Thursday, January 8, 2009

Is Hamas the Main Obstacle to Peace?

Is Hamas the Main Obstacle of Peace in the Middle East?
As of today, almost 700 Palestinians have been killed and almost 3,000 injured as a result of the Gaza offensive by Israel. The world expresses its outrage at the inhumane carnage. Israel’s response is that the blame must be put squarely at the feet of Hamas which it describes as an organization that is the chief obstacle to peace in the region. Israel’s officials go to great pains to explain that Hamas leaders are the ones responsible for the death of the civilians and that what they are trying to do now in Gaza is to simply remove these bad guys so that the good guys can be in charge for the benefit of the Palestinians. And they also made it very clear who they think are the Palestinian good guys… none other than members of Fatah which is led by Mahmoud Abbas. This message is repeated again and again by Israel and her faithful partner in crime, The US. Amazingly however, the majority of the ordinary Palestinians, especially those in Gaza who the direct victims of the current onslaught appears to be unwavering in their support for Hamas. Moreover they are increasingly loathful of Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas. In this short article I will explain why this is so. I will also explain why it will be grave mistake to put the blame on Hamas and why we must resist all efforts by Israel and America to isolate Hamas.
To be sure the root of the problems in the Middle East goes back a couple of hundred years ago in Europe. Christian Europeans were very racist and the main victims of their centuries of persecutions include Gypsies and Jews. Attempts by Jews to overcome this problem by assimilating into European society met with no success. A group of Jews led by Theodore Herzl therefore decided to set up a Zionist movement in 1897 whose main aims include setting up a homeland for Jews where they can live on peace and prosperity i.e. a wholly Jewish state. Later these Zionists set about their plan to completely dispossess the indigenous Arab population of Palestine of their lands, with clear approval and active support of the British. The persecution of Jews by the Nazis during the World War Two only served to spur this process further. The Zionists even engaged in rape and murder in order to force the Palestinians to leave their lands (as related by Professor Benny Morris of Ben-Gurion University, Israel). This left the Palestinians no choice but to engage in armed resistance if they do not wish to see the complete dispossession of their nation. In the period up until the 1980s, the most important Palestinian organization which was engaged in these activities was the PLO led by the late Yaser Arafat. However, the PLO lost steam and beginning in the 90s until today the leader of this resistance movement is Hamas.
Hamas, which is a translation of the Arabic acronym for `Islamic Resistance Movement’, is noted for its steadfast refusal to recognise the state of Israel. For Hamas, such an act tantamounts to recognizing the legitimacy of the killings and rapes and dispossession of their lands by foreign invaders. Moreover it has also insisted that all Palestinian refugees which were forced by Israel to leave their country during the formation of Israel have the right to return to their homes. Lastly, it reserves the right to engage in armed resistance in order to prvent injustices committed against the Palestinians. As a result these stances, Israel, the US and EU have refused to recognise Hamas as a legitimate organization in representing the Palestinian people. Instead they have labelled it a terrorist organization and have engaged in numerous attempts to eliminate it. When the strategy to demonise Hamas failed, Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmad Yassin who was a quadriplegic was assasinated on 22 March 2004. A missile was fired from an Apache helicopter towards him which blew him to pieces as he was being pushed in his wheel-chair on the way home after morning prayers in a nearby mosque. He was replaced by Dr. Abdul Aziz Rantisi, a peaditrician. But a few weeks later on 17 April 2004 he too was blown up by Israeli missiles.
Nevertheless the killings of these top two founder members of Hamas failed to eliminate the organization. Instead it became stronger. The US government under the administration of George W. Bush decided to use a different strategy which was through the use of the democratic process. In the minds of the Americans, Hamas was an extremist and radical group and surely the group will be rejected by the majority of the Palestinians. A presidential election resulted in victory for Mahmoud Abbas. But Hamas did not contest that election. Instead it decided to focus on the general election which was held in January 2006. America and Israel was confident that Fatah would win that election to as the US thought that Fatah was a `moderate’ organization. Moreover Fatah which was once led by Yaser Arafat had a much longer history and is secular in character as opposed to Hamas which stated aim was to establish an Islamic state in historic Palestine. Many observers described the election to be free and fair, in fact the first truly genuine democratic election process in the Middle East. But to the surprise and dismay of the US, Hamas won the election by a landslide. The reason for the rejection of Fatah and the popularity of Hamas was obvious to all except for the Americans. Hamas is an organization that operates on the basis of Islam and their leaders were squeaky clean and selfless. Fatah on the other hand operates on the basis of Palestinian nationalism and their leaders were perceived to be highly corrupt and self-serving. Moreover Fatah was willing to cut a deal with Israel which includes recognition of the state of Israel, cessation of armed resistance and complete abandoment of the principle of `right-of-return' of the millions of Palestinian refugees many of whom are currently languishing in refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan. These stances were completely unacceptable to the majority of the Palestinians.
