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Analysis: Three years after the war on Gaza

Jan. 1, 2012 11:06 A.M. (Updated: Jan. 2, 2012 7:38 P.M.)
By: Daoud Kuttab
Three years ago the Israeli army initiated a major military offensive against the people of the Gaza Strip with the aim of stopping the shelling from Gaza and the release of one of their soldiers that was held in the strip.

Over 1,400 Palestinians, many of them women and children, were killed, thousands were injured, and public, private and internationally owned properties were damaged as a result of the attack that came from land, sea and air.

Both publicly stated goals failed in this criminal war against a defenseless population and lightly armed militants.

Shelling from Gaza has continued intermittently since the war. It slowed down considerably as a result of a unilateral decision by Hamas, and could end immediately if Israel were to deal with the Islamic movement. As to the captured Israeli soldier, the Israelis were forced to do what Hamas offered them from day one, to trade him for imprisoned Palestinians.

Israel and to a lesser extent, Hamas, were accused by renowned UN appointed international jurists of having committed war crimes.

Following extreme pressure on him and his family the head of the UN commission South African judge Richard Goldstone, later wrote an opinion article changing some of the conclusions of the committee he headed. He never made any official change in the report that was submitted as an official document to the United Nations.

The Israeli-imposed siege on Gaza has continued and has been publicly justified by major world countries even though this siege was and remains totally illegal. No international body has approved the restriction of movement of people and goods into or out of the Gaza strip.

An international effort to break the siege has resulted in a de facto loosening of this siege. Unfortunately this effort has cost nine Turkish peace activists. Israel's relations with an important NATO member has since collapsed due to Israel's refusal to apologize for killing Turks in international waters.

While the slight easing of the siege (especially in regards to badly needed building materials) has resulted in the beginnings of a rebuilding campaign, much more is needed. The hundreds of millions of dollars pledged at the Sharm al Sheikh conference for the rebuilding of Gaza have slowly trickled into the populated strip but have gone mostly to or through international organizations such as the United Nations Refugee Works Agency.

Whether it has been the result of the Arab Spring (especially in as far as Hamas's Damascus headquarters) or for other reasons, Hamas has slowly experienced discernible change since the breakout of the war. Ruling and governing can do a lot to soften any movement's ideologies. The fear of losing in future elections can do amazing things for softening the sharp edges of any movement.

In this respect, the Palestinian reconciliation efforts have produced some unprecedented changes in the political discourse as well as in the daily actions of the Hamas movement and government. Hamas chief Khalid Mashaal is now proclaiming his movements' change of resistance strategy.

The militant movement is now committed to prioritizing nonviolent resistance in all its activities. This position is translated on the ground in Gaza by the movement refraining from launching missiles towards Israel and in arresting or otherwise preventing any individual or group from doing so. This is explained as necessary for the higher interest of Palestinians in Gaza.

Politically the Hamas movement is slowly removing all the issues that caused it international isolation.

By agreeing to join the PLO Hamas is indirectly recognizing Israel, which the Palestinian Liberation Organisation officially did on the eve of the 1993 Oslo Accords.

Internationally, the world community will not be able to justify continued isolation of Hamas even if Israel insists on such an isolation. After all, US and other western leaders have publicly stated their willingness to work with the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists who have won elections or power in Tunis, Libya and Egypt.

Gaza at the end of 2011 is not the same as it was at the end of 2008, both negatively and positively.

The Arab Spring requires that the current siege and all its effects are once and for all removed so that Palestinians in Gaza can live normally with the ability to move in and out of the strip. Also, Palestinian goods and people from the West Bank should equally have the right to move unfettered to the strip without the illegal and immoral siege restricting them.

Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist and former professor of journalism at Princeton University.
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