Hamas has lost another of its improbable conflicts with Israel. Its infrastructure has to be rebuilt AGAIN; it lost many of its mid-level commanders; its prized tunnel system has been severely damaged. And because of the way it places its military targets in areas of civilian occupation and civilians in areas of military targets, many civilians including children have died.
On the other hand, if one were to listen to people from Hamas and the Gaza strip, one would hear a totally different interpretation of the conflict. In case you haven’t heard, according to Hamas, they won. After all, Hamas, along with Islamic Jihad fired 4300 rockets into Israel. Israelis had to run to their bomb shelters and, unfortunately, a few didn’t make it. 13 Israelis died in the conflict. And yet, 90% of the rockets were blocked by the Iron Dome defense system. So, all in all, the Hamas offensive created relatively little damage and relatively few deaths in Israel. Whereas at least 254 Palestinians were killed, and there was heavy damage from the Israeli attacks. So why were Hamas and the Gazans celebrating a supposed victory after a ceasefire was put into place? Certainly, on some level, they must have realized that they got the worst deal in terms of the exchange of destruction.
Perhaps, it is just they have very different criteria for defining victory. For Hamas, victory can be defined as pulling themselves out of a sense of hopelessness, apathy and numbness. Previous losses to the Israelis have left the Palestinians feeling psychologically castrated as a result of the military and technological superiority of the Israeli army. Compounding this is that before the state of Israel appeared on the scene, the stateless Jews were treated as second class citizens, dhimmis, in the Muslim countries and it has been very hard for the Arabs, particularly the Palestinians, to accept how powerful and successful the Israelis have become in all their enterprises.
Psychological castration leads to a profound sense of psychological numbness. The Palestinians have failed to shake this numbness off by doing the one thing that in their eyes could truly help them to do it in an enduring way – namely, truly defeating the Israelis on the battlefield and driving them out of the land of Israel. And particularly, Israel’s most important new technological military achievement has not only blocked military victories on the battlefield, but has deepened the experiential vacuum in which the Palestinians find themselves. In effect, the Israelis have mediated the Palestinians away from hurting them through the barrier created by the Iron Dome. The Iron Dome stops the Israelis from receiving most of the negative imprints that the Palestinians want to leave on them. And Hamas, which focuses so much time, energy and state of mind on destroying Israel and Israelis is left in a state of numbness and emptiness. So instead of celebrating real victories, real successful preserved imprints, the Palestinians are left with focusing on gestures that temporarily help to pull them out of their deep numbness. Gestures that lead to arbitrary unfocused damage to their enemy with occasional hits on random targets. But more important, these gestures lead to their enemy’s response of intense defined discrete focused damage on them. However, defined discrete pain is a very effective means to temporarily pull a person out of paralyzing numbness. Defined discrete pain can lead to a person feeling a kind of vibrant aliveness. Which is what Palestinians today want and need.
Obviously, what they feel they really need is to drive the Israelis out of the land of Israel. But their ongoing futile adversarial posture has led to their feeling an inability to make and preserve the kind of organic imprints involved in taking control of Israel that would allow them to truly feel alive in more than a transitory way. The focus on futile quixotic attacks on Israel that lead to so much pain for the Gazans is a fallback strategy that allows them to feel that, at least, they’re doing something meaningful with their lives. The pain is a kind of perverse confirmation of this.
The only thing that might help to stop this endless cycle of Hamas attacks and Israeli responses is if donors find a way of giving money to the rebuilding project in such a way that Hamas doesn’t get a hold of it to purchase more materials for rockets and more supplies for rebuilding the tunnel system. I know that’s what the American government wants to do, but whether or not it succeeds is a whole other question. The truth is that the majority of Gazans and of Palestinians in general support Hamas, which is why the Palestinian Authority recently postponed elections on the West Bank. Palestinians like Hamas’s concept of victory in defeat. The Palestinians think long-term, that each time they survive a conflict, they are there to continue fighting a war that eventually will lead to the defeat of the Israelis.
There is one other factor that has to be taken into consideration here, and that is public opinion. Much of the world has been pro-Palestinian for a long time, but here in the United States, which has tended to be pro-Israel, Hamas appears to be succeeding in shifting public opinion, particularly among members of the progressive wing of the Democratic party. These Democrats see Israel trying to carefully contain the Palestinians and without fully understanding the full context of the situation, the full history of the situation, see the Israelis as cruel colonialist bullies.
Ariel Sharon gave Gaza to the Palestinians without even demanding a peace treaty in exchange, and the Palestinians, through the conflicts they have initiated, have continually been turning it into a pile of rubble. We can only hope that someday, something will happen to provoke them into seeing the error of their ways. It’s not likely, but we supporters of Israel are entitled to our own truly impossible dream.