Copyrighted material


by Shane Bauer

U.S. Efforts to Undermine Hamas Led to Gaza Crisis

(PNS) DAMASCUS -- Sitting in a room full of chandeliers, plush couches, and ornate depictions of Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock, the deputy head of Hamas's political bureau calmly utters defiant words as he offers up tea. "We will not surrender," he says. "We have to fight the Israelis and we will win this battle. We know we are going to lose a lot of people from our side, but we are going to win, insh'Allah (God willing)."

Moussa Abu Marzouk is one of a handful of men that commands the militant Palestinian movement some 150 miles away from the Gaza Strip, the tormented sliver of Palestinian territory they officially govern.

Their headquarters, sitting on the edge of a parched valley in a grey suburb of Damascus, is unassuming. But inside what looks to be an abandoned, broken-down apartment building, suited men with cables hanging from their ears watch security monitors. All visitors are taken through a metal detector, and their belongings are meticulously searched.

Despite a death toll of some 700 Palestinians and 3,100 injured, the bald-headed, close-shaven Abu Marzouk speaks as though his organization is on the verge of victory in Gaza.

He says the heavy civilian death toll at the hands of the Israelis has served to strengthen his movement. "When Israel uses these means, it doesn't decrease support for Hamas. It accomplishes the opposite. The popularity of Hamas has increased sharply among the Palestinian people and people throughout the Muslim world."

This perception seems to be keeping Hamas defiant -- at least for now.

The organization has said that it could agree to a ceasefire on the condition that the Egypt opens up the Rafah crossing and that Israel pull out of the Gaza Strip and open all border crossings with Gaza.

But Abu Marzouk says that the international community is mistaken if they think Hamas, which doesn't recognize the state of Israel, will commit to stop firing rockets into the country. For that to happen, he says, Israel needs to stop occupying Palestine.

"When others talk about a ceasefire they are saying that all military operations should stop, but we are talking about the aggression from the Israelis against the civilian population in the Gaza Strip," he says.

Abu Marzouk seems more interested in declaring victory than calling for a ceasefire. Asked what, exactly, victory means for Hamas, he replies, "It would mean that the Israelis did not accomplish their objectives."

Israel's primary objective, he believes, is to overthrow the Hamas government in Gaza. "They failed to lead people to rise up against Hamas with the blockade. They tried to push Fatah to fight against Hamas and they were defeated so they took action themselves. They have been thinking about this since Hamas won the elections" in 2006, he says.

Israel's official reason for going to war is to stop Hamas from launching missiles into the country's southern territories.

"Our rockets are not sophisticated weapons, but they send a very clear message: You can't bring security to your side until you bring security to the Palestinian side. Israel has to understand that we are working for an independent Palestinian state."

The current conflict comes on the back of more than a year of a crippling Israeli embargo intended to isolate Hamas. In an agreement signed last June, Israel agreed to keep open all gates between Gaza and Israel and to allow goods to enter freely, easing heavy restrictions imposed when Hamas took over. But during the ceasefire the economic situation barely improved.

Abu Marzouk says the embargo pushed Hamas to retaliate. "This was a slow killing because there were not enough supplies going into the Gaza Strip," he says.

When the Israeli bombardment began, Hamas leader Khalid Mashaal called for a "military Intifada against the Zionist enemy as well as a peaceful Intifada internally," the latter referring to an overthrow of Fatah's control of the West Bank.

"Right now, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank controls everything in the West Bank," says Abu Marzouk. "This is not acceptable."

Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the PLO, condemned Hamas for calling off the ceasefire and the rift quickly deepened as the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority arrested hundreds in the West Bank for protesting against Israeli aggression in Gaza.

But Abu Marzouk says that once the violence in Gaza ends, "we openly welcome any kind of negotiation or dialogue between Fatah and Hamas to (end) this separation of the Palestinians."

He sees ambivalent over what an Obama administration will mean for Gaza. "We cannot evaluate something that lies in the future. We know that in the Senate, Hillary Clinton's vote was always with Israel, but maybe there will be some differences when she becomes (Secretary of State)."

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor   January 9, 2009   (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to use in any format.