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.


Anonymous said...

I liked this article but have some reservations.
1) One important piece of information is missing: the role of the US and Israel in arming Fatah preceding the 'Hamas take-over'. Is it not true that Fatah (the Dahlan faction at least) precipitated the conflict?

2) It seems unfair to make Hamas responsible for the economic collapse in Gaza caused by Israel's closure.

3) It seems highly unlikely that Hamas has any responsiblity for the murder of the Christian bookstore owner.

Perhaps Hamas is responsible for some of the difficulties. But I have not yet seen convincing evidence of this.

As an aside, does anyone know where to find the full English translation of major speeches, eg the Haniyeh speech from a few days ago?


KGS said...

Fatah's corruption was the best well known secret for years, but pro-Palistinian voices denied it for years.

These Palestinian supporter groups deserve as much comdenation as do the Hamas and Fattah.

Only after Arafat died did the international media "suddenly discover" Fattah corruption.

The international media deserve as much comdenation as do the Palestinian supporter and the Hamas and Fattah.

The UN sat around and looked between its fingers as both Hamas and Fattah brainwashed their youth into glorifying homicide/suicide of its youth and Israeli civilians. Turning UN run refugee camps into terrorist run entities.

The UN also deserve as much comdenation as do the international media, the Palestinian supporteer groups, the Hamas and Fattah.

In short, the whole rotting mess deserve each other. Just leave Israel alone.

Anonymous said...

KGS' comment to 'leave Israel alone' is ironic. You would think Israel was the oppressed and colonized.

Fatalities this year up through the end of October were something like 5 Israelis vs 255 Palestinians. Israeli invades and kidnaps in the West Bank and Gaza nearly every day. Illegal settlements in the West Bank are growing at a faster pace than they are inside Israel. Deaths, kidnappings, invasions, rocket attacks, etc. Whatever you measure there is no comparison and it is clear who is the victim and who the victimizer.

As to the 'blame game' the basic truth is that Israel and the US have principal responsibility.

I think Hamas has been working to remind Palestinians of this. As to the Abbas wing of Fatah, those are the same folks who promoted the disastrous Oslo Accord. I don't think the ensuing corruption was unexpected. It was not discussed by the international community because neocolonial arrangements usually work that way. The local agents keep the natives in line and take-over local managements and law enforcement from the colonial power (Israel). Corruption and 'privatization' of incoming funds is the normal price to pay.

- Rick

KGS said...

Hey Rick,

Here is the nature of the people you are defending:

The dirty terrorist war that has been leveled at Israel over the past decades has come at the expense of not only dead Israelis, but also at the expense of the Palestinians themselves, that has seen its society raped by he competing thugs in both the Hamas and Fattah.

The indoctrination of their youth in the jihad ideology /death culture is totally a Palestinian phenomenon.

The disparency in the death toll includes Pali on Pali violence. another point is, if every Palestinian attempt to murder Israelis were successfull, the death toll in Israeli women and children and men, would be even higher than that of the Palestinian figure.

Your logic does not add up when viewed in the light of all the facts available.

The Palestinians have been the recipients of more foreign aid per person than anyother national group in existence, and they have nothing to show for it due to their own misrule and lack of proper monitoring mechanisms in the UN and EU aid organizations.

Time for the Arabs to fess up and stop acting like infantiles. Time for them to behave like people who intend to care for their own and invest aid money into its infrastructure not in more weaponry.

Time for them to invest funds into the building of play parks and wholesome programing for their children, not in combat training youth camps and imitation Micky Mouse programs that promote violence and death.

The corruption and violence was indeed forcasted by my many who thoght the Oslo accords were a "trojan horse", and they were proven correct.

As long as the Palestinians are a danger to themselves, they will continue to be an exestential threat to Israel.

Time to get over the "colonial" bla bla bla victim mentality and demand real change within the Palestinian leadership, that really does put their people first, and not the destruction of the Jewish state.

KGS said...

OBTW Rick, here is another reason why it's impossible to deal with Palestinian fanatics, though Israel still holds out the possibility of doing so.

Anonymous said...

In fact, the hundreds of home-made rockets launched daily onto Israel is a crucial element missing from your analysis of the situation in Gaza. Are the Qassams contributing to the improvement of the palestinians' life? And why exactly this strategic goal - i.e. striking Israeli civilians outside Gaza - has been sistematically pursued by the new gazan authorities? No serious evaluation is possible whithout an answer to these questions.

Anonymous said...

In fact, the hundreds of home-made rockets launched daily onto Israel is a crucial element missing from your analysis of the situation in Gaza. Are the Qassams contributing to the improvement of the palestinians' life? And why exactly this strategic goal - i.e. striking Israeli civilians outside Gaza - has been sistematically pursued by the new gazan authorities? No serious evaluation is possible whithout an answer to these questions.

KGS said...

Yes! Exactly!

Qassams have no military value other than to cause terror. The very nature of the rocket (though I wouldn't classify it as "home made") these rockets are built in machine shops to specifications) demands that hose using them be labeled as war criminals.

The is nothing positive to come out of shooting Qassams and other terorist activity, other than more death for both sides.

One clear sign that the Palestinians are seroius about ending the war, is for them to start training their youth for peace.

Kate's Typewriter said...

