Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Letter from Gaza

My friend Yasmine wrote me this letter from Gaza.
It speaks for itself of a reality we can only imagine from such a distance.

Dear all,

I'm sorry for not being in touch and for not writing sooner, but words are failing me, and I cannot articulate what Gaza feels like right now. A hopeless prison with a dark gloomy cloud over it. It's been raining for three days now and its starting to get cold. Unfortunately with rainstorms, come power outages, so that means there is no water or electric heaters. Gas heaters are not operatable either because of the high gas price, that's when gas is even available. But also because most people are saving their gas for cooking food, rather than using it for heaters, especially with a possible invasion coming in two weeks and the possible cut off of gas. I feel for people without access to heat. I also feel for people like my aunt whose house was demolished and is living in a half built house with no windows that UNRWA stopped building because they ran out of cement and other building materials. It's the beginning of the winter. It's only going to get colder.

I also can't help but think of Gaza's sick and dying….in their frailty, lying there helpless…wishing…hoping…praying that by God's mercy they would be allowed a permit to leave Gaza, or by some sort of miracle someone will save them. But most are denied access..…and most die a slow agonizing death, and only then are their bodies free.

And the world reads about it, but its just another story, another one of Gaza's tragedies. But I wish the world would realize how real this is and how real these sick people are. Some of these sick patients are my uncle who has heart disease, or my little cousin with a tumor, and now unfortunately my aunt's husband who one day was walking, and the next day woke up crippled from a brain tumor. And when you see people you care about so sick and unable to leave Gaza, you first get angry for having such shitty luck, and for the injustice of the world….the type of anger that turns into fury and consumes you, until it becomes exhausting. You then resign yourself to the reality of Gaza's fate…which finally sinks in. But with that reality comes hopelessness and the crippling feeling of helplessness. And so my uncle, my cousin and my aunt's husband lie in a hospital, waiting for their permits, and none of us can do a thing other than pray or chase around people who may know someone who knows someone who can help us with a permit. But we know full well how real death is, and that most just die while waiting. And then a human rights organization issues a statement, yet again, another Palestinian dies because they were denied access to medical care. And their only crime was being born Palestinian in Gaza and falling ill. Nowhere else will you see this but in Gaza. And no place else will the world remain silent at the obscenity of Israel's inhumane acts, except in Gaza.

It's hard to not feel like we're in a large concentration camp as I see Gaza's empty streets, and the hopeless feeling in the air…and just the gloominess that has covered Gaza. I think most people feel abandoned as we are literally locked up in this small, concentrated space and we don't know what the world plans for us, or what to expect next. It's hard to imagine what being in Gaza does to someone's will until you've come here. You no longer feel alive, in fact, you're not living; you're just killing time until some sort of change happens. Sadly, Gaza has become desensitized to the rest of the world, as it feels like the international community has turned a blind eye to the reality that is Gaza, and as long as Israel is allowing some food in and hasn't completely cut off electricity or gas..and as long as we are kept alive, no one will ask about us.

But just because we are breathing, that doesn't mean we're alive.


Friday, November 16, 2007

Hamas: Between Oppression and Salvation

I spoke to Jamal and his family on Skype today. Abdallah is learning new songs in Kindergarten and was practicing them with me, Mohamed invited me for lunch and Maysa, the oldest and always chipper, was summing up conditions in Gaza.

Flour prices are up from 80 to 200 shekels a bag. Cigarette prices are so high that Jamal has reduced his smoking drastically, at least one good side effect of a choking siege.

“All things have become expensive in Gaza, except for humans, they are still cheap,” Jamal added with his typical manner of hitting the hammer on the nail.

Since the big Fatah parade on Monday in anniversary of Yassir Arafat’s death, Jamal told me Fatah members are being continuously arrested by Hamas. Aljazeera cited 100,000 participants at the rally. “People walked to Gaza City from all directions,” Jamal said, “they came from as far away as Rafah in the South and here from the North.”

Next to Jamal’s Skype username is an image of his name etched into
the sand of Gaza’s beach with a short phrase next to it: “Sa-asbir hatta yanal al-sabr mini, I will be patient until patience overcomes me.”

