The roots of Hamas resilience

The roots of Hamas resilience

Yesterday, the Israeli air force dropped a large (and most likely US-supplied) bomb on the apartment-building home of Nizar Rayyan, one of the top five leaders of Hamas in Gaza, killing him and 15 family members, including children, and wounding numerous neighbors. The Hamas website reported the killing, and gave a brief eulogy for Rayyan, here.

The “strategy” of the Israeli government, if it can even be called that, now seems to have shifted from “taming” Hamas to decapitating or even completely dismantling Hamas. As I noted here last Monday, a dismantling/decapitating war, which was then being advocated by Ehud Barak, implies a very different approach to both operations and diplomacy than a “taming” war.

Today, Israel attacked the homes of other Hamas leaders. Many of the heavily populated areas of Gaza City, Rafah, and Jabaliya now look, from the photos, very similar to Beirut”s southern “Dahiyeh” suburbs after the US-supplied Israeli warplanes started blasting into it in July 2006. But at least the residents of the Dahiyeh had places elsewhere in Beirut and Lebanon that they were able to flee to (and they found that Lebanese of all stripes including previous critics of Hzibullah, were very eager to help give them emergency shelter and emergency aid.)

Now, where can the residents of blasted areas inside Gaza flee to? And remember: the winters can get very cold in that corner of the Mediterranean.

And yet… this is what AP is reporting today: Hamas resilient despite Israeli onslaught.

Reporters Ibrahim Barzak and Karin Laub write this:

    Israel is methodically targeting the Hamas domain, bombing government offices, security compounds, commanders, and even Hamas-linked clinics, mosques and money changers. Yet Gaza”s Islamic rulers show no sign of buckling under the aerial onslaught.

    Israel says Hamas still has thousands of rockets. Hamas TV and radio remain on the air, broadcasting morale-boosting battle reports. Hamas” political and military leaders communicate from hiding places by walkie-talkie. Police patrol streets to prevent price gouging and looting.

    “Israel has destroyed the buildings, but Hamas is still here,” Ahmed Yousef, a Hamas spokesman, said Thursday, the sixth day of the bombing campaign. “There is no anxiety over the existence of Hamas — even if they destroy all of Gaza — because we are among the people.”

The rest of that informative article is also worth reading. Including this:

    The initial round of Israeli bombing wiped out key police installations, and Hamas officials say 185 members of the group”s security forces are among the nearly 400 dead. Hamas security men have slipped into civilian clothes to avoid being targeted, but still patrol the streets. Hamas” Al Aqsa TV and radio have broadcast a toll-free number for residents to make criminal complaints.

    Policemen direct traffic and run checkpoints near bombed-out government buildings to prevent scavenging. They tour gas stations, bakeries and groceries to make sure owners don”t take advantage of growing shortages to hike prices.

    On Tuesday, two Hamas plainclothes police officers drove up to a small gas station in Gaza City and learned from customers that the price for diesel fuel had tripled. They approached the owner who swiftly lowered the price.

    Hamas inspectors with scales visit bakers, making sure that the government-fixed price for bread — 55 pitas for 7 shekels, about $2 — is being honored.

I note there is a key difference between the situation of Hamas under Israel”s assault in Gaza today and the PLO when it came under a very similar Israeli assault in Lebanon, in 1982. On that earlier occasion, the Palestinians received considerable help from a portion of Lebanon”s population. But as the assault– and particularly the seven-week siege of West Beirut– dragged on, many of the PLO”s Lebanese allies became very depressed because of the continued battering their city was taking. (In Lebanon, too, there was always a large chunk of the populace that hated the Palestinians and was working very actively indeed to support Israel”s attacks against them.)

Finally, after eight weeks of that war, Lebanese PM Shafiq Wazzan, who had been a long-time, if never very enthusiastic, supporter of the PLO presence in Lebanon, persuaded Yasser Arafat to negotiate a ceasefire that saved some of his forces but sent them sailing off to some very distant Arab countries. (Sharon”s massacres of Palestinians at Sabra and Shatila ensued.)

