Tsunami in the Desert
Gaza Strip, Israel - Palestinian Hamas supporters chant slogans during a rally celebrating the group's victory in parliamentary elections, in the Khan Younis Refugee Camp, southern Gaza Strip on Friday, January 27, 2006. Hamas leaders have hinted that despite their hardline ideology, they will be pragmatic and not disrupt daily life in the territories they are about to rule. (Photo: AP)
Journalists and statesmen and stateswomen round the world have confessed themselves astonished by the electoral triumph of Hamas in Palestine. There seems to be a general air of dismay, shock, not to say stupefaction, that free, fair and democratic elections could have brought to power and office a group described by the United States and Israel as a gang of terrorists.
I must confess I find this puzzlement difficult to understand, especially since the US and Israel have, for the last five years, done their damnedest to discredit and destroy the Palestinian Authority (PA) and to humiliate and discredit its late leader, Yasser Arafat.Having managed this project, the US and its allies confess surprise that the Palestinians should have opted for the one group which did not seem intimidated by American and Israeli action.
If one remembers the rape of Jenin, the siege of Ramallah, the sequestration of Arafat in his last days and all the other punishments inflicted on the Arafat regime up to and including his death, is it really so strange that the Palestinians, with their backs to the wall, should have chosen to be defended by the only group which promised blood and fire for Israel?
What, exactly, was their alternative?
One of the most nauseating displays of the past few years has been the hypocrisy of an Israeli government under Ariel Sharon.
The Israeli Defence Forces deliberately targeted the PA and specifically its police forces, and having largely destroyed and demoralised the Palestinian armed forces, demanded of Arafat that those same forces should disarm the people Israel described as terrorists.
Since I am well aware that the terminology I just used may well be used to identify me as a supporter and glorifier of terrorists, let me explain myself before I end up in an American gulag or find myself the object of an targeted assassination.
Hamas justifies its behaviour, its armed struggle, as legally sanctioned resistance against an occupying power. It considers itself in a state of war. This is a very asymmetric war, to use current terminology.
Reports in the west suggest that the Palestinians are killing an enormous number of Israelis in various terror attacks and that all of those killed are innocent civilians. According to the Israeli Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories (B'Tselem) the reality is somewhat different.
Between the start of the latest intifada in September 2000 and January 15 this year, the Israelis killed 3,392 Palestinians, 670 of whom were minors. During that time,
Palestinians killed 992 Israelis of whom 309 were security force personnel and 683 were civilians, 118 of them minors.
In addition, 112 Palestinians were killed by Palestinians for suspected collaboration with Israelis. The kill ratio, to use the ghastly terminology of statistics, gives the Israelis an advantage of 3.4 to one.
Since the Palestinians, Falastin, the Philistines of the Bible, were on the ground in Palestine long before Joshua led the Jews into the "Promised Land", it would seem that they have some sort of reasonable claim to at least live in Palestine. Unfortunately for them, however, the Zionist movement, founded by Theodore Herzl in Basle, Switzerland in 1897, has other ideas.
Herzl was moved by the idea that anti-semitism was a natural characteristic of European civilisation and proposed that the establishment of a national state for the Jews was the solution. He thought that "The Promised Land" would be the perfect site for a secular, socialist republic which would be a light to the world employing advanced technology and science for the furthering of human progress.
The Zionist organisation, financed by wealthy Jews from around the world, moved its headquarters to Muslim Jerusalem in 1936 and began to buy out Palestinian landowners and householders.
In Europe, three decades after Herzl's death, Hitler had begun to fulfil Herzl's worst fears by initiating an ethnic cleansing programme of wholesale murder, which eventually accounted for more than six million Jews as well as other minorities.
For the Jews, the establishment of a safe haven outside of Europe became an inescapable priority and the Jewish colonisation of Palestine accelerated. Although the British were initially opposed to the idea of handing Palestine over to the Jews, their opposition was soon broken by a campaign of terrorism led by Jewish extremists, two of whom, Shamir and Begin, went on to become leaders of secular Israel.
By the end of the Second World War and the defeat of Nazi Germany, the Jewish position in Palestine had been transformed by a combination of worldwide sympathy for the Jews, coupled with what had by now become a war for independence by a well-armed Jewish guerrilla.
Since the brief and bloody war of independence and Israel's conquest of 78 per cent of Palestine, every subsequent conflict has led to the confiscation of more Arab land by Israel. The result is what some critics of Israel call the bantustanisation of Palestine in which Palestinians were confined to increasingly smaller areas of land entirely surrounded by Israel.
The motive behind this programme was perhaps best expressed by Emanuel A Winston, an American pundit, who in 2002 wrote an article in USA Today entitled "No to a Palestinian State".
"Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organisation, like Syria and Iran, has taught the children of several generations to hate Israel so much that when they grow up they will commit ritual suicide for Islam and kill Jews. Arafat has thus programmed the ongoing genocide of his own young people as well as those of Israel.Among solutions suggested by Winston and others is a genteel form of ethnic cleansing, transporting or relocating the Palestinians to Jordan or North Africa, so that secular Israel can more perfectly occupy the geographical position of all the land ever occupied by the nomads brought out of Egypt by Moses.
