Posts Tagged ‘Fatah’

I’ve been reading about the assault on Hamas sites in Gaza by Israeli military forces and the bellicose language coming from both sides.  First, let me point out that to fire rockets into another country is, by all international standards, an act of war.  So, I can understand why Israel felt a need to respond.  But that’s where the question of proportionality enters the picture.

The image that brought the issue of proportionality into sharp focus for me was of a Palestinian teen firing off a stone using a slingshot. A slingshot against smart bombs (provided to Israel by the United States).  While I don’t condone firing rockets into Israeli towns, let’s also consider that these rockets are crude tools of war — unguided missiles.  One fires them off in the general direction of a town, and they fall where they may.  They are small, creating chaos more than damage, fear more than destruction.  Periodically, they hit a building or a vehicle and someone is killed or injured.  These rockets have killed 11 Israelis in 2008.

Compare that to launching 100 tons of bombs in a single day into a crowded strip of land. Over 1.4 million people live in Gaza, an area of less than 140 square miles.  As a point of comparison, that’s approximately the size and population of the city of Las Vegas; twice the area and triple the population of Washington, DC.  Among the targets were the security headquarters of Hamas, the Interior Ministry, an Islamic University, mosques.  The death toll is over 350, with women and children among the “collateral damage.”  Israel has massed tanks along the border, and Egypt has sealed its border with Gaza.  The civilian population cannot escape.  Now, realize that this comes after a months-long siege that has made food and fuel scarce, medical supplies almost non-existent.  And after years of policies that have put increasing pressure on the residents of Gaza.

Israel’s goal seems clear — regime change.  They want to oust Hamas from control in Gaza.   And if Israel can oust Hamas, Fatah, the faction of the Palestinian Authority that controls the occupied West Bank, gets what it wants without having to take action on its own.  It can condemn Israel, support the Gazans, and come out the winner. Likewise, Arab countries who are trying to deal with their own radical movements are willing to pay lip service but otherwise turn a blind eye.  Unlike the conflict against Hezbollah in Lebanon, this time the Israeli campaign is being run by people with more military experience.  So, the planning and execution can be expected to be more professional.  We know there was a disinformation campaign designed to lull the Hamas security forces back into their headquarters where they would be more easily targeted.  But Hamas political leadership and symbols of Hamas power are included in the targets.  And since these targets are disbursed among the civilian population, we can expect more “collateral damage” even with the use of “smart bombs.”  For example, a bomb hit a mosque in one of the refugee camps in Gaza, but the debris crushed the home next door, killing several children.  Today there is talk of a cease-fire — or a ground assault should Hamas refuse.

Hamas came to power because it won election victories.  Their electoral success was due to several factors — among them that Fatah ran multiple candidates for the same post in many instances while Hamas ran only one.  But we also need to look at how Hamas gained the political support it did, because the tactics have been and are being used by radical Muslim groups in other countries as well, with similar success. Many of these groups — Hamas, Hezbollah, even the Muslim Brotherhood and the Taliban — understand that they can benefit by keying in on the basic needs of the people whose support they seek.  So, rather than trying to sell the people on a particular form of government or political ideology, they establish schools and clinics.  They provide food to people who are hungry, jobs to the unemployed.  Until people’s basic needs — food, shelter, clothing, healthcare, jobs, education — are met, they are relatively unconcerned about the form of government or economic system that ensures that they can meet those needs.  Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority understood that’s what Hamas was doing.  That’s why both urged a delay to the elections.  But the Bush Administration insisted that they be held as scheduled.  In their singular focus on bringing democracy to the Middle East, they failed to understand that Hamas’ radical political agenda was secondary in the minds of the thousands of Gazans who have been living in crowded refugee camps for generations — camps that lack many of the most basic needs of clean water, sanitary living conditions, adequate schools, clinics, hospitals and jobs.

In previous decades, Gazans were able to travel into Israel proper daily to jobs.  Over the years, successive Israeli governments have, in an attempt to prevent suicide attacks, instituted increasing restrictions on Palestinians’ movement from both Gaza and the occupied West Bank into Israel itself, thus effectively rendering these people unemployed.

It’s so easy to sit over here in our modern, well-constructed cities, with our freedom of movement, our relative wealth and lives of ease — even in these uncertain economic times —  to criticize Hamas, the other radical Muslim groups, and the political situation in the Middle East.  If we read only the accounts in the mainstream US media, it’s very easy to see the conflict as one-sided, with Israel always in the right and the Palestinians always in the wrong.  That may have been at the core of Karen Hughes’ remark that she couldn’t understand how Palestinian mothers could support their sons becoming suicide bombers.  Interestingly, there is far more lively discussion of the Arab-Israeli conflict, reflecting a wider range of political views, in Israeli papers than in American ones.  I will be continuing to work on the Middle East tutorial as the weeks go by.  In the meantime, I encourage you to read Juan Cole’s blog “Informed Comment” along with alternative US news sources and English-language sources from both Israel and the Arab countries.


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