EDITORIAL by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Reflections on the Israel-Hamas conflict
, August 30, 2014
After a month of bitter fighting in the densely-populated Gaza strip, a tenuous ceasefire has been established at the time of writing, which one may hope will evolve into a cessation of hostilities.
The media coverage of the event — showing overwhelmingly the Israeli bombardment and its terrible civilian consequences in deaths and injuries, as well as damage to houses and infrastructure — has led to criticism that Israel over-reacted to the threat posed by Hamas, the Islamist organisation which controls Gaza.
Israel’s response has been largely driven by Hamas’s declared intention to destroy Israel and establish a single Islamist state over what is now both Israel and Palestine.
There can be no doubt that Hamas provoked the war by supporting those who kidnapped and killed three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank and by firing hundreds of rockets into Israel.
During the course of the conflict, Hamas refused to accept several interim ceasefires negotiated by Egypt and supported by the Palestinian Authority, declaring that it would continue to fight until Israel’s blockade of Gaza was lifted.
Looking behind this tragic situation in which well over 2,000 civilians lost their lives, no one has asked the question: how were thousands of missiles or components, as well as machine-guns and large amounts of ammunition, able to find their way to Gaza, if the territory was subject to an Israeli blockade?
Israel has imposed a land and sea blockade of Gaza since 2006, when Hamas won elections there.
The only way in which these weapons could have got into Gaza was from Egypt, during the period when the Muslim Brotherhood ran the country (2011-13). Hamas is the Palestinian affiliate of the Egypt-based Muslim Brotherhood.
Going back further, the Muslim Brotherhood won elections in Egypt, in the country’s first democratic election after the overthrow of the military-backed regime of Hosni Mubarak.
The Mubarak regime had collapsed after a popular uprising in Egypt, which was a manifestation of very widespread resentment against the failures of autocratic regimes in the Arab world. This became known as the Arab Spring.
During late 2010 and 2011, a wave of protests and demonstrations swept the countries of north Africa, spurred on by rapidly rising prices for basic foodstuffs and petrol, chronic unemployment (especially among youth), rampant corruption, and the absence of political freedom.
In a wave of euphoria, massive public protests caused the collapse of authoritarian regimes in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, and spread to the oil-producing countries of the Persian Gulf, as well as Syria and Iran.
There was a sense in which many believed that a democratic transition had begun in the Islamic world.
Three years later, the high expectations of that period have been dashed.
Libya is now a battleground between warring militias; the Muslim Brotherhood, which misgoverned Egypt from 2011 to 2013, has been overthrown and replaced by a military regime not much different from Mubarak’s; Syria is in the midst of a bloody religious war between rival Islamic sects; and, in other Muslim countries, including Iran, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, the protests have been suppressed.
Al Qaeda, the extremist organisation headed by Osama bin Ladin before his death, has been supplanted by the Islamic State, a jihadist group which has seized control of desert areas of Iraq and Syria.
The arming of Hamas in Gaza followed the Muslim Brotherhood’s election victory in Egypt, so the war between Israel and Hamas was also an indirect result of the Arab Spring.
It would be tempting to conclude that there is no place for democracy, human rights or individual freedom in the Middle East. But the issues which gave rise to the Arab Spring are even more pressing today, and the aspirations of people living in the Middle East are the same: a sense of patriotism and respect for national sovereignty, and a desire for economic development and a better future for themselves and their families.
Living in the prosperous Western world, we can all too easily forget that the institutions of representative government in our countries took many centuries to develop, and that great popular uprisings such as the French Revolution in 1789 took many years to yield positive results, and were accompanied by terrible wars, the destruction of nations and great crimes against ordinary people.
Similarly, the Russian Revolution of October 1917, which began in a wave of popular anti-war enthusiasm, could be said to have culminated over 70 years later in the collapse of the Soviet Union.
We should not be surprised that the first fruits of the Arab Spring have been negative.
Perhaps those who expected more were looking in the wrong direction.
Instead of trying to emulate the West, people in Arab countries should look to countries with majority Islamic populations, such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan and Turkey, all of which have been developing democratic institutions and a relatively free press, despite the difficulties.
Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.