Sunday, June 17, 2007

Hamas, Gaza and fear

While several people in the last week have asked me, "Is it safe to go there? (Israel)" I quickly respond that I have no plans to travel to the Gaza Strip, which of course is no longer occupied by Israel. Of course, I have been monitoring the news closely. One publication, The Times of London, says Israel is preparing military action against Hamas in Gaza, but the majority of reports -- representing a diversity of perspectives -- suggest that as long as Hamas keeps things under control and doesn't try anything against Israel, the Israelis will not interfere and will in fact co-operate with humanitarian and food aid.

So we are continuing our preparations. I have an intensive week of work ahead, since we have not hired a permanent editor yet and I have to do most of the writing for the July issues before departing (giving instructions to freelancers to finish the work for July, and co-ordinate most of the editorial for August). We have to do our packing and stuff. Fortunately, most of the itinerary is set out and we are ready to go.

But what about Hamas, the "occupied territories" and the political mess that defines this region?

First, we must be clear -- Hamas has a fundamental goal -- the complete destruction of the state of Israel and its replacement with an Islamic theocracy. I'm sure if its leaders and lay supporters could have the power to brutalize the Jews, they would give us worse treatment than they showed their Fatah opponents -- with cold blooded murder, throwing bodies off roofs, and the like.

Second, Israel really can't destroy Hamas. In the Gaza cesspool, to do so would mean the murder of millions of people -- perhaps truly supporting Hamas, but nonetheless, these are downtrodeen, poverty-stricken civilians. Such brutality is of course against the Jewish moral code.

The problem here is hate and poverty are breeding on each other, creating a downward vortex for which there is no easy solution or obvious answer. Israel can't just leave Gaza alone, with arms smuggling and fanatics in charge, Hamas could build a formidable arsenal to achieve its objectives. Probably what will need to happen are periodic interventions from Israel, either direct assaults or pin-point attacks, especially on the Hamas top leadership -- to keep them from getting too strong, while showing as much respect as possible for international moral conventions, by allowing food and humanitarian support to continue. (Israel could theoretically starve and put the strip into a state of siege by cutting most of its water and power, but it won't do that, unless, I suppose, Hamas goes all out.).

These 'solutions' don't really solve the problem, of course. That roots back to Israel's birth in 1948, and the response of the Arabs, both locally and internationally, to regard Palestinian refugees as unassimialatable; to be supported by United Nations food aid as they are denied freedom of movement or opportunity, while they wait to 'return' to their homeland (pre-1948 Palestine).
Since it is quite obvious that Israel doesn't really want to millions of Hamas-loving descendants of Palestinian refugees crossing back over the border (the original refugees are of course senior citizens, if they are alive at all), the only hope is to create enough opportunity and mobility within the global community (including, I would argue, for some people to resettle in Israel, especially where there are valid family reunification issues), that the poverty can be replaced by opportunity and hope -- and the fanatic Islamic perspective be diluted to a terrorist fringe.

I'm not overly optimistic this will happen. So we'll watch and learn, and hopefully the Times of London is not right in its prediction, at least during our visit to Israel.

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