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Yes, Gaza's Palestinians are suffering from an occupation, but Hamas is the occupier

Two countries that border Gaza impose entry restrictions, but only one, Israel, is constantly criticized and pressured by the U.N., European governments and others to lift the blockade. The nation that doesn’t get noticed is Egypt, which has hosted indirect talks between Hamas and Israel to try to end the current war and set the stage toward a long-term, sustainable solution for Gaza.

Egypt, however, is hardly impartial. It is the only Arab country that has occupied Gaza, from 1948 to 1967, and its rule was not benevolent. Moreover, there was never any discussion about Gaza’s independence. Since Hamas seized control in 2007, Egypt has treated its neighbor with contempt.

During the past year, Egyptian forces destroyed more than 1,600 tunnels under its border with Gaza. It has kept Rafah, the only land crossing, shut since 2007, so the tunnels were important for smuggling a variety of goods, including weapons, into Gaza.

Hamas rage should be directed at Cairo. But Hamas would not dare fire rockets and missiles toward Egyptian soldiers the way it does at Israelis, since retribution would be unforgiving. 

Thus, one would think, Hamas rage should be directed at Cairo. But Hamas would not dare fire rockets and missiles toward Egyptian soldiers the way it does at Israelis, since retribution would be unforgiving. 

The Abdel Fattah al-Sisi regime has firmly cracked down on Hamas’ elder relative, the Muslim Brotherhood, after ousting Mohammed Morsi, one of its leaders, from the presidency last year. Egypt has outlawed the Brotherhood altogether and sentenced more than 1,000 Muslim Brotherhood activists to death.

Egypt considers Gaza Israel’s problem. In 1979, when Anwar Sadat negotiated peace with Menachem Begin, he insisted that every inch of Sinai lost in the 1967 war be returned, even the final 1.4-square-mile piece, Taba. But he did not ask for Gaza.

For Hamas, the primary target is Israel, and destroying it is essential to the group’s mission, as set forth in its 1988 founding charter. Violence is crucial for Hamas, no matter the impact on the population of Gaza. 

What kind of leaders would initiate a war, then repeatedly wreck cease-fire agreements and invite more devastation on their own population? 

Why would they instigate hostilities so soon after signing a unity agreement with Fatah that was billed as advancing the prospects for reconciliation?

Weeks into the current war, Hamas issued demands to open the borders, end the economic blockade and build a seaport and airport in Gaza. On the surface, these are sensible requests. But was another war necessary to achieve them? These points were part of the 1994 Gaza-Jericho agreement between Israel and the Palestinian leadership, and when Israel left Gaza in 2005 there was an opportunity to jump-start economic development.

Let’s recall why an economic blockade was imposed on Gaza and who is responsible for it. With the Israeli exit, Hamas could have joined with the Palestinian Authority (PA) in recognizing Israel, ending all terror and accepting previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements. But it chose instead to stand by its charter and use violence to try to destroy Israel and establish an Islamic state.

Thus, in 2007, Hamas turned violently on its supposed partner, Fatah, to seize control of Gaza. Alarmed by this turn of events and by the likelihood that Hamas would now build up its military capacity, Egypt and Israel, with international backing, imposed a sea blockade and restrictions on the land crossings.

Israel nevertheless continued to allow regular overland deliveries of food, medicine and humanitarian supplies to Gaza, and those deliveries have continued during the current war despite more than 3,500 rockets fired from Gaza into Israel.

Hamas has now broken a cease-fire for the 11th time, launching more than 150 rockets in a 24-hour period. It is crystal clear that the group’s leaders, those on the ground in Gaza and others more comfortably situated in Qatar, do not want to talk peace.

Hamas violated its recent unity government agreement with Fatah by launching the current war, and revelations of a Hamas plot to overthrow PA President Mahmoud Abbas and take over the West Bank show that Hamas threatens not only Israel, but, perhaps even more, the Palestinians as well.

Those Palestinians in Gaza are indeed suffering from an occupation, but Hamas is the occupier. Egypt and Israel know all too well that peace is impossible so long as Hamas is thriving. It’s time the rest of the world recognizes this reality as well.

Kenneth Bandler is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.