NkrumahsHandbook of Revolutionary
Warfare (1968), anticolonial violence often nds reverence in light of its pre-
sumed ability to unmake a colonial condition. Accordingly, Frantz Fanon
declared an armed struggle to be the sole means of crafting the new [decolo-
nized] man [sic](1963,2)one who is strong, active, muscular and purged
(15) of his [sic]inferiority complex(51). With such a perception in view, it
isnt surprising that in scholarly analyses Hamasarmed resistance is also con-
ceptualized as intimately informed by (and as a response to) the permanent
structural reality(Collins 2011, 24) of Israels occupation. While Knudsen
conceived Hamasmuqawama as a form of tit-for-tat retaliation(2005,
1379), Wiegand (2010, 129) termed the organizations armed operations as
a counterweight to the peace process. Voices from within Hamas have also
consistently asserted that armed resistance was a reaction to the occupation
and therefore inalienable on the path to liberation. Following Operation Pro-
tective Edge, this sentiment was palpable in Hamas Political Bureau Chief
Khaled Meshaals declaration that the weapons of the resistance are sacred
the issue is not up for negotiations. No one can disarm Hamas and its
resistance(Al-Resalah Press 2014).
Similarly, during our conversation,
Hamas Spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum emphasized that Hamasmilitary
wing was a resistance and a movement against the occupation. He contin-
ued: It is also important to remember that its a resistance as a result of the
occupation and not vice versa(author interview, Gaza City, June 2013).
Finally, HamasDeputy Foreign Minister Ghazi Hamad alluded to the
same logic when he succinctly explained to me: you need to understand
interventions 19:2 206
that we are still under occupation. So we have to continue ghting(author
interview, Gaza Strip, June 2013).
Of course, if we place these stories of muqawama alongside the images of
the devastation of Shejaiya seen in 2014 or the alarming rates of malnutrition
among Gazas young (Gilbert 2014), it isnt surprising that my informants
accorded such reverence to the armed struggle presumably, as a tool for
unmaking the trials of the Israeli occupation. But can one expect armed resist-
ance, say as practised by Hamas, to achieve total Palestinian liberation? To be
sure, in conicts where involved parties have disparate access to resources and
military infrastructure, it is unlikely that the weak would be able to entirely
impose their will on the enemy. In the same vein, just as the rescue operation
at the Rafah border crossing was unable to unmake a still-persistent blockade,
the military prowess of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) also ensures it is unli-
kely that Hamasarmed resistance will be able to dismantle the occupation in
its entirety. Despite this, as my informants perceived muqawama to be inalien-
able to the struggle against the occupation, the question then remains: what
does unmaking look like when conicting parties behold such disparate
As an answer, Michael Neumann indicated that while Palestinians cant
expect to win militarily against Israel, violence nonetheless serves as a
means of ‘“sending a message: you really dont want to keep screwing
with us. We will do anything to stop you(2002). A similar understanding
of unmaking is also implicit in Gunnings assertion that Hamascredence
among the Palestinian populace drew primarily on its ability to provide
minimal security and to demonstrate a willingness to ght (not win) against
a militarily superior Israel (2007, 126127). In contrast to the rhetorical
hyperbole often associated with Hamaspublic persona, my conversations
with ofcials on armed resistance also revealed a similarly minimalist under-
standing of its unmaking potential. In a public statement during Operation
Protective Edge, Fawzi Barhoum, for instance, declared the battle against
the occupation to be a means of becoming a people of purity, heroism,
honour and nobility(Al Aqsa TV 2014).
However, during our interview
he rarely displayed the expectation of an unequivocal Palestinian victory.
Neither did he use the terms purity,heroism,honour or nobility while discuss-
ing the relevance of Hamasmuqawama in the struggle for Palestinian liber-
ation. Instead in a minimalist fashion he noted, resistance has put
pressure on the Israelis with regards to the siege and the Israelis now have a
very bad reputation(author interview, Gaza Strip, June 2013).
