Germany's foreign minister said during a rare visit to Hamas-ruled Gaza that the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of 1.5 million Palestinians living there is unacceptable and must end.Let's hold that thought while we read this article from Der Speigel:
Guido Westerwelle also said after Monday's tour of a UN school and a German-funded sewage treatment plant that the border closure is strengthening extremists at the expense of moderates.
All is quiet on this autumn morning at the Crazy Water Park, a couple of kilometers south of Gaza City. There are no children splashing around in the shallow kiddie pools, no men cheering as they shoot off the slides into the deep end of the pool. Wives and mothers are also missing from their usual spots under the umbrellas, where they normally sit, fully dressed, chatting and watching their children and husbands play in the water.Now, let's return to Westerwelle's theory: "the border closure is strengthening extremists at the expense of moderates."
The Gaza Strip's only water park opened last spring but -- thanks to around 30 members of Hamas -- it was shut down in late September. One night at 3 a.m., these men appeared out of nowhere, tied up the park's 10 security guards and got to work with gas canisters and lighters.
The ensuing fire consumed the café and the building housing pool-related equipment. The stand where pool-goers could rent water pipes was a particular target. After a few incidents of modern-minded women openly smoking water pipes on the park's grounds, Hamas had issued the Crazy Water Park two warnings. When it happened a third time, an angered official from Hamas, the radical Islamist organization which controls the Gaza Strip, ordered more drastic measures to be taken. Not long later, the flames engulfing the water park's buildings could be seen from as far away as Gaza City.
The Crazy Water Park was expensive, exclusive and only meant for the elite -- which makes it all the more surprising that Hamas has now decided to target it as part of its modesty campaign. Until now, the Islamists had tended to suffer the harmless escapades of the upper class in silence.
Now, Araj says, those days are over. "The riding club next door had to close for three days," he explains, "because men and women sat together." Gaza Sky, a seafood restaurant right on the beach, and the aptly named Beach Hotel were also forced to close their doors for three days, he adds, for allowing female patrons to smoke water pipes.
He says that targeting of his water park comes due to the increased influence hard-liners have been able to gain for themselves within the government. "Unfortunately, it's the same as in any revolution," Araj says. "The extremists are pushing their way into leadership positions."
"Incidents like the fire at the water park have a big effect," says one Palestinian observer who asked not to have his name published. "They keep people anxious and scared, and they silence any criticism of Hamas."
As he sees it, the fact that the hard-liners are now targeting the previously untouchable upper class only strengthens its message of intimidation.
Who, exactly, are the moderates of Gaza, and how could they possibly gain strength?
Right now, Hamas is so comfortable with its iron grip on Gaza that there is literally no competition. Any group that shows the slightest political threat to Hamas, from both the left and the right, gets violently put down. Even today, pro-Fatah politicians are still getting arrested and threatened in Gaza.
Westerwelle is a fool. He still subscribes to the idea that treating fanatic Islamists nicely will somehow make them overflow with the milk of human kindness and cause them to offer all sorts of concessions.
If you want to argue that ordinary Gazans are being hurt by the closure, fine. If you want to argue that Gaza businessmen should not be punished because of the actions of their leaders, that is defensible. But to say that opening up more trade between Gaza and the world will somehow strengthen moderates in Gaza is the height of stupidity.
Westerwelle, and those clueless Westerners who subscribe to the same ideas, need to answer a simple question: have Gaza moderates been strengthened since Israel loosened the closure and since Egypt opened the Rafah border over the summer?
If the answer is "no" - and it clearly is - then maybe it is time to revisit this little bit of conventional wisdom.