The events in Gaza this week, which represented the dramatic climax of months of tense bouts of fighting between Hamas and Fatah, were painful to watch. Those who stand in solidarity with the Palestinians, like the thousands who marched in London last weekend, need not be shy about speaking out, despite the pressures of the cynical, smug analysis that laughs at Palestinian ‘self-rule’ and says ‘I told you so’. Responsibility for the current crisis is shared amongst most of the protagonists.
Fatah’s leaders should reflect that they are now reaping what some party members have sown. Elements within the party are indeed guilty of the charge of ‘collaboration’ with the Israeli occupation, as well as with US designs. This has not just been in recent times, since the Palestine Legislative Council (PLC) elections, but has a history dating back to the pre-Oslo negotiations, through to the plutocratic Palestinian Authority and the days when Arafat’s men would detain and torture Hamas activists. Many of the Hamas members who now pose for the cameras in the captured Fatah operation centers may have been tortured in the very same buildings.
But it is Israel, as the occupying power, that has primary responsibility for creating the conditions in which Palestinians have turned on each other. The Gaza Strip is a prison, where the prisoners are hungry, unemployed, and brutalized from 40 years of occupation. Israel’s military onslaughts of the Second Intifada – which killed thousands and demolished tens of thousands of homes – have left its inhabitants mentally scarred, bereaved, angry, and reduced to the level of penned in animals .
Israel, however, has been assisted by the US and EU, who, in imposing sanctions on the occupied have pushed the region towards its current predicament – to the shame of American and European leaders and their political class. Incredible that in the last few weeks, newspaper leaders have denounced in the strongest terms the decision to merely debate boycotting Israel, yet uttered mealy-mouthed concern (or nothing at all) about this collective punishment.
Since the PLC elections, carried out democratically and transparently, the legitimate Palestinian government has been subjected to boycott, sanction and threats, and the US and EU have done everything in their power to undermine and destabilize the representatives of the Palestinian people. Sanctioning the occupied has made an economy already stunted by years of Israeli colonization and siege, a disaster-zone. This is not rocket science; it was highlighted from the beginning by charities, NGOs and the few politicians willing to stand out from the consensus.
Moreover, together with Israel, the US has been openly working to arm Fatah for a coup against Hamas, moves that the latter – who had been elected on the basis of their resistance to Israeli occupation and their track record of humanitarian commitment to the people – were not going to sit by and idly watch. This came only after the attempt to starve the Palestinians into submission appeared not to be working. This context is strangely (or perhaps not so strangely) missing from most mainstream media coverage, despite the basic facts being widely in the public domain.
However, while Hamas themselves feel understandably justified in taking the action they have done in the Gaza Strip – under siege, and threatened with the prospect of a US-Israel sponsored Fatah coup – it is perfectly appropriate to question their strategy of the last week. Hamas has extended their logic of force that emerged in the context of fighting Israel into the internal arena, but it is a short-term perspective that will be difficult to sustain. Even as they look at a defeated Fatah movement, the Hamas leadership faces difficult questions about how Gaza will now be ruled, how it will relate to the rest of Occupied Palestine, and how they can best serve the desperate population in the Gaza Strip.
Let us be clear though, that despite shared responsibility, most of the blame must lie squarely with Israel, the US and EU, for creating in Gaza conditions in which Hamas felt like they had little choice but to act, and where their program can seem so attractive. Starving and imprisoning a population, destabilizing a democratically-elected government; these are the actions of gangsters and thugs, not peacemakers or statesmen.
And now? It is obviously a defeat for US/Israeli designs in the sense that the attempts to destroy Hamas through a Fatah have failed. Israel is already trying to take advantage by introducing the idea of a ‘two state’ Palestine, a division of the West Bank and Gaza Strip that Israeli policy has already created (not to mention the fragmentation within the West Bank and Occupied Jerusalem).
Hamas is already calling for dialogue with Abbas, while the latter talks of emergency rule and elections. Dialogue is the only way forward for the Palestinians, but dialogue based on some fundamentals; respecting the will of the people, resistance to occupation and colonization, and a break from the collaborating political class of Oslo. The US, Britain and the EU, meanwhile, must be forced to stop their blood-stained interference in the Middle East, policies that have led to a ‘crescent of death and destruction’, from Iraq, to Lebanon and Palestine. That is the real threat.
A regular contributor to PalestineChronicle.com, Ben White is a freelance journalist specializing in Palestine/Israel.