"Eyeless in Gaza"
God willing, the so-called cease fire held through last night. And Israel and Hamas limited themselves to the minor infractions that have consistently occurred since they stopped shooting. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declared victory and began to pull his armed forces out. Hamas claims it won by surviving. They both are right. And wrong.
Mr. Olmert launched the massive attack, in part, at least, because of domestic politics. Although Israel follows the British example and leaves the election date fluttering in the wind, there are time limits on when voting must be held. The prime minister wanted to wipe out the electorate's memory of the disaster when he took on Hezbollah a few years back. The recent incursion in Gaza received overwhelming support from Israelis.
Jerusalem failed miserably on its announced goal for ordering the incursion. Its army failed miserably in stopping the stray rockets militants peppering Israeli communities close by Gaza. After the cease fire there were numerous violations of that important stipulation that acted as the basis for a diplomatic agreement.
Because of the hundreds of deaths and obliteration of the Mediterranean strip's homes and public institutions, Hamas is stronger than before the tanks and artillery brought wholesale destruction. Various news accounts reflect the population's both dismay and disgust with Israel's invasion. While generally favorable to the Jewish state, journalists filed heartbreaking instances of the human costs.
Nowhere did I read recently that Hamas' chief appeal to Palestinians was its honesty and good works. They were the twin reasons for its edging the Fatah party in the last elections. The party welded together by Yasser Arafat is notorious in the region for demanding bribes and lining its leaders' pockets. It has a reputation for sloughing off the needs of everyone not wealthy and/or lacking the right connections.
With less funding than Arafat's successors, the "terrorists" built and cared for more schools, hospitals and places of worship, especially but not limited to mosques. They provided for the needy, furnishing housing, food and medical care. Not all their backers support violence, but most are resigned to its use in the face of Israel's' armed might.
Hamas came into existence with the first Intifadah, in 1987; its armed wing in 1993 – with a suicide bombing. In other words, for more than 40 years after its founding, Israel had no Hamas to worry about. The present crisis began three years ago when the upstart group overwhelmingly beat Fatah in elections held in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem. It won 74 Palestinian parliamentary seats against the older party's 45 – out of 132.
With proof of its popular support (primarily because of its record in good works), Hamas was not allowed to form a government; instead it was banned by an Israel-backed coalition, including the United States. There are some who argue the responsibility entailed in running a government would soften Hamas' opposition to the existence of Israel. We are not likely ever to know.
Because of domestic politics, Dwight Eisenhower was the last president who vetoed an Israeli military action; he ordered them and their allies, Britain and France, out of the Suez Canal, in 1956. In more than 50 years, the White House has stamped approval on everything that happened, including the destruction of the U.S.S. Liberty and the loss of American lives, in 1967. The Bush administration claims it turned down an Israeli offer to join in destroying Iran's nuclear capability. Again, we'll never know for sure.
Killing innocents on a wholesale scale is an abomination, whatever the reason.
(The column's title is taken from Aldous Huxley's book of the same name, because it seemed to me an accurate reflection of the world's understanding of the true situation.)