Palestine: Facts on the Ground
- "68 women gave birth on checkpoints, 33 infants and 4 women died"
The Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens Rights (PICCR)
reported that Israeli troops stationed at hundreds of roadblocks in
the occupied territories barred dozens of pregnant women from crossing
the checkpoints while in labor; 34 infants and four women died on
Soldiers searching a Palestinian Ambulance - photo
The Commission reported that soldiers forced 68 pregnant women to give
birth on road blocks after barring them from crossing as they were
being transferred to hospitals and medical centers.
Also, the PICCR said that the Israeli procedures complicated the lives
of the Palestinian civilians including pregnant women by enforcing
harsh conditions and carrying illegal practices at these checkpoints.
Since the beginning of the Al Aqsa Intifada on September 28 2000 until
July 2006, 68 pregnant women had to give birth at checkpoints, and
that 34 infants and 4 pregnant women died on these checkpoints.
Palestine - The Facts On The Ground
By Terrell E. Arnold
June 19, 2007
In the past few days mainstream media--that only notice Palestine when
it interferes with their tranquility-have nearly foundered on a few
questions: What happened in Gaza? Whose fault was it? And what will
happen now? In US media, these questions are being asked and loosely
answered in a scripted and oft-repeated format favored by Israel and
the Quartet (the Middle East Roadmap peace team of the US, Russia, The
European Union and the United Nations), but there is little apparent
serious looking at the facts.
The simple facts are that, having won a free and fair election in
January 2006, Hamas has put up with more than a year of rejection,
insult and harassment by much of the outside world, especially the
Quartet. Meanwhile the US and Israel have covertly done everything
they could to topple Hamas or to convince it to recognize Israel and
stop fighting back. While demonstrating some capacity to flex in the
awkward political circumstances of Palestine, Hamas has refused to
give on its main points of principle-basically concede nothing in
advance, but be prepared to bring everything to the table. That
position mainly violates the cardinal rule of the Palestine peace
process: With the blessings of the Quartet, Israel can dictate
conditions in advance of negotiations; Palestinians cannot.
To all but the stone deaf and totally blind in the outside world, it
has been obvious that Fatah (with US and Israeli help) has worked
assiduously on Hamas destruction. However, while obviously not
comfortable with the hostility and the track record of Fatah (a
history that after all got Hamas elected) Hamas made an effort to work
with the losers in the January election to craft a national unity
government. Fatah clearly was even less enthusiastic about the
arrangement than Hamas. But a national unity government was cobbled
together at Mecca with the support of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia
and other Arab leaders.
That government was born under a constellation of dark stars. The
first of those was the prevailing situations of Arab governments.
While they may have given a polite blessing to the idea of a Fatah-
Hamas unity government, mainstream media have noted widely that none
of the Arab governments was comfortable with Hamas. The reported Arab
government fear is that Hamas would form an Islamist government that,
if copied by dissidents in Arab states, could Islamize those now
"secular" societies. Hooked to alleged future interference with
"secularism" is the charge that Hamas would obstruct any trend toward
democracy in the region, while promoting Islamic fundamentalist regimes.
That is a set of arguments that play well with the present autocratic
and elitist regimes of the region. None of them has so far had an
election that is more than show biz in democratic or top leadership
selection terms. Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Syria and others
have been run by the same families or closed loop clans for
generations. Hamas simply arouses fears of homegrown political
opposition to the oligarchs, and that, for those regimes, is a bad
idea. Given the pragmatic way it deals with its Palestinian
constituents, the real Islamic character of Hamas is hard to define.
A companion to that star is in the crown of the United States. The US
may not have many real friends left in the region, but those it has
are the autocratic regimes that are surrounded by small and wealthy
elites. Those people plug well into the international financial and
economic power structure. They would not easily be replaced as
reliable US friends; however, a not too sanguine look at individual
country situations suggests that, if the existing governments fell,
leadership cadres and public majorities are likely to emerge who could
be much less attentive to US interests or actively hostile to them.
In that regard, Hamas is two pains in the American backside: In
addition to the hazy threat to regional oligarchs, it has potential to
interfere with the cozy relationship with Israel. Hamas makes US
rejection on that ground easy by refusing, in advance, to recognize
Israel or to stop fighting for the rights of the Palestinian people.
It makes no difference to this American posture that Israel has not
once conceded anything of significance in advance of negotiations. If
George III had been able to effect such neat constraints on the
colonists, there would never have been an American Revolution.
The third dark star in the Hamas firmament is the American and Israeli
attitude toward "terrorists". Hamas is an insurgency that uses far
fewer terrorist tactics on Israelis than the Israel Defense Force uses
on the Palestinians. Neither the US nor Israel is prepared to accept
the fact that the reason Hamas is now a political problem is that it
mastered the process well enough to win a majority in a free and fair
election. That most Israeli leaders, starting with David Ben Gurion,
have been former terrorists or have condoned various forms of state
terrorism against the Palestinians somehow gets lost in the US and
Israeli postures. Those postures are at least tolerated, if not fully
shared, by others in the Quartet.
