PM: Half the elected Hamas government is in prison. So there are Hamas prisoners, there are Hamas sympathizers, there are Hamas militants. You name it, there is every range of them. They’re not all entirely Hamas, but there is a good number of Hamas representatives of the other Palestinian factions and also of Fatah. But every time Israel feels that it needs to make a gesture to the Fatah leadership, what they do is they release a handful of Fatah prisoners—never Hamas prisoners.
KB: My sense has been that everyone who is identified as a member of Hamas is automatically categorized as a member of the militant arm of the organization, as opposed to people who might be part of the public service branch.
PM: That’s very true. In the writing of the narrative, the objective of the spin on all sides is to cast the other side in simple, bad terms. Make it all black, make it all white, try to airbrush out the gray. Now there’s a lot of gray that has to be dealt with and has to be considered.
Look at some of the names of the people who before and after the recent Gaza crisis have said that Hamas has to be allowed a seat at the table, Hamas had to be brought into the negotiating process. You’re talking about people like Efraim Halevy, former head of Mossad. Not a fly-by-night or a shallow man. He makes a very clear and careful distinction between Hamas as national patriots, as opposed to an Al Qaeda-type terrorist group. People like Tony Blair this week, people like Colin Powell before this whole crisis, people like Prince prince Turki Al-Faisal, former head of Saudi intelligence, who is not a lightweight in the region.
These are people, and I’m giving you names from all sides there, who have weight and reputation and savvy in their sense of what’s happening on the ground or what needs to happen. But one of the things that has happened in the Middle East for the last sixty years is that people have been talking about what has to happen, and nobody has ever made it happen.
KB: What is the conversation like in Australia?
PM: It varies. There is a range of opinion and levels of sympathy for Hamas or for Israel. There’s an attempt to tell both sides of the story. I’ve had the luxury of writing a book and immersing myself in the twenty years of Hamas’s existence. So for me, I’ve been able to come to it with this broad sense of the history as opposed to the daily cut and thrust. And reporters and commentators, a lot of them writing about it these days get locked into that bigger narrative that is being crafted around them and, in quite in a deliberate way, for them.
KB: Talk about what it’s like to report in Gaza. What are the challenges for a reporter working there?
PM: I work with an interpreter, as do most of my colleagues. Gaza is, as a journalist, a rare place. Just because, because it’s so small, it’s very difficult for you not to find the people you want. It’s an easy patch to work for the journalists. People can’t leave. If you go to their office or you go to their home, chances are you’re going to find them. Because they’re all locked in, they’re happy to talk at length about their circumstances and the circumstances of the Palestinian people and what it means. There’s an incredible resilience of the people, and you would have to say that’s one of the traits of the Palestinian people that we have seen over and over. I mean, look at what they have been through in sixty years and they’re still refusing to fall over.
There’s a quote in the book from Yasser Arafat before he died, a hundred years after the Balfour conference. It was a few weeks before he died, Arafat told a reporter, “One-hundred-seven years after the founding of the global Zionist movement at the Balfour conference, Israel has failed to wipe us out. We are here, in Palestine, facing them.” And then he added, and this is the line that would have had great resonance in the U.S., he said, “We are not red Indians.” And that’s what you see in Gaza, you see it in the daily lives, the daily existence of the people. They are still there, despite decades of privation. And they’re not going anywhere. Someday, they’re going to have to be reckoned with. That’s what their history says. One of the lines that many Israeli commentators use is that Israel is still fighting the seventh day of the Six-Day War, with good reason.