One lesson learned from the insurgency in Iraq is the importance of “street power”, or the ability to put your soldiers or fighters in the streets, where they can effectively cow or manipulate the population. The importance of street power is becoming more and more obvious in Gaza, as reported by Reuters:
Thousands of armed Hamas militants marched through Gaza City on Sunday, defying efforts to remove unauthorised weapons from the streets just days after the Palestinian president vowed not to tolerate armed chaos.
About 10,000 members of the Islamic faction, cheered by tens of thousands, carried assault rifles, rockets and anti-tank missiles as they paraded in the group’s largest armed show of force in the territory in years.
The demonstration came a week after Israel completed a military withdrawal from the coastal Gaza Strip in a move praised by Washington as a possible springboard to peacemaking.
Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri called the demonstration a message to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon “that thousands of Qassam men will remain and not disband”, using the name of Hamas’s military wing.
Masri said Hamas would continue to aim its weapons at Israel “until the liberation of all of Palestine“, alluding to both Israel and the occupied West Bank where Israel has vowed to keep large Jewish settlement blocs.
Hamas poses a political challenge to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who vowed in a speech last Tuesday he would not tolerate the “chaos of weapons”. The Palestinian Authority has also sought to ban public displays of arms.
The West, desperate for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has allowed itself to believe that the PA is an effective governing body. It simply is not. No matter how much Western aid is thrown into the effort, it will continue to disappear into a black hole of corruption and mismanagement. Meanwhile, the PA’s failure to provide basic accoutrements to the larger population has lead to the ascension of Hamas, which can put 10,000 fighters into Gaza communities seemingly at will. Mahmoud Abbas’ promises, while pleasing to the Western ear, ring increasingly hollow on the Palestinian street, where it matters.