Adjusting our distorted image of Hamas

[When last] in Gaza, I met a group of 20 or so police officers who were undergoing a course in conflict management. They were eager to know whether foreigners felt safer since Hamas had taken over the Government? Indeed we did, we told them. Without doubt the past 18 months had seen a comparative calm on the streets of Gaza; no gunmen on the streets, no more kidnappings. They smiled with great pride and waved us goodbye.

Less than a week later all of these men were dead, killed by an Israeli rocket at a graduation ceremony. Were they “dangerous Hamas militant gunmen”? No, they were unarmed police officers, public servants killed not in a “militant training camp” but in their police station.

Why did it win the Palestinian elections with 42 per cent of the vote, and why does it allow rockets to be fired into Israel? Palestinians did not vote for Hamas because it was dedicated to the destruction of the state of Israel. They voted for Hamas because they thought that Fatah, the party of the rejected Government, had failed them.

In the five years that I have been visiting Gaza and the West Bank, I have met hundreds of Hamas politicians and supporters. None of them has professed the goal of Islamising Palestinian society, Taleban-style. Hamas relies on secular voters too much to do that. People still listen to pop music, watch television and women still choose whether to wear the veil or not.

The political leadership of Hamas is probably the most highly qualified in the world. Boasting more than 500 PhDs in its ranks, the majority are middle-class professionals - doctors, dentists, scientists and engineers. Most of its leadership have been educated in our universities and harbor no ideological hatred towards the West.

It has consistently offered a ten-year ceasefire to give breathing space to resolve a conflict that has continued for more than 60 years.

[The Times]

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