Monday, December 13, 2010

For Sale in ‘The 72 Virgins’

by Barry Rubin

The Gaza Strip is doing well economically and the Hamas regime seems set to rule forever.

Money is pouring in from Iran, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Western donors, and Islamic associations. Even the Palestinian Authority directs millions of dollars (some supplied by American taxpayers) to the Gaza Strip for the salaries of 70,000 government workers, education and health and some of the electricity production costs.

“There are a slew of products here, and beautiful restaurants. Is this the Gaza we have been hearing about?” asked a Sudanese official arriving there, as quoted by the Palestinian news agency Maan.

“Where is the siege? I don’t see it in Gaza. I wish Sudan’s residents could live under the conditions of the Gazan siege.”

There is massive construction going on, including rebuilding constructs destroyed in Hamas’s war against Israel last year. If Hamas were a normal government this would be great. Such a regime would say: “We’re raising living standards, we’re increasing our popularity. Why should we be so foolish as to go to war against a stronger neighbor and see all of this destroyed again?” But, of course, Hamas is not a normal ruling group. It believes that God is on its side and wants it to fight. Hamas revels in martyrdom. It thinks total victory and the killing of all Israeli Jews is achievable. And it knows that the world won’t let it be thrown out of power no matter how many rockets and martyrs it sends into Israel.

AS A dictatorial regime, Hamas is locking the Gaza population into its patronage system so that people wouldn’t dare defy their rulers.

Here’s the main project: building 25,000 new housing units in the northern Gaza Strip, just west of Beit Lahiya. A business magazine explains that the neighborhoods will be named: the 72 virgins (waiting in paradise for believers), al-Buraq (after Muhammad’s horse that he rode to Jerusalem) and Andalus (after the medieval Muslim kingdom in Spain).

Let’s consider those names:

• 72 virgins: To remind everyone growing up there that they, too, can get six dozen virgins if they die while blowing up Israeli civilians.

• Al-Buraq: To remind everyone their goal in life is to fight so they, too, can conquer Jerusalem and travel to the Aksa Mosque.

• Andalus: To remind everyone that the Muslim empire will be restored, ruling not only Palestine but at least all the way back to Spain.

Economic development isn’t intended to make the people happy or raise living standards, but to ensure the regime’s survival and motivate revolutionary zeal.

Who gets the apartments? First in line are the families of martyrs, prisoners, and wounded fighters.

This shows the advantages of fighting for Hamas. The road to an apartment is not a good education or hard work but rather the willingness to die in battle.

Next on the priority list come young couples.

That’s nice, but it relates to the theme – which Hamas has voiced often – of maximizing population growth so as to achieve victory through overwhelming numbers and producing more fighters.

Only in third place come families who lost their homes during the fighting last year, which is the group you’d expect to have the highest priority.

Only those working for the Hamas government can get a bank loan; families of casualties can seek help from Hamas-controlled Islamic charities. The rest can take mortgages only from Hamas-dominated Islamic associations. You can bet that Hamas loyalists will always be put ahead of Fatah supporters.

That gives an incentive to switch sides.

Finally, the way the housing project is being laid out looks as if it is to form a barrier to any future Israeli military operation.

It will create a dense network of narrow streets and buildings which can be easily defended by guerrillas likely to inflict more casualties on Israeli soldiers.

It is also a sort of architectural equivalent of a human shield, since Israeli forces would have to damage civilian apartments to engage Hamas men firing from them, which could be portrayed as a war crime.

At any rate, it should now be impossible to speak about the Gaza Strip as deprived or suffering, though I suspect that won’t stop a lot of people from doing so.

So Hamas is awash with funds, no doubt using part of the money for paying, training and arming its security men. Unlike the Palestinian Authority, which rules the West Bank, however, Hamas is also putting in a tax system: value-added tax, income tax, tax on gas and tax on all goods arriving from Israel. Bottom line: Hamas will take its cut of everything coming in and everything going on.

It is a good thing that Gazans will have nicer lives materially. But the same process will ensure that they will not have a better life in terms of freedom.

With Hamas indoctrinating young people to become terrorists and suicide bombers, many of them will have shorter lives.

And since Hamas is just preparing for another war with Israel – or provocations that will eventually lead to war – those apartments might not be there forever either.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal and Turkish Studies.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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