Ahmed Yousef, a former advisor to Hamas Prime Minister Ismael Haniyeh,
also refrained from a bombastic conception of muqawama and perceived it as
merely a mode of contention that helps with [Hamas] credibility(author
interview, Gaza Strip, May 2013). When asked about the utility of resistance,
Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) member Atef Adwan also evoked a
Somdeep Sen
minimalist conception of muqawama a mode of contention that, for him,
was able to bring Israel to make compromises. He further noted, When
the resistance is strong, Israel tends to retreat(author interview, Gaza
Strip, May 2013). A photojournalist from Al-Aqsa TV, during our conversa-
tion, didnt perceive muqawama as a means for achieving an unequivocal
Palestinian victory either. Instead, she asserted that resistance was a means
of compelling Israelis to listen to us(author interview, Gaza Strip, May
2013). Lastly, Salama Maroof, General Manager of the (Hamas) Government
Media Ofce, also chose not to evoke a grandiose terminology when charac-
terizing Hamasresistance and saw its value embodied in the way it succeeded
in capturing Gilad Shalit and forced the occupation to release more than one
thousand [Palestinian] prisoners(author interview, Gaza Strip, June 2013).
It is particularly curious that none of my informants perceived Hamas
armed resistance as capable of destroying Israels military infrastructure in
the occupied territories. They didnt evoke the oft-used terminology of
victory, purity, heroism, honour and nobility as lying at the end of the trajec-
tory of resistance. Instead, an armed struggle was described as a means of self-
defence, a tool for pressurizing Israel and inicting a blow on Israels repu-
tation, a way of forcing Israel to listen to Palestinian demands and make com-
promises or an instrument for securing the release of Palestinian prisoners. In
this way, there was little in my conversation with Hamas ofcials (and afli-
ates) that hinted at the expectation of complete Palestinian victory and Israeli
defeat. Instead, it was a minimalist understanding that drove the perception
among both its leaders and its supporters that Hamasviolent record is an
important part of what makes it a legitimate political faction in the Palestinian
arena(Gunning 2007, 175). Naturally, such an understanding of unmaking
may seem a far cry from the revolutionary persona that an armed resistance is
meant to embody as is prescribed, say, in the works of Nkrumah or Fanon
and devoid of the divinity that exuded from the armed resistances rescue of
the suffering in Bahaas account. Nevertheless, I would claim that despite
ostensibly lacking the revolutionary allure and capacity to remedy entirely
the emaciation of the colonizeds life, the armed resistances unmaking poten-
tial lies in its perceived, albeit minimal, ability to pressurize Israel into a com-
promise or compel it to heed the Palestinian will.
Here let us briey take a look at a prominent Qassam Brigade operation
that Hamas has celebrated as symbolizing the potency of its armed struggle.
On 28 July 2014 ve Qassam operatives emerged out a tunnel, from Gaza,
inside Kibbutz Nahal Oz in southern Israel. A video uploaded by the
Qassam Brigades Arabic-language website shows the ghters, carrying
their weapons, stealthily moving towards an IDF watchtower. The operatives
sneak up to the gate of the watchtower and start shooting into the premises at
the IDF personnel. Then the Qassam men enter the watchtower installation
and are seen dragging out an IDF soldier screaming in agony. The Qassam
interventions 19:2 208
ghters then shoot the soldier at close range before escaping through the
tunnel. When asked about the attack, a resident of the kibbutz responded,
I know that tower and am often in the vicinity its f***up theresno
other word I have no idea how families with small children will agree to
return here after viewing this video its really frightening.Recognizing
the (symbolic) potency of the operation for Hamasstruggle, the security
chief of Nahal Oz Benny Sela noted: Its really frightening but, then
again, this whole war is frightening (Hamas) uploaded this video in
order to frighten us, since they dont have many military successes to show
for their efforts(Bender 2014).