This time Gaza”s defenders are fighting to defend a small portion of their own country. Adding to their current determination are these other facts about them:

    (1) The status quo ante they had to live in prior to this war was itself quite unacceptable– as were, too, the lengthy preceding years of direct Israeli occupation. So the Gazawis don”t even have as much “stake” as, for example, Hizbullah”s people did in 2006 in seeing a ceasefire that would give them a return to the status-quo-ante;

    (2) Though Gaza is a part of Palestine, some 80% of its people are refugees from other parts of Palestine. So though many Gazans do have a deep concern for the physical infrastructure of the Strip, still, many of them also harbor very long-held and deep claims against Israel, including very large property claims, along with a correspondingly deep sense of resentment that these claims have never been seriously addressed in the many rounds of alleged “peace diplomacy” that have occurred over recent decades.

But all these socioeconomic facts about Gaza”s population would count for nothing if Hamas and its antecedent movements had not been working hard for the past 25-30 years to organize their supporters in such a way as to build and rebuild the resilience of their constituency.

In the west, too many people think that Hamas is “only” the “terrorist organization” that it”s designated to be by the US State Department. They imagine it is made up of wild-eyed, implacable Islamist radicals who have much more in common with the Afghan Taliban than with any movement that is considered “civilized” in the west.

Not so. Hamas”s founder, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, always placed a lot of emphasis on the need for education, self-restraint, and the need to rebuild the social fabric of Palestinian constituencies torn apart by years of Israeli attacks, occupation (including the heinous divide-and-rule tactics of the Shin Bet), and physical and social dispersal. Gaza Islamic University (badly bombed by Israel earlier this week) was just one of an entire network of educational and social-welfare institutions with which Hamas sought to rebuild Gazan society. Those institutions preceded the creation of Hamas as an armed political movement, which happened in 1987; and they have continued to operate alongside Hamas ever since. (You can read a lot more about Hamas”s history here or here.)

Another indicator of the resilience of Hamas is that the movement has suffered numerous rounds of extremely serious decapitating attacks in the past 15 years– including the assassinations of Ahmed Yassin and numerous other top leaders in 2004– but still, its systems for educating successive generations of youth and for cultivating leadership skills in a broad array of skill-sets, not just the military, means that those leaders were replaced by others of considerable experience. Those assassinations never resulted in the breaking up of the movement. Indeed, the leaders who have survived– and their followers– now have an even flintier sense of dedication to their nationalist/Islamist cause because of the fires they”ve lived through and the colleagues and former mentors whom they”ve lost.

As of now, this intriguing article from Radio Netherlands tells us a bit about how Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and his colleagues in the top leadership have been surviving Israel”s attacks: Literally, by going underground. I had kind of suspected as much.

… In related news, the “international community” is still showing that it is marked by a devastating vacuum of power at the leadership level. None of the non-US powers seem to have the will (or perhaps the inclination?) to try to force the desperately needed immediate and binding ceasefire resolution through the Security Council. Or at least, to force the US to cast a veto against this ceasefire, which would clarify Washington”s role in world affairs considerably right now. The EU has just turned the presidency over from France to the Czech Republic, whose leaders are still in fairly deep kowtow mode to Washington. And neither the Chinese nor the Russians seem eager to confront Washington at this time.

White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe today stressed that any decision on whether to launch an infantry invasion of Gaza would be “Israel”s” to make. Condi Rice said that though the administration does favor a ceasefire, the administration is working to attain one “that would not allow a re-establishment of the status quo ante where Hamas can continue to launch rockets out of Gaza… It is obvious that that ceasefire should take place as soon as possible, but we need a ceasefire that is durable and sustainable.”

Right. No-one wants a return to the status-quo-ante. The big remaining question though, is in which direction will it end getting tipped? That is precisely what the two sides are fighting about.

… And at the Arab/regional level, both Egypt and Jordan had to deploy riot police today to beat back crowds of pro-Gaza demonstrators that gathered after Friday prayers. Both these increasingly repressive states receive considerable backing–including for their police forces– from the US, and both have peace treaties with Israel. In Amman, the crowd was reported as 60,000 strong. There were other anti-Israeli demonstrations in other Muslim countries. In the West Bank, pro-Hamas protesters were beaten back by (US-trained) Fateh police units.

Two useful sources for learning about what”s happening in Egypt are the blog of the leftist activist Arabawy, part of a network that”s making some excellent use of the new media (including Jaiku), and the website of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.

Ceasefire now! And link that directly to a speedy UN effort to define and implement a durable and fair final peace between these two deeply troubled peoples.