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Shai Baitel

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Fuel for Thought in Gaza

Posted: 04/24/2012 6:54 pm

The following is a guest post by Ambassador Ron Prosor is Israel's Permanent Representative to the United Nations. I have offered him my column today.

When asked about his preferred method of work, satirical writer Garrison Keillor once explained, "I believe in looking reality straight in the eye... and denying it."

Keillor's approach has been commonplace in the way that many have sized up the situation in the Gaza Strip, since Hamas -- a fundamentalist Islamist terrorist organization -- seized control of the area in a bloody coup in 2007, after winning Palestinian elections the year before.

Like a group of smiling tour guides at a Caribbean resort, legions of pundits and policymakers have been dancing the limbo with Hamas for years, setting the bar lower and lower for what is acceptable. Instead of holding the regime responsible for the well-being of the people of Gaza, most have turned a blind eye to their oppression.

They continue to place the words "moderate" and "reforming" in the same sentence as an organization that jails woman for taking off their veils, throws political opponents from windows, and promotes genocide in its school textbooks and television shows. The truth is that the only things Hamas has "reformed" in Gaza are the capabilities of the rockets that it fires into Israel -- and the tools that it uses to repress its own people. A recent wave of blackouts across Gaza has exposed this truth so brightly, that few can deny it.

Over the past two months, a fuel crisis in Gaza has brought life to a standstill. Power outages closed hospital wards. Taxis were shuttered in garages. A recent poll conducted by the Arab World for Research & Development revealed that 48% of Gazans held Hamas responsible for the crisis. Only 21% blamed Israel. One young Gazan said, "Our leaders are playing while we are being grilled on the fire of poverty."

The numbers are unsurprising for a population that has seen firsthand how promises of good governance can go out the window when extremist Islamists get their hands near the cookie jar. For years, Hamas has made billions by smuggling weapons through its tunnels on the Egyptian border, creating a black market which eventually undermined the stability of the Sinai Peninsula. As goods and aid streamed across Israeli crossings, Hamas leaders lined their pockets with black market revenues from trafficking weapons, luxury items, and discounted fuel. In February, Egyptian authorities shut down 20 of their smuggling tunnels, including an illicit fuel pipeline.

With this pipeline now out of order, Hamas was forced to legally purchase fuel from Egypt for the first time. There was just one catch -- the Egyptian crossings into Gaza do not have the capacity to meet the Strip's needs, leaving Israel's far more developed aid crossings as the only option. Accepting assistance from Israel would have brought the idiom "don't bite the hand that feeds you" to new levels of absurdity, even for Hamas. Rather than risk the justification of their campaign of terror and policies of incitement, Hamas naturally chose to plunge their people into darkness.

After weeks of blackouts, it became clear that this choice had backfired. Anti-Hamas campaigns calling for protests and strikes spread across social media. Protest camps erected during last year's regional unrest came back to life. In typical fashion, Hamas responded with waves of arrests. In one instance, 120 taxi drivers were imprisoned on suspicion of spreading "rumors" that Hamas was somehow at fault for the blackouts. The crisis finally came to end this month, after the Israeli government transferred more 450,000 liters of fuel into Gaza, even as hundreds of rockets flew out of the area into Israeli cities.

While the lights have come back on in Gaza, much of the international community remains in the dark about the true nature of the Hamas regime. At the height of the fuel crisis, the UN's Human Rights Council found it appropriate to invite a Hamas leader to make a guest appearance at its headquarters -- and teach lessons about human rights to the international community.

If Hamas has any lesson to teach, it is that fundamentalist regimes are the greatest threat to the prosperity and stability of the Middle East. Groups that exploit the democratic process under the banner of religion are often just as morally corrupt (or more) than the regimes they are trying to replace.

It's a lesson that seems to falling on deaf ears among many in the international community, as a rising tide of fundamentalism sweeps our region. The increasing presence of morality police, alcohol bans, and the cancelations of secular legislation is coinciding with the growth of extremist religious parties. In vacuum of instability, familiar promises from Islamists are ringing out in Middle Eastern capitals from the Persian Gulf to the North African Coast.

As the prospect of Hamas clones gaining power throughout the Middle East becomes a distinct possibility, the example of their reign in Gaza should provide fuel for thought -- and cause for concern. The success of Islamist parties in one-vote, one-time elections are not always so easily undone at the ballot box. Just ask the taxi drivers of Gaza.

 
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