Who -- or What -- Occupies Gaza?

The article of faith that unites all who condemn Israel's response to Hamas rockets in the latest escalation with Gaza, from the most rabid Islamists to the hyper sophisticated (or so they think) pundits from the New York Times and dwellers of the ivory tower of academia, is captured by a single word "occupation." We keep hearing from them that Gaza is occupied, that Gaza is an open-air prison, that Gaza is a "penal colony." Gazans are oppressed, the theory goes, and Israel is the oppressor.

But let's take a closer look at the occupation of Gaza: like so much else, the term "occupation" is very relative. While under occupation, Gaza's rulers -- Hamas -- managed to amass huge military infrastructure, complete with weapons manufacturies, with thousands of trained soldiers, with a vast network of underground tunnels hundreds of miles long which the Israelis dubbed "the metro" to allow for undetected movement of weaponry and soldiers, with a huge arsenal of rockets, and even with a navy commando unit. Hamas' police control the day-to-life of Gazans. It levies taxes and pays salaries to its followers.

Given that the "occupiers" are so lenient as to let the locals do what they want, isn't it unreasonable to ask whether the "occupation" only allows militarism to thrive? Are peaceful activities forbidden? Would the "occupation" let Gazans build houses, toil the land, educate their children if they wanted to?

Clearly, it allows that, too, as long as Gazans are willing. In fact, there are some who argue that for all practical purposes, there is no occupation at all. Gaza is self-ruled. Gaza's strategic choice of its policies -- to funnel taxes, international aid, and materiel like concrete and pipes towards military use, to pay its fighters, and to build rockets and tunnels -- is determined by Gaza's Hamas rulers. That Gaza has its own rulers is highly atypical of an occupation -- the "occupation," by any definition, being the rule by an external power, which clearly does not apply in the case of Gaza, making the whole idea that it is "occupied" suspect -- to say the least. But this is an aside. Gazans say that they are occupied, so let's take their word for it. Yet given that Gazans follow their own policies and chart their own destiny, and that it is not the Israelis who occupy Gaza, since they pulled out fifteen years ago (and besides, if Israelis occupied Gaza, none of its military development that threatens Israel would have happened), who, or what is that "occupier"?

Since, in practical terms, the "occupiers" are those who rule, and the ruling power in Gaza is Hamas, then to identify what "occupies" Gaza we should ask, what is it that drives Hamas' policies?

The obvious answer is -- hate. Hamas may love Palestinians -- but it hates Jews far more. And hate is an extremely strong passion; it is stronger than love and stronger even than fear. It is, in fact, stronger than the instinct for self-preservation (and presumably, nothing in nature should be stronger.) The self-destructive power of hate has been noticed since time immemorial. Aesop told a fable of a man who, when asked by gods to make a wish on a condition that his neighbor would get twice as much, asked not for a billion dollars (or, I guess, "drachmas"), but to have his eye gouged out. A Sherlock Holmes' story, "The Problem of Thor Bridge" is about a woman who killed herself to frame the rival she hated. And the most telling and terrible example comes not from fiction, but from real life -- Hitler's hatred of the Jews so exceeded his love of Germans that, as Germany faced an ever-increasing scarcity of war materiel, he diverted it from the front to concentration camps to kill more Jews. The price -- more dead Germans -- was not too high.  

A similar hatred engulfs Hamas, blinding it to the plight of Gazans. Why use pipes to bring Gazans water when they could be used to build rockets to kill the Jews? Why waste concrete to build housing when it could be used for building tunnels? Why pay the teachers when you can spend the money on soldiers?

Hamas being the occupiers of Gaza, and hatred being the occupier of Hamas, what really occupies Gaza? Hate. It is hate that denies Gazans normal lives. I am not the first to make that observation; Golda Meir observed decades ago that peace will come only when Palestinians start loving their children more than they hate the Israelis.

The self-declared deep thinkers in the media and academia, and the Israel-hating "progressive" politicians and their followers would reply that it is Israel that causes this hate. Eliminate Israel, and there will be love and peace in the Middle East.

The argument that the Syrian civil war (which turned into a regional war and became a battlefield for Russia, Turkey, Iran, Israel, Iraqi militias, and Lebanese Hezb’allah), the rise of al Qaeda, of ISIS, of the Iranian regime, have nothing to do with Israel and that, moreover, the PA and Hamas hate each other with a deadly passion, is, though true, is I think besides the point. The point is that Palestinian hate toward Israel is utterly unfair, and is based on a deliberate, willful self-deception.

The claim that Israel occupies Arab land that animates Hamas and their ilk and pumps up their hate is a result of Palestinians deliberately ignoring their own history. Are Israelis "colonial settler-occupiers?" Sorry to ask, but what are Palestinians? And what are the Arabs living outside of Western Saudi Arabia? Didn't they hear about Arab conquests in which, after the death of Mohammed, Arabs stormed out of Arabia (present day Saudi Arabia) to conquer, and "colonially settler-occupy" half of the then-known world, from Spain in the West to the border of India in the East? Palestine came under their "settler-colonial" control in about 636 AD. The modicum of basic honesty should have made the Palestinians admit that Arab conquest justified rival claims to the land by others -- like the Jews whose land it was for well over a millennium, well before the Arabs arrived on the scene. A fair and just admission that the Jews may have a reasonable claim to the title to the land would have opened up the realization that the way forward is negotiations, not fighting. Instead, Palestinians self-righteously reject all offers of accommodation, declaring themselves to be wronged innocents, and keep pumping up the hate.

So who really occupies Gaza? Or rather, what really occupies Gaza? The answer is -- the self-righteous, self-created, self-inflamed hate that those who are in the wrong, feel towards those who are in the right. Willful ignorance, and the hate that it generates, are the real occupiers of Gaza.

UPDATE: This article was updated to clarify that the Islamic conquest pre-dated the current Saudi nation.

Image: Guilherme Paula, Oren neu dag

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