Hamas reportedly criticizes rocket attacks on Israel coming from Gaza

The Associated Press reported on Thursday that “Gaza’s Hamas rulers issued rare criticism Thursday of Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel from the strip, saying now is the wrong time for such attacks … Hamas said Thursday that it was not behind recent attacks and that it was investigating who was responsible”.

This AP report was picked up and published by Haaretz here.

On 9 March, the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center reported that, according to a report on Israel’s YNet, Islamic Jihad said that Hamas arrested ten “activists” who fired rockets towards Israel, and later released nine of them.

Today’s AP story speculated that Hamas “apparently fears that new rocket fire could disrupt the reconciliation talks currently underway in Cairo”.

There have been various news reports over the past days tracing the up and down hopes for the intra-Palestinian talks that may or may not lead to a new unity government, and for the Egyptian-brokered talks with Israel and with Hamas that may or may not lead to an agreed cease-fire (in Gaza only?), and to the release of a number of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Israel’s Corporal Gilad Shalit, who was captured in a cross-border raid in late June 2006 (in retaliation for which Israel caused major damage to Gaza’s only electricity-generating power station, and again damaged the runways and other installations at currently-defunct Yasser Arafat international airport, which is actually rather near the Kerem Shalom crossing where Shalit was siezed).

According to reports, Israel is now ready to release exactly the prisoners that Hamas has named over a year ago — but not to let them go home. Israel is demanding that some of them be sent to Gaza rather than to the West Bank, or abroad — along the lines of what Palestinians regard as a totally unsatisfactory and still-festering “solution” to the Israeli siege on Palestinian gunmen holed up in Bethlehem’s Nativity Church in 2002.

Palestinian men were deported from Bethlehem to Gaza, and to various points in Europe, and their situation was supposed to have been reviewed after a year. But, as Saddam Hussein’s officials used to say about the UNSC sanctions imposed on his country following its invasion of occupation of Kuwait (but not of Iraq’s invasion of Iran a decade earlier) — there is no ending date. The situation has been left open-ended, and up to the whim of the stronger parties.

The 2005 Road Map recognized that this specific issue of deportations was a problem. So, it is hard to see why and how Israel is asking for this now. Does Israel think that a negotiated, agreed deportation of the Palestinians it is holding prisoner would be legal, or any more acceptable, or in conformity to the Road Map obligations? Would the Quartet (US, Russia, EU and UN) agree to such a re-writing of the Road Map?

The Road Map specifically requires the Government of Israel to, among other things, “take no actions undermining trust, including deportations, attack on civilians; confiscation and/or demolition of Palestinian homes and property, as a punitive measure or to facilitate Israeli construction; destruction of Palestinian institutions and infrastructure”, etc. This is right up there in Phase One of the Road Map. But, in reality, who reads the Road Map anymore?

Shalit is believed to be held somewhere in Gaza. During the recent IDF Operation Cast Lead, Shalit might have been wounded, according to some reports. A Damascus-based Hamas leader, Mousa Abu Marzouk, recently entered Gaza from the Rafah crossing in Egypt, and reportedly held talks with a Hamas military leader, then returned with a letter hand-written by Shalit. There have been no reports that such a letter has been delivered to the Shalit family, who are currently pressing for their son’s release while campimg out in a tent, and receiving lots of high-profile visitors, near the office or residence of Israel’s outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Meanwhile, on Hamas’ reported condemnation of the firing of rockets, missiles, and mortars from Gaza onto neighboring Israeli land, they did say something of the sort around the time that Egypt was completing negotiations on the June 2008 cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

Israeli analysts — including Shlomo Brom — former head of Israel’s Air Force, now in the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, have said that Hamas’ effective take-over of the Gaza Strip (after its rout of Fatah security sources in mid-June 2007) at least gave Israel an address to which it could take its complaints.

Various Palestinian groups other than Hamas (including those allied or aligned or actually part of Fatah) have taken credit for very many if not almost all of the projectile firing from Gaza since the June 2007 take-over.

But Israel says — not incorrectly — that as Hamas claims to be in control in Gaza, it has ultimate responsible anyway.

Hamas should have acted more effectively to stop the firing — but after serious Israeli attacks in Gaza or in the West Bank, Hamas officials would frequently say that they could not stop their people’s legitimate and/or natural expression of resistance to those attacks.

Hamas has periodically shown signs of an interest in statesman-like behavior, which few Israeli government officials (and few PA figures in Ramallah, and only a few Europeans or Americans) have shown any interest in reciprocating, while the suffering all around goes on and on and on.

But most Palestinians — at least, a majority of those to whom I have spoken in recent weeks and months — continue to support “resistance” against Israeli occupation.

There are only a rare few who denounce the continued firing from Gaza of “projectiles” – whether Kassam rockets, mortars, or Grad/Katyusha missiles – onto adjacent Israeli territory.

Many otherwise intelligent, educated and decent people — like the farmer quoted in a story written from northern Gaza by Dion Nissenbaum for the McClatchy newspapers recently, say something like: “We don’t agree about launching the rockets and we are not launching the rockets … But it’s the only way for us to express our frustration.” Another Gazan said “It’s an expression of anger … Find us a solution. If the resistance talks with their mouths, would anyone listen to them?” This story can be read in full here.

One young friend from a privileged family said recently, with some bitterness: “At least they’re firing something”. His mother, sitting at his side, was proud of him. They disdainfully let me know that they felt my position of incomprehension was wrong — and pitifully, contemptibly, annoying.

This is considered resistance, even though most Palestinians are content to let other Palestinians carry it out while they themselves continue to live comfortably, while acting as bitter cheerleaders — even though this strategy appears to have backfired rather badly. It is, of course, illegitimate and illegal under the very same international law that Palestinians so often mention to deliberately target civilians.

It is hard to see what would bring about any change in this culture of resistance, other than a major educational and informational campaign with a lot of public discussion and debate undertaken after a firm decision at the very highest levels of the entire Palestinian leadership — and this could come, of course, only after an end to Israel’s continued attacks on an occupied people, and its continued repression of the Palestinian right to self-determination.

But this, unfortunately, is not mentioned — in this way — in any one of the phases in the Road Map …

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