The War in Gaza: A View from the Arab Street

Alastair Crooke

Royal United Services Institute, January 12, 2009
Article posted on the RUSI web site.

The round of international diplomacy that has just concluded has left this part of the Arab world incredulous, extremely angry and polarised. The demonstrations in Syria this weekend were marked by use of extreme slogans seldom heard in public, and images of Osama bin Laden were paraded at protests in Jordan. The feel is of strategic tremors that hint at some fundamental shifting of the plates of Muslim opinion.

The searing images emerging from Gaza have long since undergone a subconscious transfiguration: from originally being about Hamas they have metamorphosed into an archetypal image of Israel attacking the Gazan people, the Palestinian people and Islam. Happening as they did during Ashura, the Shia commemoration of the martyrdom of Hussein – providing the backdrop to the speeches by the Secretary General of Hezbollah Sayed Hassan Nasrallah that have gripped the region – the attacks have Islamiised political discourse and given events in Gaza the aura of Hussein’s sacrifice in the face of injustice.

The conviction of injustice has drawn added passion from a UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution that would allow Israel to keep its troops in position in Gaza after ceasefire, whilst postponing any resolution – until some later and indeterminate dialogue – of the opening of the crossings into Gaza. This was the very issue that was the cause of the earlier ceasefire to collapse.

The prime aim of the UNSC Resolution was to exclude Hamas as a main party to any political process – other than to be deemed in breach of the Resolution – were the smuggling across the Egyptian border through the tunnels to persist. The Resolution simply ignores the need to lift the siege of Gaza, and to secure a normalisation of the life of Gazans, as the key to a solution.

The real anger, however, has been reserved for the proposals advanced by the Egyptians and conveyed to Hamas during bilateral meetings in recent days. It has been plain that this initiative, encouraged by European leaders and the US, is intended to bypass the now solidly united Gazan movements by bringing back the West’s favoured Palestinian interlocutor Mahmoud Abbas, whose term in office as President expired on 9 January, as the authority in Gaza.

The Egyptians also proposed to Hamas the indefinite postponement of elections and internal Palestinian reconciliation, while demanding that Abbas be authorised to negotiate an agreement with Israel free from Palestinian political scrutiny or constraint. The Egyptians propose that only when all is complete – the resistance ended, the Rafa’a crossing and Gaza returned to Abbas’ control, and Abbas’ negotiations with Israel concluded – would the possibility of elections (under Abbas’ control) become possible.

This represents yet another attempted coup against the movement that overwhelmingly won the 2006 parliamentary elections. Unsurprisingly, it was rejected categorically in a speech by the Chairman of the Hamas Political Bureau Khaled Mesha’al on Saturday, and has been rejected, similarly, by all the movements in Gaza. It seems that a fresh crisis has been ushered in by the European and American desire to land a blow on the so-called ‘arc of extremism’. The price will be paid by the Gazans.

The aim is clear enough: Israel and the West intend to damage Hamas so severely that it will send a message to Hezbollah, which will in turn chasten Syria and ultimately weaken Iran. This, the proponents of the new ‘Great Game’ such as Tony Blair hope, will strengthen the moderates and secure Israel.

From the evidence to date, it will do neither. Whatever the outcome with Hamas in Gaza – and the outcome there is by no means assured because at the time of writing the military formations of Hamas and the resistance have not been significantly degraded – the culture of resistance in the region has solidified and become more uncompromising and anti-European.

Palestinian unity has fallen pawn to a bigger game of tilting the regional balance of strength towards the so-called forces of ‘moderation’. But even were this to succeed in this particular phase of the struggle in Gaza, its proponents do not seem to grasp that Gaza and the Palestinian conflict has become the iconic image for Muslims of the struggle between the West and the Muslim world – for which the western ‘Great Game’ of moderates versus ‘extremists’ is no more than a cynical ideological device.

When it does end, Israeli and American experts will point to the benchmarks of claimed success: militants killed, tunnels destroyed, homes levelled. But the fact of their strategic defeat will be lost within this torrent of pseudo-empiricism.. Archetypal images in this region are more powerful than benchmarks: Gaza has become the Sunnis’ ‘Kerbala’ (the battle at which Hussein was killed) and Hamas the new Hezbollah. This round has already been won.

Alastair Crooke is co-director of Conflicts Forum, a former EU mediator with Hamas and other Islamist groups and author of
Resistance: the Essence of the Islamist Revolution to be published in February 2009.


  1. olive wrote:

    Wake up muslim of the world,
    build your business over the Jew,boycott their products (Israel,USA,UK,France,Denmark),disperse muslim population around the world, learning whatever the most benefit for the country (chemistry,science and so on). support language in Quran for people in the world.Our prosperity will be in our hand.

  2. Nayef Mustafa wrote:

    Unfortunately the Americans and the Europeans do not seem to keep in mind the human nature of resistance, which gave them the independence in America and the French revolution. On the other hand, the more the peoples of the region are oppressed the more violent and hurtful the backlash will be. And this backlash will not be a one that affects only this region of the world; it will have global effects and not only the oily ones too. As for damaging Hamas, it is as said above, the more Hamas is hit (supposing it is hit) the more its popularity rises. And from what news I can get from within Gaza, Hamas did not lose more than 25 personnel of its fighting force (The security forces are not a part of Al Qassam forces), despite all the propaganda of the Zionist army which takes other unorganized resistance fighters of other resistance movements (Islamic Jihad, Democratic Front), for Al Qassam fighters, and claiming they have got Hamas members! It an internal gain for the Zionist army, but on the ground it will not make any change nor will it affect Hamas political goals in the expected truce. As for the Palestinian division, on the long term it is not something that will benefit the west or Abbas, since they have nothing to build on for the next generation, while Hamas has an ideology supported by the majority of Palestinians and the Arabs. This is known to the west and the Zionists, which is why they will not allow Hamas to work freely without any “sticks in the wheels”.

  3. pro-israel wrote:

    God Bless Israel
    I am for peace in the whole world, tired of all wars that are going on, but you cant have peace with terrorist threatening my/anybodies country.

  4. jobarker wrote:

    I believe that Hamas would have been a great partner to the U.S. & the world…but, there seems to be a “how perverse can we be attitude” w/ no real validity to the flaming fear of the U.S….obviously they know nothing about the totally corrupt Fatah…Robt. Fisk was there one time in W.Bank w/Fatah around & he aided some project & was shown into the Fatah hdqtrs…where he found solid gold handles on their sink!!! He stated it was the epitome of the West’s ignorance/perhaps via their fear of Hamas…U.S. is still funding Abbas to take out Hamas..they can’ late 4/09, it is Abbas on his way to meet w/Obama…who is held by AIPAC strings..already shown many times over…this is disgusting..and I find horribly embarrassing & a pile of dung for our country…em-bare-assed u.s. idiocy & total perversion for real democracy…that’s what Hamas is about…real democracy..Abbas orders torture every other day..esp. on Hamas!

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