02 February '16..
The myth that Hamas uses tunnels to smuggle food and other necessities to the "besieged" Gaza Strip has been buried under the rubble of the tunnel that collapsed last week east of Gaza City.
The incident, in which seven members of Hamas's armed wing, Ezaddin Al-Qassam, were killed when the tunnel they were working in collapsed, provides further proof that the Islamist movement has stayed true to its charter, which calls for the total destruction of Israel.
The Hamas men who were killed in the tunnel collapse belonged to the movement's elite "Tunnel Unit." According to Ezaddin Al-Qassam, the men were busy repairing one of the tunnels (damaged during the 2014 war with Israel) when it collapsed due to severe weather conditions.
Contrary to popular belief, the tunnel was not being renovated to allow Palestinians to smuggle basic goods from Egypt to the Gaza Strip. This was one of many tunnels that Hamas has dug over the past few years to infiltrate Israel and carry out terror attacks.
Hamas makes no secret of the goal of its renovations. Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar readily admits that the tunnels are being rebuilt to target Israel.
Indeed, clarity seems to be the name of the game with Hamas. Senior Hamas official Khalil Al-Hayeh explained that his organization would continue to dig tunnels for use in future confrontations with Israel. "We have enough mujahideen [jihad warriors] to replace their brothers who were martyred [in the tunnel collapse]," he said during the funeral of the seven Hamas members.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh went a step further: the tunnels were not only designed to launch terror attacks against Israelis, but to "liberate all of Palestine." In the words of Haniyeh, the tunnels are being dug not only to "defend the Gaza Strip, but to serve as a launching pad to reach all of Palestine." As one can see from any map of Palestine, "all of Palestine" does not mean living in peace alongside Israel; it means supplanting Israel.
For Haniyeh, the tunnels are a "strategic weapon" in Hamas's jihad to destroy Israel. Hamas's military wing dug the tunnels around the Gaza Strip "to defend our people and liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem," the Hamas leader stated.
Hamas, it is argued, has changed it colors. It is now ready, the theory goes, to reject its own charter and accept a two-state solution.
So much for a Hamas change of heart.
To its credit, Hamas has been refreshingly transparent about its ambition, the elimination of Israel. Yet Hamas has few ambitions for those now clasped in its grip. Nearly a decade after its violent seizure of Gaza, the movement and its leaders have offered the 1.9 million Palestinians stranded there precious little but destruction and death.
Oh, and tunnels. Hamas has tunnels -- two types. The tunnels running under the border with Egypt are designed as conduits for weapons. The tunnels running under the border with Israel are reserved for Israel's destruction.
Hamas's Palestinian political rivals have pointed out in the past few days that the tunnels have turned the leaders of the Islamist movement into "merchants of war." These "merchants," according to the Palestinians, have long been using the smuggling tunnels to increase their personal wealth at the expense of dozens of underpaid workers who work as diggers around the clock.
As Al-Hayeh has made evident, Hamas is prepared to sacrifice as many Palestinians as it takes to advance its deadly goals. Between 2006 and 2011, 188 Palestinians were killed while working in Hamas's tunnels throughout the Gaza Strip, according to figures released by the Palestinian Ministry of Health.
Moreover, child-labor legislation seems not to have made many inroads in Hamas-run Gaza. Children under the age of 18 constitute at least 10% of the dead in the tunnel-digging industry.
And while the economy of Gaza is in tatters, Hamas has invested millions of dollars into its tunnel-building projects.
Unemployment in the Gaza Strip during the year 2015 topped 40%, while more than 65% of the population live under the poverty line. More than half of its population is now almost entirely dependent on aid from different relief and humanitarian organizations. Economic experts predict a gloomier scenario for the Gaza Strip during 2016.
Despite its claims to the contrary, however, the last thing Hamas cares about is the welfare of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. In fact, Hamas wants the Palestinians to continue living in misery and bitterness. It is fertile soil for jihad recruitment.
The collapse of the tunnel last week and renewed Hamas threats to pursue the fight against Israel coincide with reports that Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas has decided to resume his efforts to achieve "national reconciliation" and "unity" with the Islamist movement.
According to the reports, representatives of the two sides are scheduled to meet in Qatar next week in yet another bid to end their dispute and pave the way for a new Palestinian unity government and elections.
Forever looming, of course, is the illusion that Abbas will be able to persuade Hamas to abandon its aim to destroy Israel.
Hamas will never exchange its attack tunnels for PA cabinet portfolios. Abbas recently announced an interest in resuming peace talks with Israel. His interest, however, has been for some time taken up by reaching out to Hamas. A PA-Hamas unity government would mean tunnels not only along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, but also from the West Bank into Israel.
It was not only seven men, then, who were buried beneath the rubble of the collapsed attack tunnel last week. Along with them was buried the persistent but utterly naïve hope that Hamas will somehow transform itself into a "peace partner" for Israel, the Palestinian Authority or even the Palestinian people.
Khaled Abu Toameh is an award winning journalist based in Jerusalem.
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