The lodestar of this constellation is that Israel's Zionist leadership
is not prepared to make any concessions to the Palestinian people at
any time. That has been clear since David Ben Gurion launched the
ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948. It has been particularly
obvious in the new century, while, under the cover of occupation, and
in continuous violation of international law, IDF forces have
facilitated the progressive absorption of the West Bank into Israel.
The territory allegedly available in the West Bank for a Palestinian
state has shrunk to less than 20% of Palestine; some say less than
10%. That remaining bit of territory is studded with illegal
settlements, even one that hogs the heart of the ancient West Bank
city of Hebron. The would-be Palestinian state is further chopped up
by Israeli-only roads, blocked by effective no trespass rules for the
Jordan Valley region, and controlled by hundreds of checkpoints.
Hardly anyone now believes that a Palestinian state is possible.
Serious thinkers about the matter, such as the Israeli historian Ilan
Pappe, argue that nothing is viable but a one-state solution. Many
Palestinians would prefer that, and probably most would if the
Israelis treated them as fellow citizens and human beings. Long time
Israeli peace advocates such as Uri Avnery suggest that is not likely;
by their reckoning, Israel is a democracy for Jews only.
Under those stars, the facts on the ground in Palestine are harsh.
Struggling to survive in a political economy rendered virtually
penniless and ungovernable by western boycott and Israeli theft of
revenues, Palestinian society simply descended into the anarchy that
is predictable for the bottom-scraping poverty that the situation
imposed. It is convenient for onlookers to refer to that situation as
"civil war" because it relieves all outsiders of any responsibility.
What happened in Gaza was not a civil war; it was a battle to survive
in which the lines were drawn by patterns of family, friendship and
community. When the chips were down, Hamas simply demonstrated higher
orders of cohesion and leadership than Fatah. In effect, the PLO
revolutionaries of the 1970s and 80s had lost their touch. Actually
Fatah's chief revolutionary, Marwan Barghouti, is locked for life in
an Israeli prison while his insurgents, the Al Aqsa Brigades, are
presently Fatah's best fighting force.
Ironically, Barghouti's force is now being armed and encouraged by
Israel and the US to fight Hamas. However, even with weapons and
financial support from the US and Israel, Fatah was the loser in Gaza.
But perhaps the larger weaknesses were Fatah's corrupt leadership
along with the fact that most Palestinians appear to see Fatah as
unwilling or unable to defend or promote the interests of the
Western media largely view events in Gaza and the West Bank through
the optics of various outside interests. Friday's Washington Post, for
example, says the Hamas victory in Gaza "illustrates failure of Bush's
Mideast vision". In truth, if many Middle Easterners, especially the
young, were polled, the vision of a more open and liberalized group of
societies would find a great deal of resonance. What clangs are the
efforts of outsiders to impose such changes by force and, as in Iraq,
to have outsiders dictate what the rules of the game--including who
will profit most from Iraqi oil--will be for the future.
The Week, that micro-media brief on everything worth talking about,
takes the view that the Israeli pull out of Gaza gave the Palestinian
people a marvelous opportunity to show how they could govern
themselves, and they blew it. However, The Week ignores the fact that
the Israelis officially pulled out but have continued forcefully to
pound the region with bombings, targeted assassinations and ground
warfare moves. That is to say nothing of rigorously controlling any
traffic in or out. In fact the Israel Defense Force withdrew and
turned Gaza into a range for target practice as well as an open-air
prison for all who live there. That was on top of the economic
privation caused by the western, mainly US and Israeli boycott.
Now it is time to take a clear-eyed look at the art of the possible.
To stay alive, Hamas has taken control of Gaza, that being the center
of its support, although it is worth remembering that Hamas also won a
political majority in the West Bank. The immediate US, Israeli and
Quartet decision is to use the outcome of Hamas/Fatah infighting as
the defacto creation of a Hamas government of Gaza (which Hamas says
it does not want to do). But the larger and more perverse decision is
to not deal at all with Gaza leadership. The specific excuse for that
position is that Hamas refuses to recognize Israel and stop fighting
back. So Gaza becomes a non-actor on the stage of Palestinian peace
negotiations. Outsiders, except for humanitarian assistance, will
ignore it. In effect, the international community has decided to treat
Gaza as an open-air prison for 1.5 million people who presently have
no rights in any forum-much like the Palestinians in refugee camps in
It is well to review here the terms outsiders use to describe this
situation. "Moderates" are those people who cooperate with Israel and
the Quartet. "Extremists" are those people who do not. In Palestinian
terms, however, "moderates" are the leadership cluster around Mahmoud
Abbas who have collaborated with Israel and the US while the Zionists
have continued to steal Palestine. "Extremists" are the people who
stand up for Palestinian rights and actually try to prevent the
ultimate Israeli theft of Palestine from its people.
