Fire at the Gaza wall, not over it

If Hamas wants a real victory, it should aim its rockets at the Israeli wall cutting off Gaza.

A concrete wall separates Gaza from Israel [Getty Images]

Given the carnage still unfolding in Gaza, could Hamas’ actions betray a fundamental support for, rather than opposition to the long-discredited Oslo process, and even a willingness to serve Israel’s larger strategic interests?       

A review of the trajectory of the thousands of rockets it’s fired at Israel before and during the current fighting strongly suggest just that.

Simply put, if Hamas wanted to offer a real challenge to Oslo and Israel, it would aim its missiles directly at the wall and security fence system that has penned in Gazans for a generation, not over it.

Hamas did not start this war. We know that dishonour belongs to the Israeli government, which launched its premeditated attacks on Gaza in response to the kidnapping and murder of three settler youth in the West Bank after lying to the world about their fate in order to build domestic support for the attack. Nor can Palestinians be denied their legitimate right of self-defence, including the use of violence within the bounds of international law, against the occupation.

But the missiles neither accord with international law nor produce tangible long-term goals. The missile barrages have a history not merely of inaccuracy, but of ensuring entire neighbourhoods in Gaza are bombed back to the 19th century in response. Whatever the rationale behind their use, in reality, they reveal Hamas to be playing by Israel’s rules in a game Palestinians can’t win as long as they follow them.

Even the successful killing or capturing of Israeli soldiers who cross into Gaza reinforces the separation of Gaza from both Israel and the West Bank, which has conveniently dropped off the political and media radar while Gaza burns.

What is clear is that Gazans face near certain death in the confined space of Gaza, where there is quite literally nowhere to hide and not even UN shelters are safe. Why doesn’t Hamas blast a few openings so that refugees can at least try to flee to the relative safety of Israel?

Zionists have long justified the consequences of the creation of Israel for Palestinians by arguing that you can’t blame a person who’s jumping from a burning house if they land on someone below. Don’t Gazans have the same right to escape the fire?

Why destroy the wall?

Israel will no doubt shoot at the unarmed women, children and elderly streaming across the border. But it’s already shooting them at will, and with no remorse or even cost (even much of the ammunition is essentially free, as the US replaces almost everything Israel uses, and even throws in bonus money every time it attacks Gaza).

Shujayea – Massacre At Dawn

More than just creating a much needed – and certainly legal – humanitarian corridor for Palestinian citizens desperate to escape the Israeli onslaught, destroying the wall would serve several other purposes. First, it would tell Israel that Palestinians refuse to accept a Gaza that is cut-off permanently from the rest of historic Palestine, particularly Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Second, it would declare that Gazans will not recognise Israeli-imposed borders and a completely unviable two-state solution that leaves Palestinians enclosed in heavily guarded ghettos with little control over their political or economic futures.

Third, it would force Israelis to confront directly the reality of the evil they have wrought in Gaza for decades. One reason the occupation continues to function so smoothly is that Israelis are largely cut-off from its effects. They no longer have to see Palestinians or in any way interact with them. The West Bank and Gaza might only be a few kilometres away, but they might as well be somewhere in Africa for most Israelis, who are expertly conditioned to bury the suffering they inflict on Palestinians in an ocean of ideological and political justification and moral blindness.

Finally, by destroying, however temporarily, a hated symbol of military occupation, Hamas would score a huge strategic and media victory, as it would be destroying property rather than killing civilians while forcing the world to address everything the barrier, and the occupation it represents, has done to Gaza and Palestinians more broadly. Similarly, blowing up the southern border with Egypt would likewise send a clear message to the Egyptian government that Palestinians will no longer allow Egypt, which did nothing to help Gaza during its 19-year occupation from 1948 till 1967, to be complicit in Israel’s long-term siege of Gaza.

Grassroots activism

History provides a good lesson here. The closest Palestinians came to defeating the occupation was during the first intifada, and its success owed not so much to the largely symbolic throwing of stones as to the unprecedented communal solidarity and civil resistance against Israel that it generated.

Moreover, during the early days of the al-Aqsa intifada, when it was still a largely grassroots explosion undirected by Hamas or Fatah, Palestinians destroyed the security fence as one of their first acts of defiance against Israel and the separation-without-a-hope-of-sovereignty programme of Oslo.

Today, with the Palestinian Authority (PA) hopelessly coopted and Hamas wedded to a strategically untenable resistance strategy, it is again the local grassroots solidarity committees across the West Bank, from Jenin to the Jordan Valley to the Hebron Hills, who are thinking outside the box, constantly developing more creative forms of resistance, and taking the lead in resisting the occupation in ways that bring increasing support from international and Israeli activists. The marches and attacks on the wall of the last few days in the West Bank reflect the fruits of years of grassroots activism.

Gaza is equally filled with incredibly courageous and creative activists, but they have been completely marginalised and even repressed by Hamas during its time ruling over Gaza, after years of suffering the same treatment at the hands of Israel and then the Fatah-controlled PA.

Meanwhile, even if Hamas manages to kill or capture a significant number of Israelis, it’s hard to see how its present strategy will challenge Israel’s ability to lay siege on Gaza with the full support of its western and Arab allies. More fundamentally, it does nothing to challenge its absolute control over the West Bank, which is ultimately the whole point of the occupation.

The concessions it might wrest from Israel as part of a ceasefire brokered by one Arab autocrat or another – such as the on-again, off-again ceasefire of the past weekend – also have little long-term significance, as Israel can renege on them as easily as it’s reneged on most every other agreement it’s made with the Palestinians without fear of consequences. In fact, Israel will again use the international pressure on Hamas to check any Palestinian opposition to deepen its control of the West Bank without meaningful resistance.

Given these dynamics, a change in trajectory would seem to be in order. If Hamas really wants to inflict a serious blow to the occupation and unify efforts with West Bank Palestinians, it could do a lot worse than aiming its remaining rockets lower, and leading Palestinians en masse across the rubble to confront Israelis face to face to demand the same human, political and civil rights Israelis have long demanded for themselves. That is, after all, the only way this conflict will end.

Mark LeVine is a professor of Middle Eastern History at University of California, Irvine, and a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Lund University. His new book is One Land, Two States: Israel and Palestine as Parallel States, co-edited with Ambassador Mathias Mossberg.

Follow him on Twitter: @culturejamming