Israelis don’t see the effects of the siege in Gaza, or the way it was maintained during the six-month “calm.” Israeli journalists have a far easier time covering Mumbai than covering Gaza. What Israelis saw during the “calm” were Palestinian violations. Israel claimed that Hamas wasn’t keeping the agreement. That was true. It was also true that the Israeli government continued hoping, against all evidence, that the siege would provoke popular uprising against Hamas rule. Hamas regarded the calm as a failure in relieving siege conditions [bold mine-DL].
When the six months ended, Hamas decided that those Israelis would only understand force. To a man with a hammer, as the saying goes, everything looks like a nail – especially to an angry man. With a little careful thinking, anyone on the Hamas side could have figured out that no Israeli politician wanted to agree to reduce the siege in response to rocket fire. That would be giving in.
For most Americans, the siege conditions do not enter into their thinking about this conflict at all. For many, perhaps most, Americans, the conflict is summed up quite simply: Hamas launches rockets, Israel retaliates; Israel wants peace, Hamas doesn’t. Nothing else needs to be considered.
Already a fairly poor, miserable place, Gaza became more so after it was punished for Hamas’ victory and then even more when its fuel supply was cut off, which has hardly weakened the appeal of the most radical anti-Israel views. Gorenberg’s post began with an account of the injuries and fatalities suffered by Gazans who were creating makeshift heating sources to cope with the fuel shortage. It has never been clear to me what political theory people use when they speculate that depriving a population of basic supplies will provoke dramatic political change for the better. Grinding a people down does not cause them to see the bankruptcy of their own leadership, but causes them to cling to it all the more as their last resort. Ousting a ruling party or faction is usually a luxury that besieged people do not have, as siege conditions tend to strengthen the grip of those who already hold power. Radicalized populations often possess a siege mentality already, but this is even more true when they are essentially cut off from the outside world.
Many Americans–and perhaps many members of the Israeli government–seem to take their understanding of political revolution from Stargate or something else equally fanciful, according to which oppressed and miserable people will rise up against their own leadership without training, arms, organization or coherent agenda and they will succeed because they mean well (or because the outcome is deemed desirable by outsiders). What all of these people never seem to understand is that the population will not blame their leadership for the poor conditions, regardless of the leadership’s myriad flaws, but will readily fall prey to whatever demagoguery the leadership engages in to pin the blame on outside forces that are trying to destroy them. If the population is already intensely nationalistic in its attitudes after decades of occupation, this demagoguery will be extraordinarily successful, and all of the blame and anger will be directed outward at the government or indeed at the entire nation that they hold responsible for creating the poor conditions.
The same logic that drives people to support irrational sanctions regimes against various nasty regimes has been at work in justifying the wrongful treatment of the population of Gaza over the past two years. Sanctions and economic isolation have one universal, reliable effect–they cause the people who are adversely affected by the isolation to rally to their local leadership, to reward a politics of confrontation and defiance and to become even more radicalized and hostile to the government imposing the sanctions than they were before. If a majority of Gazans backed Hamas last year, do you suppose that many of them are now having second thoughts? It would hardly be surprising if those who did not support Hamas will rally to them, at least temporarily, in the wake of the strikes of the past week. In his earlier post, Max said, “Popular support for Hamas is widespread, and attacks by Israel are not going to shore up what is already well established.” There is almost never any political leadership that is so strong and backed by such loyal supporters that it cannot become stronger and its supporters more intensely loyal. As others have noted in recent days, Hamas’ popularity was waning prior to this week (which is still a far cry from a popular uprising against them), and this conflict has provided it with conditions that are ideally suited to its fanatical guerrilla and terrorist nature.