If we focus on the materiality of the attack or that of the Hamasarmed
resistance as a whole it is clear that it has done little substantially to unmake
the occupation. To be sure, the ve soldiers that were left dead after the attack
pale in comparison to the more than two thousand Palestinians who lost their
lives during Operation Protective Edge in 2014. Nevertheless, through the
effect this operation had on the residents of Nahal Oz one realizes that, irre-
spective of the material weakness of Hamasresistance, it continues to
unmake (albeit, minimally) by challenging the self-conception of Israelis
and by forcing them to reevaluate it(Ayyash 2010, 116). Hamasarmed
resistance may be incapable of defeating the enemy. Yet, through the
rockets Hamas res into Israel, the several tunnels leading from Gaza deep
inside Israel that were discovered during the 2014 war (Batchelor 2014)or
the operation in Nahal Oz, it unmakes by ritually ghting and questioning
the viability of maintaining the existing hindrances namely, an Israeli mili-
tary occupation that prevent Palestinians from becoming a liberated people.
The fact that it chips away at the resolve of the occupation is rarely evident in
a grandiose manner. But the slow trajectory towards liberation is palpable in
the fear resistance instills, for instance, among the residents of Nahal Oz, the 9
per cent of Israeli citizens who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
(PTSD) three times that of the United States or any other western country
(according to the Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma) or the
PTSD-related symptoms in several hundred [Israeli] soldiers(Ginsburg
2014) following the 2014 war in Gaza. In this way, such an ability to
unmake exhibited by Hamasarmed resistance is reminiscent of the way the
Zapatista were able symbolically to travel from the Chiapas to the Mexican
national capital. When Subcomandante Marcos
was asked about his delu-
sional aspiration to take over Mexico City, he replied: Werent we there
already by 2 January? We were everywhere, on the lips of everyone in the
subway, on the radio. And our ag was in Zócalo
(Johnston 2000, 466).
Similarly, through its muqawama, Hamas also attempts to reach Jerusalem.
It may not have the ability physically to march to the compounds of Haram
al-Sharif, unmake the Israeli military occupation or overcome the military
might of the IDF. Nevertheless it unmakes by rendering its opponents
4Nom de guerre of
the leader of the
Zapatista Army of
National Liberation
5 The main plaza in
Mexico City.
Somdeep Sen
fearful and imposing the impression that the occupation is too costly a venture
to maintain.
Body, Wound and the Making of Palestine
We could assert that the very nature of violence as a phenomenon would make
its unmaking potential self-evident. However, can violence (aside from being
destructive) also be constructive and creative? That is to ask, does violence
have the ability to make? During our conversation, Atef Adwan, while dis-
cussing Hamascommitment to an armed resistance, seemed to insinuate
that muqawama was indeed imbued with the ability to create and not just
destroy. He noted, They [Israel] have tried but they cannot conquer us
from inside anymore. War was able to convince people about good and
bad. It provided the light at the end of the tunnel and the youth were con-
dent. Hope went up and fear went down(author interview, Gaza Strip,
May 2013). Instinctively, one could look at this statement as merely an exag-
geration. But if we momentarily take Adwans assertion seriously, it is particu-
larly interesting that in view of the destructive abilities of an armed resistance
and, for Palestinians, its tendency to exact harsh material and human costs, it
is somehow presented as a generative process. One may ask, how is it that vio-
lence is able to protect the (inner) self and prevent it from being conquered?
What does this light at the end of the tunnel look like? Moreover, detractors
would wonder, since Operation Protective Edge claimed more than two thou-
sand Palestinians lives and exacted material losses from Palestinians in the
Gaza Strip amounting to approximately six billion dollars, what is the rel-
evance (and meaning) of an unconquerable inner being? Where is the light
in this? In the face of destruction, where is the creation?
In order, then, to explore the possible existence of this light that seemingly
shines through an armed resistance, let us look at two different Palestinian
accounts of violent confrontations with Israelis:
During the First Intifada I was living in the West Bank. I participated in a protest and
was arrested. I was in a military prison for eighteen days. My hands were tied and I
was made to stand most of the time. Everyone like me who didnt confess to a crime
was kept in a corridor and soldiers would walk by and kick us and put out their ciga-
rettes on our body. The only time I was allowed to sleep was between 3 a.m. and 6 a.
