London and Gaza: Can democratic citizens be held responsible for their governments?

Nov 24, 2012

Gilad Sharon's "Flatten Gaza" article in the Jerusalem Post has been rightly widely condemned as being a pretty horrible thing for a mainstream newspaper to publish (even bearing in mind the Jerusalem Post also published a "he went too far, but is he wrong?" article after Brievik), one part especially jumped out at me:

THE DESIRE to prevent harm to innocent civilians in Gaza will ultimately lead to harming the truly innocent: the residents of southern Israel. The residents of Gaza are not innocent, they elected Hamas. The Gazans aren’t hostages; they chose this freely, and must live with the consequences.

If you remember 7/7 bomber Mohammad Sidique Khan's suicide tape, that might be a familiar sentiment:

Your democratically elected governments continuously perpetuate atrocities against my people all over the world. And your support of them makes you directly responsible, just as I am directly responsible for protecting and avenging my Muslim brothers and sisters.

The principle here is simple: we elect our leaders, if our leaders chose to wage war with our support then we are all legitimate targets, in or out of uniform, on or off the battlefield.  It's not just to weaken the material war effort or 'morale' of the enemy (dodgy, but anyway), democratic civilians are morally culpable and so indiscriminate violence can be justified.

As it happens Sharon is just plain wrong on the facts, Hamas did win the 2006 elections but the current Hamas government in Gaza results from a 2007 takeover. More interesting for this question is exactly why they won in 2006 - a combination of the electoral system and severe splits within Fatah:

Post-election surveys showed the price of this disunity, a distortion magnified by an electoral system under which half the seats were won in district races[at-large elections with multiple seats] and the other half—the national list—were allocated according to the list’s proportion of the national vote. Thus, Hamas won 29 seats (against Fatah’s 28) in the 66-seat national list with 44 percent of the vote. The non-Hamas vote (56 percent)was divided between Fatah and the four other PLO or “Third Way” lists. But while Hamas candidates won 45 (68 percent) of the 66 district seats in parliament, they did so with 36.5 of the vote. Sixty-three percent voted for non-Hamas candidates, the vast majority dispersed between Fatah’s official and independent candidates. In the end, Fatah won a mere 17 seats in the districts. On the basis of these figures it is difficult to refute Awad’s conclusion. “Hamas did not win the elections—Fatah lost them.” (p.26)

That 36.5% figure is interesting because Labour in the 2005 elections won with just a percent less, on 35.2% percent of the vote.  In both cases the 'culpable party' won with far less than majority support - can we really say there's a lot of collective responsibility there?

But wait - those are the figures for the whole of Palestine - maybe the Gaza districts were more Hamas hardcore. No such luck, using the break down of results from the Carter Center report I made this table of how the vote played out (remember it's at-large districts- as many votes as seats open - so there are many more votes than voters):

District Votes for Change & Reform (Hamas) Total Votes ** % Hamas**
North Gaza 170021 363832 46.73%
Gaza 364529 941959 38.70%
Deir al-Balah 79594 253882 31.35%
Khan Younis 160014 531480 30.11%
Rafah 61936 153247 40.42%
Total 836094 2244400 37.25%

So even just within Gaza it's hard to argue Hamas had overwhelming support. It's also worth remembering that Gaza has a pretty high proportion of children (43.8% - 0-14) and so democratic decisions by the adult population have more potential legitimacy problems than might otherwise be the case. Saying children 'chose freely' to be bombed because less than half of adults voted for a party six years ago might be pushing democratic accountability a bit far.

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