Gwynne Dyer: Why Hamas does not want a cease-fire in Gaza—yet

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      You can see why Hamas doesn’t want a cease-fire in Gaza yet. It is continuing the fight in the hope that international outrage at the huge loss of people being killed by Israel’s massive firepower will somehow, eventually, force Israel to give it what it wants.

      Hamas would be quite willing to give up firing its pathetic rockets, which have so far killed a grand total of three civilians in Israel—if Israel ended its seven-year blockade of the Gaza Strip. Dream on.

      Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s goal is harder to define. Domestic political pressure to “do something” about those pesky rockets pushed him into this war, but now he must produce some kind of success in order to justify all those deaths: around 1,150 Palestinians and more than 50 Israelis already.

      But what kind of success could it be? He cannot destroy all the rockets—Hamas shows no sign of running out of them—and even if he could, Hamas would just manufacture more of them later unless he physically reoccupied the whole Gaza Strip.

      In recent days, therefore, Netanyahu has redefined the objective as destroying all the “terror tunnels” that Hamas has dug to infiltrate its fighters into nearby areas of Israel.

      This makes no sense at all. In order to protect the lives of a few hypothetical Israeli soldiers who might be killed in the future by Hamas fighters using the tunnels, over 40 real Israeli soldiers have already died. Besides, Israel can’t stop Hamas from digging more tunnels after the shooting stops unless it can find a way to ban picks and shovels in the Gaza Strip.

      Netanyahu needs a victory of some sort before he accepts a cease-fire, but he cannot even define what it would be. So, as he said on Monday, “We should prepare ourselves for an extended campaign.” Meanwhile, the slaughter of Palestinians continues, and sympathy for Israel shrivels even in the United States.

      It’s not that the Israeli army particularly wants to kill civilians (although it is sometimes very sloppy), but it does prefer to fight a standoff war with artillery and missiles in order to spare the lives of its own soldiers. In the crowded Gaza Strip, that inevitably means killing lots of civilians.

      The 1.8 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are living at the same population density as the residents of London and Tokyo: around 5,000 people per square kilometre. You cannot use high explosives in this environment without killing a great many innocent civilians, and Netanyahu knew that from the start, because this is Israel’s third war in Gaza in six years.

      So the Israelis are being brutal and stupid, and the Hamas leaders are being brutal and cynical. (Hamas doesn’t really use civilians as “human shields”, as Israel claims, but its leaders know that Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli fire provide them with a kind of political capital.)

      But this is not to say that the two sides are equally to blame for the killing. There is a broader context.

      Before 1948, only about 60,000 people lived on the land now known as the Gaza Strip. The vast majority of those who live there now are Arab refugees, or the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of Arab refugees, who fled or were driven out of what is now Israel during the 1948 war. They are not there by choice.

      Israel has traditionally insisted that the refugees freely chose to flee, although revisionist Israeli historians have debunked that story pretty thoroughly. But which story you believe doesn’t really matter. Fleeing your home in a time of war does not deprive you of the right to go home when the fighting ends. Yet the Palestinians have not been allowed to go home, and Israel is adamant that they never will be.

      The argument of 1948 still applies: for Israel to remain a state with a large Jewish majority, the Palestinian refugees and their descendants must remain outside it. So most of them are jammed into this narrow strip of territory on the Mediterranean coast—and latterly they have even grown poorer (unemployment is now 40 percent) because they now live under a permanent Israeli blockade.

      Israel imposed the blockade after they voted for Hamas, a radical Islamist party that refuses to recognize the legitimacy of Israel, in the 2006 election. Yes, they are more radical than the Palestinians of the West Bank, most of whom are not refugees. But there is no going back, and even in the Gaza Strip most Palestinians know it.

      The ancestral lands of the Palestinians in what is now Israel are lost as permanently as those of the American Indians. The “peace” everybody talks about is really just about giving them security of tenure and real self-government in the one-fifth of the former Palestine they still occupy. Unfortunately, that is not even visible on the horizon.

      When Netanyahu is addressing American audiences, he gives lip service to a “two-state solution” that includes an independent, demilitarized Palestinian mini state, but everybody in Israel knows that he is really determined to avoid it. Israel is therefore effectively committed to penning in and controlling the Palestinians forever.

      When their objections to this situation get too violent, they have to be disciplined. That is what is happening now. Just like in 2009 and 2012.

      Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.


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      Jul 29, 2014 at 10:36am

      It is so depressing that this is the kind of news Vancouverites are exposed to. Just another piece of factually incorrect and shoddy "journalism" from Gwynn Dyer. Doesn't this man have a masters degree in military history? What an embarrassment.

      Mayor Moonberg

      Jul 29, 2014 at 10:51am

      I think that al that Hamas wants, and would remedy the entire Israel-Palestine conflict, is to have a bike lane installed from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank.

