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Associated Press/Photo by Ben Margot

Pro-Palestinian junta

Middle East | It may be coming to a U.S. campus near you

Issue: "Save the unions," Oct. 24, 2009

Khaled Abu Toameh has endured years of criticism for his reporting on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. An Arab Muslim with Israeli citizenship, he abandoned the government-controlled Palestinian media years ago for the free press in Israel and the West and has been writing about Palestinian affairs for almost three decades. He isn't afraid to criticize Palestinian leadership when criticism is due, and that candor has earned him a few enemies.

But not all of his enemies are from the streets of Gaza or the West Bank. During a tour of close to 30 campuses in the United States throughout the past year, Toameh encountered what he calls a "pro-Palestinian junta"-a group that goes beyond the usual suspects to include Westerners who have never set foot in Palestine or Israel, professors with an innate anti-Israel bias, and Jews who believe Israel has done more harm than good during its 61 turbulent years of existence.

As the Obama administration attempts to inject life into a stalled Palestinian-Israeli peace process, recent polls show that Hamas, the terrorist organization that took over the Gaza Strip two years ago, is losing popularity among Palestinians as its constituents hint that they are beginning to see that Hamas has brought more harm than good. Isolation, increased weapons smuggling (prompting a deadly Israeli offensive), infighting, and tightened press restrictions now plague the coastal enclave.

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But the mantra on American campuses has a different ring, according to Toameh: "In some of these campuses I found more sympathy for Hamas than I do in Ramallah [in the West Bank]."

Toameh said during his U.S. campus tour he encountered people shouting that Hamas is a legitimate peace partner and that Hamas is not a terrorist organization-that the group only carries out resistance attacks and has a right to resist occupation. He said he also found students and others who believe, to his surprise, "that suicide bombings are part of the resistance," and that "Israel and America should recognize Hamas even if Hamas doesn't recognize Israel."

Code Pink, a women-initiated peace movement, is one of the few groups that have been able to get into the Gaza Strip since Hamas ousted the rival Fatah party. The organization claims to have led six delegations into Gaza this year-a surprising number considering the territory is generally considered a "no-go" area by the UN, State Department, and others.

Code Pink's next trip to Gaza is scheduled for Dec. 27 through Jan. 2 and centers around a "freedom march" to draw international attention to the one-year anniversary of the Israeli invasion of Gaza and what their co-founder claims is the "largest open-air prison in the world." Although Code Pink's website claims it doesn't take a position on any of the Palestinian parties, Medea Benjamin, the organization's co-founder and delegation leader for five trips into Gaza, told me that Hamas has become more moderate: "There are a lot of moderate people within Hamas. Hamas says that it would recognize the 1967 borders, so Hamas is certainly a government that both the U.S. and Israel have to talk to." Benjamin says 250 people have registered for the trip, and she expects twice that number before the registration deadline.

Since the Hamas takeover of Gaza, Israel and Egypt have closed their borders with the area and tightly controlled movement through entry points in an effort to curb the weapons smuggling-which has sharply increased during the past two years. That means food, medical supplies, and other necessities are often scarce for the average Gazan.

The problem with Code Pink's program lies not in its efforts to help impoverished Gazans but in its propaganda-driven agenda. Attendees learn about Israeli blockades and offensives but never learn about the hundreds of rocket attacks launched from Gaza into Israel. They hear about the deaths of children in Gaza but never about those of Israeli children at the hands of suicide bombers and the complex history of who started which offensive and why.

Israel is framed as the oppressor and instigator of all that is wrong in the Middle East but no mention is made of Hamas' continued refusal to accept the existence of Israel. Attendees-which have included well-meaning Christians-participate in a mile-long "march for freedom" and develop assumptions that Gazans would be free if Israel would end the blockade and stop settlement construction. Toameh disagrees and said he tells "some of these so-called pro-Palestinian people" to teach Palestinians about democracy, freedom of expression, and good government. "It's good to help the people. But if you're going there to help Hamas, that doesn't help the people and that doesn't help the peace process," he said.

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