Saturday, January 26

The Gaza Closure has Cracked

This week we all witnessed the unofficial end of the “air tight” closure of the Gaza Strip. The wall that Israel’s Security Forces had built on the border between Egypt and Gaza was breached. The situation in Gaza reached a peak like steam that is trapped in a pressure cooker left on the stove unattended. Something had to give way. This last week it did. The more Israel increased the pressure and the siege on Gaza, the greater the frequency of the Qassam rockets fired into Sderot and its environment in southern Israel. The situation has now changed and this could result in worsening relations between Egypt and Israel as both sides accuse the other of taking responsibility for the breaching of the wall.

The situation in Gaza is becoming more complex as Hamas becomes more adamant and determined not to recognize Israel. Israel closed the borders and did not allow any passage of essential goods into Gaza. Many members of the EU viewed this as collective punishment of Gaza’s citizens – echoing the cries of Hamas, who have a habit of squealing to the world community portraying the suffering of Gaza’s residents. Hamas is also indulging in collective punishment in the south by firing Qassam missiles into Sderot making the lives of the people living there unbearable. The people of Sderot are poor and many are unemployed. Israel has ignored these people. They only made headlines because of the intolerable Qassam rocket attacks. Many of the residents there are impoverished immigrants of Russian, Ethiopian and North African background that have lived there for a long time.

Hamas is to be blamed for the suffering of Gaza’s citizens. However the build up to this intolerable situation must also be blamed on Israel. This situation began since the June War of 1967. When Israel occupied Gaza, the West Bank, Golan Heights and Eastern Jerusalem, it became responsible for the well being of the people in the territory that it had occupied. Israel became the “foster parent” of the Palestinians under occupation. Social services including health, economic development as well as improving infra structure was Israel’s responsibility. The Israeli claim that the surrounding Arab states were responsible for the well being of the occupied Palestinians was ludicrous. How could surrounding Arab countries be responsible for Palestinian welfare when they were at war with Israel and Israel occupied these territories? Israel adopted a policy of expansion and settlement of the occupied territories with Jewish settlers, many of whom were fanatic in their belief of occupying the “holy land” as specified in the Torah according to their interpretation.

The squalor and poverty in the “occupied territories” was not alleviated by Israel. The refugee camps remained neglected for many years until today. Israel poured money into the occupied territories and encouraged Jewish settlement there. Settlers received much state help for moving there and their homes were subsidized. Most Palestinians, who remembered the times before the Six Day War as not being so great, accepted the occupation and there was a long period of relative calm until the first Intifada that began in 1987 and was the forerunner to the ill-fated Oslo Accords of 1993 which ended the intifada temporarily. The situation in Gaza remained a tinder box because of the intense overcrowding and poverty in the refugee camps. A new generation was born. A generation of young Palestinians grew up in intense human misery. They had no hope for the future while Israel was building roads and settlements on occupied lands. Palestinians at best remained a source of cheap labour for the Israeli building trade including the building of palatial homes in the occupied territories. These people worked under intolerable conditions, were paid poorly compared to their Israeli counterparts.

The situation for Palestinians became hopeless and intolerable. The younger generation born many years after the Six Day War of June 1967, became extreme in their outlook and viewed Israel as their enemy. Their hopeless situation became an ideal breeding ground for Hamas and their allied terrorist organizations to take root. Hamas endeared itself to many Palestinian people because of the social services and charity work that it did amongst the Palestinian community. The corruption of the Fatah controlled Palestinian Authority is also one of the root causes for Hamas taking over power.

According to the semi-official Hamas biography "Truth and existence," Hamas evolved through four main stages:

1. 1967-1976: Construction of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Gaza Strip in the face of "oppressive Israeli rule";

2. 1976-1981: Geographical expansion through participation in professional associations in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and institution building, notably al-Mujamma` al-islami, al-Jam`iyya al-islamiyya, and the Islamic University in Gaza;

3. 1981-1987: Political influence through establishment of the mechanisms of action and preparation for armed struggle;

4. 1987: Founding of Hamas as the combatant arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine and the launching of a continuing Jihad.