m. I lost 9 kilos in eighteen days On the tenth day, one of the investigating ofcers
put a mirror in front of me and asked if I felt pity for myself. I said, You feel pity for
me now? Dont. I am in prison and I am here to be tortured. When I go home, you
will still be weak but I will be strong and I will be human [Pointing to scars from
cigarette burns from his time in prison].For me, ghting and suffering are a matter
interventions 19:2 210
of pride and it is what makes me Palestinian. (Bassam,author interview, Cairo,
January 2013)
In late October, a month after the start of the Second Intifada, we were mobilized
outside our school to protest against the Israeli occupation After one hour of
throwing rocks I got shot one of the protesters picked me off the ground and
ran with my half-dead body to the nearest ambulance Once inside the ambulance
the rst aid guy assessed my injury as serious and dangerous and asked the driver to
take us to al-Shifa hospital [At the hospital] I was taken to surgery None of my
parents or relatives were there When I came home I was depressed. I didnt want
to go to school. I had to go to therapy. I was upset that I would have this scar all my
life. But what was the most tragic was that I felt that no one cared So for that
matter when I look at my scar, to me it is Palestine, you get hurt, you are scarred
for life but no one cares. (Ahmed, author interview, Gaza City, May 2013)
There are a multitude of meanings I could write into these two poignant eth-
nographic encounters. For instance, Bassams account, to me, is reminiscent of
the manner in which my Palestinian informants often were able to nd some
semblance of normalcy, sense and meaning in utter tragedy. Just as a friend
from Gaza once pointed out, Im never bothered by the sound of gunshots.
You know why? Because you dont hear the sound of the gunshot that kills
you(author interview, Gaza Strip, May 2013). Then again, does the colonial
subject have any other choice? The ceaseless history of wars, occupation and
siege would mean that the occupied Palestinian has no other alternative but to
somehow nd meaning in the suffering and trauma. This may point to the
methodological caveat of studying violence through the story that is written
into it by my informants. That is to say, invariably my interviewees, if
asked, would attribute some meaning to their encounter with and experience
of violence under occupation.
Nevertheless, one notices that my informants also recounted their experi-
ence of violent confrontation with the enemy in very different ways thus
pointing to the disparate kinds of meaning that resistance can attain for indi-
viduals. For instance, Bassam saw the torturous experience in an Israeli prison
as having instilled pride and a sense of resilience and humanity in him. Ahmed
instead perceived the scar of violence to be a bitter reminder that resilience and
sacrice can often go uncelebrated. This said, in both a tragic and a celebra-
tory recollection of pain and suffering, my informants also foundPalestine in
the violent confrontation with the colonizer. Bassam characterized his scars as
the signature of Palestine in that it was a symbol of resilience and humanity
emerging out of the continuous cycle of ghting and suffering. In stark con-
trast, there wasnt any sense of euphoria in Ahmeds recounting of the experi-
ence of being shot. For him, it was an unequivocal tragedy. Yet he too saw
Palestine as imbued in his life-long scar. Ahmed saw the bodily blemish as a
reminder of an unending national struggle where all that remains, after the
Somdeep Sen
violent confrontation, is empty and uncelebrated suffering albeit a Palesti-
nian suffering. Here there is a certain irony in the way my informants
found Palestine in the confrontation with the occupier. Their decision to
ght by taking to the streets during the First Intifada or throwing rocks
was intimately informed by the Palestinian liberation context and the insuffer-
able realities that order the everyday in the occupied territories. Moreover,
being tortured by the IDF or being shot, while not unlikely occurrences, are
the unintended consequences. Yet it is in the unintended pain, hurt, trauma
and suffering that they found Palestine and a sense of being Palestinian.
Here, if we return to Fanons conception of the decolonized man, we are
reminded that, on the path to liberation the colonized dream of action, vital-
ity, aggressiveness and freedom (1963, 15, 19). That is to say, in their
dreams they dont perceive themselves as pacied by the military prowess
of the colonizer. Bassam, having been arrested and tortured, could have
been left prostrate in fact, one could argue, that is the intention of the
colonizers oppressive infrastructure. Nevertheless, he refused to cower in
fear. Instead, through his suffering he reafrmed his own humanity, while
nding Palestine and his Palestinianness etched forever on his skin. Of
course, Ahmed didnt display the same sense of vitality in the way he recol-
lected the experience of being shot in the stomach. Nevertheless, while he
himself inscribed a certain meaninglessness to his scar, we could claim
that his encounter wasnt entirely fruitless either. Although the bullet from
the gun of the IDF soldier was meant to efface him and with it his rebel-
lious Palestinianness what he was also left with, albeit tragically, was an
emblem of Palestine.
