About four years ago, at the height of Israel’s onslaught on Gaza in January 2009, I travelled to meet with Hamas’ leadership in Damascus.
In an hour-long interview with the soft-spoken Mousa Abu Marzouk, the deputy chief of Hamas’ political bureau, it became clear that the organisation, democratically elected in 2006, was much more pragmatic in calculating the politically changing landscape than the caricature of violence given to the group.
Hamas isn’t oblivious to the suffering of 1.7 million Palestinians living in one of the most densely populated strips of land in the world, an open-air prison with a decrepit infrastructure that covers 141 square miles (about the size of Philadelphia or Washington DC) which provides little hope of a brighter future for a desperate people. Nor does Hamas seek a military confrontation with Israel at any cost.
In our meeting, Abu Marzouk said Hamas’ goal is “an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip free of settlements and settlers with Jerusalem as its capital”. To any outsider with no attachment to the conflict, this is not a semantic play on words, but an implicit recognition of Israel.
Hamas’ raison d’etre is the Israeli military occupation that continues to choke the life out of Palestinians desperate to live in freedom, dignity, with security, and a long overdue right to statehood. These elements are not exclusive to Palestinians of the Gaza Strip. Palestinians want to get on with their lives.
A simplistic, often inaccurate Israeli narrative that describes Hamas as intransigently bent on the destruction of Israel distorts the realities on the ground and ignores the fundamental issue of a 64-year old conflict, Israel’s brutal occupation.
Today, four years on, Israelis invoked the right of self-defence again as they launched another offensive military operation like numerous others in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. They speak of Arabs wanting to “drive the Jews into the sea,” and completely negate the consequences of their actions when they carry out extrajudicial killings, such as the assassination of political leaders of Hamas, acting with impunity in violation of international law.
And yet, while Israelis pursue this policy of belligerence, they conveniently ignore the underlying causes and consequences of their actions that keep leading the world’s attention to where we are today, namely the continued siege of Gaza, draconian military checkpoints that restrict the movement of Palestinians, the persistent expropriation of Palestinian land, the unabated violent attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinian farmers and civilians and an illegal 430-mile Israeli wall that perpetuates the existing state of colonisation.
Just as Arabs took to the streets over these past two years seeking justice from brutal and oppressive regimes, Palestinians also want justice.
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