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1/27/06

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 surprising.

"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 Hamas earlier."

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

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