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Feb-02-2009 01:31printcomments

We Must Adjust our Distorted Image of Hamas

In a ceasefire 6 months ago, Israel agreed to open crossing points to essential supplies in and out of Gaza. Hamas rockets ceased but crossings stayed closed and the people of Gaza began to starve. This crippling embargo was no reward for peace.

Girl from Gaza in her former classroom at a United Nations school bombed by Israel
Girl from Gaza in her former classroom at a United Nations school bombed by Israel during their recent attack on Gaza.

(GAZA) - Last week I was in Gaza. While I was there I met a group of 20 or so police officers who were undergoing a course in conflict management. They were eager to know whether foreigners felt safer since Hamas had taken over the Government? Indeed we did, we told them.

Without doubt the past 18 months had seen a comparative calm on the streets of Gaza; no gunmen on the streets, no more kidnappings. They smiled with great pride and waved us goodbye.

Less than a week later all of these men were dead, killed by an Israeli rocket at a graduation ceremony. Were they "dangerous Hamas militant gunmen"? No, they were unarmed police officers, public servants killed not in a "militant training camp" but in the same police station in the middle of Gaza City that had been used by the British, the Israelis and Fatah during their periods of rule there.

This distinction is crucial because while the horrific scenes in Gaza and Israel play themselves out on our television screens, a war of words is being fought that is clouding our understanding of the realities on the ground.

Who or what is Hamas, the movement that Ehud Barak, the Israeli Defence Minister, would like to wipe out as though it were a virus? Why did it win the Palestinian elections and why does it allow rockets to be fired into Israel?

The story of Hamas over the past three years reveals how the Israeli, US and UK governments' misunderstanding of this Islamist movement has led us to the brutal and desperate situation that we are in now.

The story begins nearly three years ago when Change and Reform - Hamas's political party - unexpectedly won the first free and fair elections in the Arab world, on a platform of ending endemic corruption and improving the almost non-existent public services in Gaza and the West Bank. Against a divided opposition this ostensibly religious party impressed the predominantly secular community to win with 42 per cent of the vote.

Palestinians did not vote for Hamas because it was dedicated to the destruction of the state of Israel or because it had been responsible for waves of suicide bombings that had killed Israeli citizens.

They voted for Hamas because they thought that Fatah, the party of the rejected Government, had failed them. Despite renouncing violence and recognising the state of Israel Fatah had not achieved a Palestinian state.

It is crucial to know this to understand the supposed rejectionist position of Hamas. It won't recognise Israel or renounce the right to resist until it is sure of the world's commitment to a just solution to the Palestinian issue.

In the five years that I have been visiting Gaza and the West Bank, I have met hundreds of Hamas politicians and supporters. None of them has professed the goal of Islamising Palestinian society, Taleban-style.

Hamas relies on secular voters too much to do that. People still listen to pop music, watch television and women still choose whether to wear the veil or not.

The political leadership of Hamas is probably the most highly qualified in the world. Boasting more than 500 PhDs in its ranks, the majority are middle-class professionals - doctors, dentists, scientists and engineers. Most of its leadership have been educated in our universities and harbour no ideological hatred towards the West.

It is a grievance-based movement, dedicated to addressing the injustice done to its people. It has consistently offered a ten-year ceasefire to give breathing space to resolve a conflict that has continued for more than 60 years.

The Bush-Blair response to the Hamas victory in 2006 is the key to today's horror. Instead of accepting the democratically elected Government, they funded an attempt to remove it by force; training and arming groups of Fatah fighters to unseat Hamas militarily and impose a new, unelected government on the Palestinians. Further, 45 Hamas MPs are still being held in Israeli jails.

Six months ago the Israeli Government agreed to an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire with Hamas. In return for a ceasefire, Israel agreed to open the crossing points and allow a free flow of essential supplies in and out of Gaza. The rocket barrages ended but the crossings never fully opened, and the people of Gaza began to starve. This crippling embargo was no reward for peace.

When Westerners ask what is in the mind of Hamas leaders when they order or allow rockets to be fired at Israel they fail to understand the Palestinian position. Two months ago the Israeli Defence Forces broke the ceasefire by entering Gaza and beginning the cycle of killing again. In the Palestinian narrative each round of rocket attacks is a response to Israeli attacks. In the Israeli narrative it is the other way round.

But what does it mean when Mr Barak talks of destroying Hamas? Does it mean killing the 42 per cent of Palestinians who voted for it?

Does it mean reoccupying the Gaza strip that Israel withdrew from so painfully three years ago? Or does it mean permanently separating the Palestinians of Gaza and the West Bank, politically and geographically? And for those whose mantra is Israeli security, what sort of threat do the three quarters of a million young people growing up in Gaza with an implacable hatred of those who starve and bomb them pose?

It is said that this conflict is impossible to solve. In fact, it is very simple. The top 1,000 people who run Israel - the politicians, generals and security staff - and the top Palestinian Islamists have never met. Genuine peace will require that these two groups sit down together without preconditions. But the events of the past few days seem to have made this more unlikely than ever. That is the challenge for the new administration in Washington and for its European allies.


William Sieghart is chairman of Forward Thinking, an independent conflict resolution agency.


Comments Leave a comment on this story.

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ChrisJones February 4, 2009 10:46 pm (Pacific time)

You should consider posting this excellent article regarding this subject found at--- The War on Terror is a Hoax Paul Craig Roberts Infowars February 4, 2009 According to US government propaganda, terrorist cells are spread throughout America, making it necessary for the government to spy on all Americans and violate most other constitutional protections. Among President Bush’s last words as he left office was the warning that America would soon be struck again by Muslim terrorists. If America were infected with terrorists, we would not need the government to tell us. We would know it from events. As there are no events, the US government substitutes warnings in order to keep alive the fear that causes the public to accept pointless wars, the infringement of civil liberty, national ID cards, and inconveniences and harassments when they fly. The most obvious indication that there are no terrorist cells is that not a single neocon has been assassinated.

