Territory of Gaza Strip spans about 139 square miles. It borders Israel on the north and east and Egypt on the south. The capital city is called Gaza. Population of Gaza Strip is about 1.4 million. The Majority are Sunny Muslims with tiny Christian minority.  Jews were present in Gaza until 1929 when they were forced to leave as a result of the Arab riots that claimed 133 Jewish lives.




The Black Hole Called Gaza

There is hardly a day that passes by without the sirens going off in Southern Israeli towns warning the citizens about the incoming Qassam rockets fired from the Gaza Strip. These crude weapons have no ability to be aimed accurately and can land in the desert or on someone’s home. When it injures or kills somebody on the Israeli side the festivities usually break out on the Palestinian side with candies and cookies being handed out to passersby. These days Gazans can use any occasion for celebration as there is not much else for them to be happy about

It was only few years ago when Palestinians wildly celebrated the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. In the summer of 2005 all 21 Jewish settlements were evacuated in the Gaza Strip, many of them by force. The process created a lot of anxiety in Israel as the scenes of settlers dragged from their homes by the Israeli army were shown all over the world. The Palestinians were left to their own devices with the Palestinian Authority in charge of rebuilding the now free territory. Donations poured in from all over the world as foreign governments held to the futile hope that now, the Palestinians, finally have something of their own to build upon.  

But those hopes were just that, futile. Instead of rebuilding there was a lot of looting and burning of the abandoned Israeli settlements. The millions in donations disappeared into the deep pockets of corrupt Palestinian officials and the entire Gaza revival project died before it could ever take a first step. Then in January of 2006 the first Palestinian Parliamentary elections took place following calls for democracy and transparency.

Again there were high hopes that a democratically elected Palestinian government would have a lot of credibility with the Palestinian people and would be able to rebuild the Palestinian society and embark on a peace process with Israel. And again those hopes were dashed when the terrorist group Hamas shocked the world and won the elections. The peace initiative called the “Road Map” that Palestinians, Israelis, EU and Americans worked countless hours to jumpstart was dead.   

As soon as they assumed power, Hamas announced that it would not enter into peace talks with Israel and would not abide by any agreements signed by the Palestinian Authority. No surprise there, as Hamas does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and their vision of the Palestinian state includes the entire State of Israel proper. For years Hamas did everything in their power to destroy the peace process.

Every time there was even incremental progress in negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, Hamas send suicide bombers to Israel in order to derail any chance for peace. They were blowing up buses in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem when Itzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat were signing the Oslo Accords in September of 1993 and when Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat were negotiating in Camp David in July of 2000.   Then just when everybody thought that things could not possibly get any worst, they did. In June of 2007 a Palestinian Civil war erupted in Gaza.

There were some skirmishes between Hamas and Fattah members before but this time it was a full-fledged coup against the Palestinian Authority in Gaza Strip carried out by Hamas. There was no question that it was a well planned military operation as Hamas fighters overran larger Fattah force with ease. There were Palestinians killing other Palestinians with vengeance and without any remorse. Many executions were carried out on the spot. One of the methods of execution was tying the victims’ hands behind their backs and throwing them from the rooftop, no doubt emulating one of Saddam Hussein’s favorite pastimes.  

Outraged Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas harshly criticized Hamas for seizing control in the Gaza Strip and called its members "murderous terrorists". That was quite a statement coming from another Palestinian especially someone like Abbas who spent a lifetime fighting for Palestinian causes. I suppose even in Gaza, where the truth is a rare commodity; the obvious sometimes cannot be ignored. Abbas accused Hamas of trying to set up its own state in Gaza alone, a step he said would destroy Palestinian hopes for independence.

He said he had "tried to prevent the conflict through continuous dialogue. Instead, we are seeing assassination of leaders of Palestinian security and Fatah in Gaza." Hamas spokesmen replied to Abbas calling his statements “disgusting and not appropriate for the Palestinian president”.   So they have been going back and forth this way for the past year accusing each other of treason. Both sides keep talking about the need for unity but no progress is in sight despite multiple efforts for mediation from Saudis, Egyptians and other Arab countries.

Based on the histories of dispute resolutions in the Middle East, do not expect progress in Hamas-Fattah talks any time soon. This is not a land dispute; this is a deadly fight for power. In that part of the world the losers do not do very well, just take a look at what is going on in Iraq.   When Palestinians voted for Hamas many of them hoped that the quality of life would improve for them but the opposite is taking place as the living conditions in Gaza have dramatically deteriorated. Instead of trying to improve the economic conditions of their long-suffering population Hamas is pursuing their own agenda of becoming a clone of Lebanese Hezbollah on Israel’s southern border.

The blueprint on how to get there was already written in Tehran and implemented into real life by Hezbollah in Lebanon where they hold an entire country hostage to the regional ambitions of Iran and Syria.  All Hamas is doing is following the proven formula. Create a state within a state, make sure you have a well equipped guerilla force, rain rockets on Israeli towns, kidnap Israeli solders, send in the suicide bombers to Israeli cities. Just to be sure that the subordinates are ideologically prepared for continues warfare, poison their minds with the worst anti-Semitic and anti-Western propaganda.  