Haaretz’s Gideon Levy gives Jamal’s fears of Hamas an interesting twist. Gideon recently interviewed Israeli soldiers returning from a military mission to Gaza. Here are some excerpts,

“The group of reservist paratroopers returned all astir: Hamas fought like an army. The comrades of Sergeant-Major (Res.) Ehud Efrati, who fell in a battle in Gaza about two weeks ago, told Amos Harel that "in all parameters, we are facing an army, not gangs." The soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces were impressed by their enemy's night vision equipment, the tactical space they kept between one another—and their pants even had elastic bands to make them fit snugly around their boots. This is good news from Gaza...

Furthermore, the fact that an army has arisen in Gaza, if this assessment is correct, is liable to prevent another large-scale, ground-based military operation with its many casualties and futility. Perhaps the reservists' reports will dissuade the defence minister from carrying out his plan to conquer Gaza and will motivate Israel to try, for the first time, a different approach with Hamas—negotiations. Only the recognition of Hamas' strength is liable to persuade Israel to be cautious about another operation, and only its military build-up will make us understand the full stupidity of the boycott policy that was designed to weaken Hamas.”

Hamas’ lack of tolerance for internal opposition to their authority is horrible news, six demonstrators were killed during clashes with Hamas security forces on Monday. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights condemned,
the excessive use of force by the Palestinian police to disperse the participants in the Fatah rally in Gaza City yesterday. The Centre condemns the use of gunfire that resulted in the death of 6 civilians, including a 12-year old boy, and injury of more than 80 others. The Centre calls upon the Palestinian government in Gaza to immediately investigate these attacks, prosecute the perpetrators, and take serious steps to prevent their recurrence.
But good news, as Gideon points out is that Hamas’ increased military capacity also raises the potentiality of Hamas to represent the rights and the needs of Palestinians on an international platform. Although such military logic seems skewed to me personally, it is the same logic that allows for some form of stability between Pakistan and India by the fact of both of them owning nuclear weapons. Relative military equality creates a form of stability between two powers. If this is the case in Gaza it is one thing all Palestinians, both supporters of Hamas and Fatah, can be grateful of Hamas for.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Types of our Dead

These Reports from Haaretz ( Qassam strike kills 7 cows on kibbutz near Gaza, Nov. 13) and IMEC- (Israeli army kills two Palestinian children in central Gaza, Nov. 10) respectively.

Seven cows were killed at Kibbutz Zikim near Gaza yesterday in a Qassam rocket attack, and a number of workers were treated for shock.

Palestinian medical sources on Saturday evening reported that three Palestinians, two of them children, had been killed in the Gaza Strip during the course of the day.

Kibbutz members said that because of the attack, milk production was expected to fall over the coming days.

An eyewitness said that "following the alarm we heard a very loud explosion. The Qassam fell a few meters from where the workers were sitting, and we were lucky that no one was injured.

Of those killed, one is thought to have been a member of a Palestinian resistance faction. The identity of the man remains unknown.

"Five cows were killed instantly, and two had to be put down for humanitarian reasons." Veterinarians are trying to save four other cows.

Later in the afternoon, two children, both brothers, were shot and killed by Israeli forces invading the al-Mughazi refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip.

Even though it was still not possible to assess the physical damage to the cow shed, a kibbutz member said that "cows that are anxious eat less and produce less milk."

The two children were identified as Jihad Nabahen, 16, and his brother Ibrahim, 17.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Slippery Slope of Blame in Gaza

The blame game surrounding Gaza’s current political and social crisis is too unilateral and simplistic. In the public sphere responsibility for the instability of Gaza and the general Palestinian political malaise is placed either on Fatah’s corruption in leadership or on Hamas’ violent tendencies while seizing control of the Gaza Strip and during its consequent rule. Such a stance is feeding into the dichotomous derision of the rival Palestinian parties’ rhetoric. Both Hamas and Fatah must bare responsibility for their action and inaction. Meanwhile, unless the International Community pressures Israel to put an end to human rights abuses carried out against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank the milieu for any compromise between Hamas and Fatah remains unattainable.

In mid-June of this year Hamas carried out a military takeover of the Gaza Strip that, although ruthless and shocking to many Gazans, can be argued to have been justified in political terms. Fatah, the sole representative of the Palestinian people since taking the helm of the Palestinian Liberation Organization in the late 60s had long gone too far; its time of reckoning had come.

