Saturday, March 08, 2008

Gaza on my mind

It is hard to find words to really express the multitude of thoughts and feelings I have had in the past few months watching the crisis in Gaza worsen. It is very important to place the current situation in proper context. The recent events which have left scores dead did not occur in a vacuum.

In 2005 Israel made a tactical decision to remove its potential targets out of Gaza. Protecting so few settlers was not worth the military investment. The occupation of Gaza would continue and the people of Gaza would soon face the fiercest and most depressing conditions they have faced. The Fall of 2005 featured a consistent sonic boom campaign, incursions and bombings. It also featured the highest ranking US officials including Condoleezza Rice and President George Bush embracing the idea of the upcoming Palestinian Legislative Elections.

Then, as we know, the Change and Reform Party or the party of the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement (HAMAS) won the majority of seats in parliament (74 to 45) and the constitutional right to form a government. Before the votes were even tallied legislation was written and submitted in the halls of congress that would cut aid to the Palestinian Authority the very next day. This was just one of several bills introduced the day after the election.

The Change and Reform party did not even have a change to realize they were victors when the American government and consistent supporters of the elections began to undercut them. For the first time ever Palestinian government that incorporated many of the diverse views of the Palestinian political spectrum was formed. This could have been then government that would have delivered peace. The so-called “spoilers” were now within the system. This representative government had the legitimacy to make the sacrifices that would have resulted in political suicide for Arafat or Abass.

The opportunity was squandered however. The American and Israeli policy first became the attempted suffocation of Hamas. Palestinian tax dollars, extracted from the Palestinian population and held by Israel, were no longer disbursed to the PA so government officials could not be paid. Then in the summer of 2006 Hamas and Fateh came closer to unity when members of all major Palestinian factions in Israeli prisons took the initiative to create and sign the national conciliation agreement. The document, which was a loose agreement on the principles of the Palestinian movement, would be soon forgotten. June and July of 2006 would be two of Gaza’s bloodies months and an Israeli soldier was captured.

Further reconciliation talks were held, which we now clearly know was attempted in spite of American objections. A recent expose in Vanity Fair details just how adamant the American administration was about eliminating Hamas as an actor. As the months went by conditions in Gaza worsen. The policies, administered by Israel with the blessing and support of the United States, were not at punishing Hamas but punishing Hamas’ base. The thinking behind this was that if enough pressure could be brought down on the backs of Palestinians in Gaza Hamas would have to alter its policies.

Hamas’ take over in June of 2007, pre-emptive or not, maneuvered them into a position where they could consolidate internally and prepare for what Israel and the United States had signaled would be a long and drawn out battle.

An embargo would follow. As would food shortages and then power cuts. Medicine was not available and then hospitals began to run medical equipment on generators. Fuel was running low as well. The large-scale collective punishment of 1.5 million people in the Gaza strip is evolving into the least talked about large-scale crime against humanity in history.

Through all of this the people of Gaza and Hamas have persisted. Also, throughout this period, Hamas has attempted to establish a deterrent of sorts. While Qassams, homemade tube-like projectiles, are no match for the overpowering American weaponry used by the Israelis, Hamas has been able to utilize them to prove that Israel’s policy (first marginalization, then suffocation and strangulation) has not provided security for the Israeli towns surrounding the Gaza strip. If you think being small means you can’t be effective you have obviously never been in bed with a mosquito.

To Provide Some Perspective: Damage from Israeli Missle in Gaza on top, Qassam Rocket in Sderot below.

Is it right for Hamas to be firing Qassams into Israel which may hit civilians? No. But why bring morality into this. Morality left this conflict in 1948. Let’s concentrate on efficient policy that leads to security.

To paraphrase Fanon, the colonized do not speak the language of the colonizer. Therefore, if the colonizer uses force and oppression against the colonized, the colonized understands this as the only method of communication and the both enter into a dialog of violence. The important part of this is that it is the stronger power, in this case Israel, sets the tone of the dialog. Israel’s policy of strangulation in the past two years, 42 years of occupation and 60 years of dispossession have created only one form of dialog. While the U.S. and Israeli governments say they won’t talk to Hamas they certainly have created a dialogue and it is one that has condemned both sides to the current stagnation.

While some, like the American Task Force for Fateh, has concluded that Hamas IS the problem all they have accomplished is exposing themselves for being the biased organization they are and have demonstrated that they have placed their own ideals and principles above those of the Palestinian people. They have epitomized, and with a religious zeal I might add, the type of old fashioned, holier-than-thou, liberal-secularist ideology that Arabs across the world and especially Palestinians are tired of being force fed as a precondition for equality.

Simply stated there is no way to move forward with negotiations without a representative Palestinian partner. The chance of a sustainable peace is greater when all ends of the political spectrum are actually involved in the commitment making process. The PLO claims to be an umbrella organization and that is why it was recognized as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. The reality is however the PLO is a made up of much different ideas and principles today as it was when it was given that distinction in 1974. Today the PLO, and much thanks to the work of former Chairman Arafat, is comprised mostly of Fateh.

It is hard to see how much legitimacy this organization can actually claim after nearly 30 years of grassroots efforts by Hamas to build a power base within the occupied territories and presence of a rejectionist front as well.

I do not consider myself Hamsawi or Fathawi. I abhor this terminology. However it seems clear to me that for all parties involved engaging Hamas into the political conversation without preconditions of relinquishing principles is critical. The majority of Israelis are even ready for this step, the question that now remains is whether the U.S. administration, Israel’s powerful right wing supporters in the U.S., and organizations like ATFF, are ready to put the interests of Israelis and Palestinians ahead of their own.

1 comment:

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