SuperAijaz February 3, 2009 10:15 am (Pacific time)

Apostate: What do u know about Islam and do you think Churchil was an Islamic Scholar? How do you know the explaination of Islamic hadith? Please shut your mouth if you don't know anything.

Apostate February 3, 2009 2:47 am (Pacific time)

There will never be peace in the Middle East for as long as Jews continue to believe that their 'Holy Land' was given to them by their god, and for as long as muslims continue to believe that the same land was given to them by their god. Winston Churchill considered mainstream Islam to be an extreme ideology. He likened it to Nazism by calling the Koran "the mein kampf of war". He warned that it threatened Western civilistion. He considered Muhammad to be a warlord, rapist, child abuser and slave trader (which he was, according to the Islamic hadith). Another Great British Prime Minister, William Gladstone, held up the Koran in the British Parliament and said "so long as there is this book, there will be no peace in the world". As non-muslims read the koran and the hadith and read sermons published on the web by 'moderate' Imams, and learn more and more about what 'moderate' muslims actually believe, so they come to understand that Winston Churchill and William Gladstone were right and that something has to be done about it. The liberal politicians who imported this ideology into the West will need to be brought to justice at some point, for building the circumstances for future civil war. The world is currently heading for a world war between Islam and the non-Muslim world. I predict that there will be civil war across the multicultural world within the next 25 years. Anyone who believes that muslims and non-muslims can live side by side in peace for generations is a dangerous and ignorant idealist in denial of history. Such people put human lives into great danger. History is littered with examples of multicultural societies which attempted to bring musims and non-muslims together, but which eventually split violently. Modern politicians are too attached to their liberal ideologies to understand why history will repeat itself, once more, due to the fact that people are belief-motivated. Anyone who attempts to follow the teachings and ideology of the Koran, or to emulate Muhammad, automatically brings war and violence to the world. Future events will prove these words to be accurate. It is muslims who quote the Koran out of context in an attempt to 'prove' to non-muslims that Islam is peaceful. They do so because they were taught to do this by Muhammad, and non-muslims fall for the same deceit time and time again, because they cannot believe that Muhammad would have taught his Muslims to deliberately lie to non-muslims, yet this is exactly what he did. It is called the Islamic principle of 'Taqiyya.' Muhammad taught that peace could only exist in the world once every territory of the world had converted to Islam, and taught muslims that they must fight non-muslims until Islam reigned supreme. This is why Muslims say that Islam is the religion of peace. They believe that they will bring peace to the world through converting the world to Islam, even though there is no peace in the territories which have already converted (think of the violence between Sunni, Shia and Kurd). Muhammad's ideology always results in violence. Most muslims don't try to implement it, but there is always a percentage of muslims who do try to implement the ideology, and when that happens there is always violence. Liberals need to learn the lessons of history, instead of attempting to follow an ideology of welcoming an extreme ideology into their lands through a deluded belief that muslims will abandon Muhammad's ideology in favour of their ideology of liberal multicultural utopia. It will never happen for as long as muslims continue to have faith in the Allah delusion. There is no such thing as an educated Muslim, because an educated Muslim is an apostate. This is offensive, but it is also true. Muhammad taught Muslims that they must murder people who leave Islam. Muslims are too gullible to understand that this is the behaviour of a mafia-type gangster godfather: "If you leave my organisation then we'll come after you and kill you." The result is that people stay in the organisation because they are too afraid to leave. The organisation survives through fear and intimidation. There are only two types of organisation which promise to kill you if you leave - extreme cults and criminal organisations. Anyone who respects ANY such organisation deserves no respect whatsoever from civilised and educated human beings.

conservative February 2, 2009 5:58 pm (Pacific time)

Hamas at it's best. And what what Hamas is all about. The rest is all propaganda. Hamas is known as a terror organization. That's it

ChrisJones February 2, 2009 2:31 pm (Pacific time)

I commend salem-news for publishing this and similar courageous articles about the gaza holocaust.

Vic February 2, 2009 7:43 am (Pacific time)

Thank you Mr Seighart and Salem-News for this article!

peace lover February 2, 2009 5:45 am (Pacific time)

the false information being spread by ISRAEL to support its nazi like activities in gaza/westbank are not going to last long, the people will know the truth and israel will regret spreading false information.

Peter February 2, 2009 4:19 am (Pacific time)

Interesting point, but how do Israelis sit with those who out speak their will to distroy the Israeli state.When talking about conflict resolution, you are talking about a rational decision. Hamas unfortunately has yet to make a strategic decision to live side by side with its neighbor. Israel has, but it takes two to tango!

dr berkovits February 2, 2009 2:37 am (Pacific time)

you make no menrtion of the fact that while the israeli military fights hamas to live, hamas militants live to fight israel.
If Hmas were to lay down their weapons there would be no more deaths and fighting, of israel laid down its weapons, there would be no more israel.
israel SUPPLIES food, fuel and water to Gaza despite the fact that all hamas supplies to israel is rockest in the air.
its has been shown time and again, a large portion of the starvation in gaza is due to its 'educated' leaders stealing the food, and killing the israeli drivers who bring it in.
please try balanced reporting for once

Editor: Oh please, that is a load of crap. We aren't towing the line anymore and lying out the side of our mouth. Israel is acting like a bully nation and it slaughters children; not just openly but rampantly, and it does it from afar. You can call that justified if you want to. The last time I checked the count was 1300 dead Gazans and 13 dead Israeli soldiers; four from friendly fire. Sounds like an even response to you? Again, you are barking up the wrong tree and Americans need to know the truth about this.

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