Even before an agreed 72 hour period of humanitarian calm between Israel and Hamas had begun at 8 A.M. local time today in Israel, in accordance with an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire agreement between the two sides, Hamas' political leadership, and its fighters on the ground in the Gaza Strip, which is located on Israel's southwest border region, have begun to call for even more violence, hoping to give encouragement to their present recruiting efforts in Gaza. Efforts by Hamas to recruit new fighters, including using bribes to elicit cooperation with the organization from many young children and teenagers, have become necessary in order to increase their numbers, following Israeli claims that as many as 900 may have been killed in fighting over the past few weeks.
In a story, first reported on Monday August 5, 2014 in the publication Arutz Sheva, written by journalist Yaakov Levi, Hamas' leadership on Monday called on residents in the West Bank, presently controlled by the Palestinian Authority, to engage in what they are calling "the third intifada”, starting with attacks on Israelis in Judea and Samaria, then moving on to engulf the rest of Israel in armed conflict. According to the report, Hamas transmitted a message to "the Palestinians of the Occupied West Bank", calling on Arabs to "conduct mass riots" over the next three days as a sign of support for Gaza, and of what it refers to "resistance" to "violence" by Israel. Levi reports that "Hamas called on residents of Hevron, Ramallah and Shechem to converge on the main square in their cities and demand that Hamas retain the right to keep its weapons, rockets and tunnels, against Israel.
So for what purpose would Hamas and its leadership, who only agreed to the cease-fire yesterday, would be willing to commit to 72 hours without fighting? At this point, the move appears to be more of a political calculation by the government headed by Ismail Haniyeh, rather than a realistic move to have a permanent peace process in place between Palestinians and Israelis which would lead to a peace that will not be violated by either side. Haniyeh, for his part, certainly isn't personally being impacted by the fighting and dying in the land of Gaza. The Hamas leader appears to be doing rather well for himself, and appears to retain high approval numbers, in spite of almost 1,900 dead Palestinians who have died in the last month as Israel has sought to protect itself from continuing rocket launches from Israel.
Just how well Haniyeh is living can perhaps be summed up by the 27,000 square foot beachfront property he purchased for $4 million dollars, the fact that he sends his children to school in Europe, and that he and his close allies seek medical treatment in Israel, itself; sometimes, directly from Jewish facilities and medical professionals. As we see the suffering of Haniyeh's people in reports on the internet and on television newscasts, what we are not being shown is the tremendous amount of money and resources that Hamas leadership has been spending on themselves.
Yes, it is true that Hamas has spent 40% of it's annual budget on the tunnel system that Israel has been so aptly reducing to rubble over the course of the past couple of weeks. Yes, it is also true that Hamas also spent as much as $120 million dollars on the purchase of long range rockets from the countries of Iran and Syria. But yet, with all of the military spending, what does the military scorecard look like in the ongoing, and not yet concluded, military conflict between Hamas and Israel?
Israel's military has reported that less than seventy members of it's forces have died in the fighting so far, while the Palestinians are reporting, as of the latest numbers, that almost 1,900 have died, claiming that over 80% of those deaths have been civilians. Israeli Defense Force officials have claimed that 900 Hamas members have died during the present hostilities between the two sides.
While it is difficult to confirm many of the casualty figures coming out of Gaza, the numbers represent an absolute fact that Hamas is not only a horribly ineffective and strategically weak fighting force, but that also the only thing left now for Hamas at this point, just to salvage any hope for a public relations victory from such a historic military loss, is to run to the international community, as it has been doing so in the last week, and claiming that somehow Israel did not have any right to defend it's territory or it's people; because in doing so, Hamas was not able to fight on an even playing field with the Israelis. This strategy is coming from a leadership that only yesterday was praising one ill-advised terrorist who thought that taking on a bus with a front end loader would result in some kind of significant P.R. victory for Palestinians in and around Israel.
Any reasonable person would conclude that a political organization that would be willing to subject it's own citizens intentionally to destruction and death solely to score political points with other countries surely must not be permitted to exist in any form, at any point, after taking the specific step of ensuring that it's own people would be the ones to suffer, and not the leadership of that political organization. If there is to be a lasting peace in the Middle East, such a peace must be paved with the destruction, dismantling, and disarmament of Hamas in totality.
Benny Gantz, the head of Israel's military was quoted today as saying:
Now we must help rehabilitate Gaza. We are doing everything we can to send them food. There is a combination of military necessity on the one hand, and the broad effort to refrain from harming, and helping as much as possible. We are entering a difficult period of aid and rehabilitation; we will help not out of any strategic considerations, but from humanitarian ones.
Apparently, at least for now, Israel's military is ready to begin a reconciliation process with the people of Gaza. Any such reconciliation is not going to happen so long as Hamas remains in political control of the money and power within the Gaza Strip. After all of the deaths that have occurred in Gaza, Hamas can no longer be considered to be an honest negotiator at the table, and so long as Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is heading the Palestinian delegation, one of the most important steps that he can take is to remove both Hamas, and Islamic Jihad from these negotiations, and seek a permanent government in the Gaza Strip that is better committed to both the humanitarian rights of it's own people, but also wants to have a real peace with Israel.
There is little question that the only players in this ongoing conflict who wish to see additional bloodshed and death of their own people are Hamas. Consider the fact that a few of the military strategies being deployed by Hamas, when it comes to the firing and storage of military rockets in the Gaza Strip, is that commanders on the ground have been deliberately firing these rockets from civilian areas, storing rockets in schools and in mosques where thousands of civilians have sought refuge from the violence, without any concern for the health or well-being of the same children that the organization, and humanitarian groups, have complained are dying from the military response to the offensive military operations by Hamas.
If humanitarian organizations and diplomats in the Middle East are going to be able to interact as honest representatives of the best interests of the "peaceful people of Palestine", then these same entities and individuals must recognize that the use of the Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip as "human shields" is a war crime, and as such, Hamas representatives have no business being welcomed into any long term cease-fire negotiations with Israel, regardless of the organization or country that wishes to host such a discussion between the Palestinian people and the country of Israel. As a signatory to multiple conventions of human rights and war, the United States has no business being supportive of Hamas in any negotiation with Israel, unless and until the organization is willing to disarm, turn over it's commanders for prosecution in the International Criminal Court in the Hague, and to hand over it's remaining financial resources to the Palestinian Authority. If there is to be a permanent peace between Palestinians and Israel, it will never happen as long as Hamas continues to be permitted to hold any political or military power in the Middle East. In my view, that is just the way that things are.
Whether or not negotiators in Egypt can manage to put together a longer cessation in hostility than 72 hours remains to be seen. The last cease-fire attempt did not last even 24 hours. At this point, we still have two more days to get through before a longer cease-fire can be contemplated by the Israeli government. For it's part, Hamas appears to desire even more bloodshed, and more violence, not for itself as a political organization, but for the civilians that it purports to represent. The real question I see is this:
Do you believe that Hamas will be willing to disarm, and to stop using it's own citizens as human shields?