Here, whether we discuss Bassam or Ahmeds recollection of their violent
confrontation with the occupation, we could claim that their discovery of
meaning in suffering represents an individual experience. That is, the
manner in which they nd Palestine in their wounds and suffering may in
fact be merely evocative of their individual relationships with the realities of
the occupied territories. It is for this reason Hage noted that while the Pales-
tinian suicide bomber is a product of the Palestinian sociopolitical experience
(and not an aberration), the suicide bombing in itself is a display of the indi-
vidual Palestinian treading a path of social meaningfulness and self-fulll-
ment in an otherwise meaningless life(2003, 69). In light of the dire
Palestinian reality, Hage was right to have conceptualized Palestinian
suicide bombers as spectacles of individuals swapping their grim physical
existencefor a symbolic existence(80). But despite the individual being
seen here as tussling with his/her own grim reality and, through suffering,
nding meaning, albeit for him/herself alone, what cannot be ignored is
that the violent confrontation and the resultant pain, wounds, suffering and
death are rarely limited to or bounded by the scope of the individual.
Instead, they often transcend into the realm of public ownership or public
interventions 19:2 212
property in a way that, despite being directly perpetrated (and its tragic costs
suffered) by one, it is claimed by all.
Accordingly, I would then argue that while each rock thrown at an IDF
tank or a suicide bombing, at its infancy, bore the mark of the individuals
experiences and struggles, when the act sees the light of day it is the collective
Palestinian national struggle that claims ownership over it. This tendency to
infuse the individual with the collective was evident during my conversation
with Ghazi Hamad, when he reminded me: In the 2009 and 2012 attacks
they [Israel] reacted to Hamas being in power, and yet we survived because
of our resistance wing(author interview, Gaza Strip, June 2013). In this
way, as a representative of a Palestinian political organization striving for
legitimacy as the rightful representative of the Palestinian populace, Hamad
effectively infused Hamasown acts of resistance with the collective Palesti-
nian spirit of resilience and will to survive. Seemingly driven by a similar
logic, a former Palestinian prisoner also insisted on prexing his own experi-
ence in an Israeli prison with the collective Palestinian struggle when he noted,
First of all, you need to remember that a lot of our people spend some time in
prison(author interview, Gaza Strip, June 2013). In the same way, the indi-
vidual also found resonance for the collective through 16-year-old Moham-
mad Abu Khdair being kidnapped and burned alive in an apparent revenge
attack following the death of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank in
July 2014. For Palestinians, Mohammad, while directly uninvolved in the
Palestinian struggle, in death became evocative of the plight of a people collec-
tively faced with the brutality of a military occupation. In death he was a
martyr for the struggle and, with his body wrapped in the iconic Palestinian
kefyeh and the Palestinian ag, the funeral was a spectacle of mourning
and protest over the suffering of a collective Palestinian people.
It is in this way that each individual act of resistance be it a rock, rocket or
suicide bombing and occasion of suffering be it an injury, imprisonment or
death transcends into the public realm. An act of resistance then fails to
remain an isolated unitary instance and is inducted into the common cause
of the collectively colonized Palestinian populace as a Palestinian act of resist-
ance and a Palestinian expression of anticolonial capital(Hage 2003, 70).
Similarly, each instance of suffering is deemed an instance of collective Pales-
tinian suffering evocative of the crises faced by an entire population under
Israeli military occupation.
In purporting the existence of the signature of Palestine in individual acts of
military resistance and the resultant suffering, this essay seemingly echoes the
story of resistance relayed in works on Palestinian nationalism namely, those
that have explored the interplay between resistance, martyrdom, tragedy and
nationhood. In her inuential work Heroes and Martyrs of Palestine (2007),
Laleh Khalili asserted that tragic events such as the Nakba, the Intifadas and
the SabraShatila massacres (2) are often intertwined with a narrative of
Somdeep Sen
courage (153) and heroism in the face of defeat (155159). Subsequently, they
are wrapped in the cloak of national piety(153) and turned into key markers
for creating both a narrative of Palestinian nationhood and members of the
national polity(185).