While this reflects the activities of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the organization in the West Bank developed differently, with less emphasis at the beginning on the creation or control of public institutions. The Muslim Brotherhood in the West Bank constituted an integral part of the Jordanian Islamic movement, which for many years had been aligned with the Hashemite regime. Furthermore, the Muslim Brotherhood in the West Bank represented a higher socio-economic profile, consisting of merchants, landowners, and middle-class officials and professionals. By the mid-1980s, the Muslim Brotherhood held a significant portion of the positions in West Bank religious institutions.

Today the situation in Gaza has become hopeless. The tactics of Hamas of carrying out terror and not recognizing Israel’s right to exist has created an intolerable situation for the Palestinians. Somehow the bubble burst in southern Gaza and the wall separating Gaza from Egypt was breached. Many Gazans seized this opportunity to escape from Gaza and make their way to Egypt. This escape will snowball and will create endless problems for Egypt. How Egypt will handle this situation remains to be seen. It is estimated that about 20% of Gaza’s population have left Gaza for Egypt. This number will probably increase.

Egypt will attempt to stop this human flow and it is uncertain as to whether they will succeed. It looks as if a new refugee problem will be created but this time it will be even worse than before. It is doubtful if Palestinians who have escaped from Gaza will return of their own free will. The misery will become worse and the scenario of Egypt shooting escaping Palestinians cannot be ruled out as the situation runs out of control.

The situation is desperate and tragic. The blame for this situation must be laid at the door of Hamas, Israel and the corrupt Fatah organization that ruled Gaza prior to the Hamas take over. The situation will remain volatile and at present there are no signs of a solution. While Gaza burns under Hamas control and the West Bank is under Fatah there will never be peace. The Annapolis agreements will soon be a forgotten diplomatic exercise.

Saturday, January 19

Gaza and Southern Israel are Burning

Gaza and Southern Israel are burning! Hamas and their allies, Islamic Jihad, have upgraded the frequency of Qassam rocket fire into Southern Israel to Sderot and even as far as Ashkelon. The havoc, damage and injuries as a result are increasing and there is no sign of any cessation of this form of terror. It is hard to understand what Hamas hopes to gain by this violence. The loss of life because of Israeli Army retaliations for the Palestinians is even greater.

Hamas is acting in a most irresponsible manner towards their people. It wants to liberate all of Palestine and establish a radical Islamic state in place of Israel. It has gained notoriety with its assassinations, car bombs and other acts of terrorism. The death toll is mounting in Gaza and at the same time so is the Qassam rocket fire towards Sderot and its environment. The damage to homes in this area which is deprived economically is horrendous. While the death rate in Israel is low compared to the Palestinian death rate, the casualties, because of shellshock, is increasing. Ambulances are taking the injured to Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon at an increasing rate. Perhaps Hamas is doing this as a digression from the problems that they are having with Fatah. There is civil war between Hamas and Fatah in a power struggle.

The Hamas leadership carries on with its violent anti-Israel rhetoric, goading the Palestinian people to terror and martyrdom. There is no hint of pragmatism or any desire to cease the Qassam rocket fire. Does Hamas, in its fantasy world really believe that by their terrorist activity, Israel will surrender and cease to exist? What does Hamas intend to achieve? Their programme is steeped in blood and hate! They are on a mission of self-destruction! They have achieved nothing for their people. They are destroying what remains of their infra-structure by provoking Israel into retaliating. The statistics on death and destruction in Gaza are on the rise. The mistakes of the Israeli Army in its quest to root out the terrorists are also rising. Many innocent Palestinians caught up in the cross-fire are being killed. So many innocent people on both sides of the conflict are injured and dying – why? Innocent Palestinians and Israelis have had enough! The time is more than ripe for peace. While Hamas rules there will never be peace. Hamas is a parasitic organization that feeds on hate and self-destruction. While Gaza burns, the negotiations between Israel and the West Bank Palestinian leadership are meaningless.

While it might be hard to believe, Israel must be held accountable for the creation of Hamas. Israel and Hamas may currently be locked in deadly combat, but, according to several current and former U.S. intelligence officials, beginning in the late 1970s, Tel Aviv gave direct and indirect financial aid to Hamas over a period of years.

