What is the significance of the term "occupation"?
A key concept in Hamas's ideology is "occupation." In the discussion offered here, I am not going to offer insights into international law. My concern is with the ideology of occupation.
"Occupation" is a term meant to delegitimize Israel. It implies that Israel is an alien military force occupying the region. From an Islamist perspective, it is in reality the non-Islamic character of Israel that makes this illegitimate.
Much of the Middle East was Arabized as a result of conquest and occupation by Muslims, a dominance which continues to this day, and has cause great suffering, even in the past few centuries, to the surviving indigenous conquered peoples, who have included Copts, Greeks, Yazidis, Syrians, Armenians, and Assyrians. From an Islamic perspective, the conquest of the Middle East by Muslims was a good thing. The word used in Arabic for these conquests is futuh, which means "opening" and implies liberation. In most cases, Islamic imperial conquest (and occupation) was final and permanent. Down through history, Islamic ideology has been very keen on occupation, so long as it is Muslims doing the occupying.
For centuries the province of Syria, which included the region referred to as Palestine, was under Ottoman military occupation, but this did not cause Palestinian jihadi "resistance" movements to proliferate, aiming establish a "free Palestine." This shows that it is not military occupation in itself that is today's sticking point, but the fact that Israel is a non-Muslim, Jewish-majority state. The heart of the objection to the existence of Israel is that Jews are in the majority, ruling over Muslims, and Muslims are no longer in charge. This perspective is reflected very clearly in the Hamas Charter. It was also reflected in statements made by Palestinian Arab leaders back in the 1930's, that they could accept a minority of Jews in Palestine, but never a majority: the Jews should never be in a position to rule.
What were the Oslo Accords?
The Oslo Accords, signed in September 1993, were a process ostensibly designed to move the Israeli-Palestinian relationship towards a two-state solution. For Israel, they promised to provide greater security for its citizens, and for the Palestinians, they promised greater autonomy in managing their own affairs. The departure of the Israeli army from Gaza was one of the outcomes of the Oslo Accords.
However, from Israel's perspective, the Oslo Accords turned out to be a complete failure because Israeli deaths due to terror attacks increased almost tenfold after the Accords were signed.
It is clear that the Palestinian leaders regarded the Oslo Accords as but a milestone along a road to the eventual elimination of Israel. Yassir Arafat, who had signed off on the Accords on behalf of Palestinians, told a Muslim audience in South Africa six months later that the Accords were a ruse. He referred to how Muhammad had deceived the Meccans by entering a treaty with them and then breaking it. Another PLO official, Faisal Husseini, in his last interview in 2001, called the Accords a "Trojan Horse," a "temporary procedure, or a step towards something bigger." He described the Intifada [the Palestinian uprising of 2000] as "the coming down out of the horse."
Recently pro-Palestinian, pro-Hamas protestors have been chanting "From the river to the sea" and "Khaybar! Khaybar!". What do these chants mean?
These are very well-known, even famous chants.
In Arabic this is a rhyming chant which expresses an intention to liberate all land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. This includes all of present-day Israel. This chant is code for "Israel must be destroyed." How must it be destroyed? By destroying its people. The October 7 massacre was intended as a foretaste of what this would be like. This is a genocidal chant.
Other protestors have been heard chanting "Khaybar, Khaybar ya Yahud, jaish Muhammad sa ya 'ud "Remember Khaybar, O Jews, Muhammad's army will return!" This is a warning to Jews that, just as Muhammad's army conquered the Jews of the Khaybar Oasis in Arabia (c. 628 CE), subjecting them to occupation and forcing them to pay an annual tribute to the Muslims of 50 percent of their harvest, so Muslims will once again conquer and rule over Jews in Palestine. This chant ties the idea of Palestinian "resistance" to an age-old narrative of the origins of Islam.
Why haven't Palestinian refugees been settled somewhere, as has happened with millions of other refugees in modern times?
During the past century vast numbers of civilian refugees have been resettled. Examples are the millions of Germans who fled Eastern Europe after WWII; the millions of Hindus and Muslims who were displaced at the time of the partition of India; the 400,000 displaced Karelians who were resettled in Finland after the Winter War with the Soviet Union; the 1.5 million Greeks whose ancestors had lived in Asia Minor for thousands of years but were expelled in 1922 by the Turks; the 400,000 Turks who were expelled from Greece and resettled in Turkey in a population exchange at that time; and the almost one million Jews who fled or were expelled from Muslim countries after the declaration of Israel in 1948. None of these multitudes are kept by the United Nations in permanent refugee camps.
Imagine what a mess Europe would be in today if the ten million or more Germans who were driven out of Eastern Europe after WWII had all been kept in refugee camps on the eastern borders of Germany with Poland and Czechia, waiting for their "right of return" to be granted, and inspired by a genocidal hatred towards the peoples who now occupy the lands where they used to live. And imagine if the United Nations had spent billions sustaining these camps, for generations.
The situation of the Palestinians as refugees is like this. With the exception of Jordan, surrounding Arab countries may accept them as guest workers, but they have not offered them integration as citizens. Even Jordan, which does count many Palestinians among its citizens, will take no more, certainly not since the Black September Jordanian Civil War of 1970-71, in which the Palestinian Liberation Organization tried to assassinate the king and overthrow the Jordanian monarchy. PLO fighters were eventually driven into southern Lebanon. (Black September points to another reason why Arab nations are unwilling to welcome Palestinians: they fear the political instability they could bring: better that this be directed against Israel.)
The Arab nations have forced the Palestinians to become a permanent refugee people, and this in spite of Pan-Arab ideology which considers Arabs to be one people. This has been for the purpose of opposing Israel. This is not motivated by compassion for the Palestinians. It has been a cruel and damaging policy, locking generations into "refugee" status.
Mark Durie is the founding director of the Institute for Spiritual Awareness, a Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and a Senior Research Fellow of the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at the Melbourne School of Theology.