So I’m watching the news yesterday, as l do every day, but I’m enjoying it more today than other days because I’m watching the happy faces of Palestinians from Gaza as they truck in loads of goods across the Rafah border crossing , destroyed by militants in the cover of darkness in a daring move that has temporarily broken the siege of Gaza. (See my latest commentary for an extended analysis of the historical context and future implications http://www.zcomm.org/zspace/commentaries/3336. )
In the midst of my enjoyment, a US official (who I think was the press secretary, Dana Perino) pops up on the screen, to make the following statement, with regard to the breaking down of the barrier:
"Hamas continues to take steps that are not beneficial to anyone".
If it wasn’t clear before as to why American policy in the region is widely rejected by the vast majority of the people (for example, a poll on Al-Jazeera this week on Bush found that 95.1% think he’s no friend of theirs), it was crystal clear to me at least, in that instance. American officials are so vastly out of touch with the basic needs and dreams of the people of the region. So much so, that to them, the 700,000 Palestinians who have jubiliantly crossed into Gaza after the destruction of the wall to get food and medicine, and in some cases simply a whiff of freedom over the last couple days, are absolute nobodies. Hundreds of thousands of people get to eat, drink and be merry for a few days after years of death and misery and hardship, and the American government can just ignore them, as though they simply don’t exist.
I mean seriously, how else can one explain such callous comments? It immediately reminded me of the old Zionist mantra "A land without a people for a people without a land," and Golda Meir’s denial of the existence of something called "a Palestinian people". The PR department really needs to do some introspection if they want to make good on their multi-million dollar investment. If I was in charge, there’s be a massive staff shake-up right now.
It is possible to argue that the demands of realpolitic require that the American administration downplay the benefits of Hamas actions so as to deny them the huge propaganda coup they scored by way of lifting the siege when nobody else could or would. There are a minority of people (the Israeli government and some of its citizens, the "authority" of Abu Mazen and his friends, and some other corrupt Arab leaderships and elites) who share this view already. But if you’re trying to win masses of people over to your programme for "democratic change" and a "New Middle East", there is no way to do it if you continually ignore the needs and emotions of hundreds of millions of people living in the region you seek to transform.
Even Palestinians who support Fateh are celebrating Hamas’ action. For example, Osama Hassan, a 25-year old who was shopping with his 17-year-old fiancee Sarah for their wedding told the Times Online:
“I’m Fatah, but today, I wish I could see (Hamas prime minister Ismail) Haniya and kiss his forehead, because without the gunmen doing this, we would have been stuck in the Gaza Strip.” (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/middle_east/article3238615.ece)
Does the American administration seriously believe that their take on the issue is going to be absorbed and internalized by the people in the region? If they were so concerned with minimizing Hamas’ influence, they might have used their own influence with Mubarak or Olmert to lift the siege.
Anyway, enough pointers on how to avoid losing Arab "hearts and minds". I’m not really interested in helping the American administration in their "transformative" mission to bring "democracy" to the region, particularly when they prop up regimes that are not elected (like in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, etc., etc.,) and then try to overthrow by way of sanctions those who actually are (like Hamas, for example). Just thought I would share my reflections with the wider community of those in the know.
In conclusion, it is these kinds of small victories for humanity that are always worth celebrating.
So to the "nobodies" in Gaza,
May you always fully embody what it means to be free!