Amira Hass
Haaretz (Opinion)
October 27, 2010 - 12:00am

Do you really want to weaken Hamas? Surprise it. Go back and open Gaza's gates - to ordinary human movement, not just to cherries, shavers and a handful of pious Muslims who manage to wend their way past the Egyptian bureaucracy. Open the Erez checkpoint. Then you'll see how Gazans yearn for life.

Let young people study outside the Gaza Strip. Despite the exasperating presence of Israel's foreign rule, in the Palestinian enclaves in the West Bank those young people will encounter a form of diversity that is becoming extinct in Gaza. They will discover that such diversity is better than the monolithic reality imposed by Israel's siege and messianic politics. Allow female pupils and female teachers to tour their land and see that the world is more complicated than brainwashing television programs and competitions to obtain relief packages. Consider this: Diplomats report that most Hamas summer camps in Gaza have been closed; most children preferred camps operated by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration.

Stop suffocating manufacturers who have become impoverished over the past five years. Challenge those who call for a boycott, and allow the forcibly unemployed to find work in Israel. Let's see if Hamas can stop them from doing that. The Kav La'oved worker's hotline will campaign devotedly against their exploitation, while Palestinian organizations will try to dissuade them, softly or not, from working in Israel.

Yet their self-esteem, buoyed by the fact that they are again providing for their families, will find its place among such internal contradictions. Let cement and iron enter Gaza so engineers, builders and painters can get back to work. They will rebuild the rubble, along with their attitudes on life.

When residents from Hebron, Nazareth and foreign countries travel to the Khan Yunis coast, or visit a cultural center north of the Al-Shatti refugee camp, their illusions about the wonders of the religious-totalitarian regime will evaporate. The earlier the quarantine in which Gazans were put some 20 years ago is broken, the harder it will be for Hamas to tighten the bridle.

The apocryphal legend says that the closure - the regime of movement restrictions - was imposed on the Palestinians because of the strengthening Islamic movement and the terror strikes against Israeli citizens. But the sequence of events should be read the opposite way: The policy of mass confinement took root in January 1991, before the suicide attacks in Israel. This is a society that was progressively allowed less access to the outside world and experienced ever-more sophisticated variants of Israeli oppression and a lack of concrete solutions from the PLO leadership. Under such circumstances, is it any wonder Allah's earthly emissaries managed to find their way to people's hearts?

If the Israeli government's policy indeed meant to overthrow Hamas by prohibiting production and manufacturing, and by using mathematical formulas to make sure that the animals' - excuse me, the human beings' - nourishment does not slip beyond a red line, then it has failed miserably. This failure was evident before Israel was compelled by international pressure to annul the restrictions on the entry of consumer goods. Gaza residents' famously high threshold of pain and endurance levels let them get by the past three dark years. Unjustly, this resilience is attributed to Hamas.

Appearing increasingly self-confident and self-satisfied, Hamas is consolidating its rule. True, it relies on stifling dissent, intimidation and oppression (like its rival, the Palestinian Authority ). But thanks to its strong talent for improvisation, Hamas is learning to serve the population and supply vital needs under extremely hostile circumstances. Are those policy makers who devised the draconian restrictions that foolish to think that bans on chocolate and toys and the destruction of the manufacturing sector would stir an uprising against Hamas or convince it to deliver the keys of power to Mahmoud Abbas?

It would be wrong to dismiss the wisdom of our leaders. Perhaps they've gotten exactly what they wanted - to strengthen Hamas in the Gaza Strip, both for perpetuating the intentional division between Gaza and the West Bank and to encourage perpetual low-intensity warfare (which sometimes escalates ).

Only under such circumstances do our leaders know how to function, while securing their people's support.


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