Dina Matar, describing the Palestinian ghter in Lebanon, also noted that
through the adoption of an armed struggle, Palestinians somehow found
themselves transformed from being passive refugees into active ghters.
For this reason, those that instigated this virtuous transformation namely,
Palestinian revolutionary ghters became the centre of a constructed
heroic national narrative of steadfastness, struggle and resistance [and an]
armed struggle became the central element of the imagined community
of Palestinians(2011, 94).
While these works conrm my assertion that in stories of resistance both the
act of resisting and the consequent suffering become the palette from which
the Palestinian national being is painted, the concern in this essay is far
more fundamental in that all it concerns itself with is naming. Subcomandante
Marcos once said that things exist only when they are named(Johnston
2000, 466). In the same manner, using violence and its repercussions as a
starting point, the light at the end of the tunnel (as it was termed by
Adwan) is seen in the act of simply naming confrontations as Palestinian
acts of resistance and the suffering as Palestinian instances of distress.
Of course, here it is important to note that (un)naming is inherent to the
dynamics of the IsraeliPalestinian conict. Just as a settler colonial project
in its essence strives to establish the settlers homeland in a territory by repla-
cing the indigene and consequently claiming their non-existence (Elkins and
Pederson 2005,23; Wolfe 1999,12), Palestinians would argue the Nakba
and the occupation are similarly driven to efface the legacy of their existence
from historic Palestine. This was evident in Ilan Pappes study of the ethnic
cleansing conducted under the auspices of Plan Dalet (1948), whereby the indi-
gene was purged through a concerted campaign to de-Arabize Palestinian
towns and villages (2007, 86126). Palestine was also non-existent for geogra-
pher David Benvenisti, who drew the Hebrew map of the land while convinced
beyond any shadow of a doubt that it was his absolute right to reclaim his
ancestral patrimony.Ashismap(andtextbook),whichaimedtotransform
symbolic possession of the land into actual possession, emerged triumphant
it replaced the landscape (Benvenisti 2000, 2) that still bore the mark of Pales-
tine and its people. In the same way, the urge to effacePalestine from the history
of what today is territorial Israel was also self-evident to me during a tour of the
Tel Aviv Palmach museum. During the course of the tour visitors walked
through exhibits representing several scenarios encountered by Palmach ght-
ers during what Israelis call the War of Independence and Palestinians remem-
ber as the Nakba. Ironically, while this war was being waged against
Palestinians there was hardly any mention of them. Instead, using the term
interventions 19:2 214
Arab an expression used to represent Palestinians in Israel without recogniz-
ing their identity as Palestinians those antagonistic to the Zionist project were
referred to only twice during the tour. In the rst instance, describing the scene
of a battle, Palestinians were simply termed as marauding Arab gangs.In
the second instance, during a dramatization of a discussion between Palmach
ghters, one of the ghters asked, What should we do with the [Arab] refu-
gees?The other responded, Do what you think is best(eld notes, Tel
Aviv, November 2013).
If we then recognize this (unnaming) impulse to be characteristic of the
Israeli settler initiative, it isnt surprising that the urge to rename all that
was unnamed is inherent to the quest for Palestinian liberation, not least
evident in the making potential of violence. This urge (to name) was unmistak-
able in the way Bassam, with a sense of euphoria, and Ahmed, with a sense of
melancholy, recounted their confrontation with the occupier and found Pales-
tine and their own Palestinianness in their bodily blemishes. Of course, while
inducting Hamas into this quest to name, it may be unrealistic to expect repre-
sentatives of the organization to engage philosophically with and theorize the
making abilities of an armed struggle. But in Adwans claim and in Ghazi
Hamadsafrmation We have kept resistance alive in our values, cultural
outlook and made sure that resistance is mentioned in every Hamas docu-
ment(author interview, Gaza Strip, June 2013), there seems to be an inherent
understanding that an armed resistance not only destroys but also makes for
the purposes of the colonized. It may be for this reason that Wesam Afa,
Director General of Hamas-afliated Al-Resalah Media Institution, quipped
during our interview that it is good that we have war every two years, in
that way we remain popular(author interview, Gaza Strip, May 2013)
In this way, then, the consequence of an armed resistance displaying the pro-
pensity to make is the emergence of Palestine from its midst. Be it the resistance
operations themselves that, by means of violence, engage Israel, or the pain, suf-
fering and death that result from them, they embody the familiar properties of
Palestine. The occupation of Palestinian lands may personify an attempt by the
settler to erase the signature of the existence of Palestine and its inhabitants
Palestinianness. But an armed resistance is the canvas for displaying the con-
trary and consequently serves as a means of arresting the process of unnaming.