While I agree that victim mentalities must be left behind if any serious changes are to take place, a greater sense of understanding and compassion from all involved will make that more likely to occur. People backed up against a wall cannot think rationally. If a group feels they have value within the international community, and that people are committed to seeing their lives improve, the anger and hurt will begin to be an inspiration for change rather than an incentive for violence.
Obviously, this isn't as simple as "take responsibility and stop training your children as terrorists..." Terrorists aren't made from otherwise indifferent children who are externally indoctrinated; terrorists are made from people who have lost everything and are oppressed, exploited, and subsequently manipulated by a set of ideals that they once thought would offer them hope. It's a tragic cycle, but the outside influences that contribute to their status as non-citizens must take some responsibility as well. Most religions have at one time or another been exploited for political purposes. If people are given a sense of value in who they are, as human beings, and their right to live peacefully, this is less likely to occur.
And I think we would all agree, the world as a whole is desperately in need of better leaders.

KGS said...


You ascertion that... "Terrorists aren't made from otherwise indifferent children who are externally indoctrinated; terrorists are made from people who have lost everything and are oppressed, exploited, and subsequently manipulated by a set of ideals that they once thought would offer them hope" far removed from the reality on the ground. It doesn't square with the highly documented indoctrination that the Palestinians have embarked on for years now, of their youth, and their society in gengeral.

When weapons shops are able to turn full tilt at the expence of electricity for the average Palestinian, and weapons puchased at the expence building a normal life for children "like play grounds", speaks loudly of where the "leadership" places it's chief focus.

Clue, it's not for building a better life for its people, but to make their lives so miserable in order to keep the level of hate alive towards Israel.

They cannot maintain their momentum of hostility towardds Israel if their people are living normal lives.

That's what keep the conflict going. That the fight against Israel is now a fight for the whole Ummah, brings the conflict to a new dimension. The Islamification of the Palestinians and the conflict makes any attempt in reaching a compromise...(without speaking about "hudnas´) with the "leadership"...impossible.

Anonymous said...

Dear Kate's Typewriter,

"People backed up against a wall cannot think rationally."
According to a recent poll, more than 60% of Palestinians favor a peace agreement with Israel and a slightly higher % believes that the forthcoming summit at Annapolis will fail. Both conclusions seem wise, accurate, and entirely rational evaluations of the political situation. Palestinians are not "children", they are simply ahead of their political leadership (as I suspect are the majority of Israelis). As to Hamas, it seems to me their use of violence is entirely rational and politically calculated, both inside Gaza and outside. The purpose of the Qassams is largely symbolic and political: to exist as a national-liberation movement and as a "one-party", "one-ideology" embryo state, in competition with Fatah, Hamas cannot confine itself to ruling Gaza, but it must carry on a "revolutionary" (i.e. endless) confrontation with the "Sionist entity" outside Gaza. In a sense, they need an "Israeli occupation" (or an Israeli response) to survive as a political ruling class. What this has to do with the well-being of the common people living there?

Kate's Typewriter said...

I do agree the majority of the population of both Israelis and Palestinians are ahead of their leaders. I don't pretend to have a complete grasp on the situation, or wisdom as to how to solve the problems, heal the past wounds, and make life better for everyone. I realize I am in no position to criticize or play the blame game; that is what proliferates this mess. So ultimately, I understand all the points being made in the above argument. I feel sincerely for the Palestinian people and pray for the day they can live rich, safe lives with the potential I know they have. I have also compassion for the Israelis, who have been put in a difficult situation from any perspective when you study the intricate network of foreign powers and relations. I don't think it's necessary to complicate or increase the hatred or pain by laying blame at anyone's feet; everyone involved has a portion of responsibility, and in a perfect world, we would see them take ownership for that, work to redress past wrongs, and hope to build a more positive and unified future. We don't live in a perfect world, but if you believe in God, as I do, I suppose you are left with the option of beseeching Him (or Her, as per your beliefs) to intervene and change people's hearts.

I think more important than analyzing every detail of the situation is to recognize the value of human life and the possibility of there being viable solutions.

KGS said...

You see Kate,

No one is accusing you of "not being sincere". But you are approaching this conflict from the understanding of a westerner, that views compromise and good faith measures as something that will reciprocated.

But let me clue you in onto something worth remembering.

One does not makes peace with one's enemies, but with one's "former enemies". If recent polls are correct, 40% of the Palestinians do not want an end to the hostilities even if every consideration and proposal is accepted by the Israelis.

Even more telling, is the an overwhelming percentage (I'd say 99.9%) of the Palestinians reject the recognization of the "Jewish" state of Israel.

But once again, I come back to the very same issue, that underlines the entire conflict presently. The respect of human rights by the Palestinians for their own people.

Forget about their lack of respect for Israeli human/civil rights for a moment. They can't even safegaurd the rights of their minorities under their own jurisdiction! Christians, Gays, Women and those Muslims who want to reject Islam and a host of other "non-Islamic" issues.

Once they begin to respect themselves, then, and only then, can they be expected to behave in a rational, normal, civil fashion towards Israel.

You HAVE TO TAKE INTO ACCOUNT the past in order to stave off a future debacle like Oslo was. Arming one's chief enemy and placing them in your own backyard has proven to have been a tragic mistake in judgement.

Like one of those letters you get from Nigeria promising riches, only to be told that more time and money must be sent in order to speed up the moeny supposedly coming your way.

Its a scam and eveyone should not be so blinded as to fall for it time and time again.