According to a report from the Institute of Counter-Terrorism, Israel wanted to weaken the influence of the PLO by financing Hamas. It was a policy of “divide and rule”. This policy had backfired and Israel and the Palestinians today are reaping the fruits of Israel’s unwise policy:

“According to ICT papers, Hamas was legally registered in Israel in 1978 by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the movement's spiritual leader, as an Islamic Association by the name Al-Mujamma al Islami, which widened its base of supporters and sympathizers by religious propaganda and social work.

According to U.S. administration officials, funds for the movement came from the oil-producing states and directly and indirectly from Israel. The PLO was secular and leftist and promoted Palestinian nationalism. Hamas wanted to set up a transnational state under the rule of Islam, much like Khomeini's Iran”.

While Israel hammers Gaza in retaliation for the Qassam rocket fire, it also somehow strengthens the resolve of the Hamas murderers. Gaza is a huge Palestinian prison under severe stress. It is blockaded on all sides. It has a large number of refugee camps living in severe poverty and squalor. The refugees have no future and this is the ideal breeding ground for hatred against Israel. They are subjected to humiliating and devastating Israel Army incursions. Hate is excellent fertilizer to Hamas. Added to this is the immense overcrowding. Hamas takes advantage of this situation for its own ends. It does not even try to alleviate the horrifying conditions in the refugee camps. Hamas’s strength lies in Palestinian suffering, much of which is their creation. While the refugee camps remain a severe problem, nothing has been done to solve this human tragedy. It is Israel’s problem no less than the Palestinians’ problem. If this problem is not solved and the refugees rehabilitated, the violence will increase and there will be a human explosion that will be grist to the mill of Hamas. This grist is Hamas’s lifeblood and Hamas does not intend to alleviate the situation or rule responsibly.

Israel has adopted a “carrot and stick” policy as regards Hamas. It will not work while Hamas remains steadfast in its attitude of non-recognition and non-negotiation with Israel. The Gaza human tragedy will only get worse. Hamas is taking advantage of Palestinian suffering to entrench itself in power. The firing of Qassam rockets into Israel will increase Israel’s resolve to enter Gaza and this will result in heavy loss of life to both sides.

Saturday, January 12

The Bush Visit Hype in Israel and Palestine

President George Bush has come and gone. He received a very warm welcome in Israel and perhaps less so in the West Bank by the Palestinian Authority. It was an amazing show of hospitality, which began with well-rehearsed solo singing of the famous song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in English, Hebrew and Arabic from the classic film “The Wizard of Oz” and dancing by children in President Shimon Peres’ presidential residence to welcome President Bush. There was a moment of euphoria with all this pomp and ceremony. Many of us had strong doubts as to the potential success of the visit. It somehow seemed very artificial and unrealistic.

Expectations of a treaty between Israel and the Palestinians towards the end of 2008 are a vision that Bush somehow entertained and expressed at the end of his visit. Those living in the area and have experienced many disappointments see that as dreaming. No peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians can be achieved without including Gaza. Bush does not seem to be clear as to how Hamas could be part of his imaginable peace treaty by the end of this year. Hamas is viewed as a terrorist organization by Israel, the US and the EU. Hamas is well entrenched and rules Gaza. Overlooking this fact, while declaring the signing of peace treaties for an independent Palestinian state, is not realistic. The chances of any peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians are remote without including Hamas in negotiations. As it is, the Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh predictably stated that Bush gave Israel all required pledges to solidify its occupation".

