Sunday, January 27, 2008

Images From Rafah

In a brilliant display of defiance, Hamas bombs toppled several sections of the Israeli-built barrier between Gaza and Egypt last week, and in doing so ended, if only momentarily, Israel’s six-month long isolation of Gaza. The images from this incident vividly depict the fallout of this latest Israeli policy debacle.

The bright explosions that pierced the darkness of last Wednesday night were the latest and most visible examples of Hamas’ growing power and boldness, despite Israel’s efforts to undermine it. From the outset, Hamas has gained much of its popularity by providing services to the Gazans. When Hamas overthrew the Palestinian Authority in Gaza last June, Israel thought that if it isolated Gaza as long as Hamas was in charge, the Gazans would be motivated to overthrow Hamas in favor of Fatah or another, more “moderate” faction. As economic conditions worsened, though, Gazans directed their hate towards Israel instead of Hamas. In fact, they actually turned to Hamas for more help, making Hamas that much more influential and popular. The sabotage of the border wall was Hamas’ most recent move to defy the latest Israeli measures against Gaza.

The sea of Gazans that flowed through the breach in the Gaza-Egypt barrier showed the growing desperation of the Gazans. The Gazan economy has taken a turn for the worst since Hamas’ coup last June. The Western-imposed economic isolation has stifled economic activity and has caused scarcity. The Israeli military strikes against Hamas militants have damaged the infrastructure, further stagnating economic activity. Already impoverished and desperate, the Israel’s recent move to cut off several basic utilities has made conditions for the Gazans even worse. With supplies running low and desperation mounting, the Gazans made the most of the one sliver of an opportunity afforded them last week, swarming out of their quasi-imprisonment to stock up for the hardships to come.

The vanguard of Egyptian troops that stood aside and let the mass of Gazans file past them was a visible snapshot into the complex motives of the Egyptian government. Egypt’s unsteady relationship with Israel has had its advantages, but it has brought Egypt under fire from much of its people and from radical groups and radical countries, such as Iran. Letting the Gazans pass carries its risks. It is hard to physically provide for the needs of tens of thousands of people and even harder to police them. Egypt in particular has a vested interest in preventing arms smuggling into Gaza, afraid that Hamas may incite the Egyptian-based Muslim Brotherhood to radical action or pressure on the government. The Gazans themselves still have some ill feelings towards the Egyptian government because of its harsh rule of Gaza from 1948-1967. And of course the Israelis certainly do not want the Gazans out. As the Egyptian public grew more and more dissatisfied with Israel, though, Egypt felt more comfortable listening to the demands of the public than those of Israel. Besides, physically forcing back a tide of tens of thousands of people would not be an easy task in itself, and hardly worth the trouble simply on the behalf of the fragile, unpopular Israeli alliance. So, after weighing all the parameters, Egypt took a step away from Israel and let the Gazans pass.

Not only has Israel’s policy not achieved its intended goals, but it has also not been adequately enforced, as last week’s sabotage showed. But, to be fair, Israel’s actions were not irrational. Few would contend that Israel has an easy security situation. All too often Israel has been confronted by an incessant barrage of attacks from radical groups seeking its total destruction or at least the reduction of its controversial domain. Israel, a nation that has frequently had to fight for its very existence, has historically retaliated fairly strongly against its adversaries. In the wake of the recent bombardment by Hamas, then, last week’s Israeli response that cut off electrical power and other key supplies from Gaza was not totally unreasonable.

It is pretty safe to say, though, that Israel’s heavy handed approaches have not significantly curtailed the violence directed against it. Last week’s collective punishment, the apex of a nearly six month long strategy of isolating Gaza, is the latest Israeli action that has served to compromise its security even as it seeks to enforce it.

The uncomfortable reality is that Israel has no easy road to long-term security. But clearly, its current road is leading it in the wrong direction. Last week’s explosion should be a vivid reality check to Israel that it is time to change course. Perhaps a less heavy-handed approach would work better and would not cause such dramatic retribution. If Israel were to reach out to the Gazans rather than isolate them, maybe they would not rely on Hamas so much. If Israel were to bolster Gaza's economy rather than deflate it, maybe the Gazans would have too much to lose to risk being radical. Perhaps then Israel and Gaza would move towards a lasting peace instead of towards a constant struggle.

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1 comment:

Alex said...

What do you think of this samsonblinded.org/blog/israel-cannot-blockade-gaza.htm ? Shoher is arguably the most right Israeli today, but he argues Israel should talk to Hamas as Egypt will not maintain the blockade of Gaza.