Gaza: Beyond the Protests

This is a guest post by Ben Cohen 

Across the Arab and Islamic worlds, there has been a predictable wave of protest against Israel’s continuing operation to defend the western Negev from the rocket and mortar attacks of Hamas. More significantly, though, there is also a growing awareness that Hamas is not an innocent party.

Demonstrators took to the streets in Rabat, Beirut and Damascus. As protestors outside the Israeli Embassy in Ankara burned a wooden Star of David, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan railed against Israel for its “crime against humanity.” Not to be outdone, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a call for Muslims everywhere to engage in acts of terrorism (”All Palestinian combatants and all the Islamic world’s pious people are obliged to defend the defenceless women, children and people in Gaza in any way possible. Whoever is killed in this legitimate defence is considered a martyr.”) Finally, in one of the most macabre instances of Islamist violence against other Muslims I’ve come across, a suicide bomber detonated himself amidst a crowd of pro-Palestinian demonstrators in the Iraqi city of Mosul.

Much of the talk at these protests centers around the notion of “unity,” something that has historically been of great import to both Arab nationalists and Islamists even if there has been precious little evidence of it. The current situation is no different. Already, the cracks are emerging.

Take Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the PA, who back in March, accused Israel of carrying out a “Holocaust” in Gaza. Hamas, he has said very publicly, could have avoided the Israeli attack: “We spoke to them and told them ‘Please, we ask you not to end the cease-fire. Let it continue. We want to protect the Gaza Strip. We don’t want it to be destroyed.’”

Or take Egypt, which is accusing Hamas of imposing a blockade on injured civilians trying to leave Gaza for medical treatment. As ambulances arrived at the Rafah border crossing, and tons of medical equipment landed at the nearby El Arish airport, a security official said, “No one has come in, we don’t know why they’re closed on the other side.”

It’s not hard to hazard a guess. Hamas thrives on abject misery: that’s why it callously goaded Israel into this operation, that’s why it refuses to evacuate the wounded while theatrically announcing that Gaza’s own hospitals cannot cope. The more awareness of the true nature of Hamas spreads among Arabs and Muslims, the more hopeful the outlook in the long run.