Saturday, February 7, 2009

Hamas's Humiliating Blunder

The Gaza crisis of last January did something unprecedented in the Arab World: it unified almost all Arabs in support of Hamas. Prior to the crisis, opinions on Hamas were divided in the region, but since then, almost all Arabs came to see the group as a legitimate armed resistance against the Israeli army.

This last week, however, Hamas made a mistake that has seriously harmed their image in the Arab World. They seized international aid supplies that were coming into the Gaza Strip through the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). After their stores were raided at gunpoint for the second time in the last few days, UNRWA announced that it is suspending its aid to Gaza until its supplies were returned and it had assurances from Hamas that such actions would not be repeated.

Hamas's move has come under fire from various quarters, particularly in the Arab World. Al-Quds al-Arabi, for example, recently published an editorial called "Hamas made a mistake, and must rectify it." In the article it bashed the armed movement's actions, saying that they seriously undermined the lifeline of aid that trickled into Gaza. International aid agencies are sorely needed in Gaza, and pushing them out of the Strip through such selfish action did not help ordinary Palestinians living there. The newspaper stated:

وربما يفيد التذكير بان ممثلي وكالة الاونروا كانوا اكثر ايلاما لاسرائيل من صواريخ المقاومة، عندما تصدوا بشجاعة للعدوان الاسرائيلي، وفضحوا جرائمه في حق الاطفال والنساء، وتحدثوا بطرق مؤثرة عن معاناة ابناء القطاع تحت
الحصار التي هزت الرأي العام العالمي بأسره.

It may be important to remember that UNRWA's representatives were more harmful to Israel than the resistance's rockets: when they courageously confronted Israeli aggression, exposed Israel's crimes towards the rights of women and children, and spoke passionately about the suffering of Gazans under the blockade in a way that shook international public opinion to its core.
The article acknowledged that Hamas has long been aggitated by UNRWA's refusal to help a wider range of Palestinians in Gaza - the agency only distributes aid to those with the status of "refugee." Hamas rightly states that most Palestinians in the Strip are facing the same problems, whether or not they have the refugee label. al-Quds al-Arabi, however, reminded its readers that UNRWA is, by definition, an agency created to aid refugees and refugees only. Hamas can't make the agency violate its own laws according to the Palestinian group's whims.

In the face of similar public pressure, Hamas has apologized for its seizure of UNRWA supplies. Hopefully, they won't resort to such tactics again. It's only through cooperating with international institutions like UNRWA that they, or any other groups, can improve the situation of those in Gaza - or indeed, any other part of Palestine.


Nicholas Karavatos said...

I find the language used to describe this very serious episode to be very gentle – “blunder” & “mistake” – as if this type of behavior or tactic is an anomaly for Hamas.

Is it?

Why isn't this *gangsterism* not a reflection of the general attitude of Hamas?

This is the organization that won a majority of seats in Parliament, free & fair. This put them in the position to elect a Prime Minister from their own party. But, dissatisfied with the democratic process, they staged a coup d’état. Hamas eliminated the elected Presidential party in power in a mini civil war in Gaza so they could have complete control. (Smell the Reichstag smoldering yet?)

So, was their gangster-like appropriation of UNRWA aid a “blunder” & “mistake” or was it an example of how Hamas does business?

I don’t know.

Jeremy said...

The purpose of this post, at least as far as I can tell, is not to debate the merits and failings of Hamas. Whatever you happen to think of them, they did gain a great deal of legitimacy as a representative of the Palestinian people following Israel's invasion of Gaza. This should allow them to advance their goals, either through further conflict or peace negotiations. What makes this a "blunder" is that they are squandering that opportunity, most likely in an attempt to gain greater domestic support by distributing the aid themselves.

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