Hamas: The future eaters

Israel is not punishing Hamas by withholding electricity from Gaza; it is wasting young people.

A Palestinian woman washes by candlelight during a power cut in the kitchen of her home in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip (photo credit: REUTERS)
A Palestinian woman washes by candlelight during a power cut in the kitchen of her home in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip
(photo credit: REUTERS)
What is electricity, really? What is it that Israel’s Security Cabinet has withheld from two million people in Gaza?
Look around. Electricity cools your home, while stray dogs melt into the sidewalk. It is the music in your background, the light over your shoulder, the coffee in your hand and the tablet on which you read. It is refrigeration, clean clothes, and the cellphone that your waitress can’t put down long enough to make eye contact. It connects you to people and news. It lights your streets, directs traffic and points your WAZE. It is the substrate of modern medicine, desalination, and sewage treatment. It underwrites the software of start-up nation. Electricity is the raw material of your normalcy.
Without it, I used to wonder of young Gazans, “How will you spend all the hours that I have spent wired at my desk, being entertained, or reading by lamplight?” I lived in Gaza 2011-2015, working as Mercy Corps’ economic director and as a consultant to UNRWA. I lived through two cycles of deprivation and war.
In 2012, I normalized the run-up to war.
I shrugged off the escalating exchanges of fire, postponing the war in my mind. In 2014, everybody knew. Israel and Hamas played chicken in slow motion. Israel’s State Comptroller called the 2014 war avoidable, a political failure caused in part by Israel’s refusal to mitigate the hardships of the blockade. Two thousand three hundred people died in that avoidable war. No one was secured, and no one was deterred.
Surely, I thought, this has been so wasteful of life that they will not do it again.
They’re doing it again.
Logically, the armies are preparing. The Palestinian Authority is angling to corner Hamas, and Israel is egging it on. Boxed in, Hamas is losing every incentive to refrain from fighting. Now Israel’s Security Cabinet (meeting, no doubt, in a well-lit room) has chosen to push two million Gazans deeper into darkness.
Punish Hamas? Make it harder for Hamas? That’s just a lullabye. The strategy of immiseration is not primarily inflicted upon Hamas. It has faces.
One morning, in that grim winter of walking to war, I watched a young Gazan mother arrive for work. She was a logical woman with degrees in computer science and business, disciplined by nature and a little flustered to find herself late. Modernity was failing all around us: nothing worked anymore.
I had just blown my own apartment fuses by banging my head against the light switches.
This woman itemized her morning from the doorway. “I had no water. I mean, I knew that. When there was water a few days ago, I had no electricity for the pump, so this morning I had no water to bathe my baby.
“Someone carried water up the stairs, but I had no way to heat it. The neighbors have fuel, so I warmed up the water there and gave my daughter her bath and her breakfast.
Cold breakfast. The dishes – I left them. No water.
“But the kindergarden had closed because they have no heat, and no fuel for the generator. The staff had no electricity to charge their phones, so they couldn’t call the parents to tell us. So I took my daughter to her grandmother, but she couldn’t –” I waved off her explanation, but she wasn’t really speaking to me.
“I planned for everything up to that point. But I didn’t have a backup babysitter. That’s why I’m late. I had to find someone else and my daughter was crying.” She sunk into her chair and resolved wearily, “I’ll have a Plan B next time.”
Hers is one face of the Security Cabinet’s strategy. The walls of Gaza purport to confine a single enemy object, when in fact they conceal a society of two million human beings. Gazans are mostly young. The Security Cabinet’s future-eating strategy is consuming their youth and wasting their years of education (an asset equally prized by Palestinians and Israelis).
Punishment has not removed Hamas. A regime of such exquisite frustration breeds the rage that entrenches Hamas. Each evening, when the power went off in Gaza, a cheer went up. It rose from the beach to my apartment, louder than the sound of my cursing as my book went dark. A stubborn cheer of no-choice fellowship, as Gaza cohered under pressure.
Deprivation proves Hamas’s case that gains will only be made through violent confrontation. Behind that wall, fighters are not vulnerable to the unarmed mothers who want warm bathwater and light for their children to study. If the Security Cabinet wished to empower the mothers of Gaza, they would turn on the lights and let the clean water flow. In so doing, they would signal that reasonable people can resolve conflicts. They are doing the opposite.
The commentaries go in circles. Israel could improve the electricity supply; no, it couldn’t. The PA could improve it but they’d rather fight with Hamas. Hamas could improve it but they’d rather fight with Israel.
Donors could improve it but they won’t, because Israel keeps bombing the infrastructure.
Qatar used to improve it, but not at the moment. Egypt might improve it, so Israel shouldn’t. Overthrow Hamas this time / no don’t, because the Security Cabinet does / doesn’t have anything better in mind.
I agree. That is, I agree that several of these authorities could improve things, if they didn’t prefer the risks of another war to the risks of compromise and resolution.
It is the job of everyone not engaged in the Gaza staredown to change the weighting of those risks. Someone has to tip the balance from wasting to preserving lives. If the Security Cabinet would stop inhaling the poison of their wall, they might recognize and empower the best instincts on either side of it.
But that is not where we are today. Today, they are baiting the very worst in Gaza. If the bait is taken, if the rockets resume and the telltale moment comes when Hamas begins to fire alongside the others, what does the Security Cabinet intend to do on the stage that it is setting? 
From 1998 – 2015, Marilyn Garson worked with civilians affected by war in Cambodia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Gaza and elsewhere.
She now writes from New Zealand, and blogs at www.ultimathule.blog.