Global Matters: Life in Gaza without Gilad

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Two weeks ago, the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, looking pale, gaunt and dazed, was led from the darkness and isolation of his confinement at the hands of Hamas, the Palestinian faction that rules Gaza, and handed over to Egyptian intermediaries.

Abducted by Hamas on Israeli soil at the age of 19 and imprisoned for five years without so much as a single visit from the Red Cross, Shalit stepped off a military aircraft into the embrace of a waiting prime minister, his commanding officers and, thereafter, his father, his neighbors and the entire nation of Israel.

Thousands of Israelis watched the scenes unfold on televisions across the country, transfixed by a sight many thought they’d never see. Everyone’s son had emerged from every parent’s nightmare, and then, quickly, he went home as the nation left him and his family to an indescribable reunion.

Meanwhile, in Gaza, buses of Palestinians newly freed from confinement in Israeli prisons in exchange for Shalit’s release snaked their way through waiting throngs of people cheering and lining the streets. This first tranche of 400 prisoners, including some who had kidnapped, killed and who even now expressed their willingness to do so again, returned to a hero’s welcome.

Masked gunmen brandished their weapons, flags waved, women ululated and Hamas’ leader in Gaza, Ismael Haniyeh, celebrated with many of his newly freed comrades-in-arms. It was Carnival and Mardi Gras all rolled into one, and hundreds of thousands turned out to be a part of the excitement.

For those in the West hoping for some kind of rational coexistence with Hamas, it was hardly a feel-good moment.

Yet surely, belying the joy and far from the crowds, there must be some in Gaza who dare to mourn what Palestinian society has become under Hamas. Perhaps even in that sea of green flags and hooded gunmen, amid all the chants, cheers and euphoria, stood a man or woman who deep down knows that these well-orchestrated moments of triumph, too, shall pass, leaving Gaza not only right back where it started, but with even more challenging problems to confront.

For the day after Shalit came home, after they wept with joy, Israelis went to school and work. They attended concerts and sat in cafes. They went to the dentist, fixed their cars, shopped at grocery stores, planned vacations and wondered what movies to see on the weekend. Some married, some divorced, some bought homes, went to the mall or left work early to beat the traffic. Some cursed the government. Some prayed.

But all were free.

In Gaza, however, the made-for-TV party had come to an end, the crowds had dispersed and it would be months before the next prisoners came home. All the posters that Hamas had printed lay in the streets, and all the slogans and all the banners had come down. The bloom was off the rose, and prospects remained as bleak as ever.

What was there to celebrate now? The return of 400 more unemployed persons, some of whom were hardened criminals? And how would things be better when the next portion arrived?

Yes, one could look forward to another celebration, to tearful family reunions, to more chanting and more slogans. But how would any of that undo Gaza’s miseries?

Israel makes things difficult for Gaza, and while many of the Palestinians imprisoned by Israel certainly belong behind bars, there are surely those among the newly released whose crimes were more political than violent.

Never known for its light touch, Israel does not wear white gloves to this party.

But more than anything or anyone else, Hamas is strangling Gaza.

There isn’t a single thing that Hamas has delivered to its people in the four years since its violent takeover of Gaza that couldn’t have been accomplished overnight if Hamas would abandon its genocidal covenant against Israel in particular and Jews in general.

And, tragically, there isn’t a single Palestinian in Gaza, except perhaps those privileged few who surface for international photo ops, whose life wouldn’t improve if Hamas was shown the door.

In Israel, Shalit is coming back to life.

And in Gaza?

The next bus bearing Palestinian prisoners will arrive in a few months, so there will be another raucous party in the square. Posters, candy for the kids, guns and rockets will be on display.

But beyond that, not so much. Now that Shalit is home, it’s clearer than ever that for the Palestinian people, nothing has changed, and nothing ever will, so long as Hamas has its foot on the neck of Palestinian society.

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Perry B. Newman is a South Portland resident and president of Atlantica Group, an international business consulting firm based in Portland, with clients in North America, Israel and Europe. He is also chairman of the Maine District Export Council.

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