I was asked yesterday why, during a ceasefire, Hamas had fired a rocket at Israel.
Like most people I have tried to make sense of what is happening in Gaza whilst a couple of thousand miles away from the situation as it unfolds. I have been to Palestine, I know a few people there and I try to make sense of the news that I see and hear. So, do I have any answer to that question.
First, I don’t believe that the leaders of Hamas are stupid any more than are the leaders of Israel. Now, I may be mistaken, but my thinking goes something like this. Gaza and Hamas has been under siege since around 2006. Quite apart from the frequent incursions by Israeli military the situation is of food poverty, fuel shortages, water shortage and power cuts. And that summary does scant justice to the horrible reality as described by the numerous charities and NGO’s operating there. During the past six years Gaza people have endured three major assaults by Israel where two, at least, were preceded by periods of Hamas initiated ceasefires that were not recognised by Israel.
In each of these attacks including the current one, the Palestinian body count has been substantial. (Robert Fisk asks what would have happened had the body count been the other way round, 1000 Israelis and ‘only’ 35 Palestinians.). The number of injured and wounded has to be added to those, in a population of 1.8 million, who are unable to get the normal treatment for their ‘normal’ illnesses. If we are to think in arithmetic terms we should then subtract the destroyed facilities and those medical personnel who have been killed or injured.
From the perspective of Hamas, and in that context, what is the point of a ceasefire? It is supposed to be ‘humanitarian’. What?
What is the point of a humanitarian ceasefire, a corridor to move bodies out and to obtain food and water, when the hell is just going to be unleashed again to create more humanitarian concerns. The concept is bizarre. Hamas may be justified in thinking there is no point until Israel is persuaded or forced to negotiate in good faith. There is no evidence yet that either Netanyahu or Obama are in that position and there is no honest broker in sight. Who would Israel trust that the Palestinians, not just Hamas, would also trust. That is a major problem because, in practice, Netanyahu and Israel’s other leaders trust no-one.
I might disagree with Hamas, in fact I do, but, if this is their thinking, humanly speaking, it makes a sad kind of sense. My view, for what it is worth, is that Hamas should declare a unilateral ceasefire and join with the Palestinian Authority in handing the situation over to the international community. Possibly invite one of the south American nations or the Scandinavians to act as intermediaries.
The evidence is there and is growing that public opinion has swung in Palestine’s favour. Choosing the right moment could be vital. Should the pendulum swing too far the consequences will be far reaching, not just for the region but for the world. Sadly, there does not seem to be a senior international diplomat or politician with the standing and independence to help recognise that moment. And in all this where are our faith leaders whose prophetic task is to speak truth to power. (That includes you Justin and Tim)