Right after their takeover of Gaza Hamas created their own Al-Aqsa TV network modeled after Hezbollah’s infamous Al-Manar. Al-Aqsa programs praise the suicide bombers and rocket-launching teams, Palestinian imams’ broadcast live Friday sermons from where they pound their audience with hateful speeches directed at Zionist Jews and Crusaders. But the most disturbing is the programming geared for children. Here is a taste of what Al-Aqsa TV offers to their youngest viewers:

-  During the children’s program called Brilliant Children, a puppet of a Palestinian child is stabbing the puppet of George Bush while saying: “I must take revenge on you Bush with this sword of Islam”.
- A Mickey Mouse-like character, Farfour, is offering this gem “We will return the Islamic community to its former greatness and liberate Jerusalem, liberate Iraq and liberate all the countries of the Muslims invaded by the murderers.” In a later episode the Farfour, viciously beaten by Israeli soldiers, heroically dies only to be replaced by Nahool, the bee, who expanded on the party line: “I am Nahool, I want to continue the path of Farfur, the path of Islam is the solution; the path of heroism; the path of martyrdom; the path of the Jihad warriors.” But Nahool did not fair much better as he also was martyred suffering from the illness he contracted during the Israeli blockade. Nahool’s replacement Assoud, the Bugs Bunny like character, promises to liberate Haifa and Acre (Israelis cities) from Zionist filth. He is already hinting that he too will be martyred soon.
- During another program, the interviewer asks the children of the female suicide bomber, who are no more then 4-5 years: “How many Jews did your mama kill?”

It’s in Hamas’s power to make the lives of Palestinians better by stopping the violence, re-building the infrastructure and creating an atmosphere for inviting more trade that Gaza so badly needs. Instead their actions are forcing Israelis to close most of their commercial border crossings and restrict the access of fuel and electricity as the way to pressure Palestinian militants to stop their rocket and suicide attacks. In addition the economic sanctions imposed by the Western countries, who were responsible for the bulk of financial aid to Palestinians, have made life for ordinary Gazans quite challenging.  

Israel is under no legal obligation to engage in trade of fuel or any other products with Gaza, or to maintain open borders. It may withhold commercial items and seal its borders at its discretion. Instead of buying most of their produce from Palestinians they are finding alternative sources to get them. This is forcing many Palestinians in Gaza, whose livelihood depends on doing business with Israel into bankruptcy.

Hamas is crying foul and Human Rights watch organizations accuse Israel of collective punishment. But you can not have it both ways; rain rockets on Israeli cities and then demand economic support and open trade knowing full well that Israel will not play that game. As for the suffering Palestinians, as far as Hamas is concerned the lean and mean population will make better Islamic warriors and produce more volunteers seeking martyrdom.     

While Mahmoud Abbas is still meeting with Israelis, Americans, Europeans and anybody else who would listen, the best Hamas could do lately was to meet with former U.S. president Jimmy Carter who, after meeting with Khaled Meshal in Syria proudly announced some progress, which was promptly denied by Hamas just a couple of hours later. I wish some of these self-appointed peace merchants would stop meddling in affairs they do not understand.

Hamas will not change their stance any time soon.  If they did they would most likely lose the support of many Palestinians and their financial benefactors, like Iran who is openly advocating the destruction of the Jewish state.   Also, what Hamas does goes beyond just seeking popularity or financial support. Hamas wants to create an Islamic society and Fatah's vision of a secular state or any kind of peace agreement with Israel to them is a blasphemy.

They believe that no political system other then Islam could be trusted to deal with Israeli problem. Only Islam can liberate Palestine.   Hamas is an offshoot of Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood which is currently banned as a political entity in Egypt. Muslim Brotherhood was created in 1928 as a religious, political and social movement which grew into hundreds of thousands of members within a few decades.

Today Muslim Brotherhood is one of the most influential Islamic movement in the world whose reach extends from Egypt to Indonesia with representation even in Europe and the United States. The most prominent member of the Brotherhood was Sayyied Qutb, considered by many to be the father of modern Islamic ideology. He is to Islamic radicalism what Karl Marx was to communism, producing many books that are a must-read for any aspiring jihadist.  

The Brotherhood lives by a credo: “Allah is our objective, the Koran is our constitution, the Prophet is our leader and Jihad is our way”. Sounds familiar? It should, because that’s the credo that Usama bin Laden lives by. His first teacher Abdullah Azzam and his current right hand man and spiritual adviser, Ayman al Zawahiri, came out of Muslim Brotherhood. Does anybody think that any of the above mentioned individuals are going to alter their views to produce peace in the world? Not likely. Muslim

Brotherhood always was and is a staunch opponent of any peace treaty with Israel and its first cousin Hamas is no different. Making any progress with Yasser Arafat’s Fattah, which is a secular organization, proved to be extremely difficult. Making peace with a movement of religious fanatics with messianic visions like Hamas may prove to be impossible.   