"Regrettably, there is no ready solution for deprogramming the Arab culture that has taught its youth to hate and kill with such ferocity that nothing, including a state of their own, will change their minds or cure their murderous behaviour."
There is, to my knowledge, no Israeli leader who does not contemplate at some time in the not too distant future, an "Eretz Isrsael" uncontaminated by Philistines/Falastin/Palestinians.
And Eretz Israel includes vast areas of the Middle East, including Cyprus, Syria, parts of Turkey and Iraq.
In little more than a century, Herzl's idea of a secular, socialist, tolerant state has been transformed and is being transformed into a religious construct, fundamentalist and warlike, able to impose its will on its neighbours.
It cannot be strange, therefore, that Israel, having disposed of all rational opposition to its policies, having buried Arafat and the Palestinian Authority in failure and odium, finds that the vacuum it created has been filled by something which is almost a mirror image of itself: a fundamentalist, warlike entity which denies Israel the same recognition that Israel denies to Palestine.
Various newspapers in the Arab world and outside are busy exhorting Hamas to forswear its militancy and to recognise Israel. They, and Mr Bush and Israel, do not realise that these trappings of Hamas are precisely the only cards that the Palestinians hold. Arafat and Fatah were defeated by long speeches, double dealing and wilful misbehaviour on the part of Israel.
The Palestinians, after more than 50 years in the prison of Palestine, can see no way out but violence. The Israeli apologists who have long preached the intransigence of the Arabs are now reaping their fulfilment of their rhetorical excesses.
In the Israeli newspaper, Ha'aretz on Friday, a writer named Bradley Burston presented a novel view of the developments in Palestine by comparing them to Israel in 1977 when the corrupt, futile Labour government was defeated by the Likud of Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir.
"In 1977, the Likud of Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir was derided abroad - and by the left at home - as a group led by terror warlords, a movement with roots in armed wings that had engaged in bombings and cold-blooded shootings.Burston suggests that the unexpected may be the possible, because God, he says, is in the unexpected, and if both Israel and its Arab enemy can claim victory in the same war, they may both be able to leverage that claim into some form of peace. That may be simply wishful thinking, but it may be a wish worth making.
"It was seen - incorrectly - as inexperienced in everything except opposition. It was seen - ingenuously, by the left - as little more than an outgrowth of the Irgun and Lehi, heirs to Deir Yassin, implacable in its opposition to sharing or ceding land.
"It was on May 17, 1977 that Begin's Likud defeated Labour. Exactly six months and two days later, the first leader of an Arab nation to publicly set foot on Israeli soil - a man who had ordered his armies to attack Israel on Yom Kippur - shook Begin's hand and drove with him to Jerusalem, where he would address the Knesset the next day."
The fact is that both sides are now almost completely out of options other than peace. Unless Israel is willing to 'nuke' the Palestinians and themselves in the bargain, there is now no alternative to peace.
Can the Israelis resume the targeted assassination of Hamas leaders? I think not.
Can Israel survive harbouring in its body an implacable enemy, determined on its destruction? That is not practicable. Some commentators have decided that the Hamas victory means the end of the peace process.
Others say it is the end of dialogue. But there have been no peace process and no dialogue for several years. Mr Sharon kept on saying that he was looking for a partner for peace, but in shunning Arafat and the Fatah, he little knew how well he was preparing the ground for Hamas.
At this moment, the leader of Arafat's party, Marwan Barghouti, is serving several life sentences in an Israeli jail. He can't be a partner for peace. According to Barghouti, "Israelis must abandon the myth that it is possible to have peace and occupation at the same time, that peaceful coexistence is possible between slave and master".
The leadership of Hamas has been under attack, too, with several killed by 'targeted assassinations' carried out by the Israeli Defence Forces. As I pointed out after the 9/11 atrocity, people who kill themselves in order to kill their enemies obviously have nothing to lose.
The Palestinian suicide bombers have been making that clear for years. But those were individuals. The leadership of Hamas are not suicide bombers. And they have moderated their original positions.
Under its founder, Sheik Yassin (assassinated by Israel last year), Hamas offered a long-term ceasefire in return for the withdrawal of Israel from the occupied West bank and Gaza and the establishment of a Palestinian state on that land. They are not asking for a rollback to 1948.
If Israel is serious, there does seem to be room for peace. But - and it is a huge but - the Israeli body politic has moved increasingly to the right and towards fundamentalism in recent years. Less than two years ago, dozens of right-wing Israeli leaders announced the creation of a new political party dedicated to the expulsion of millions of Muslims and Christians from Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.
Analysts say that Ariel Sharon's withdrawal from Gaza and part of the West Bank was a ploy to short-circuit such right-wingers; he intended to establish huge Israeli presences in other parts of the West Bank and allow the creation of a Palestinian state which would be a dismembered, dysfunctional entity with little more than a name, a national anthem and a seat, perhaps in the UN.
But Sharon is hors de combat, and with Arafat preceding him, Palestine and Israel are now led by men who do not have to be prisoners of the past. Both sides claim God. Both sides claim Palestine. If they can find a way to share Palestine as they share the same God, they may make it work.
The omens, however, are not propitious. On Thursday morning, as the news of the Hamas upset spread round the world, the Israeli Defence Force shot and killed a nine-year-old girl. Adolf Hitler's ghost must have smiled. They need to make sure he doesn't smile again, ever.