July 30, 2009
The New York Times reported last week that the Palestinian militant group Hamas is changing tack. Rather than firing rockets at Israeli civilians, as it has done thousands of times since 2001, it will place greater emphasis on cultural and public relations campaigns to win support at home and abroad.
“The current situation required a stoppage of rockets. After the war, the fighters needed a break and the people needed a break,” a Hamas leader is quoted as saying.
Hamas won’t state it explicitly but what this shift indicates is that Israel’s pounding of Gaza seven months ago did what it was meant to do: it forced Hamas to confront the futility of its violent strategy.
(I first wrote about Hamas’ self-destructive obtuseness here.)
Hamas’ shift in thinking disproves what most observers were predicting at the time: that Israel’s disproportionate response to the rocket fire was counterproductive. It would beget more violence and leave Israel less safe.
No one I spoke with nor any reports I read in both my land of residence then, Malaysia, and in the West allowed that Israel’s heavy-handedness might actually work. It would have been conceivable had observers put themselves firmly in the shoes of Gazans—not only to feel their indignation but to ask themselves what Gazans inevitably would, confronting the destruction in their midst: what have the rocket attacks on Israel achieved? They would have understood that for all its devotion to armed resistance, Hamas didn’t have the means to effectively engage in one; that a rethink in strategy was needed.
Why did sympathy not graduate to vicariousness?
For a world dismayed by the images coming out of Gaza, it was reassuring to think brutality would fail, that “good” would triumph. Compassion for Palestinians, or hatred for Israel, marred analysis. The mind saw what it wanted to see.
To truly be sensitive, to see, the mind must entertain what it resists. Or as Norman Mailer put it, “The trick is to be able to look.”
In our polarized world people are finding this harder to do. More and more, wishful thinking substitutes for analysis. Reactionary news outlets, determined to correct bias and give voice to the oppressed, reinforce the trend. In turn the gap between myth and reality widens, and humanity finds itself less able to soberly assess situations let alone devise effective strategies to remedy them.
The January invasion of Gaza bears this out.
A more prudent—and in that way compassionate—analysis would have sought to hold Hamas more accountable for ignoring the asymmetrical balance of military power. It would have entertained the uncomfortable thought that Israel’s use of overwhelming force may deter future violence. It would have humbly acknowledged that winning the war for hearts and minds was no substitute for losing the tactical war.
What was served up instead was well-meaning intentions that did very little to help the Palestinians in practical terms. It appears Gazans and their militant leaders are beginning to do that for themselves, though that has less to do with the support of its sympathizers and more to do with coming to grips with the cold nature of reality. ENDS