A few thoughts about the recent round of clashes between Israel and the Hamas around Gaza:

So who is the Hamas?

Hamas stands for “Islamic Resistance Movement”. They are a radical Muslim movement, whose goal is to establish an Islamic State (aka Caliphate) throughout the “Land of Palestine”. If that sounds similar to the charter of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), then it isn’t by coincidence… Both movements trace their roots back to the Muslim Brotherhood.

What are they after?

Hamas is very clear about their goals. They are stated in their Charter, which was first published in 1988, and recently updated in 2017. Some of the charter highlights are:

  • “Palestine, which extends from the River Jordan in the east to the Mediterranean in the west and from Ras al-Naqurah in the north to Umm al-Rashrash in the south, is an integral territorial unit.”

NOTE: there’s no room left for a Jewish state according to that definition…

  • Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine. Its religious, historic and civilizational status is fundamental to the Arabs, Muslims and the world at large. Its Islamic and Christian holy places belong exclusively to the Palestinian people and to the Arab and Islamic Ummah. Not one stone of Jerusalem can be surrendered or relinquished. 

NOTE: The Jewish part of Jerusalem has no right to exist.

  • The Zionist project is a racist, aggressive, colonial and expansionist project based on seizing the properties of others; it is hostile to the Palestinian people and to their aspiration for freedom, liberation, return and self-determination. The Israeli entity is the plaything of the Zionist project and its base of aggression.

NOTE: Hamas objects to establishing a Jewish homeland, which is what Zionism is about.

  • The following are considered null and void: the Balfour Declaration, the British Mandate Document, the UN Palestine Partition Resolution, and whatever resolutions and measures that derive from them or are similar to them. The establishment of “Israel” is entirely illegal and contravenes the inalienable rights of the Palestinian.

NOTE: Israel has no right to exist, and all international decisions that support it are void.

  • Hamas believes that no part of the land of Palestine shall be compromised or conceded, irrespective of the causes, the circumstances and the pressures and no matter how long the occupation lasts. Hamas rejects any alternative to the full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea.

NOTE: There can be no compromise that includes a Jewish state. Period.

What’s the connection between Gaza and Hamas?

In 1948, the Gaza strip was occupied by Egypt, while the West Bank (of the Jordan River) was occupied by Jordan. During the 1967 “Six Days War”, Israel gained control over both territories. As part of the peace treaty signed between Israel and Egypt in 1979, the Gaza strip was split in half: its southern part was returned to Egypt, while its northern part stayed under Israel’s control, and was to become part of a future “Palestinian Autonomy”.

The various Palestinian movements formed an umbrella organization called the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), with the Fatah movement being its dominant member. In 1993, Israel prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and the PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, signed the Oslo Accords, which led to establishing a Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza, and the formation of the Palestinian Authority (PA) as its governing body. Yasser Arafat was unanimously elected as the president of the PA.

Unfortunately, the relationships between Israel and the PA haven’t evolve the way both sides hoped for, and the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 certainly didn’t help. The situation deteriorated into an armed struggle, commonly referred to as the “Second Intifada, which took place between 2000-2005. The Hamas played a very active role in the hostilities, leading the pack in suicide bombing attacks against Israeli civilians.

In 2005, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon concluded that the tension and friction between Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza are best addressed by complete disengagement. He ordered the withdrawal of all Israeli troops from Gaza, and the dismantling of all Israeli settlements(aka Gush Katif) in the region. Control over the Gaza strip was handed over to the PA.

Barely two years after the disengagement, a civil war broke between members of the Hamas and PA personnel (who were affiliated with Fatah), and the Hamas took over sole control over Gaza in 2007.

Given Hamas history of violence against Israel, its denouncement of prior agreements, and its stated goal of eliminating the State of Israel and establishing an Islamic Caliphate instead, Israel declared Gaza as a “hostile territory” and placed a blockade around it.

Note that Israel borders with Gaza on the East and North. Gaza’s southern border is with Egypt. Implementing a full blockade on Gaza required cooperation with Egypt, and that left plenty of wiggle room for Hamas to smuggle weapons and ammunition into Gaza through tunnels dug from the Egyptian side of the border.

A never-ending cycle of violence:

Once Hamas took over Gaza, it initiated a series of armed clashes with Israel. The two are trapped in a vicious cycle of: rockets lunched from Gaza, Israel retaliates, Hamas follows with more rocket launches, etc. Some of these armed clashes also involved ground incursions by Israel. However, given the densely populated nature of Gaza, such incursions result in a high number of casualties and are therefore generally avoided by Israel.  