After Arafat conceded to the recognition of Israel at Oslo, the PLO’s official framework shifted from one of Palestinian “liberation” through resistance to the acceptance of the status quo. It is hard to say if a dim glimmer of hope of ending the crisis or an uncontrollable desire for quick fix legitimacy caused the change of heart. What is certain is that the hope for any change of the conflict turned out to be nonexistent.

In exchange for the PLO’s transformation aid money poured in, a reward for consent or acquiescence. In a non-state some form of state institutionalization began to take place. Eventually this cash cow, requiring rare accountability, was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Arafat and his compatriots transformed from leaders of a resistance to fat cats, became owners of fancy homes, factories and companies with the help of monies meant to relieve and somehow compensate Palestinian suffering. In the 70s Palestinian almost meant Fathawi. But over the course of the next 30 years disillusionment set in and the call for change grew increasingly.

While Fatah officials pocketed the cream of Palestinian aid, Hamas tended to the population’s growing needs and gained a following. Elections in early 2006 were the litmus test. To the world’s surprise, or so it seemed, Hamas, having finally entered the democratic process, ended up victorious in parliamentary elections. After forming a democratically elected government a test of another kind followed. The Palestinians had crossed the ‘democracy’ hurdle, a Western, modern requirement for a more integrated Middle East, yet the world would not recognize the results of the elections they had so vehemently called for. And here lies really the crux of the matter. It seems the inventors of a game can also change its rules, and the Palestinians have had to pay dearly for rejecting acquiescence, this time round to the evolving rules of democracy.

Following elections Fatah rejected entering into a coalition with Hamas. Instead they claimed that they would hand over the reigns of power, cede all responsibility to their rivals in order to reform their ailing party. Contrary to such statements, police, border guards and security forces remained under Fatah control. Further steps were taken to undermine the elected Hamas leadership.

Meanwhile with the boycott of the newly elected government donor funds were frozen, pulling the carpet out from beneath the Palestinian Authority structure. Government employees making up a third of Gaza’s workforce, who were largely Fatah affiliated, the party being the source of their paychecks, acted as a potentially defiant force against Hamas. Fatah continued to control the streets, prisons and borders, and more importantly quietly began covert efforts at organized chaos and violence in order to undermine Hamas’ rule in the Gaza Strip. The popular symbol of such efforts was Fatah activist Sameech Al-Madhoun, who lead an initiative to increase tension with Hamas in the Northern Gaza Strip by kidnapping and torturing its members and instigating a fierce rivalry. The brains of the operation was Mohamed Dahlan, a close advisor to Mahmoud Abbas and prior to June 14th the Fatah street’s future presidential hopeful.

June 10th marked a turning point; Hamas had had enough with policies to rid them of their legitimate control of Gaza. The so called Hamas takeover saw relatively limited blood shed, although accounts of torture were reported, they were not unlike those experienced by Hamas’ members throughout Fatah’s reign. Violence of this kind cannot be excused. Violence breeds violence and in this case it is the oppressive Israeli presence in the Palestinian midst for more than half a century that clearly served as its inspiration. Hamas’ political entitlement was mixed with an often blinding religious determination.

Hamas’ new-gained control changed the atmosphere of Gaza. Suddenly, it was safe to go out at night, no random assassinations took place, robberies were almost unheard of, Fatah and Hamas rivalries dissipated and inter-familial feuds began too be settled with words rather than weapons. The downside was the ever-increasing siege on Gaza, this entailed every sector, effecting every woman, man and child, both those celebrating their liberation from Fatah’s political failure and corruption and those living in fear of the new Hamas rulers. The one improvement lay in the fact that aid began pouring in to the new rather dubious and un-democratic government in the West Bank. Government employees swearing allegiance to this unrepresentative government receive their paycheck to this day under the condition they do not work. Within weeks of Hamas’ “liberation” of Gaza 65% of remaining local factories and businesses were forced shut because of the closure on vital imports. Chocolate wafers could not be manufactured without imported cocoa.