President Bush’s visit to Israel in the last year of his presidency will not achieve anything to promote peace. Since he has left much baggage in Iraq and in Afghanistan which is ruled by an American puppet-regime under President Hamid Karzai, his record of success in the Middle East at trouble shooting is close to zero. The situation in Afghanistan is hardly any better than in Iraq. Wherever the US gets involved in “liberating” a country from dictators or cruel regimes, it leaves a situation behind that is a human disaster! Bush is obsessed naively with installing a western-style democracy in these countries. In Iraq, there is total anarchy with many splinter terrorist groups some of which are affiliated to Al-Qaeda are causing total havoc amongst Iraqis, including suicide bombings. The Bush failure in Iraq and in Afghanistan is plain for all to see. Can Israelis and Palestinians afford to take Bush seriously? After all he has botched up so much. He can barely be viewed as an “honest broker”. He has “honestly broken” Iraq and Afghanistan beyond repair. Where was Bush during the last seven years? What is the hurry to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict before he retires to oblivion? The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been on the backburner for most of President Bush’s presidential term.

The Bush naivety and eccentricity comes to the fore when he gives speeches on fighting terror and solving the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict. He gave the impression that he does not understand the mechanics of the conflict. He had made so many statements that somehow do not reflect any deep knowledge of the situation. According to Al Jazeera, Bush spoke of Israel's "occupation" of territory it seized in the 1967 conflict, he was clear that any "mutually agreed adjustments" would still leave Israel with settlements in the West Bank. This is problematic from the Palestinian point of view and would never be acceptable. It would be viewed as a definite pro-Israel bias. According to Al-Ahram weekly 10-16 January 2008, on the eve of Bush’s state visit to Israel, Israel had been involved in confiscating land from the Palestinians. This is no positive atmosphere for any form of peace treaty.

He came to Israel in the midst of a lot of Israeli Press hype. His visit was given very little press coverage in the US. Hilary Clinton’s failures and successes in her quest to be nominated as Democratic Party candidate for the presidency were more prominent in the US press. To all intents and purposes, President Bush’s travels to the Middle East are not a newsworthy item in the US. He is viewed as an unsuccessful has-been ceasing to have much relevance. There is nothing better for a lack-lustre president than to embark on a Middle East tour of irrelevance in order to boost up his sagging ego towards the end of his presidential term. He knew that in Israel he would receive a hero’s welcome, which he did.

During Bush’s visit and his meetings with Israeli leaders, he expressed sentiments that were music to their ears. He had to add a few “jarring notes” of soft-serve, such as “ending the occupation” for Palestinian consumption. However no new ideas were forthcoming on how to end it. When he visited the West Bank he also expressed platitudes aimed to satisfy the Palestinians. This did not go down well with the Palestinians despite the fact that he was received warmly by President Mahmoud Abbas.

Now that the dust of the Bush visit is settling rather rapidly, it will be a matter of time before it will be forgotten. What will remain of this visit will still be the check posts – a source of harassment to innocent Palestinians. The dehumanizing searches at these check points will also remain. Who knows how many sick Palestinians in need of urgent medical attention will suffer unnecessary delays to arrive at Israeli hospitals. Medical facilities for sophisticated treatment are severely lacking in the West Bank. The occupied Palestinians are still under Israel’s responsibility for their health and welfare. The illegal settlements will continue to be built which will encroach even further into Palestinian owned lands making a viable Palestinian state a virtual impossibility. Check posts will not be removed as this will remain a security measure to protect the illegal settlements. Nothing will change. The consequences of this will be the decrease in size of the future Palestinian state if it will be established. It is as if Bush had said “End the occupation” knowing that under these circumstances it will not occur.

The future Palestinian state, with its enclaves of Jewish settlements, looks like measles on the map of the West Bank. It is unlikely that Israel will agree to evacuation of these settlements to make way for the future Palestinian state. The idea of a one-state solution could become a consideration because the West Bank is becoming more populated with illegal settlements. This situation will be Israel’s creation. The core issues such as Jerusalem and the refugees will not come up for discussion as this would result in Olmert’s coalition falling apart. The situation for the future of a Palestinian state as well as peace between Israel and the Palestinians is bleaker now than ever before. Involvement of the US, whose credibility is low, will not facilitate a peace treaty that both sides need so desperately.

“Bush comes and goes.

We remain here-

And so do the Palestinians

Not the Americans

Will safeguard our future.

Our future

Will be assured

When we succeed

In persuading

The Arab world

That we are fair partners

In the building of this region-

For all its peoples and countries.”

Gush Shalom – Haaretz-Friday January 11th 2008