While the Israeli retaliatory operations receive much international attention (see for example operation “Protective Shield”), the violence never really stops. Sustaining attacks of rockets, mortars and incendiary devices became a daily routine for the Israeli villages and towns bordering Gaza. In particular, the Israeli city of Sderot (pop. 27,000), which resides just 1km from Gaza, has suffered frequent barrages of rockets and mortars for the past 15yrs(!). It is only when Hamas attacks hit cities deeper into Israel that massive retaliatory operations have been launched.

But there’s no symmetry!

This is a common argument brought up against Israel. You guys have a powerful modern army, advanced airplanes and drones, and an amazing Iron Dome missile defense systems. What does the poor Hamas have? It’s David vs. Goliath –  but in reverse roles this time. Israel must be using its overwhelming power, so no wonder the number of casualties is much higher on Gaza side… Consider this:

  1. This is not a sports game. It is war. To quote General S. Patton: “The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his.” War is not about symmetry.
  2. No, I am not suggesting that Israel’s objective is to kill as many Palestinians as possible. Quite the contrary!! The Israeli army is doing it’s very best to minimize civilian casualties. It goes as far as providing “advanced notice” for any strike against a military installation that might hurt civilians. Without that approach, the number of casualties would be significantly higher.
  3. Hamas has embedded its military operations within densely populated areas – on purpose. They use civilians as a shield to deter Israeli attacks. Plus, if there are any civilian casualties – it is a “media bonus”. Cynical, but true.
  4. And yes, Iron Dome is amazing. Hamas fired over 3000 deadly rockets at densely populated Israeli cities, with full intention to inflict as much damage and casualties on civilians. Without Iron Dome, the number of casualties in Israel would be numbered in the thousands!
  5. Lastly, if Hamas really wants to avoid casualties, it’s really simple… Don’t fire rockets!

What caused the clash this time around?

If you read the above, then you shouldn’t be surprised by military clashes between Israel and the Hamas. Yet, there are some recent circumstances worth noting:

  1. Palestinian Authority (PA) elections: were scheduled to take place in June – then cancelled. Hamas grander vision includes leadership of all Palestinians, not just those who reside in Gaza. With the elections cancelled, the clashes with Israel help position Hamas as the “protector of Palestine and Jerusalem”, thus win grassroot support in the West Bank.
  2. Israeli politics: Israel is in the midst of a political turmoil itself. For the first time in over a decade, and after four consecutive elections, Prime Minister Netanyahu and his Likud party are facing a risk of losing their grip on the government. Nothing like an armed conflict to help boost support for a sitting Prime Minister. No, I am not suggesting that Netanyahu “started it”  (Hamas did!), just that the timing is right for him as well.
  3. Good old Jerusalem: The old city in general, and Al Aqsa Mosque in particular, can always be counted on when it comes to starting a fight. All it takes are some restrictions on the number of Muslim prayers allowed to visit the mosque, attempt of Jews to access the temple mount, or a parade of people carrying Israeli flags through the old city… Any of those can light the match that leads to the explosion of this powder keg…
  4. Sheikh Jarrah evictions: long story here, but after years of legal battles in court between Jewish land owners and Arab tenants, this came to a head with the courts issuing eviction orders to the Arab tenants. (see blog post on that)
  5. It’s not our fault: The situation in Gaza is horrible, especially given COVID-19 – poor sanitation, rising unemployment, and extreme poverty. Hamas could use a conflict with Israel to divert attention from its civil challenges. Yes, it causes some deaths and destruction, but hey, at least Hamas can now blame Israel for Gaza’s woes.

Is there any hope for resolution?

Not really. At least not given the current dynamics. Hamas doesn’t want a “peace agreement” with Israel. A temporary cease fire – sure. But peace? Definitely not! (hint: go back and read their charter). Plus, in the absence of a “struggle against Zionism”, Hamas is left with governing a very problematic territory, and that’s far more challenging than firing rockets…

Past and current Israeli government don’t want the Hamas to completely disappear either. First, in the absence of Hamas, who will rule Gaza? Its problems are huge, and Israel tried and failed dealing with them in the past. Second, the Hamas provides the “perfect excuse” why Israel shouldn’t let Palestinians govern themselves. You see, the minute you loosen the reigns (as in disengagement), you get a radical Islamic party in your backyard. This provides the justification for Israel to stay deeply involved in the West Bank, and delays the establishing of an independent Palestinian state.

What could bring a change?

Money, or lack thereof. Armed struggle is EXPENSIVE. Someone is funding Hamas, and pays for the construction of all these tunnels and rocket launchers. Cut the funding, and the aggression will subside.

Conquering Gaza. Toppling Hamas, and putting the more moderate PA back in charge… Unfortunately, no one is willing to undertake such heavy-casualties operation.

So what’s next?

This round will end soon. Both sides will declare “victory”. Israel will be condemned (again), Hamas will gain more popularity within the Palestinians, and the next cycle of violence will (re)start again. Sad, but true.