Sunday, April 01, 2018

The Hamas March of Return and the Palestinian Pesach story

A quick lesson in oppression, occupation and disproportion.
1. Hamas runs a pseudo-dictatorship in Gaza, an area that Israel disengaged from over a decade ago.
2. Hamas publicly proclaims its intention to break the border with Israel and does so repeatedly with tunnels, rockets, mortars and direct incursions through the fence.
3. Israel and Egypt therefore keep the land and sea borders under their control, allowing most goods to pass in and out, but blocking anything nefarious and tightly restricting "dual-use" products. This does not amount to a blockade and is permitted under international law.
4. Israel actively supports the civilian reconstruction of Gaza and promotes infrastructure projects there, even assisting states who don't even recognise Israel, but wish to participate.
5. Nonetheless Hamas and many people who support and genuinely believe they are helping the Palestinians (the PA, Jeremy Corbyn, most of the liberal intelligentsia) perpetuate the myth that Gaza is a giant open-air prison camp of Israel's making. When you have a look at the pictures of the protest marches, you will notice green fields behind the protesters, stretching to the horizon. Gaza is small but it has open spaces for agriculture and would be producing much more if it weren't for the destruction of the many facilities (some political and some just looting) after Israel disengaged. There would be even more land if the PA were willing to engage seriously in talks about creating a state and ending the status quo that they perpetuate on the backs of ordinary Palestinians for their own ends - Egypt has offered to allow Gaza to annex a huge swathe of the Sinai and Israel has the technology to make the land bloom.
6. Even in English, Hamas is not interested in making anything other than a temporary truce of convenience with Israel and says so publicly - no recognition, no peace, but a hudna or tahdiyah for a period of time along broadly the Green Line. In Arabic it remains totally irredentist, perpetuates anti-Semitic canards, and denies any legitimate Jewish presence in the Holy Land except possibly as a subjugated minority under the "rightful" sovereignty of the Palestinians, whose "return" is paramount.
7. With all this in mind, Hamas has fomented the mass movement of 30,000 Gazans to the border fence, a dangerous place at the best of times, in what could never be maintained as a simple peaceful protest. What they tell the Western media is simply not borne out by either their actions or the incitement to try and storm the fence (or them testing the IDF security measures with a series of breaches last week). The whole thing is clearly premeditated.
8. Hamas and their friends and the useful idiots who shill for them have already started to talk about Israel's heavy handedness. There are 30,000 people including women and children at the border. 400 (1.3%) are alleged by Gaza NGOs to have received gunshot wounds. Few to none are women and children - if they were, we would have plenty of noise about it. 16 (4% of the casualties, 0.05% of the protesters) are dead. All are men aged 16-30. At least 10 have been identified and named as known terrorists - Hamas has even confirmed most of this. All of them died at, over or within feet of the security fence and the IDF has corroborating footage of most of this.
If Israel were trying to perpetrate a massacre, they are not doing the best job of it. In fact they appear to be operating under incredible restraint in the face of the worst provocation in years and possibly the most complex threat to the border it has ever faced.
The eyes of the world are upon us. We need to provide the context and the realities surrounding these events, and get ahead of the simplistic oppressor/victim narrative that is emerging as usual. The Palestinians ARE victims - of the PA, Hamas and the international "friends" of Palestine who are actually doing more damage than good through their myopic approach to the issue.
Some are making very clever and dangerous inversions of the Pesach story - Israel has hardened its heart to the Palestinian slaves who merely want their freedom, etc. I would like to suggest a different interpretation. The Palestinians have been enslaved by their own leadership and before that by Egypt and Jordan. The Children of Israel had to wander for 40 years in the Wilderness, while the younger generation learned the lessons required to be responsible enough to found a nation, and awaited the passing of the old leaders who were revered but too flawed to switch from running a liberation movement to running a sovereign state.
So too, the Palestinians must recognise that they are also as liberated from the yoke of Israeli rule as they make themselves. Gaza is not occupied and 95% of West Bank Palestinians live under PA rule. The rest is determined by the balance of Israel's security needs and their livelihoods in the short term, and by negotiation between two parties who recognise and respect the rights of the other to be there in the long term.
Bibi and the settlements and the Gaza border (none of which I am particularly enamoured with but that I do understand are part of our neighbourhood realpolitik) are just excuses to avoid the responsibilities that come with statehood. The real pro-Palestinians are those who get this and are genuinely seeking to engage with Israel in making daily life better for Palestinians as well as creating the long-term platform for them to take the last step of their liberation, which is fundamentally in their minds, not in the "return" to any particular inch of land between the River and the Sea.
Herzl was the Moses and Ben Gurion was the Joshua of our modern Exodus story. Both of them understood that liberation was a separate idea or ideal to the realities of forming a state. It's why we compromised at every step in terms of accepting a Partition Plan that put most of our historical places outside our sovereignty. It's why we didn't annex the West Bank in 1967. It's why we withdrew from Sinai, Lebanon, Gaza - and we will do so again from other places when the time is right.
Because we are already free, we understand from a place of great conviction where is the line of "dayenu", even when it pains us. I wish for our Palestinian neighbours that one day they too can say "next year in Jerusalem" without it needing to be at our expense.
One thing we can all agree on is that it will probably take 40 years to build the train line to carry them there...