The Daily Star (Editorial)
January 18, 2008 - 6:34pm

The past week has seen a rapid degeneration from bad to worse in the Gaza Strip, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's vow to continue waging "war" on the besieged territory does not bode well for more than one million civilians who live there. Having already been half-starved into submission by the economic strangulation imposed on them by Israel and the international community, Gazans now find themselves caught between an escalating battle between militants and Israeli forces.

Hamas, whose leaders unilaterally seized control of Gaza last June, needs to step back and realistically examine its current predicament. The resistance arm of the party had until this week refrained for many months from firing rockets across the border into Israel, and had even recently extended an offer to forge a truce with the Israeli military, though that gesture was unreciprocated. But after Israeli assaults in the territory on Tuesday killed 19 Palestinians, including three civilians and the son of senior Hamas leader Mahmud Zahar, Hamas responded by lobbing dozens of rockets into Israel, prompting swift and fierce retaliation from the Jewish state. Now the two sides appear to be digging their heels into another tit-for-tat cycle of violence, which may or may not claim the lives of any Israelis, but will almost certainly result in the deaths of more Palestinians, including civilians. 

Hamas has to ask itself whether this scenario suits the interests of the Palestinian people, the Islamist party itself, or anyone at all. Honest reflection would reveal that the movement has been unwittingly lured into situation that can only benefit its mortal enemies. Even though the rocket attacks on Israel this week have done minimal damage and have not claimed the lives of any Israelis, the Jewish state has been provided with a convenient excuse to commit more acts of savagery in Gaza in the name of "self defense." The clear priority for Hamas now should be to avoid providing pretexts for continued Israeli assaults. The party also needs to act hastily to repair badly damaged relations with their counterparts in Fatah, since the political divisions among Palestinians have only facilitated a strategy of imperial conquest. Moreover, as the self-appointed rulers of Gaza, Hamas needs to attend to its primary political duty of ensuring the welfare of the territory's population.

None of this is intended to suggest that Hamas and other groups do not have a legal and moral right to resist oppression and occupation. However, it takes more than blood and will to win a war: it also requires patience, intelligence and strategy. Hot-headed, rash responses to Israel's aggression will only succeed in winning the Palestinians larger doses of Israeli cruelty.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017