Hamas is no stranger to drama. In its early days, the organization waged an effective public relations war against Israel. The global media was fed a limitless supply of film and photos showing Palestinian children throwing stones at 65-ton Israeli battle tanks. Gut-wrenching pictures of Jewish soldiers firing live ammunition at unarmed Arab demonstrators. Wailing crowds carrying bloody Palestinian bodies to hospitals and cemeteries.
After the First Intifada, a frustrated and impatient Hamas armed itself and abandoned its founding policy of nonviolence.
Soon, suicide bombers began slaughtering Israeli civilians in pizza parlors, at checkpoints, on buses and college campuses, on the Sabbath and during Passover. No one was safe.
It wasn’t long before the public image of Hamas changed from freedom fighters to terrorists. Everything the organization did, including participation in the election process, seemed to result in bad press.
To the amazement of the global community, Hamas won the elections. But it immediately demonstrated that it was not fit to govern. Armed clashes with Fatah, the opposition party and the largest faction within the Palestinian Authority (PA), ran up an ever-increasing death toll, and in June 2007 Hamas finally gained absolute control of Gaza—1.5 million people crammed into a strip of land 25 miles long and 8 miles wide.
It was not fit to govern because its agenda has never been to serve and protect the Palestinian people. It always has been the destruction of Israel, using any means, any people at its disposal, whether using human shields against tanks and heavily-armed troops during the al-Aqsa Intifada or using images of Palestinian suffering as photo ops to destroy Israel’s reputation and economy. The agenda of Hamas is that of the Qur’an, which defines Jews as sons of pigs and monkeys and mandates the death or oppression through excessive taxation of all non-Muslims.
It was not fit to govern because it is led by men like Ismail Haniyeh. Though he was elected to serve as PA Prime Minister, his only leadership experience was as head of the maj’d, the security wing of Hamas, that fabricated evidence against its own members and tortured suspected collaborators in Israeli prisons.
Hamas was unfit to govern because it refused to respect or honor previous international agreements made with the PA. Hamas continues to reject any negotiation, compromise or agreement with Israel. At best, it may agree to a truce. But to Hamas, a truce is nothing more than an opportunity to stockpile weapons and expand operations.
A truce also gives Hamas the opportunity to script another public relations campaign.
In 2008, for example, Hamas continually violated its truce with Israel by firing hundreds of rockets across the border at civilian targets. All the while, its leaders knew from decades of experience that this would eventually force Jerusalem’s hand. Hamas taunted Israel with threats that, should Israeli Defense Forces enter Gaza, their troops, like Gilad Shalit, would be abducted. It boasted of projected Israeli death tolls. It sent messages in Hebrew to the mobile phones of Israeli citizens warning, “Rockets on all cities, shelters will not protect you.”
The result was Operation Cast Lead, which left 1,400 Palestinians dead, hundreds of businesses and factories destroyed, and tens of thousands homeless. But that mattered less to Hamas leaders than their huge PR victory. By September 2009, hundreds of complaints had been filed in the Hague calling for investigations into alleged war crimes committed by Israel during what was now being referred to as the Gaza War.
Last week, Hamas launched another clever PR campaign.
The so-called Freedom Fleet, with 10,000 tons of humanitarian cargo and 700 pro-Palestinian/anti-Israeli activists was warned repeatedly that it would not be permitted to break the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza harbor. But Hamas’s media machine was already running at full speed.
While the ships were being loaded, Hamas provided reporters with photo ops showing hard-working, hopeful Palestinians laboring night and day to prepare the harbor, moving sand, paving roads, erecting light poles. The hope and the sweat were very real, but my people were only being used by Hamas leaders who knew that no ship would ever pull in to those waters.
Prime Minister Haniyeh tipped his hand when he told reporters, “The flotilla’s message is clear. . . . The meaning of the flotilla is that the entire world opposes the siege on the Gaza Strip, and if Israel behaves like pirates and sea-terrorists—we will win.”
And they did—at the cost of nine innocent lives, pawns in a deadly media game.
What did it win? Arab streets throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Indonesia ablaze with hatred. Global condemnation of Israel and sympathy for Hamas and its suffering people. The Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt, sealed since it seized power in 2007, reopened like a pressure release valve by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
The Reality behind the Hype
I am sorry, my Palestinian brothers and sisters, but Israel has the right, like every other country in the world, to protect its borders. Every time they were open, weapons and enemies poured in, just as Iraq’s enemies poured in before its borders were secured after Saddam’s fall.
Israel had every right to inspect the flotilla’s cargo before letting it into Gaza. What government would do otherwise? What guarantee did Jerusalem have that the ships did not carry long-range missiles from Iran like the ones sold to Hezbollah, even warheads with biological weapons?
And even if Israel could trust Hamas, which it cannot, there are now tens of thousands of al-Qaeda-like Salafi terrorists in Gaza who see Hamas as too wishy-washy and tame and who would not hesitate to detonate a nuclear device, even if it meant their own destruction along with Israel.
No, Israel cannot open its borders or lift the blockade. If Israel removes the naval blockade, we will see what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called “an Iranian port on the Mediterranean,” and, given the close relationship between Hamas and Hezbollah, Iran, al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, within five years a war would break out that would devastate Europe and the Middle East. Hundreds of thousands would die.
But the deeper issues in Gaza go far beyond humanitarian needs, military strength and national security.
The members of Hamas can never be free as long as their minds and hearts are prisoners to Islamic ideology. And non-Muslim Palestinians can never be free as long as they define freedom in terms of borders and self-determination. At best, they would be prisoners in an independent state. Still driven by anger, hatred, and revenge. Still controlled by an angry, intolerant, vengeful god or believing in no god at all.
If they do nothing else, I pray that the Hamas leaders would at least have the courage, compassion and wisdom to set aside their ideology and begin to care about their brothers and sisters, instead manipulating and abusing them as a means to an end.
If they were no longer determined to destroy Israel, they would be able to apply their time, efforts and resources to providing the Palestinian people with food, medicine, and education, strengthening their society, rebuilding their infrastructure.
If they would talk with Israel and the international community while respecting former agreements, at some time in the future there might no longer be a need for naval blockades and closed borders.