What is the reality of daily life in Gaza under Hamas and can a militant religious organisation move from international pariah to meaningful political player? David Rosenberg explores the issues. ‘A man once jumped from the top floor of a burning building in which many members of his family had already perished. He managed to save his life; but as he was falling he hit a person standing down below and broke that person’s legs and arms. The jumping man had no choice; yet to the man with the broken limbs he was the cause of his misfortune… The injured man blames the other for his misery and swears to make him pay for it.
The other, afraid of the crippled man’s revenge, insults him, kicks him and beats him up whenever they meet.’ The Polish Jewish writer, Isaac Deutscher, used this analogy to illustrate the tragedy of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the basis on which it would endure. Deutscher doesn’t state the nationality, ethnicity or religion of the man who jumped or of the passer-by. There were enough conflicts throughout the 20th century to show that no community or nation has a monopoly either of doing harm or of being victims. Every group is capable of trampling on the rights of another.
While the creation of Israel in 1948 promised a secure future for Jewish refugees who had survived the Holocaust, it inflicted a permanent injustice on the Palestinian people, most of whom were dispossessed and turned into refugees. The Palestinians call this the Nakba (catastrophe). They fled mainly to neighbouring Arab states and some later reached Europe and America. In further wars (1956 and 1967), Israel gained more territory – Gaza from the Egyptians and the West Bank from Jordan – and annexed East Jerusalem. Today around half the Palestinians in the world live under military occupation in the West Bank, or under Israeli rule in East Jerusalem, or confined in Gaza – a narrow strip of land 40km by 5km along the Mediterranean, home to 1.5 million people, which Israel has evacuated while keeping the population there dependent on it for essential supplies.