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Israeli blockade galvanizes international support for Hamas

By Ala'a Al-Rimawi

Since June 2007, the people of Gaza have been subject to an immoral and inhuman blockade imposed by Israel – with Egyptian support – which has prevented almost all of the basic necessities of life from passing through the border posts. The nominal reason for the blockade was the civil strife between Hamas, the elected government, and a clique within Fatah which was about to launch an armed coup against Hamas in June 2007. The reality is that the blockade does not just affect Hamas, it has an impact on the whole population; collective punishment – which the blockade almost certainly is – has been banned by international laws and conventions.

Nevertheless, despite rising levels of malnutrition and patients dying because of a lack of adequate medicine, the Western world regards Gaza as the villain in this dispute and Israel as the victim due to the occasional rockets fired randomly across the border from Gaza into southern Israel. Moreover, the same international laws and conventions that condemn Israel give the people of Gaza the right to resist what is the illegal occupation of their land. Western governments tend to overlook this inconvenient fact.

When the people of Gaza did not rise up against Hamas to bring about an end to the blockade, the Israeli government launched a savage bombardment and invasion that killed more than 1,400 Palestinians, one-third of them children. Hamas and the people of Gaza survived; the Israelis withdrew to be labelled as war criminals by the UN's Goldstone Report into the conduct of the war.

The situation in Gaza has prompted strategic discussions in Israeli military institutions and research centres about the consequences of this blockade and its effects on the future of Hamas. A former adviser to Ehud Barak, the Israeli Minister of Defence and ex-Prime Minister, has said, "The strategies adopted by Israel to deal with the Gaza Strip since June 2007, when Hamas took control of the territory, have failed completely." This difficult confession by Yu Alpher has been ignored by the powers-that-be so as not to damage further the image that the Israeli military is capable of destroying any entity in the region not accepted by Israel. Others, however, have also made powerful statements highlighting the ineffectiveness of the blockade as a political strategy: "The blockade did not weaken Hamas or its control over the authority and it did not urge it to be more open or get it to compromise." Instead, the speaker continued, "the blockade has caused the economic 'devaluation' of an entity that was most likely to be a counterweight to Hamas, and that is the range of businessmen and professionals in Gaza." According to Uzi Dayan, a member of the Likud Party and a former General there is recognition amongst Israelis that the choices available to them are not good or attractive. "I do not think that the blockade of Hamas is that harmful [to the movement]," he said.

When Russia's President Medvedev met with the head of the Hamas political bureau, Khalid Meshaal, in Syria recently, in the presence of the host country's President Bashar al-Assad, it was in recognition of the role of Hamas in the region's political arena. This was endorsed in a separate summit with Turkey, which resulted in an explicit demand to include Hamas in the political process which currently regards it as a "terrorist" movement that has to be destroyed.

This international move towards the inclusion of Hamas is not only being played out among politicians and leaders. There is a growing awareness of the just nature of the Palestinian cause among ordinary people from around the world. On a recent visit to Makkah, a Palestinian pilgrim met a group of Chinese Muslims who, when they knew he was from Gaza, asked, "Do you know Ismail Haniyeh?" Even internet chat sites reveal a high level of support for the people of Gaza and their struggle against the blockade and Israeli policies.

What Hamas has come to realise during the course of the siege is that resilience gives the parties in this conflict moral and political weight. The evidence that the Palestinian Authority is only too willing to bend to Israeli arrogance and pressure reduces its standing and that of Israel and its illegal occupation. Hamas is the beneficiary of this situation. This prompted Gidi Grinstein, the head of the Reut Institute in Tel Aviv to say, "Taming Hamas is a long-term process and I do not call it a strategy… though it can be described as a strategy, but I do not think it is a stated or effective strategy."

"Taming" or killing and dilution strategies have failed in the face of the mobilisation of support for Gaza and its people. This will be tested in the next week or so as a flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian aid sails from Turkey to Gaza to break the siege. Such support is reminiscent of the mass sympathy elicited by the siege of the late Yasser Arafat in his compound in Ramallah, which ended with his death in a Paris hospital.

Hamas faces challenges today that are in many respects unprecedented and they require the movement to be steadfast. High on the list of priorities must be national reconciliation so that the people of Palestine – in the West Bank and Gaza – are able to confront the Israeli occupation effectively and with the great dignity that the world now expects and is growing to admire so much.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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