Bit by bit, the Gaza Strip has been bursting at the seams. When Fatah members decided to attend prayers beyond the confines of Hamas-run mosques they were brutally hindered by Hamas security. Fatah members, who uttered too fierce of criticisms during demonstrations in opposition of the overseeing Hamas security forces, were singled out and later confronted and often physically abused. Hamas cried wolf, pointing the finger at foul play by Fatah in the West Bank trying to disrupt the unity and peace of Gaza. On Sunday October 7th Rami Ayyad, director of a Christian bookstore was kidnapped and killed by unknown assailants. Promises were made but the gravity of the act was never addressed. Historically Gaza has demonstrated excellent Muslim-Christian relations; an apolitical Christian member of Gaza’s civil society had never before been kidnapped and murdered. Raji Sourani of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights told the Independent, "this ugly act has no support by any religious group here," in a sense echoing Hamas officials who again blamed outside forces seeking to strain Christian-Muslim relations in the Gaza Strip but taking no responsibility to tackle the growing malaise in their society.

In light of the gravity of Gaza’s situation there is much temptation to fall into a logically fallacious line of reasoning. The extent of Fatah’s corruption and misgovernment cannot justify the wrongdoings or incapability of Hamas, nor the undoing of Gaza’s society even when taking into account the vast odds placed against the ruling party.

The Hamas-Fatah blame game is in itself a slippery slope, which neglects the core of the issue. Gaza’s society has reached an unprecedented ethical valley. The kidnapping and killing of an innocent member of society would have been unacceptable and barely believable in Gaza just 20 years ago. Although Rami’s case is unique, today, sadly, political acts of violence for the sake of revenge are a common occurrence in Gaza. Is not this development really the heart of the matter? What has lead to the decay of a society, in recent history not much different than the communities along the Nile delta, the desert of Jordan or the coast of Syria? The disease of violence is a phenomenon widespread in Gaza today and rather than merely addressing the fruit and pointing the finger at the perpetrator of an act of violence, at the political party in control or vying for power, we must look beneath the surface at the social reality of the Gaza Strip. What can be expected of a 365km2 enclave with closed borders, insufficient resources to survive, a vibrant, growing population without enough work opportunities or future prospects of any sort? Has the world utterly lost its conscience or are we merely lead astray by an array of commentators with no grasp of history and a shallow either/ or capacity for reasoning?

Overarching political debates rarely take into account the common person whose reality it is addressing; the Hamas mother of seven who is not able to feed her children, The Fatah taxi driver beat down in his place of prayer, the wife of a murdered Palestinian Christian left in mourning. We must step out of the framework of political monologues and measure the wrongs carried out by all parties. Fatah’s critics need to also hold Hamas accountable for its shortcomings in Gaza despite the deep-rooted extent of Fatah’s wrongdoing.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Checking into Gaza

BBC: The growing Rift between Gaza and the West Bank


"The siege [by Israel] is affecting all aspects of life. You cannot find construction materials or spare parts for household goods or computers.

The cost of basic commodities, such as flour and rice has gone up between 15 and 45%. People are spending much less on meat, chicken and fish. The World Health Organization recently said 70% of schoolchildren are suffering from anaemia.

People who are on the Ramallah government payroll are being paid - except those affiliated to Hamas. [Hamas leader] Ismail Haniya is paying 17,000 people who are working with him.

But the private sector is collapsing, including the agricultural sector.

The rift between the two governments is deepening. Hamas is creating an entirely separate legal system here in Gaza.

They've established a higher justice council and have recruited 20 new prosecutors.

Hamas calls for dialogue in public, to cover the fact it is creating a parallel system in Gaza.

Once the separation of Gaza is complete, the blame will be put on Abbas and his people, because they are the ones publicly refusing to enter dialogue. "


"Economically, the situation is improving: Palestinian Authorities employees are being paid, shops are open.

Adli Das

People have more money to run a car, so there is more traffic on the streets.

National security troops are guarding all parts of Nablus city and people are feeling more secure. I think this is in response to the security Hamas imposed in Gaza, it was showing up Fatah in the West Bank.

Two militia men from Balata camp recently surrendered to police. A policeman has just told me they have retrieved about 60 automatic rifles from the camp and elsewhere in the last two days.

That's the good side of things. The bad side is that there are more than 500 Israeli military checkpoints across the West Bank.

If I want to reach my farm, which is in a village about 10 minutes away, I now have to drive for more than three hours to get there.

Politically, Hamas and Fatah are far apart. I can't see them negotiating with each other.

People say the US-sponsored conference [in November] is a photo opportunity for the Saudi and Israeli officials. I suspect it will be a waste of time."

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