Palestinians in Gaza are again living another nightmare. The world, however, appears less interested than usual. Dead Palestinians are common products on the international political markets at least last since 1967. As many may have observed, I have rarely commented or written about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. I am not a political scientist and I think that too much has been said and too little done. This post is intended to be just a reflection provoked by the sight of innocent people suffering and trapped in an endless conflict. I wish to tackle the current situation with a practical, and perhaps Machiavellian, question: who gains from this massacre? Certainly it will be neither the people of Palestine nor those of Israel, who will face, inevitably, the return of suicide operations that leave still more innocent people dead or mutilated. People gain from peace, not war. Yet war is a very profitable business.
Let me be clear about some points regarding Hamas and the Israeli government. First we must look at Hamas for what it really is, and not for the Robin-hood many would rather it were. Hamas has great and grave responsibilities for what is happening and for the suffering that people in Gaza are facing. The decision to increase (indeed they never stopped) the number of rockets fired into Israel was a clear provocation aimed to achieve a violent response by the Israeli government (which also never respected the ceasefire). Hamas has demonstrated its disunity and level of oppression towards the Palestinians in Gaza.
Hamas is not a party; it is a movement with much in the way of internal conflict. Many Palestinians in Gaza or from Gaza, when speaking freely, are extremely critical of Hamas, and the violence and oppression used to subdue whomever disagrees with their politics and methodology, which is often brutal.
Hamas has more interest in its own gain than the destiny of Palestinians, and for this reason it is ready to sacrifice them to the altar of money and power. Indeed, this is the ultimate motivation behind an organization which has changed deeply and become controlled more by mafia interests than by any real political agenda for a prosperous Palestine.
Indeed, Hamas, as it is today, can only offer to the Palestinians of Gaza two words: war and hate; war against the Israeli and hate for its political rival, Fatah. People cannot live in an eternal struggle, yet Hamas can only exist in such a context because it was born out of that very context.
Unfortunately, to remain in business, Hamas needs to maintain control and fight both dangerous internal challenges and external pressure. Peace is an enemy for Hamas even more than the Israeli army; peace and stability will bring scrutiny from the inside, from the Palestinian people, and with that, political decadence.
War, destruction and desperation help, though at high cost, to maintain control and popularity, at least outside Gaza. Hamas is more popular among Palestinians, and in general Muslims, whom have not lived in Gaza and are shielded from the most brutal aspects of this movement which has lots much of its original identity and leadership.
Unfortunately, many Muslims live with a myth of Hamas as the ‘freedom fighter’ but are simultaneously ignorant of Hamas as capable of being power-money hungry, abusing human rights, exerting excessive control over private life, and even oppressing innocent Palestinians. Many Muslims see Hamas as a unitary, monolithic paladin of Palestinian rights. It is not. Some Palestinians have even suggested that their condition was better under Israeli occupation. Do Palestinians in Gaza have a choice? They can only choose between the brutality of Hamas and the brutality of Israel. As usual, between two brutalities, normally people prefer their own.
Now, it is important, when we speak of Israel, like when we speak of any other country, to remember that decisions are taken by governments which, after elections, respond more to political parties than the people (some may notice that even in the UK, the current PM was elected by a party, not by a real democratic vote!).
The Israeli government, controlled by the triumvirate Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, has decided to embark on a total war against Hamas not only because of the rockets fired by the latter, but also because of a political opportunism linked to the forthcoming elections in February.
Few have noticed that polls were indicating that Kadima has fallen far behind Likud. Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of Likud, represents very well the stagnation of Israeli politics – linked to the past and unable to provide a real future to many young Israelis. However, Netanyahu had better support than Tzipi Livni because of his campaign promised to deal, once and for all, with the rockets and threats from Gaza.
It is not difficult to see why the the triumvirate have decided to sacrifice Palestinians’ lives. They are going to remove the winning card from Netanyahu’s hands, moreover, with operations which will go on for weeks, they will destabilize the region, increase the possibility of suicide attacks, and the Kadima trio can hope that the well worn adage about not changing government during war will hold true and give them an electoral victory, despite the corruption endemic within the party.
The lives of Palestinians, for the Israeli governments, have never been relevant. It is as if Palestinians, leader after leader, are an annoyance that, despite all efforts to get rid of them, are rather like ants, endlessly reappearing despite the destruction. Of course, although the ethnic cleansing temptation runs through some of the leaders of Israel, today that option cannot be proposed even in the most secret of ominous bunkers. Yet the attitude towards the lives of Palestinian has not changed: they are seen as less than human, however this is not dissimilar from how Hamas, and some Palestinian resistance movements, likewise see the Israeli people.
And here lies the main issue: both parties, the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, share at least something in common: an immoral and unethical view for which political gain are more important than innocent lives, including those of women and children.
Hamas has no problem to sacrifice Palestinian lives in the name of an impossible mission (to remove Israel from the Middle East), and the Israeli government has no issue with endangering the lives of innocent Israelis with the inevitable retaliation of suicide bombing and killings.
Although history is important and certainly injustices are difficult to accept, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict cannot be resolved without pragmatism. To look back to the past, in this case, means to deny the future and perpetuate the circle of killing. Yet this is not only an issue that Palestinians and Israelis have.
The conflict has become globalized and has been transformed into a kind of ‘religious’ confrontation, when of course, it is not. For as long as the past continues to interfere with the future, and so long as people go on killing each other in order to establish whom is right and wrong, there will not be peace. Palestinians and Muslims have to accept one simple fact: Israel is here to stay. Israel and its supporters have likewise to accept that sophisticated forms of ethnic cleansing will not be sustainable nor sucessful. Palestinians are, generation after generation, there to stay, and if a solution not found, to fight.
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict needs an innovative approach which, in my opinion, has to start from below; from the people themselves. The real issue, and the reasons for which Palestinians find themselves with movements such as Hamas and Fatah, and the Israelis with one of the most incompetent and corrupt governments that a democratic country can have, is that the people of Palestine and Israel have given up much of their hope of living in peace.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, of course, has some clear historical reasons. Yet the fact that it is still one of the most deadly conflicts affecting civilians is due to extremely bad politics, and bad politics, akin to a kind of cancer, requires innocent blood in order to perpetuate itself.