by Zafar Bangash (Editorials, Crescent International Vol. 40, No. 9, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1432)
Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement that heads the government in Ghazzah, has scored a stunning victory over the Zionist State of Israel. It is not merely the numbers: 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for one Israeli soldier.
Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement that heads the government in Ghazzah, has scored a stunning victory over the Zionist State of Israel. It is not merely the numbers: 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit but the fact that Israel was forced to deal with Hamas is a great achievement in and of itself. When Palestinian strugglers captured Shalit (not “kidnapped”, as the BBC continues to insist on its website, October 12) in a daring operation on June 25, 2006, Zionist officials thundered they would never deal with Hamas whom they categorized a “terrorist” organization. So how were they forced to eat crow?
Initially, Israel negotiated through third parties — Norway, Germany, Egypt, and of course the Palestinian Authority (PA), whose thugs were unleashed against Hamas but failed to secure Shalit’s release. Then the Zionists resorted to what they do best: mass murder of Palestinians to brow beat them into submission. But unlike the PA, Hamas proved much tougher. Within weeks, Israel launched its military assault dubbed “Operation Summer Rains” that resulted in the killing of 400 Palestinians. This too failed to amnesty Shalit. This was followed by the full-scale invasion of Ghazzah in late 2008 and early 2009. While 1,400 Palestinians were murdered and 30% of all buildings in the tiny Ghazzah Strip were destroyed (they still stand as ruins), Israel again failed in its objective.
Why and how Hamas has succeeded while the PA and its main faction Fatah have repeatedly failed against Israel? The answer lies in Hamas’ faith in the righteousness of its cause and its willingness to offer the necessary sacrifices. Some would say — as the pleasure-loving Saudis have said — that Hamas is unwise in pursuing a confrontational course against Israel because it is backed by the US. But the PA’s policy of appeasement has led only to the Palestinians giving up more and more of their innate sovereignty. Hamas has relied on Allah (swt) and the support of the Palestinian masses, who have shown remarkable resilience in the face of immense Israeli barbarities.
Through its steadfast resistance, Hamas has forced Israel to reverse one of its long-standing policies of not dealing with the resistance movement. Hamas is now accepted as a legitimate representative of the Palestinians. Equally important, Israel has been forced to abandon its long held strategy that entailed not only the historic rejection of all Palestinian political rights, but its military doctrine of “might makes right” by creating facts on the ground. Hamas defeated Israel on both counts, hence the agreement to deal with the legitimate (power) representatives of the Palestinians. True, the negotiations took place under Egyptian auspices but the fact that Israel had to publicly acknowledge it was dealing with Hamas was a huge embarrassment.
In politics, symbolism is just as important as what is actually achieved on the ground. In the prisoner swap, Hamas has come out on top in both. By capturing Shalit from his military post in a daring operation, holding him for five years despite intense political and diplomatic pressure from regimes like Egypt and Saudi Arabia as well as enduring the long barbaric siege (that still continues), Hamas was able to withstand whatever Israel and its allies could throw at it. Viewed in this context, Hamas’ ultimate successful negotiations for a prisoner release are all the more impressive.
For the first time in history, the Palestinians led by Hamas captured an Israeli soldier and then translated this into a negotiated settlement with the Zionist regime. Regardless of one’s opinion of the tactics — and one can hardly fault Hamas when Israel routinely kidnaps Palestinians from their homes and uses them as pawns in extracting humiliating concessions from the PA — there is no question that this series of events represents a great advance for Hamas’ capabilities: its professionalism, secrecy and stamina. Given that Ghazzah is sealed hermetically by Israel and Egypt, and that Israel controls and constantly monitors the Strip from the air and sea, as well as through electronic and telecommunications surveillance, Hamas has achieved a remarkable victory. Add to this the vast network of Israeli spies, whether Palestinian collaborators or Zionist infiltrators, and one can begin to appreciate the scale of challenges Hamas faced.
Despite such handicaps, Hamas forced Israel to make a deal notwithstanding the Zionists’ chest thumping that they place a higher premium on the life of one of their own. If they do, they can stop their illegal theft and occupation of Palestine; then no Israeli soldier would be killed or captured. Zionist racism aside, Hamas forced Israel to climb down from other long-held positions: its refusal to release prisoners allegedly “with blood on their hands,” and prisoners from 1948 Palestine (Palestinians holding Israeli citizenship) as well as those from East Jerusalem. To appreciate its significance, we must bear in mind that all previous prisoner releases negotiated with the PA excluded Palestinians from 1948 Palestine and Jerusalem.
Further, the deal included prisoners from all of Palestine, the Palestinian diaspora, the occupied Golan Heights as well as Jordan. Just as important is the fact that the deal included prisoners from across the entire political spectrum. Of the 477 released in the first batch on October 18, there were 27 women; 307 prisoners were from Hamas, 99 from Fatah, 27 from Islamic Jihad, and 24 from the Popular Front. The rest were from smaller factions. Similarly, the time line was important. Forty prisoners were arrested before the first intifadah (pre-December 1987); 112 were arrested during the first intifadah (December 1987 – September 13, 1993); 81 were arrested during the Oslo “peace process” years (September 1997 – September 28, 2000); and the remaining 244 are from the second intifadah (September 2000 – present).
Based on this, Hamas has not only shown great maturity but it has emerged as the legitimate voice of all Palestinians irrespective of their political or ideological orientation. And it has also shown that steadfastness to injustice does pay.