Inside Out: In their shoes

Few Israelis sympathize with Hamas, and rightly so. After all, Hamas is a murderous and blatantly anti-Semitic movement that expressly aspires to wipe Israel off the map.

April 3, 2013 22:27
Palestinian children celebrate Hamas founding, Dec. 8, 2012

Palestinian children celebrate Hamas founding 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah)

Few Israelis sympathize with Hamas, and rightly so. After all, Hamas is a murderous and blatantly anti-Semitic movement that expressly aspires to wipe Israel off the map.

Until that movement accepts and upholds the three threshold conditions set by the Quartet – to forswear terrorism, recognize Israel and recognize agreements signed by previous Palestinian governments – it should continue to be shunned by Israel and the world.

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But in the spirit of President Barack Obama’s requests to Israelis that they put themselves in Palestinians’ shoes, let us, as Israelis, put ourselves in the shoes of the average Palestinian man from the Gaza Strip who voted for Hamas in the 2006 elections.

This Palestinian man is not necessarily an ardent Islamist ideologue; rather, he is someone who cast his ballot for Hamas because he felt Hamas posed as a better alternative to the corrupt Fatah leadership, both in terms of domestic priorities and handling the conflict with Israel.

When we put ourselves in that man’s shoes and look at how we have fared thanks to our vote for Hamas, we find ourselves disappointed and discouraged, after seeing Hamas blunder into one strategic setback after another.

The first two setbacks were military in nature. In its relentless war against Israel, Hamas developed and pinned all its hopes on two strategic weapons, both of which ultimately proved to be failures.

The first weapon Hamas developed to perfection was the suicide bomber, which its spokespersons proudly referred to as the “Palestinian smart bomb.” In the first two years of the second intifada, Palestinian suicide bombers wrought havoc with impunity on Israeli streets, in cafes, buses and malls, sowing panic and lowering public morale. It took some time, but Israel ultimately succeeded in neutralizing this seemingly unstoppable weapon through a combination of the separation barrier and increased military activity in Palestinian territories.

The price paid by the Palestinians was forbiddingly high. By the end of the intifada thousands of Palestinians had been killed and injured, and thousands more were in jail. The Palestinian economy had been devastated, freedom of movement was severely curtailed and international political support for the Palestinian cause had plummeted.

Life in Israel, on the other hand, quickly went back to normal. Hamas, as well as the other Palestinian factions that had emulated it, stopped using the Palestinian “smart bomb,” which had proven exceedingly counterproductive on nearly every conceivable level.

The second strategic weapon Hamas developed was the rocket, in which it invested money, manpower and prestige.

The working assumption was that, like Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas could achieve a “balance of terror” with Israel by means of a rocket arsenal.

However, the introduction of the Iron Dome system, which proved highly efficient in the course of Operation Pillar of Defense, has taken much of the sting out of what Hamas had presumed would be a lasting strategic threat to Israel. While Hamas can still terrorize Israelis with its rocket fire (yesterday morning’s rocket fire on the Negev was a case in point), it no longer has the capacity to inflict dozens of Israeli civilian casualties at will.

Hamas has also suffered unanticipated strategic political setbacks in recent years. Initially, Ismail Haniyeh and other Hamas political leaders were deeply encouraged by the Arab Spring, which resulted in the rise of Islamist regimes across North Africa. They were particularly heartened by the ouster of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, Israel’s erstwhile ally, and the election that swept the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Cairo.

Hamas’s jubilation, however, proved to be premature. The new Egyptian regime failed to meet Hamas’s expectations and did not downgrade relations with Israel in any practical way. Moreover, it failed to provide Hamas with the political and diplomatic support it had anticipated. Quite the contrary. The Morsi regime has taken far more stringent political and military action against Hamas than anything ever done in Mubarak’s day. The Egyptian military, for example, has applied itself in recent months to destroying many of the tunnels that span the border in Rafah.

WHEN WE, as Israelis, put ourselves in the shoes of that average Palestinian who voted for Hamas in 2006, it is hard not to be sympathetic, even if we justly abhor the choice he made. The results, after all, have been terribly discouraging for him. He is stuck with a leadership that has made one strategic blunder after another, investing most of its political and financial capital in projects that ultimately failed to achieve any of their objectives.

The enemy has not been destroyed – it has barely been damaged in any significant way – while the state of the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip has not improved, to understate matters.

The Gaza Strip remains cut off from the world, shunned by the international community that will not negotiate with the regime there until it accepts the three Quartet threshold conditions, which contradict that regime’s most fundamental tenets.

As we imagine ourselves in the shoes of this Palestinian man, it is hard not to be disillusioned by the numerous abuses of power, including the restrictions imposed on freedom of speech and other civil liberties by the Hamas regime.

Putting ourselves in his shoes, we realize how truly difficult it must be to be that Palestinian man who voted for Hamas in 2006.

As Israelis, we have every reason to be glad that that is the case, given what Hamas stands for, but we have no reason to rejoice at this man’s misery.

Rather, now that we have put ourselves in his shoes, the question for us is what we should do.

Should we linger in the moment, enjoying our enemy’s repeated setbacks, and hope that this situation endures? Or should we offer that Palestinian man, and the millions of other Palestinians like him, an alternative to the perpetual war with Israel that Hamas has championed so much to the average Palestinian’s detriment? Perhaps now the time is ripe to do so, for the benefit of those Palestinians – and for our own.

The author is a veteran Israeli writer and translator.

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