For Fatah, Mahmoud Abbas has asserted control in the West Bank.
However, Hamas is refusing to accept his decision to dismiss the
elected government and appoint one. Here the democratic West seems
content to have an elected government that it doesn't like arbitrarily
replaced by an un-elected one that seems more tractable. But the
benefits of this arrangement, especially to the Palestinian people,
will be illusory.
It is easy for outsiders to assert that there is now a Hamas
government in Gaza and a Fatah government in the West Bank. But the
Palestinian people remain a mix in which the strength of Fatah is
limited, and whether in or out of the government, the Hamas
representatives still are the majority of elected officials. Abbas
would have to call a new election to change that (assuming that under
present conditions Fatah could win a majority). It may gain some
acceptance simply because the West will see that the prisoners in the
West Bank are better fed, but prisoners of Israel they will remain.
Abbas has proposed early talks, but it is unlikely that any progress
toward peace will come of this arrangement. The Zionists will
perceive, quite rightly, that the Palestinians have no leadership of
sufficient strength to negotiate any deal that matters. The most
cynical product of that perception could be a proposal to renew
discussions of the Roadmap with Abbas and Fatah without bringing the
Hamas leadership that exists also in the West Bank into the picture.
However, the political goal of any such talks would be the appearance
of progress over the next eighteen months of the Bush administration.
The chance that any Fatah led team could achieve more than a sellout,
is slim to none. The Palestinians will resist that idea, if it
surfaces, and objections will not be confined to members of Hamas.
The hardest reading to make of the situation at this point is whether
the Palestinian cause has been fatally damaged by these developments.
That cause has not been in good shape for many years, because the
Israelis have made no concessions, and the outside world has insisted
on none, while the Israelis have actually made sizeable territorial
gains through illegal settlements and mere encroachments with walls
and roads. The Palestinians who remain are long-suffering, toughened
by the experience, and still believers in their rights to at least
part of their ancestral home. If Abbas were to appear to make grave
concessions, e.g., taking the core Palestinian issues of right of
return, compensation, Jerusalem off the table, he would actually lose
more support to Hamas, and could lose his scalp. His geographic
situation may be made easier, but his political problem would not be
The Hamas transition to a role of actual governance may be a more
rapid transition from insurgency to politics than the pre-existing
situation would have promoted. It is hard to go on calling them
terrorists if they are being held legally responsible for the daily
lives of 1.5 million people. This puts a pragmatic cap on the ability
of the outside world to ignore them, especially if they succeed in
getting Gaza under effective control. They will have become the
government of a virtual city-state. In this regard, one of their
proofs of effectiveness will be their ability to control the militant
extremists, that means maintaining law and order.
Measures of effectiveness will be crucial in coming weeks and months.
If Israel and the US do not continue to conduct open warfare against
Gaza, Hamas will succeed in bringing it together. After all, Hamas won
the January 2006 election because it was more effective than Fatah in
serving the interests of its supporters and others. If Hamas does
succeed, it is predictable that there will be some population transfer
to Gaza, at least to get fragmented families back together.
Thanks to the Israeli/US/Quartet decisions, Fatah is likely to have
more resources than Hamas (even though the Palestinians in Gaza have
equal rights to them). But Fatah has demonstrated declining ability to
serve the people. In an environment of close order surveillance by the
US and Israel, as well as constant Israeli interference to serve,
protect and expand its colonies, Fatah will never have a chance to get
the West Bank under its exclusive control.
If not physically restrained from doing so, Hamas operatives will
continue to work with its supporters and sympathizers in the West
Bank. As the fact becomes daily more obvious that any real peace
process is a dead issue, more Palestinians will look to Hamas, and its
political as well as its potential militant power will grow.
Palestinians in general will shift toward a greater militancy.
The solution to this problem has been obvious since January 2006.
Hamas movement toward effective political participation in Palestinian
life has to be encouraged and rewarded not combated. The name of the
game must be effective support for leadership the Palestinian people
have chosen. A scheme in which Palestinians who simply give up their
rights are rewarded while Palestinians who fight for their rights are
punished will not thrive for long. The situation in which Israel
continues to occupy Palestine in order to steal the rest of it cannot
go on. US, European, UN and Israeli priorities are out of touch with
the human requirements of Palestine, while Israeli ambitions are on a
collision course with Palestinian needs. These are not political
abstractions. It is time everybody faced the facts on the ground that
are making life miserable for millions of Palestinians and that will
keep the region in turmoil unless they are fixed.
The writer is the author of the recently published work, A World Less
Safe, now available on Amazon, and he is a regular columnist on
rense.com. He is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US
Department of State whose immediate pre-retirement positions were as
Chairman of the Department of International Studies of the National
War College and as Deputy Director of the State Office of
Counter-Terrorism and Emergency Planning. He will welcome comment at
wecanstopit @ charter.net.
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