However, the US and Israel were not willing to accept the outcome of the democratic process which would have forced them to deal with an organization which they themselves designated as `terrorist’ organization. They then immediately conspired with Fatah to remove Hamas. In Gaza this was to be achieved by force. Fatah fighters there were led by the very-corrupt Mohammad Dahlan. He was supplied with tons of weapons including a number of armored personned carriers. Fatah operatives also began to assasinate Hamas’s leaders in Gaza. But before the plan was able to be carried out fully, Hamas became aware of it. They found out that the mysterious killings of some of their leaders were connected to elements linked to Dahlan’s military force. Hamas then decided that if they did not act fast they would be completely annhilated. Hamas’s military wing, the Izadeen Al-Qassam brigade then carried out a pre-emptive military coup which resulted in them successfully taking complete control of Gaza and routing Dahlan's force in the process. Since that time, Hamas’s control and influence in Gaza has been getting stronger by the day. The majority of Palestinians in Gaza were impressed with Hamas’s government which stresses law and order and is corruption-free. Hamas also runs a network of social services including free medical care and education. On the other hand, Fatah which is in control of the West Bank is getting weaker by the day. This is partly due to the fact that they are perceived to be corrupt. Moreover they have been unable to improve the living conditions of the ordinary Palestinians there too. Fatah’s grip on power in the West Bank is only possible due to the strategy of curtailing the activities of other opposition groups including the arrest and jailing of hundreds of Hamas leaders and the closing down of organizations associated with Hamas.
Meanwhile America and Israel have not given up their plan to weaken Hama’s grip on power in Gaza. The strategy pursued there by the US and Israel was by an imposition of a harsh blockade of the area. Gaza, in the words of many observers was `the largest open-air prison in the world’, cut off completely from the outside world. It was obvious to all that America and Israel were hoping that the blockade will weaken the resolve of the Palestinians and also weaken their support for Hamas. Even though the 1.5 million Gazans were undergoing severe hardships as a result of the blockade, the governments of Arab coutries in the Middle East such as Egypt and Jordan had little motivation to come to their rescue. This was mainly due to the fear that a successful, prosperous and democratic Gaza may serve to inspire their own restless populace who have been clamoring for more democratic rights and less corrupt governments.
The blockade did weaken the Gazans physically because of the lack of food, medication and other basic necessities. There were reports of people dying due to lack of medications and of widespread cases of hunger and malnutrition. But amazingly, the blockade failed to significantly weaken their political support for Hamas. In the meantime Hamas agreed to a 6-months `period of calm’ with Israel where they agreed to end rocket strikes towards Israel. Hamas was hoping that Israel would be tempted to relax the blockade in return for the security for the inhabitants of Israeli towns in the south such as Sderot and Ashkelon. Unfortunately that did not happen. Israel continued with its policy of imposing a harsh blockade of Gaza. In addition in the final weeks of the `calm period’ Israel embarked on a number of incursions into Gaza and killing more than 5 Hamas fighters in the process. Hamas decided that Hamas decided that they, as responsible leaders of the Gazans, had to fight against the efforts by Israel to slowly starve them to death. Clearly the truce that they agreed to with Israel over the previous 6 months was not helping to improve the living conditions in Gaza. In December of 2008, Hamas declared that the truce was over and duly launched a couple of rockets across the border towards Israel.
It is obvious now that this was what Israel’s leaders wanted to happen. The Israeli general election is planned for late February and the opposition leader Bibi Netanyahu has been leading in the polls due to his hawkish stance towards the Palestinians. Moreover Israel had long decided that the corrupt and unpopular Fatah will never be able to gain influence among the Palestinians without more active help from them. So now they have decided that the best way to do that is to remove Hamas by force from Gaza and to teach the ordinary Gazans that as long as they support Hamas they will pay a price in the form of increased sufferings. Israel and America also wants to give a clear message to the Palestinians that the bombs from their F-16s fighter planes will continue to fall on their head and kill them, their women, children and old people if they continue with their refusal to be led by Mahmud Abbas-led Fatah.
We are now therefore witnessing another round of atrocities committed by Israel towards the Palestinians. In the past Fatah was in the forefront in the fight against Israeli atrocities. But Fatah has clearly long decided to abdicate this role in favor of a strategy of peaceful negotiations with Israel. Even though the strategy is not yielding benefits for the Palestinian people as a whole, it was yielding personal material and monetary benefits for the leaders of Fatah. This therefore mean that the only major Palestinian group left that is willing to fight against injustices committed against the Palestinian people is Hamas. Hamas is the last and only hope for the Palestinians. Its fight is in reality not only for the rights of the Palestinians but also for the upholding of the principle of justice in this world. Therefore, an unequivocal expression support of Hamas’s struggle from us is an obligation, both from an Islamic as well as moral viewpoint