Of course, a violent confrontation with Israel could also be perceived as a
means for the colonized to interrupt the settlers project by surviving. But the
characterization of an armed resistance provided in this section indicates that
muqawama is about much more than an urge to break even through mere sur-
vival. Instead, resistance allows Palestinians to gain some ground in the battle
against the settler. For one, the act of naming the violent engagement with the
colonizer and its tragic repercussions as Palestinian permits the colonial subject
to announce their insistent presence in the land that was once their home, even
though the settler narrative emphasizes otherwise. Concurrently, it compels the
Somdeep Sen
occupier who is driven by an urge to de-indigenize their new homeland to
concede that Palestine and Palestinians indeed exist.
To ght is to exist: By Way of a Conclusion
Muriel Rukeyser once contended the universe is made of stories, not of atoms.
In the same vein, this essay contributes to the already vibrant scholarly discus-
sion on Hamasmuqawama by beginning its deliberation with the stories my
informants told of their experiences and memories of armed resistance.
Accordingly, on the basis of these stories collected during eldwork in the
Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Israel and Egypt, I argue Hamasarmed resistance
nds reverence among occupied Palestinians due to its ability to unmake and
make. The story of resistances unmaking potential relayed here accounts for
the material reality that it is unlikely that Hamasmuqawama would ever be
capable of entirely dismantling the occupation. Nonetheless I argue it mini-
mally unmakes by rendering the settler fearful, with the hope of eventually
imposing the perception on Israelis that the occupation is too costly a
venture to maintain. The story of an armed resistances ability to make
accounts for the reality that any violent encounter with the colonizer exacts
far greater costs from Palestinians than it does from Israelis. Nevertheless, an
armed resistance makes by allowing Palestinians to term each act of violence
as an act of Palestinian resistance and the tragic repercussions as instances of
Palestinian suffering. Consequently, by doing so, the colonized are able to
counter the settlers narrative of the indigenes non-existence as it forces the
occupier to recognize the existence of Palestine and my informantsPalestinian-
ness. It is then at the conuence of an armed struggles ability to both minimally
destroy the impediments to Palestinian liberation and be a canvas displaying
the colonizeds persistent existence that Hamasmuqawama nds value as a
mode of contention. As demonstrated earlier, its ability to be destructive and
creative is hardly an unequivocal affair. Nevertheless, it is only by deliberating
on the meaning that occupied Palestinians, in their stories, inscribe into their
violent encounters with the occupation are we able to better comprehend the
inalienability enjoyed by Hamasarmed struggle despite its material
deciencies to the collective Palestinian quest for liberation.
I am grateful to Lene Hansen, Rebecca Adler-Nissen, Cynthia Weber, Louiza
Odysseos and Samuel Appleton for their feedback on an earlier draft of this
essay. This work was supported by the Danish Institute in Damascus.
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Somdeep Sen
... Statues, murals and slogans cannot injure, maim or kill (Sen, 2017). So, the Turkish infrastructure in Dağkapı Square does not result in any physical violence. ...
