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Archive for December, 2008

Facism on the Rise

It seems that in times of crisis, the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority(PA) shows its true face.  Like its responses to the demonstrations here against Annapolis; and the demonstrations against the last major attack on Gaza, “Operation Hot Winter”; again the PA is brutally repressing any attempts at dissent that are not PA-authorised.

Two days ago, on 28th December, PA police (“shorta” in Arabic) shot 3 demonstrators in Hebron with live ammunition, as a coalition of Palestinian political parties and organisations marched through the streets together, protesting the war on Gaza.  I wasn’t there, but looking at photos and footage taken by my friends, it was a really nice sight of unity as the predominantly Hamas and PFLP supporters merged in a mass of red and green flags.  They chanted angrily against the slaughter of civilians that Israel claims is not happening.  And then they encountered the PA police, who started shooting immediately.  The crowd started running scared, except the amazingly brave Hamas women, who yelled at everyone else for being cowards, and, still moving forward, took up stones to throw at the cops.  My friend who was filming got caught behind the police-lines, at which point he got beaten up and his cameras stolen.  Later these were returned to him by the head of the PA secret police, because he had good connections.  The photos and footage were intact, although extra footage on one camera shows where the cops tried to mess with the footage but seemingly couldn’t figure out how. 

The next day, planned demonstrations were again thwarted by the intense police presence.  Groups of young boys (shabbab) were permitted to throw rocks at soldiers near one of the illegal Israeli settlements, Beit Romano, but the police maintained a heavy presence to ensure that no one got near to checkpoint 56, which divides PA-controlled areas from those controlled by Israeli occupation forces; as well as to ensure that larger numbers of demonstrators didn’t join the shabbab in their riots.

In Ramallah demonstrations, PA police arrested two protesters from PFLP and one from Hamas seemingly without reason, except that it is now illegal to belong to these parties.  When a few young guys went to the police station to argue for their release, they were also detained for being PFLP – an affiliation they didn’t deny when questioned.

Today, in Nablus, where resistance to the massacre in Gaza has been almost non-existent – restricted to a few meagre demonstrations marching cheerfully around the city streets as though children weren’t being slaughtered in their beds – the PA Governor for Nablus refused to allow a meeting of a coalition of political parties and civil society organisations (which explicitly excluded Fatah) to occur in the advertised meeting place.  A few hours before, he called the parties to advise that they would not be able to use the Masoud centre, and that to ensure this, he had positioned a unit of PA police around the building.

When questioned as to why there is no show of resistance in Nablus, people here lament that with the PA forces here, there is nothing they can do.  18 months ago, Nablus was controlled by the various fighting brigades, intent on resisting any Israeli incursions into the city.  “The knights of the night”.   And whilst this situation brought with it many problems, such as the presence of armed gangs with mafia-style operations, it also ensured that the responsibility of resistance to the occupation did not rest with one party alone.  However, with the establishment of the US-brokered and funded Nablus security deal in late 2007, which led to the installation of 500 PA police in Nablus, this began to change.  Working in conjunction with the Israeli occupation forces in defiance of Oslo accords, which decree that no Israeli military are allowed to enter any part of the West Bank designated Area A (such as Nablus and all other cities in the West Bank), the PA agreed to share security operations in Nablus withIsraeli military forces – with the PA police on the street from 6am-12am; Israeli army from 12am-6am.  Designed to “clean-up” Nablus, the true aim of this collaboration seems to have been to disarm the freedom-fighting brigades in order to concentrate all power with the PA.  Notably, in December of 2007, PA police spent one day overrunning the old city of Nablus- along the with refugee camps one of the resistance strong-holds in Nablus.  For hours police controlled the ancient passages, clearing out roadblocks that had prevented Israeli jeeps from penetrating deep into the warren-like suq.  That night, Israeli forces invaded, and were able to arrest more than 50 fighters from parts of the old-city they had never before been able to access.

The West Bank has now been pacified to such an extent that armed resistance against the Israeli-occupation (a right under international law) is now largely impossible.  As Gaza is destroyed, Israel announces increasing relaxations of travel-restrictions for the besieged city of Nablus.  Soon it will be possible for cars to travel in an out of Nablus without prior permission from Israeli authorities.  It seems the Israeli occupation has nothing left to fear from the once notoriously-resistant city.

Ironically, today Fatah leaders called on Hamas to return weapons it confiscated from Fatah-fighters when it took over the Gaza strip in 2007.

This level of collaboration (all nuances intended) has found new voice with the war on Gaza.   Two days ago, Mahmoud Abbas (President of the PA) asserted that the fault for the war on Gaza lay with Hamas.  He vociferated extensively about the lengths to which he and his cabinet had gone to try to convince Hamas to renew the cease-fire.  That if they had only listened to him…  Surprisingly, this is exactly the same line being pushed by Israel and the US (who have committed to funding the Israeli military at the sum of approximately $3 billion each year for the next 10 years).  Palestinians all across the West Bank, and those who have heard of it in Gaza, are reeling at this assertion. 

