Palestinians in the Gaza Strip enjoyed an evening at the cinema for the first time in 20 years. Amongst them was a girl called Alaa who had never been to the cinema before because she was an infant when the last cinema was burned during the fighting between Palestinian factions. She said she was “very happy” but asked where the popcorn was!
This innocent question is a very expressive message from a citizen to Hamas’ politicians who have abducted the strip and restrict people’s lives in an absurd and unsuccessful attempt to impose a particular lifestyle on its inhabitants. These politicians also engage in military adventures which have led to massive destruction and the displacement of tens of thousands. It is also a direct message to Israel which imposes an obstinate blockade on the Gaza Strip and uses force in an exaggerated manner there.
A series of investigations published by Asharq Al-Awsat ten years ago about Hamas’ rule in Gaza sums up the situation. The movement lost the tunnels and funds, swapped its alliances in the Arab world, expelled the movement’s leaders from Syria and became the homeless child of what is called the axis of resistance. The movement is in an unenviable position and in order to please its old friends, it has to conform to Hezbollah and Iran’s policies that clash with Arab interests.
Hamas has fought three wars against Israel during its rule of Gaza and after it expelled the legitimate authority. The results were disastrous because of the imbalance of power. During every war the strip was exposed to significant damage, the lives of ordinary people were negatively affected and jobs and even hope for the future were lost. Now the co-founder of Hamas Mahmoud Al-Zahar is saying that the movement does not seek war with Israel, that “no one in the region here seeks war” and that the network of tunnels that it is digging is for defence purposes.
The truth is that if Hamas wanted an honest review of its experience of governing the Gaza Strip for a period of ten years which has failed by all accounts, it must give up its obsession with tunnels. The idea of housing the two million Palestinians inhabiting the strip underground is a ridiculous one; tunnels are for mice and not for humans who yearn to breathe the air of freedom and open sea ports.
The tunnels were not for resistance purposes. Rather, hundreds of them were dug on the border with Egypt to smuggle goods, weapons and militants and are disrupting the economy and security of its large neighbour Egypt. The Palestinians have nothing to gain from being hostile towards or provoking Egypt as the movement used to do by deliberately publishing pictures of cows, calves and cars being lowered into tunnels to smuggle them.
All of this could have been done above ground but Hamas chose underground tunnels to conceal its illegal activities, and no sovereign state accepts tunnels under its land where it cannot control what passes through them. Hamas placed its bets on the Brotherhood government which was toppled in Egypt and I do not know if it was promised land in the Sinai to expand the geographical area of its control or not. Anyhow, it placed the wrong bet and if the movement really wants to review things, it must acknowledge that it made the wrong bet.
This is not the time for other adventures or political polemics because the residential situation of the Gaza Strip will be unsustainable in 5 years’ time according to the United Nations. If Hamas is serious, it must undertake reconstruction projects that seem to have remained on paper and not implemented and ease people’s lives by bringing back the cinema. If there is a desire to develop the economy, it must trade with Egypt above ground and not below it.