      Tommy Khang

      Jul 29, 2014 at 11:20am

      Hamas leadership is in hiding, underground, do you think they honestly care about the people in Gaza? Nope.


      Jul 29, 2014 at 11:23am

      "who fled or were driven out of what is now Israel during the 1948 war..."

      You neglect to mention why the 1948 war occurred in the first place. If the Palestinian Arabs and their neighbors had allowed the Jews to live in peace in the first place, there would be a Palestinian state, and it would be much larger.

      The people who are not there by "choice" are there as a result of the actions of their grandparents and their grandparents' co-religionists, who, instead of allowing a tiny group of half a million people to have under 20,000 km2 of mostly desert land (as approved by the UN), in which they would be a tiny majority, among a sea of millions and millions of square kilometers of Arab land, they instead chose to fight. It was a bad choice, they lost. Israel earned the land they won, with their own blood, and they paid for it with the land lost in dozens of Muslim countries by other Jews.

      While Israel certainly is not blameless, and has made many questionable decisions over its short history, you do a disservice by glossing over the Palestinian/Arab role in getting into the current predicament, by insisting on the death of Israel, and by voting for the current war when they voted for Hamas in the first place. While many saw the vote between Fatah and Hamas as between corruption and order, they also knew it was a vote between peace and war, and they are reaping the oats they have sown. I have great sympathy for the minority who live in Gaza yet voted against Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and for the children.

      This war, these wars, will not end until the people of Gaza give up arms, and accept that Israel is here to stay. When they stop diverting concrete that could be used for schools and hospitals, and even for bunkers for civilians, into tunnels solely for the purpose of killing civilians or kidnapping soldiers. When that happens, when they police their own violent elements instead of electing them to power, and when Israel can be assured of safety, then they can live in the free world again.

      I Chandler

      Jul 29, 2014 at 11:57am

      "Gwynne Dyer: Why Hamas does not want a cease-fire in Gaza - yet"
      We could also ask Why Netanyahu does not want a cease-fire in Gaza - yet:

      Gwynne Dyer: "Netanyahu needs a victory before he accepts a cease-fire, but cannot even define what it would be...."Hamas would be willing to give up firing rockets, if Israel ends its seven-year blockade."

      "The ancestral lands of the Palestinians in what is now Israel are lost as permanently as those of the American Indians."

      A majority of Native Americans live off the reservations. Some are still locked up but at least the CIA/FBI sock puppets are not ranting about them....


      Jul 29, 2014 at 1:02pm

      @ Steve

      "I have great sympathy for the minority who live in Gaza...."

      And for the rest none at all, right?

      It never ceases to amaze me the casuistry employed by Zionist apologists who somehow believe the indiscriminate slaughter of thousands of Arab civilians can somehow be justified.

      This vicious attack upon the civilians of Gaza is nothing but collective punishment and is clearly defined as a war crime by the Geneva Convention. I think this time around the world has had enough of it.


      Jul 29, 2014 at 1:11pm

      Gwynne Dyer was once a fine military historian and journalist. Not sure what happened, but his knowledge of history is sufficiently deep to suggest that he is deliberately fabricating history to support the utterly foundationless narrative of the "Palestinian" people. To equate them with North American aboriginal peoples denigrates the legitimate rights and aspiration of the latter. What is this nonsense doing in a newspaper?


      Jul 29, 2014 at 2:29pm

      Just as the world awakened to the to atrocities of South African Apartheid, the world is now waking up to the atrocities of the Israeli occupation. Of course justice will come to Palestinians, and it may come a lot sooner than many think.

      Chuck Laidlaw

      Jul 29, 2014 at 3:18pm

      Once again, Mr. Dyer hits the nail - or in this case, both nails - on the head. Neither side in this war, the Israelis or the Palestinians, wants to live in a state of peace that would allow either group to hold political power over their side. The Israelis wish the Palestinians would just shut up and accept that they will always be second class citizens in an Israeli nation - or just go away. The Palestinians want the Israelis to just go away. There's no way that the USA or Europe will allow all the Israelis to be driven into the sea (if it came to that, the Israeli nuclear arsenal would ensure the Arab countries didn't survive either), and no way they will allow the Israelis to finish off the Palestinians once and for all. What we have is what the British used to say about Northern Ireland: An acceptable level of violence. And it will stay that way for several more generations.

      Noj Rombo

      Jul 29, 2014 at 5:37pm

      Hamas is a terror organization that is about to implode from the inside out. Israel is a legitimate Super Power with all of the USA arsenal at their disposal. Anyone who thinks that the Palestinians will re-take Israel is smoking crack, it will never happen! Do you think Putin or Obama would allow rockets to be fired at civilians in their country? No, it would never be allowed the perpetrator would be utterly destroyed. Why should Israel have to put up with terrorists? The answer is that they don't and they will not tolerate rocket fire in their homeland. Israel will never be forced from their land, so get over it.