The Israeli plan for Gaza, I fear, will be modelled on the war waged on Iraq.  To destroy Gaza and install the Fatah-led PA as its puppet government.  It seems the PA are just biding their time.

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The Gaza Massacre

More than 220 Gazans dead at most recent count.  And whilst Israeli government spokesperson Mark Regev claims that you can’t trust the numbers given by Palestinian medical organisation – that those cunning folks from the Red Crescent are likely to exaggerate to garner international sympathy – the pictures of charred bodies on the streets suggest otherwise. 

It’s the single bloodiest day in the history of the Israeli occupation.  And it’s only the beginning.  The Israeli Occupation Forces assure that the attacks will “expand and intensify”. 

In Gaza there is not enough space in the morgues to hold all of the dead.  Watching shrouds being draped over corpses in the street on tv, I wonder what they will do with the bodies.  In March, when Israel carried out “Operation Hot Winter”, there was not enough cement to bury the fallen.  The situation now is so much worse, given that the only building materials that have entered the strip are those that have been smuggled through the Rafah tunnels.  People are forced to use bricks from demolished buildings to build anything – graves are a luxury Gazans can’t afford.

With more than 700 injured, the hospitals are experiencing severe blood shortages.  Hospitals that were already struggling under the Israeli siege, lacking basic medicines and equipment, are in a grim situation.  Sick patients have been evicted from their beds to make way for the injured.  The main hospital in Gaza city, Shifa, received more than 200 patients within the first 15 minutes of airstrikes.  Random wards, such as the orthopedic unit have been turned into makeshift emergency wards.  It is not just Israel that has been denying Gazan hospitals medical supplies, however – the head of Shifa hospital claims that the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank have also withheld the vast majority of supplies donated by the international community. 

Finally, Egypt has offered to open the Rafah border for the injured and cleared out two hospitals to make room for numbers which are only likely to rise.  Reports suggest, however, that no injured have, as yet, passed through the crossing, as most injured are too fragile to travel. Most cases are so extreme – mostly head injuries – that intensive care ambulances and helicopters are required to transport patients.

Israel claims they were targeting the “Hamas terrorism network”.  More than forty police stations were razed early in the day, when the bombing started at 11am.  Whilst the link between police and military is a tenuous one, the rain of missiles that continued across the strip until 11pm resulted in the majority of the dead and injured being civilians.  The rest were police.

Tzipi Livni, Israeli Foreign Minister and Presidential hopeful, said that this attack is a is a “translation of Israel’s right to defend itself”.  She was referring, of course, to the barrage of home-made rockets that have been fired into southern Israel since the ceasefire expired.  The rockets that come from a variety of political groups in response to the ongoing siege.  Until today, 5 Israelis had been injured by the rockets fired since the end of the ceasefire.  The much-bandied term “disproportionate” seems like an absurd understatement.

At the same time, Israel has been killing fighters in Gaza almost daily; and injuring civilians, including children, in the process.      

Israeli politicians and military spokespeople have been hysterically decrying the refusal of Hamas to renew the ceasefire, citing this as another excuse for the massacre.  They neglect to mention that Israel first violated the ceasefire just four days after it was implemented, firing on farmers – injuring two, killing one.  They also fail to discuss the dozens more fighters and civilians the Israeli military killed in Gaza throughout the “ceasefire”; the airstrikes, attacks on houses and Israeli incursions into the Gaza strip that continued without pause.  Neither do they acknowledge the 22 Palestinians who were killed by Israeli occupation forces in the West Bank during the so-called ceasefire; nor the hundreds more injured.  The failure to lift the siege on the Gaza strip, but rather the intensification of the siege, resulting in Gazans running out of basic foodstuffs, also failed to find its way in to their rhetoric.   Of course, the United States “holds Hamas responsible for breaking the ceasefire”. 

Hamas has, predictibly, vowed to strike back, to revenge this massacre.  Already rocket strikes have killed one Israeli civilian.  But what more can they do?  All they have are the home-made rockets that have little range and poor aim.  The claims ring hollow, as it seems Hamas has already done all they can.  They have called for a 3rd Intifada, though there seems to be little political will for this throughout the occupied territories.

Today in Nablus, spontaneous demonstrations broke out in the city centre, but attracted just a few hundred participants, whilst the rest of the city went about its business.  I wanted to scream at the businesses selling Israeli products, demanding to know what they are doing, why they are supporting the occupation when the Palestinian boycott of Israeli products during the 1st Intifada created one of the greatest economic crises Israel has experienced.  Instead I marched sadly, angrily, impotently.  The marches made their way through the city streets, before petering out, failing to utilise the small political will that did exist to, in any way, confront the Israeli occupation.  

There is a general strike throughout the West Bank tomorrow.  It will surely bring more clashes between Palestinians and Israeli Occupation Forces, such as those that were seen in Ramallah and Hebron today.  Whether these will be isolated flashes, as is so often the case, or sparks for something greater, is yet to be seen.

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