What Does Hamas Really Want?

Read the list of conditions published in the name of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and judge honestly whether there is one unjust demand among them.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Palestinians from Gaza at the Egyptian-controlled Rafah border crossing last week. One of Hamas' demands is to have international supervision of the crossing.
Palestinians from Gaza at the Egyptian-controlled Rafah border crossing last week. One of Hamas' demands is to have international supervision of the crossing. Credit: Reuters
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

After we’ve said everything there is to say about Hamas: that it’s fundamentalist; that it’s undemocratic; that it’s cruel; that it does not recognize Israel; that it fires on civilians; that it’s hiding ammunition in schools and hospitals; that it did not act to protect the population of Gaza – after all that has been said, and rightly so, we should stop for a moment and listen to Hamas; we may even be permitted to put ourselves in its shoes, perhaps even to appreciate the daring and resilience of this, our bitter enemy, under harsh conditions.

But Israel prefers to shut its ears to the demands of the other side, even when those demands are right and conform to Israel’s own interests in the long run. Israel prefers to strike Hamas without mercy and with no purpose other than revenge. This time it is particularly clear: Israel says it does not want to topple Hamas – even Israel understands that instead it will have Somalia at its gates – but it is also unwilling to listen to Hamas’ demands. Are they all “animals”? Let’s say that’s true. But they are there to stay, even Israel believes that’s the case, so why not listen?

Last week 10 conditions were published in the name of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, for a 10-year cease-fire. We may doubt whether these were in fact the demands of those organizations, but they can serve as a fair basis for an agreement. There is not one unfounded condition among them.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad demand freedom for Gaza. Is there a more understandable and just demand? There is no way to end the current cycle of killing, and not have another round in a few months, without accepting this. No military operation, by air, ground or sea, will bring a solution; only a basic change of attitude toward Gaza can ensure what everyone wants: quiet.

Read the list of demands and judge honestly whether there is one unjust demand among them: withdrawal of Israel Defense Forces troops and allowing farmers to work their land up to the fence; release of all prisoners from the Gilad Shalit swap who have been rearrested; an end to the siege and opening of the crossings; opening of a port and airport under UN management; expansion of the fishing zone; international supervision of the Rafah crossing; an Israeli pledge to a 10-year cease-fire and closure of Gaza’s air space to Israeli aircraft; permits to Gaza residents to visit Jerusalem and pray at the Al-Aqsa mosque; and an Israeli pledge not to interfere in internal Palestinian politics such as the unity government; opening Gaza’s industrial zone.

These conditions are civilian; the means of achieving them are military, violent and criminal. But the (bitter) truth is that when Gaza is not firing rockets at Israel, nobody cares about it. Look at the fate of the Palestinian leader who had had enough of violence. Israel did everything it could to destroy Mahmoud Abbas. The depressing conclusion? Only force works.

The current war is a war of choice, a choice that we had. True, after Hamas started firing rockets, Israel had to respond. But as opposed to what Israeli propaganda tries to sell, the rockets didn’t fall out of the sky from nowhere. Go back a few months: the breakdown of negotiations by Israel; the war on Hamas in the West Bank following the murder of the three yeshiva students, which it is doubtful Hamas planned, including the false arrest of 500 of its activists; stopping payment of salaries to Hamas workers in Gaza and Israeli opposition to the unity government, which might have brought the organization into the political sphere. Anyone who thinks all this would simply be taken in stride must be suffering from arrogance, complacence and blindness.

Terrifying amounts of blood are being spilled in Gaza – and in Israel to a lesser extent. It is being spilled in vain. Hamas is beaten down by Israel and humiliated by Egypt. The only chance for a real solution is exactly the opposite of the way Israel is going. A port in Gaza to export its excellent strawberries? To Israelis this sounds like heresy. Here once again, the preference is for (Palestinian) blood over (Palestinian) strawberries.

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