Hani Almadhoun
The Huffington Post (Blog)
January 26, 2010 - 1:00am

Spending more than four months in Gaza with not much to do but observe the situation on the ground, I interacted with the Palestinian people in Gaza, listened to Israeli jets fly over, noticed minimal Israeli military campaigns against Hamas, and did not see nor hear news of any significant homemade rockets. One cannot help but conclude that there is a sort of unspoken ceasefire between Hamas, the local ruling party, and the Israelis. I am beginning to think that Hamas might not mind the siege on Gaza as long as their protégées are driving nice cars and get to carry titles like "Minister," "Mayor," and "Governor." The Israeli siege of Gaza is indeed empowering Hamas, the party that preaches resistance on its Al Aqsa TV, but throws in jail anyone who wants to do Israel harm. Here's how:

1. The people that are systemically targeted by Israel are members of the militant Islamic Jihad but, of course, civilians also get killed. Not a single active Hamas member has been killed by Israel since Israel's Gaza offensive in January. To return the favor, Hamas has not carried out any militant action against the Israel. While the people of Gaza face the daily struggle to secure food, medication and sometimes shelter, Hamas and its members are doing better than the average Gazans. The only newspapers printed in Gaza are Hamas publications.

2. Hamas scores high marks with its constituents when it is seen as standing up against all odds. The siege on Gaza provides them with just that, giving Hamas credibility with its base. Supporters and fans of Hamas are relieved when they see their "guys" in Gaza under siege because they are then the true voice of the Palestinian resistance. In other words, when Hamas is the underdog they win support because they are standing up against the rest of the world. Everyone loves an underdog that doesn't buckle under pressure.

3. As the life in Gaza becomes more dire, donations spike. Most Gazans receive food aid, if not form the UNRWA then from the numerous organizations working in the Gaza Strip. Under the previous administration, Palestinians did not see as much aid coming in. And in the past refugees used to be the only aid recipients. Now, refugees as well as native residents of Gaza collect food stamps. It's hard not too when unemployment is upward of sixty percent. Thanks to the siege, governments, charities and individuals all pour resources into the Gaza and most of this aid is food items such as flour, milk, rice, cooking oil, and canned meat. Even with an embargo on Gaza, food items and medications often are allowed in, however, if there is an particular item needed in Gaza, an NGO can provide it and the Israelis are reluctant to say no. For example, prior to schools opening, there was a shortage of notebooks and UNRWA bought truck loads and distributed them through their system. For the first time, Gazans are seeing American, British, French, Swedish, Saudi, Egyptian and Turkish NGOs working in Gaza. This indirectly enhances the legitimacy of Hama in the eyes of Gazans. But you cannot run a country on charity, not for long anyway. The goal is to feed the needy of Gaza not because they want to help Hamas, but rather, an image of starving Palestinian reflects badly on Israel, the occupier who denies Palestinians the right to pursue happiness.

4. The Palestinian Government in Ramallah continues to financially supports the people of Gaza, and the Fatah dominated government even bails out Hamas by paying the gas and electricity bills. In the process Hamas looks good as they take credit for the continued services. In other words, Hamas gave Fatah the boot from Gaza, but they are collecting booty. In the minds of the average Gazan, if Ramallah was truly upset with the government in Gaza, why would it continue supporting them financially. And if the real goal is to choke Hamas, the Western NGOs wouldn't be keeping the Gazan economy afloat.

5. Hamas leaders now have enormous perks provided by Arab governments. In the past most Hamas leaders were banned from traveling if not detained. Now Hamas leaders travel freely in the Arab and Islamic states meeting with kings, presidents and prime ministers. Staying in five star hotels may not help the resistance, but in the eyes of an average Gazan, it gives the Hamas leaders the cachet of international legitimacy. Now, whenever Hamas leader talk, hundreds of media outlets listen.

6. A retired Palestinian military general stated that if Israel truly wants the smuggling tunnels shut down, it would take them no more than two hours to demolish all of them. But it seems that all parties have a stake in not completely choking the people of Gaza. They know if they destroy all the tunnels in Gaza linking Gaza to the outside world, there would be true humanitarian crisis. Tunnels are the conduit for vital goods. Incidentally, the only tunnels that have been targeted are the one linked weapons smuggling; the ones that supply soda, cookies and Viagra remain unharmed.

7. Cement is perhaps the most famous banned item in Gaza. Israel has banned this item and thus there is a limitation on constructions in Gaza. The lack of cement means that thousands of Palestinian construction workers are idle, and their anger is directed at Ramallah since it continues to pay its idled apparatchiks in Gaza, but deny laborers the same largess. Hamas in the meantime makes initiatives to help this one disfranchised segment by managing to find cement when it wants to construct a new government building. Yes, they bring it through the tunnels. But this rebuilding has limits. If Hamas rebuilds all the buildings blown up by Israel during the January offensive, the valuable physical evidence of the siege will be gone. And then how will donors be convinced of the ongoing siege?

8. The Rafah Crossing to Egypt is a major problem leaving Gazans trapped in Gaza for months at a time. Publicly Hamas complains about the closure. Many Palestinians are unhappy about what's going on in Gaza and wish to leave. Many hope to immigrate to Egypt or Sweden and others want to go to Ramallah. Hamas might be sincere in its call for fewer restrictions on travel as this is a constant headache for them. However, if the crossing was wide open and a large exodus took place, how would Hamas look when people voted with their feet? Thus, the crossing closure of Rafah might be the best card they are dealt. Hamas controls the travel list and there is also an upside to this. Hamas can strike from or add anyone to the list. Most of the goods smuggled through the tunnels used to be carried in Gazans' luggage coming back from Egypt. But since no one travels anymore, no one brings these good back with them and Hamas gains revenue by extracting fees from the tunnel operators.

I am not suggesting that what is going in Gaza is some sort of international conspiracy, it is not. I think that certain parties are interested in maintaining the status quo. Israel puts the Palestinians on a diet, allows Hamas rule Gaza and Hamas doesn't attack Israel. Everyone plays along and the international community looks the other way. No one gets hurt; except for the average Gazan facing inhumane and brutal leading to low food security. In the meantime Hamas can preach "resistance" while enjoying peace with Israel. Such situation cannot last for long as Iran is further complicating the political scene and "moderate" leaders facing domestic instabilities.


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