By Ghassan Michel RubeizGhassan Rubeiz
Prime Minister Netanyahu expected his recent assault on Gaza to pacify it. Surprise: the blockaded strip is now on the world map as a humanitarian priority. Israel’s leader has managed to close the secret tunnels of the coastal strip. But exposed Palestinian suffering has generated global compassion for the eventual lifting of the blockade. The prime minister had planned to finish with the Islamic Resistance, but -despite the suffering- Hamas has actually gained status domestically.
The world community has recently become aware that Gaza is an open air prison. Wars make attractive media events; killing and destruction are on live TV, the internet and social media. Videos expose an isolated, deprived and punished community of 1.8 million Palestinians. Four long weeks of media reporting with words and images from the ravaged Gaza strip have documented the death of nearly 1900 Palestinians and 67 Israelis, the injuring of 10,000 and the displacement of tens of thousands.
The world’s discovery of besieged Gaza may prove to be a significant political development. A powerful message has emerged that Gaza is a man-made disaster deserving political and humanitarian attention.
Another important message emerges from Gaza: the Islamic Resistance is resilient. Hamas has been weakened militarily but not psychologically. By confronting the occupier, surviving its assaults, defying it threats, and then negotiating in Cairo on equal grounds, Hamas has gained popularity among Palestinians and the Arab street, not with Arab insecure rulers, particularly leaders of Egypt and Saudi Arabia. A sobering point to keep in mind: Hamas’s status has waxed and waned in the past.
Hamas is not going away. Hamas is a grassroots movement responding to injustice in Gaza and the rest of the Palestinian territories. A lingering Israeli occupation, sustained by intermittent “disciplinary” military campaigns, is bound to strengthen faith-based resistance groups. Religion is a strong motivational tool for political mobilization under conditions of despair.
Hamas is responding to an expanding occupation. The increasing density and power of Israeli settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem reinforce the empowerment of faith-based resistance. Israeli settlers and Palestinian Islamic fighters think and act alike; they are determined, judgmental and predisposed to use of force in problem solving.
Hamas commits isolated acts of terror under extreme conditions, but it is not a terrorist organization. Its crude shelling of threatening rockets on civilian communities in Israel is not justifiable, but such acts of terror occur in a context of helplessness.
In an insightful Haaretz opinion piece, Amira Hass interprets one effect of Hamas’ rockets: Say what you will about Hamas’ rocket fire, at least they managed to scratch the surface of Israel’s faith in the normalcy of its domination of another people. http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.606645
It is unfair to praise Hamas. One must not forget that the Islamic Resistance has somewhat distorted the Palestinian cause through de-secularizing the ideology of struggle, poor governance in Gaza and fratricidal politics with the Palestinian Authority. Nevertheless, Hamas must be allowed to participate in the rebuilding and development of Palestine. A commentary titled Why Palestinians support Hamas may be of interest here. http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.608906
Eventually an agreement will be reached and Israel will have to lift the blockade on Gaza. The agreement may come in the context of a new round of Arab-Israeli peace talks.
Israel refuses to deal with Hamas by demonizing it. But other land liberation movements around the globe have evolved – from revenge to politics- in Israel itself, Ireland, Spain and elsewhere. The Palestinian Liberation Organization, PLO, has renounced violence through the Oslo agreement. If Israel would cooperate with the newly formed Palestinian unity government – which emerged from the reconciliation between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank- Hamas might soften its position on Israel. By backing the unity-government Hamas has implicitly indicated willingness to accept Israel, join a peace process and respect previous agreements. But Israel has adamantly opposed the unity government to prevent Hamas from participating in state building. In a recent op-ed two former presidents, Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson, argue in a recent commentary that Hamas has evolved. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/aug/05/gaza-blockade-must-end-un-first-step-settlement
The off-and-on ceasefire negotiations in Cairo have failed so far; Hamas does not accept demilitarization. The Palestinian Resistance is not willing to be pacified even before a substitute Palestinian security structure is formed, an international border police force is brought in, and the unity government is accepted by Israel. Differing with Tel-Aviv, Washington has accepted to work with the new Palestinian cabinet.
Regretfully, it may take several rounds of bloodshed for the negotiators to realize that Gaza cannot be separated from the rest of Palestine, Hamas must be part of the decision making process and the liberation of Gaza must be integrated in a wider Arab-Israeli peace process.
A recent poll in Israel revealed that 51 % of the population considers the four-week war a draw; with no real winner. Will the unintended consequences of the third Gaza war lead Israel and Hamas to abandon their mutually destructive policies? Both sides are tired and desperate for an exit.