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One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

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By Hugo Foster

The overwhelming stupidity and inhumanity of the War on Terror has already become apparent in countless contexts across the globe. Israel’s latest attempt to break Hamas’ infrastructure in the West Bank is just the latest example.

Over the past two weeks, Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have conducted a series of raids into West Bank towns, targeting public buildings, hospitals, schools, businesses and charitable organisations allegedly connected with Hamas. A raid in Nablus resulted in the confiscation of three buses from a local school.

For Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, these raids represent, ‘the next thing in the war against terror: the war against hairdressers. After Hamas took over half the Palestinian people, in no small measure because of Israel's policies, after we tried to fight Hamas with weapons and siege, destruction and killing, mass arrests and deportations, the Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet security service have invented something new: a war on shopping malls, bakeries, schools and orphanages.’

This, he says, is exemplary of an occupation that ‘has lost all moral inhibitions and any shred of wisdom. How wretched is an army that empties storerooms of food and clothing for the needy, how ridiculous that the GOC signs orders to close hairdressing salons, how pathetic is a military raid on bakeries and how cruel is an occupation that shuts down clinics on any pretext.’

As many people choose to forget, Hamas is not only an armed resistance movement, but like many Islamist movements in the Middle East, also provides basic social and economic services to its constituents in areas where the ‘government’ has failed or refuses to. This explains, in part, how it has been able to entrench itself so successfully, and where its credibility comes from. Saying this is not to glorify Hamas, or to say that the part it plays is constructive, or to ignore the many atrocities it has committed against civilians (both Israeli and Palestinian) over the years; nonetheless, it is to acknowledge that such groups come into being for a reason, and until these causes are addressed, will not go away.

On this point, the ceasefire agreement reached between Israel and Hamas last month covering the Gaza Strip entailed the possibility, however distant, that a break in the cycle of violence would provide breathing space for developments in the political sphere, allowing for some momentum and credibility to the struggling peace process.So far the truce - the occasional breach aside – has been observed from both sides, shaky though it is.

Yet it appears that, for all the goodwill gestures and public pledges of commitment to the peace process made by Israeli and Palestinian officials lately, the opportunity for real change will once again be missed. Day-to-day conditions for Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza have not improved. For some, they will probably get worse. Last week, Israel approved the construction of 920 new homes in occupied East Jerusalem despite pledges last year to halt all settlement activity. This week, it approved the building of 25 factories in the Ariel settlement, south of Nablus. Every time progress fails, when Palestinians’ hopes in the possibility of being able to lead a peaceful and dignified life are made to flounder, Hamas’ hand is strengthened.