Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality
Liberty in Unlikely Places
By David G. Young
Washington DC, September 4, 2007 --
Hamas' destruction of the Egypt-Gaza border is a victory for all who value liberty.
Joyous crowds climbed over the toppled wall. Reuinted relatives embraced each other after years of foced separation. Elated shoppers flooded well-stocked stores, releived from the plight of bare shelves on their side of the border. Crowds danced and cheered, relishing the sweet taste of freedom after suffering oppression for so long.
Berlin 1989? No, this was the Gaza-Egypt border in January 2008. But the heartwarming sight of a people liberated from a cruel prison was unmistakably the same in each case.
Much like the Soviet-built wall in Berlin, the wall that separates the Gaza Strip from Egypt was built by the Israeli government during its 40-year occupation of the territory. Several sections were toppled two weeks ago in a coorinated effort of bulldozers, cranes, and explosives ordered by the de facto Hamas government of the territory.1
By some accounts, nearly half of the 1.5 million residents of the Gaza Strip flooded into Egypt in the days after the wall was breached. The border has since been re-sealed with barbed wire by Egyptian authorities, but the dramatic liberation of Gaza's residents ensures that it will not be sealed off to traffic again without earning international outrage -- the status quo has been shattered.
That status quo was simply horrible. Two years ago, Israel imposed a blockade of the territory after the elected Hamas government violently seized control of all security posts from the long-dominant Fatah branch of the old Palestinian Liberation Organization. Israel hates Hamas for good reason -- the organization calls for the destruction of Israel, has launched over 50 suicide bombings against Israelis this decade (although it has since ended the practice), and has tacitly (if not overtly) supported militants who launch small Qassam rockets at Israeli towns near the border of the Gaza Strip.2
The Israeli govenrment's response to Hamas control of Gaza has been to fall back to its usual tactic of collective punishment against Palestinians. In retalliation for recent Qassam rocket attacks by Hamas militants, Israel completely sealed off the Gaza Strip on January 18, barring even food and fuel imports to the territory. As a result, power plants and water works shut down due to lack of energy. Hundreds of thousands of hungry Gazan civilians -- the vast majority of whom have never done anything to threaten Israel -- were relegated to standing in their own filth in the dark as even the main sewage treatment plant shut down.3
Inexcusably, Israel has turned Gaza -- a once great city dating from ancient times -- into a virtual prison compound where the vast majority of the inmates are innocent civilians. Hamas' destruction of the prison walls at the Egyptian border -- however short lived -- was a great victory for the cause of liberty in the world.
It is admittedly odd to commend Hamas as a champion of liberty -- the party is widely reputed to be a terrorist organization, and its spokesman yesterday praised another group's suicide bombing in Israel as a "glorious act".4 But it should be noted that liberty can sometimes sprout from unlikely places. Like today's Hamas, the African National Congress once engaged in brutal killings of enemy civilians in South Africa. But the ANC later renounced violence, and produced one of the greatest statesmen of the 20th century in Nelson Mandela.
Clearly, Hamas has no leaders yet worthy of the mantle of Mandela or even Ronald Reagan -- the man who went to Berlin to demand, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" But credit should be given to the organization for doing what Reagan never could. It didn't just demand action -- Hamas actually tore down a horribly unjust wall all by itself. For this act, whatever its other sins, Hamas deserves the commendation of freedom-loving people around the world.
1. New York Times, Palestinians Topple Gaza Wall and Cross to Egypt, January 24, 2008
2. The Observer, Hamas in Call to End Suicide Bombings, April 9, 2006
3. Washington Post, Israel Briefly Eases Grip on Gaza, January 23, 2007
4. Associated Press, First Suicide Attack in a Year in Israel, February 24, 2008