By Ron Prosor, the Israeli ambassador in London (THE GUARDIAN, 28/08/08):
Israel last Saturday permitted two boats of protesters to land on the shores of Gaza. This disappointed the more aggressive agitators in the party, as they hankered for a confrontation with the Israeli navy that never came. Yvonne Ridley, on board making a documentary for an Iranian state-funded broadcaster, must have been particularly frustrated.
Having thoroughly assessed the security risks, Israel granted the ships safe passage. The protesters came ashore with enough hot air to fill the 5,000 balloons they’d brought for the children of Gaza. They also delivered 200 hearing aids. Yet their silence regarding Hamas’s abuse of its own people, let alone Israeli civilians, has been deafening.
Ironically, while the protesters tub-thumped their way to Gaza, just three weeks earlier, scores of Palestinians were at the Israeli border, fleeing for their lives. Eleven Palestinians died and more than a hundred were injured in fierce fighting between Hamas and its Fatah rivals. Facing slaughter by Hamas forces, nearly 200 Fatah members fled to Israel for refuge. Bilal Hilles, one of the wounded, described his fear at the prospect of returning to Hamas rule. “It would be like a death sentence for me,” he told the Jerusalem Post.
Hamas’s enslavement of Gaza continues, as does the silent complicity of the protesters.
Observers should be wary. The portrayal of Israel as pantomime villain and as sole cause of conflict in the Middle East is jeopardising the search for real solutions to complex problems. Sections of liberal society risk sleepwalking into the service of those who represent the antithesis of liberal values, namely Iran, Hizbullah and Hamas.
In Gaza, Hamas has ruthlessly crushed its rivals, stifling criticism and ransacking its opponents. Hamas seized power in a bloody coup d’etat in June last year, during which its Fatah rivals were brutalised and murdered, a fact evocatively illustrated by the sight of a Palestinian Authority official being hurled from a fifth-floor window.
Hamas has used the recent internal violence in Gaza to extinguish the final flames of resistance to its rule. No opposition media remains after Hamas shut down the radio station of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Human Rights Watch recently reported on Hamas’s rule, citing “arbitrary arrests, tortured detainees, clamping down of freedom of expression and assembly”.
Yet the protesters’ anti-Israel dogma prevents an honest assessment of Hamas’s abuse of its population and its misuse of resources. Key facts are distorted and disregarded, particularly as regards humanitarian aid, food and fuel supply. Contrary to the most popular distortions, patients and companions are frequently allowed into Israel and the West Bank for medical treatment. In 2007, more than 130,000 Gazans were granted entry on those grounds, a trend that continues to this day.
In keeping with the orders of the Israeli supreme court, millions of litres of fuel are made available every week at the Nahal Oz fuel depot. Hamas has frequently attacked the depot with mortar bombs and rifle fire. Thousands of tonnes of food supplies, medical equipment and building materials are transported through the Sufa and Karni crossings weekly. Following the period of relative calm brokered by the Egyptians in June, the supply has increased considerably. This despite near daily violations in the form of rockets and mortars fired from Gaza into Israel. Where does the aid and the fuel go? Why has Hamas frequently attacked the crossings and fuel terminals? Why has Hamas forced staff at petrol stations and bakeries to go on strike? In their zeal to demonise Israel, the protesters are failing to ask these questions. Consequently, they are failing the Palestinians tyrannised by Hamas’s illegitimate rule.
The beneficiaries of this intellectual negligence are Hamas and their Iranian sponsors. Iran and its extremist friends are threatening moderates throughout the Arab world – in Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and Iraq, as well as among the Palestinians. Ironically, Arab Muslim commentators, who traditionally are no friends of Israel, seem more alarmed by the threat than their British counterparts.
It is time to realise that bashing Israel will not build Palestine. Showboating designed to vilify Israel will not steer the Palestinians through the choppy waters to statehood. Instead, the world must encourage the Palestinians to build their infrastructure and develop governing institutions. The extremists who sabotage this must be held to account. Ignoring the fragile dynamics within Palestinian society will merely push Palestinians further towards the Iranian orbit, towards isolation and away from their national aspirations.
The alarm bells about the extremist challenge have been ringing loudest within the Arab world itself. It is time they were heard here. Yet as the agitators and their fan clubs strive for ratings on Iranian TV, the pleas of progressives are falling on deaf ears.