A disservice to the Palestinian cause

Palestinians need to believe in a leadership that can bring about changes that improve their lives. Palestinians need to see a horizon where they can live in an independent and viable state

Hamas’s attack on Israeli communities was nothing but atrocious and deserves to be condemned without reservation.

Entering civilian communities, shooting at will, causing utter mayhem and taking hostages can never be justified.

Hamas operatives may describe themselves as freedom fighters but their actions on Saturday exposed them for the terrorists they are. What we witnessed on Saturday was the outcome of Hamas’s warped ideology that Israel should be wiped out. It also confirms the militant group’s lack of willingness to ever seek a negotiated political solution to the decades-old conflict.

Any shard of legitimacy Hamas may have had in advancing the Palestinian cause was lost the moment trigger-happy gunmen raided a music festival, killing almost 300 young people and kidnapping several others. In one fell swoop, Hamas did the biggest disservice to the Palestinian cause.

Unfortunately, the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas is weak, ineffectual and unable to provide leadership. In this leadership vacuum, it is militant organisations like Hamas that move in to the fill the gap and the tragedy today is that Hamas has become the face of the Palestinian cause.

Palestinians, especially those living in Gaza under Hamas, have to understand they are simply undermining their own cause when they support terrorist groups like Hamas.

But it would be a grave mistake to view Saturday’s terrorist actions in isolation. What is happening in Israel and Gaza is a tragedy that did not start now. It is a tragedy that has been decades in the making – a tragedy on loop with shocking flashpoints every now and then and no political progress that materially improves the lives of people on the ground.

Palestinians remain without a state to call home and those resident in Gaza live in a permanent state of economic, cultural and social suffocation as a result of Israel’s blockade. Indeed, the Gaza Strip is akin to a large open air prison, where lives are periodically disrupted and where dreams are dashed.

The appalling conditions in Gaza and this lack of hope in a brighter future only breeds frustration among Palestinians. And when frustration turns into despair no one should be surprised if people find solace in militant groups that promise resistance to the occupation and satisfy the basic human instinct of retribution through violent means.

But lack of political progress on the Palestinian issue also leaves Israelis living in a constant state of fear that something bad may happen. The occupation of Palestinian territories shifts Israeli resources and focus away from domestic problems.

No one wins from a dead political process just as no one wins from senseless violence.

The death of civilians as a result of war is always ugly irrespective if this happens in Kyiv, Ashkelon or Gaza.

The slaughter of ordinary people whose only crime is being in the wrong place at the wrong time is always condemnable whether they are Ukrainians, Israelis or Palestinians.

It is within this context that Israel must show restraint in its retaliation. While Israel has a right to defend itself, embarking on a relentless bombing campaign of the Gaza Strip can hardly be described as a selective operation targeting militants and terrorists. Residential neighbourhoods have been flattened and by cutting off electricity, water and food supplies to the territory, Israel is simply applying collective punishment to a community already on its knees.

Israel is justified in striking back at Hamas and taking measures to degrade and destroy their operational and command infrastructure. But there is a very fine line between targeting terrorists and their support structures and adopting a strategy that targets everyone indiscriminately. Israel must create humanitarian corridors that allow basic food and medical supplies to reach Gaza’s population and every effort must be made to avoid civilian deaths.

However, beyond the immediate circumstances, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the US, the EU, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Egypt must strive for a negotiated political solution that ensures a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.

Hamas in its current incarnation can play no role in this process but to clip their wings and diminish their allure within Palestinian communities there has to be material progress on the ground. Where hope is absent and where humiliation is constant, militants will thrive and the cycle of violence will keep perpetuating itself.

Moderate but assertive Palestinian voices willing to put an end to decades of violence have to have something to show for their efforts. Palestinians need to believe in a leadership that can bring about changes that improve their lives. Palestinians need to see a horizon where they can live in an independent and viable state.