Make Them Pick Up The Garbage!
Copyright © by Len Holman, 7/27/10
In 2006, elections were held for the Palestinian Legislative Council, and a group which the Israelis and the United States consider a terrorist organization won, and won handily. First there was shock, then anger, then denial, and finally a heavy-handed and foolish response to choke off money and supplies to the new government in Gaza. Foolish, because the Israelis didn’t do what might have surely damaged, if not totally collapsed, Hamas: let them try to govern.
Israel has put up with a tidal wave of death and hate, including suicide bombings, rocket attacks, and the sure—and terrifying (to them)—knowledge that within 50 years (or probably less) the demographics—Arabs versus Israelis—will be against them. Right now they are preventing most supplies from reaching Gaza and when they find smuggling tunnels, they close them, and they spend a huge amount of time and energy doing all this and more, but they didn’t do the obvious and simplest thing to try to discredit and disorganize Hamas, and this may, long term, come to haunt them in ways unimaginable now.
It has been said that dying is easy, but comedy is hard. No, comedy is a walk in the park compared to governing. Governing is the sine qua non of legitimacy for those in power. Even bad governing can be ok to the public if changing the government is a lot of trouble. This political inertia was mentioned by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence as an illustration of how bad things must get before the people would change make a change to their ruling system.
Governing is not rocket science. It only seems like it is to those who live in a dysfunctional State, those who have no peace, or security, jobs, electricity, or schools. It seems to the people afflicted with bad or no government as something so difficult to do, so esoteric an endeavor, that it is the equivalent of putting humans on Mars. It might be done, but not by them or the people passing themselves off as their leaders.
So Israel, in desperation and anger and hope that violence would end their existential angst, tried to crush Hamas with its considerable military might. Although they managed to destroy Gaza’s infrastructure, they did not manage to destroy Hamas. This was a “teachable moment” for the Israelis, and they missed it. Instead of turning Gaza into a rubble-strewn mess, instead of withholding tax monies needed to actually run a quasi-state, a territory—whatever it needs to be called—they could have accepted the results of the election they, and everyone else, wanted. They could have said: “OK, you won, now govern.”
What would have happened? Well, Hamas would have had to do several things: create jobs, rein in the outliers who make Katyusha rockets in their basements and fire them, hitting mostly empty fields in Israel, create a functioning educational system, keep the city clean, protect the citizens—in short, create a bigger pie from which each citizen would get a bigger slice. Hamas would have to have its leaders be as Caesar’s wife—blameless, pure and noble and true, and show they were serious about the safety and welfare of their citizens, and those same leaders would have to eventually get down to the serious business of transforming their nascent state into a world-participant. They would have to reject violence and admit that Israel is a state with a right to exist, for a people who want to be reckoned with as serious and important, with rights and privileges cannot arbitrarily decide that one polity doesn’t have those rights and privileges.
It would not go smoothly, of course. Just picking up the garbage involves a bureaucratic smoothness and efficiency many American cities have problems with. And jobs? This would involve an outreach to other nations, importing AND exporting. It would involve inviting public and private entities to invest in Gaza, to set up factories and hire Gazans. Most critical, the Hamas leadership would need to get re-elected. They would have made promises, and would have to try to keep them. They would find that governing is a time-consuming, 24/7 bundle of damn hard work. They would not have very much time or energy or will to plot Israel’s destruction. They would be too busy delivering the mail, checking zoning regulations, deciding school curriculum and keeping the potholes in the roads filled. They would find out you can’t please everyone, and that the best laid plans of former terrorists oft gang aglee, as the poet wrote.
Some time after Hamas has made a genuine and vigorous effort to govern (probably a very short time), their leadership will be accused of selling out, and then Hamas would have to do what many outsider groups have had to do when they gain power: they would have to put down, crush, co-opt, outmaneuver, out PR their rivals. They would have to show they were serious and this would be their final, crucial test, while the world and especially the U.S. and Israel, watched. If Hamas failed to govern, if they couldn’t round up the stray dogs and provide a safety net for the infirm, the aged, the unemployed, if they couldn’t provide the minimal amount of services, then their whole edifice would come tumbling down. It would be messy, explosive and damaging to everyone, but the final truth would be known and maybe, just maybe, there could be some final realization by Hamas—and by extension, other groups with the pretensions of governing would be warned: deliver or devolve.
The Israelis could say to the world, “See? They are not worthy!” And the people in Gaza would be sorely disappointed and there would probably be an internal and bloody power-struggle for the leadership of Hamas. But what would have happened if Hamas proved it was up to the promise of their election? Israel would have a viable talking partner who would be proving their worth, and Hamas would realize that to get things done, they would have to cooperate with their neighbors.
There was a lot of talk by what is known as “the world community” about free and fair elections, and even Israel didn’t dispute these elections were free and fair, so why didn’t they jump at the chance to discredit and embarrass Hamas in the eyes of their own people and the world? Was it a question of lost nerve, a question of internal Israeli politics? What would have happened If only Israel had done the obvious: let Hamas pick up the garbage? At least for now, we’ll never know.
Return to Bylines