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This article studies the violent politics of stigmatisation and erasure of nationalist urban infrastructure. In general, urban infrastructure is a mechanism of state power. But, through the case of the imposing presence of Turkish nationalist infrastructure in the Kurdish city Diyarbakir, it demonstrates that when tied to an antagonistic nationalist political project, this infrastructure is often purposefully built to violently cleanse urban spaces of the national “other”. Be it a statue, a mural or a picture of a nationalist leader – this infrastructure is incapable of inflicting physical pain. Nonetheless, its violence is symbolic and meant to have a real effect on Diyarbakir’s Kurds’ ability and willingness to identify as Kurds. That said, violence does not entirely inform the spatial experience of those targeted by this nationalist infrastructure. The article demonstrates that Kurdish residents also found ways of remaining unaffected, even treating the infrastructure laden with Turkish nationalist iconography as a reminder of their own Kurdish identity. This article thus expands our understanding of what nationalist infrastructure does. It may be designed to be violent. However, it also reveals itself to be a site of contestation – equally inspiring the persistence of the counter-narrative of the national “other”.
... But, under a Hamas leadership, the Gaza Strip is also embroiled in another 'brand' of theater -namely, a theater of resistance. Hamas today struggles to reconcile between performing the role of a prototypical liberation faction still committed to an armed struggle against Israel (Sen 2017) and its role as a governing entity (Baconi 2018;Brenner 2017;Sen 2015b). To this end, the organization's functionaries, keen on maintaining Hamas' public persona as primarily a resistance organization, 8 attempt to write the ethos of resistance into all facets of its operational scope -often deeming activities that have little to do with an open confrontation with Israel, as acts of resistance contributing to the Palestinian liberation struggle. ...
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This bibliography contains books, edited volumes, journal articles, book chapters, theses, grey literature, and other resources on Ḥarakat al-Muqāwamah al-ʾIslāmiyyah, also referred to in short as Hamas. The publications compiled in this bibliography primarily focus on Hamas' organizational evolution, its attacks, military successes and setbacks, recruitment efforts, ideology, and media outreach. Additionally, several studies examine Hamas' role in Palestinian politics and forms of local governance. Furthermore, many of the included publications assess PVE and CVE strategies to contain Hamas' political influence or evaluate the successes and shortcomings of peace and ceasefire negotiations with Hamas, as well as military and civilian campaigns against the organization.
This chapter provides an overview of the Palestinian struggle for liberation and describes the author's fieldwork in the Gaza Strip, Israel, and Egypt, conducted between 2013 and 2016. The Gaza Strip as a whole became a place of contradictions when Hamas adopted a dual mode of existence following its historic victory in the 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council elections. After the unequivocal triumph of the Islamist faction, Fatah refused to be part of the Hamas government. Over the course of the 2007 Battle of Gaza, Hamas then consolidated its rule over the Gaza Strip while maintaining its commitment to the armed resistance. In doing so, Hamas oscillated between the images of the postcolonial state and an anticolonial movement. As the government in the Gaza Strip, it represented a civilian authority posturing like the future Palestinian state. However, by remaining committed to the armed struggle, Hamas also recognized the fact that Palestine is far from being liberated.
Many decades have passed since the Palestinian national movement began its political and military struggle. In that time, poignant memorials at massacre sites, a palimpsest of posters of young heroes and martyrs, sorrowful reminiscences about lost loved ones, and wistful images of young men and women who fought as guerrillas, have all flourished in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Heroes and Martyrs of Palestine tells the story of how dispossessed Palestinians have commemorated their past, and how through their dynamic everyday narrations, their nation has been made even without the institutional memory-making of a state. Bringing ethnography to political science, Khalili invites us to see Palestinian nationalism in its proper international context and traces its affinities with Third Worldist movements of its time, while tapping a rich and oft-ignored seam of Palestinian voices, histories, and memories.
Eventually, most terrorist and guerrilla groups are defeated by governments or gradually die off - sometimes becoming political parties, democratically participating in the non-violent governance of their states. Yet some terrorist and guerrilla groups maintain military capabilities, using violence and democratic participation simultaneously. Here, Krista E. Wiegand examines the different political strategies that Islamist terrorist and guerrilla groups use to achieve their political objectives. Focussing on Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine, Wiegand skilfully reveals the factors that determine why Islamist militant groups become involved in governance as political parties, how mainstream governments may or may not accept them as legitimate, why some groups like al- Gama'a al-Islamiya in Egypt renounce guerrilla tactics, and how some groups govern whilst employing political violence. Bombs and Ballots is a valuable contribution to the study of state-society relations in the Middle East, exposing the blurred line between terrorist activity and governance.