Hamas and their ilk are not a threat to the security of Israel alone. They present a huge dilemma for many Arab regimes as well, specifically Egypt and Jordan, the two Arab countries that currently have  peace treaties with Israel. Egypt occupied the Gaza strip between 1959 and 1967 when it lost the territory to Israel during the Six day war. Today Egyptians have very little taste for having anything to do with Gaza. As a humanitarian gesture and for internal political reasons they did allow thousands of Gazans to cross into Sinai to buy food and supplies after Hamas blew several openings in the border wall dividing the two sides.

But as usual, Hamas overreached their welcome when their gunmen began acting as if they owned the place and tried to sneak weapons and suicide bombers from Sinai into Israel. After 12 days of free movement, the Egyptian authorities clamped down of the border crossings fearing that chaos would spill into Egypt.   Jordan is another Arab country which is extremely sensitive to any movements of Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups on their territory.

Palestinians make up around 60% of country’s population and King Abdullah himself is married to a Palestinian woman. In September of 1970 Yasser Arafat and his guerrilla army tried to overthrow the monarchy of King Hussein, whose Hashemite dynasty can trace their ancestry to the Prophet Mohammed. The conflict ended when the Jordanian army threw Arafat and his cronies out of the country. Almost 8.000 lives were lost in the conflict at the end of which Arafat ended up in Lebanon where he started another war.  

 In April of 2006, the Jordanian Intelligence services discovered that Hamas had been smuggling weapons into Jordan with the help of five Palestinian legislators who also happened to be members of Hamas. The raids on the hideouts turned up missiles, explosives and automatic weapons. Hamas leadership, as usual, flatly denied any involvement in the smuggling ring but the damage to their relationship with Jordan was already done.

This was not the first time that Jordanian authorities had to take action against the terrorist group. Back in 1999 Khaled Meshal, current Hamas leader in Syrian exile, and his associates were expelled from Jordan for behavior that went against the Jordanian national interests. King Abdullah knows very well how treacherous his Palestinian brothers can be and how vigilant he needs to be in order to ensure a peaceful future for his kingdom.

So what is Israel to do with this terrorist state in their backyard? The occasional incursion into Gaza and air strikes against rocket-lancing teams may produce some results for a while. But what happens when Hamas will eventually improve on their rocket and missile technology and will strike cities in the heart of Israel just like Hezbollah did in the second Lebanon war? The strategy is, no doubt coordinated between the two groups given that they have the same military adviser and financier in Iran. Hamas leaders are the frequent guests in Tehran where they get their paychecks and instruction manuals.

But there is a price for an Iranian support. Hamas has to escalate the levels of violence to disrupt the peace process by any means not matter how bloody the results. Hamas leaders are only too happy to oblige. There is a reason why Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad so often publicly states that the Zionist entity in the heart of the Middle East will eventually be eliminated. It’s because he really believes it and has a strategy for seeing it through.  

Pretty soon Israel may find itself in a lot tougher position then it is today. The neutral regimes in Egypt and Jordan may not be around forever. Hosni Mubarak just turned 80 and it’s impossible to predict who will replace him while the growing Palestinian population in Jordan may eventually overwhelm that country and its current regime. Lebanon is a powder keg that can explode at any time, while Syria is already under the Iranian thumb.  

Israeli leaders need to stop bickering and embark on the peace process with a lot more vigor then they showed so far both on the Palestinian front as well as Syrian front and not necessarily at the same time. As flaky and as treacherous as the Syrian regime is they are currently seeking better relationships with the West after the mess they created in Lebanon. Syrian overtures for peace with Israel may just be a ploy to be used for their short-term goals of getting the U.N. investigation off their back. None-the-less it should be pursued even if just to call their bluff.  

On the Palestinian front, while it’s true that Mahmoud Abbas is weak leader, at least he is willing to negotiate and even a partial peace with Palestinian West Bank will be better then the current status quo which will not last for long. Sixty years of Israel’s existence tell us that the next war is always around the corner. While chances of a negotiated agreement with any Palestinian faction is not too great the positive outcome can have far reaching implications.

A prosperous and democratic West Bank may prove to be a more powerful weapon against Hamas-owned Gaza then any weapon Israel currently has in its arsenal.   In the Middle East one needs to work hard for peace but at the same time always be prepared for war. Israel must strengthen their military and devise a detailed strategy for what may be an inevitable war on two fronts in Gaza and southern Lebanon. The stupid mistakes and incompetence shown by some Israeli leaders during the 2006 war in Lebanon are unacceptable.

 While Arabs can afford to make countless blunders, they will always be rescued by the West who would insist that Israel not treat Arabs too harshly. If Israel were to lose nobody knows if anyone would come to its defense. The World is not exactly in love with the Jewish state and at the end of the day Israel can depend only on itself.