Hamas and the Failed Gaza Experiment
JNS.org – As Hamas continues to exploit protests to foment violence against Israel, finding a way to help the people of Gaza in any meaningful way becomes more and more challenging. All parties interested in bringing change to Gaza need to face the reality that Hamas has failed its own people.
A New York Times article titled “Plan to storm fence gets bloody preview in Gaza” by Iyad Abuheweila and David Halbfinger is one of several recent reports that have started to capture more accurately the reality of Gaza: why the people there are suffering and what these so-called protests are really about. As with so many issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, things are not black and white.
The article does not shy away from hard facts. The authors describe Israeli concerns about “the idea of swarming across the barrier, a mass of tens of thousands of people too numerous for Israeli soldiers to arrest or even to shoot.” They cite an Israeli colonel’s explanation that the protesters are “trying to infiltrate into Israel, damage our infrastructure, and kill Israelis,” and that Hamas leader Ismail Radwan urged protesters not to fear death, but instead to welcome martyrdom.
For additional context, let’s not forget that another Hamas leader, Yahya Sinwar, exhorted protesters on April 6 to “tear down the wall and tear out their [Israelis’] hearts.”
An April 27 New York Times opinion piece entitled “Why I March in Gaza” by Abu Shammalah is an instructive contrast to the Abuheweila-Halbfinger article.
The article has touching aspects. It is written by a father who says he cherishes his life and speaks about his precious wife and children. But he also describes the protesters as unarmed, when many of them are armed. And his characterization of the protests as non-violent ignores the protesters who are quite violent. An inspiring description of how “kites flew” toward the fence must be balanced by pointing out that petrol bombs and swastikas were attached to some of those kites.
Many blame Israel, Egypt, and/or the Palestinian Authority for the situation in Gaza. Too few, however, focus their criticism on Hamas, which has been the de facto ruling entity of Gaza for a decade.
Let’s get real about this: Hamas and its enablers, such as Iran, are squarely to blame for the desperate situation in Gaza. Hamas has consistently put its own destructive priorities above those of Gaza’s weary and increasingly desperate population.
The Israelis have indicated that they want to do more to help the people of Gaza, but only if they can be assured that additional goods they allow in will not be re-purposed into weapons or used to build tunnels to attack Israel. Israel might choose to ease restrictions on travel if it could be assured that those who are crossing into and through Israel will not commit acts of terror or smuggle weapons or cash to be used for terrorism.
Egypt could also do more to help the people of Gaza, but Egypt shares the same legitimate security concerns as Israel. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas could restore all salaries and payments in Gaza. But Abbas also has legitimate concerns, even if the steps he has taken are unfortunate and damaging. Certainly, we would not want to see the Palestinian Authority running an above-ground government and Hamas running a shadow government below. But Israel, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority are not the actual cause of Gaza’s problems, and they can only be part of the solution if given the right opportunity.
Deep and pervasive donor fatigue has set in. In the 15 months I have been on the job, I have heard proposals for quick, temporary, small fixes for the people of Gaza, not a comprehensive solution. Donors understand that none of us can significantly change the situation in the current environment. No one wants to spend money building and rebuilding, only to see what they build damaged or destroyed in yet another conflict. I have met many people from Gaza — impressive, resilient people. But there is a limit to what we can do for them while Hamas is in charge. Hamas has managed to bring the people of Gaza, a people with a proud history and great potential, nearly back to the stone age. What an embarrassment, what desolation, and what failure.
I believe that, given a real choice, the people of Gaza would reject the failed Hamas experiment. The fact is, Palestinians in Gaza need to be reunited with their West Bank counterparts under a single, responsible Palestinian Authority leadership. The future that Shammalah says he wants for his children — “a chance to thrive” — is the future we all are striving to achieve for Gaza and its children.
Jason Dov Greenblatt serves as assistant to the US president and special representative for international negotiations.