In Beit Hanoun there is a wall that reads, “vote for your independent candidate for a future filled with hope.” I don’t know if the candidate won this past March, but the wall is broken, much like the rest of Beit Hanoun.
It has been just over two weeks since the partial withdrawal of Israeli forces from Beit Hanoun. 260 tanks, 5000 soldiers backed by some of the most advanced military arsenal in the world. They moved into this town of 32,000 residents, mainly farmers, most of them poor.
Why is it that I so often see images in the media of Palestinians with big guns, masked men with rocket launchers on their shoulders, images of damage done by homemade rockets that have landed near homes in settlements around the Gaza Strip? So rarely does the media portray the damage done by Israeli tanks, F-16s, Apaches, ground-to-ground missiles, armored bulldozers, snipers and drones, which are used on civilians and militants alike in Gaza. For one, the excess of damage must be difficult to capture and yet, there is more to this story.
According to the Beit Hanoun municipality 80 homes were completely destroyed in the latest incursion, while over 600 were left partially damaged. Homes, schools, colleges, lampposts, shops, streets in ruins, left was a city of rubble. After the initial withdrawal sewage flowed out of broken pipes, rubble of buildings spilled onto streets, the walls around a central cemetery were gone and an 800 year old mosque was a pile of stones and dirt.
The chief of staff at the municipality told me, “Beit Hanoun used to be a garden, today it is a desert.”
Beit Hanoun, being near to the bordering area with Israel is surrounded from most directions by luscious farming land and yet after every incursion the green is less green and more agricultural land is set back five, ten or twenty years. The municipality chief of staff listed this incursion as the 21st on Beit Hanoun, and the most destructive.
The justification for the incursion, during which over 80 Palestinians were killed, was putting an end to Qassams fired into Israel. Recently Israeli and American weapons manufacturers began vying for a contract to create a defense system for Israel to shield it from oncoming makeshift rockets launched out of Gaza. In Gaza you are constantly shown signs that the powers that be have become so near sited that they cannot see the forest for the trees. A good doctor when assessing a patient will determine what the root of the cause is and cure it, a bad doctor tries to quell the immediate pain and sends the patient home with barely any chance of recovery. Our political doctors dealing with the crisis that is plaguing the Middle East are bad doctors.
Back to the writing on the wall.
The Palestinians had democratic elections in February. They elected the candidates of their choice. After the new government took office an embargo was put in place, starting a grueling nine months period of collective punishment for a people making a choice that they were encouraged to make. Most people I know that voted for Hamas, did not do so because of their ideological convictions but because of their actions. In a place with an ailing economy and an 80% poverty level actions speak louder than words. My leftist friend from Beit Hanoun, Ra’ed, told me Hamas did a better job than all other parties in Gaza. While Israel utilized increased measures of suppression on the Palestinians, set up ever new obstacles to its economy, the ruling Fatah party was largely busy filling its own pockets with aid money flowing in from around the globe, while Hamas served the poor over the past 19 years. While the poverty level was still at 40% they went door to door and fed the poor, they looked out for the disabled and for the downtrodden. The only party not strictly looking out for its own interests was Hamas, quietly, but surely serving the people and building up its support base. March’s elections was Hamas’ first participation in the political process and the people voted for an alternative to the status quo that they had come to know and hate.
Despite grievances, few or many one may have with some of Hamas’ policies and positions there is a need, much like Ra’ed, to be honest and give them their due. Whether any outside force like it or not, Hamas was the choice of the people. Yet, counter to every U.S. claim of making the export of democracy a priority, the only ease out of Gaza’s current humanitarian and political calamity is to undo the Palestinian democratic process. If Palestinians give up their vote at the polls they are promised to be graciously conceded the living standards they knew just nine months ago, i.e. a slight ease of the lockdown of the prison they inhabit. Israel’s underlying strategy these past many months has been, anything but subtly, to convince Palestinians that the election of so-called terrorists is not to their advantage. But then what is?
Ra’ed left me with this image. If someone’s legs and arms are cut off, even if the doctor tells him he will be fine and sends him home, it doesn’t mean he will be fine. The Palestinians have lost everything that a human being has the right to keep.
Their hope is broken much like the wall in Beit Hanoun that speaks about the future.