Saturday, May 5, 2007


In January of 2006, to the surprise of most parties, including Hamas, the Islamic party won a clear majority in the Palestinian parliamentary elections. Here was an opportunity aborted at birth. Instead of accepting the results of the democratic process, instead of respecting the will of the Palestinian people, the neocon axis of Israel and the US turned on the Hamas government before it was even officially established, determined to strangle, to starve it to death before it could perform a single official act.

The short-sightedness of such a policy is wonderful to contemplate. With the primitive reflex of the reptile brain, the axis was not capable of thinking beyond the single simplistic equation: Hamas = terrorist. A strong Hamas government, according to this equation, could only mean stronger terrorist attacks on Israel. This, despite the fact that both before and since the election, Hamas had proposed and adhered to a cease-fire with Israel. Rejectionists among the Israelis and their supporters rejoiced at the outcome, as it automatically served as a perfect excuse to call off, Yet Again, the farcial "peace process." No negotiation with terrorists, was the immediate cry. No talking with terrorists. Just to make sure that peace could not possibly arise, the rejectionist axis declared a set of demands – concessions Hamas would be required to make before they would consider recognition, concessions they knew quite well Hamas would refuse to make, particularly under such circumstances.

In keeping with this reptile-brained policy, the axis proceeded to cut off all funding to the Palestinian government and to pressure the rest of the world into joining this embargo, so that it could not pay the salaries of its security services and public servants. They also suborned the leaders of the Fatah party, whom the people had rejected for their corruption, to undermine and contest the results of the election by force. The Hamas government was duly weakened, as the axis had intented. But what they entirely failed to consider were the consequences of a weakened government in Palestine. Already last year, there were clear signs that the Palestinian body politic was sliding head-first down the slope to civil war as a direct consequence of axis policies.

I wrote about these possible consequences in an essay just about a year ago: that by weaking Hamas, Israel is opening the doors of possibility to al-Qaida taking its place. And the likelihood of this outcome has not diminished at all.

Sun May 21, 2006
A previously unknown group that links itself to al-Qaida has claimed responsibility for a failed attempt Saturday to kill the chief of the Palestinian Authority intelligence service in the Gaza Strip, General Tareq Abu Rajab, according to a Web statement posted Sunday.
The group, called the Qaida Organization of the State of Palestine, also vowed to target other senior officials, including Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

Of course this report must be taken with a grain of skepticism. It is quite possible that this previously-unknown group might be a mask for rogue or actual Hamas agents acting against Fatah, which has officially denied responsibility for the attack. But the possibility of al-Qaida activity in Gaza has been growing ever since the American occupation of Iraq, which functions as an international recruiting center for terrorist groups. And just as Israel did everything in its power to destroy Fatah, only to discover that Fatah was maybe not all that bad in comparison to Hamas, it may soon discover that its attempts to destroy Hamas have opened the door for the rise of a Palestinian al-Qaida, in contrast to which, Hamas may start looking not all that bad in comparison.

The latest pronouncement from Osama bin Laden attempted to link his cause with that of the Palestinians. Hamas was quick to repudiate this unwanted support from al-Qaida. Hamas has no interest in international jihad. Its aspirations have never extended beyond the historical borders of Palestine. A strong Hamas would be the best possible bar to the rise of al-Qaida in the territory. But the more Israel succeeds in weakening Hamas, in rendering the Hamas government ineffective, the more it encourages the potential support for the al-Qaida alternative.

The point is Israel's persistent and active attempts to bring down the Hamas government, to make it unable to rule. And where there is no rule, there is anarchy. Where there is no rule, there is a vaccuum where worse forces can enter and took root. The fact is: there is a group claiming to be al-Qaida operating in Palestine. The fact is: fomenting civil war is the same tactic al-Qaida is using in Iraq. The fact is: Palestine is devolving rapidly towards a state of civil war, towards becoming another Iraq. Israel ought to remember - Abbas ought to remember, and Hamas ought to remember - to be careful what they wish for. When they get it, they are likely to get something worse, along with it.

That was a year ago. When we look at Palestine now, and particularly the open-air prison that Israel has made of Gaza, what do we find? Anarchy. Or, in Arabic, falatan. In the absence of a strong ruling Hamas government, Gaza is increasingly in the hands of armed gangs, clans, and warlords – still including some who call themselves al-Qaida. Hamas itself is fragmenting, its various wings turning on the others. There is the political group in Syria, headed by Meshal, there is the political group in Gaza, headed by Haniyeh, there is the military wing – Izzadin al-Qassam – that has declared it no longer considers itself bound by the official partial truce. It was this group, along with members of several other Palestinian resistance organizations, including one calling itself the Army of Islam, that captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in June of 2006 – a month after I wrote the above. This incident was the excuse for a major Israeli onslaught of violence against Gaza, which left it in ruins, without sufficient electricity or potable water for the needs of the population.

Now, a year later, as Hamas has grown weaker and more divided, conditions in Gaza have only grown worse. Not just the physical and economic conditions, but the anarchy, the all-pervasive violence, the rise of independent warlords and bandits that no one is able to control, not even Hamas. In March of this year, there was yet another abduction, this one of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston. Hamas spokesmen claim that they know who is holding him but are unable to free him – so far has the situation devolved into anarchy and the rule of gangs, including the so-called Army of Islam, which turns out to be no more than one lawless clan among many, still in the abduction racket.
As Gaza burns

By Avi Issacharoff

[Clan leader]Mumtaz Durmush was also apparently involved in the abductions of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston. "Everyone in Gaza knows who is holding Johnston," a Palestinian officer who is a member of Fatah says bitterly. "But no one dares to take action against them. The Sabra neighborhood where the Durmush clan members live looks like a giant army camp. Hamas and Fatah are busy fighting each other rather than preparing a plan to take over Sabra."

...According to data released by the Ramallah Center for Human Rights, since the start of 2007, 63 Palestinians have been killed and some 400 injured in clashes because of the chaos in the security situation. Most of the casualties were in the Gaza Strip, which is beginning to resemble the Somalian capital of Mogadishu. Tens of thousands of men armed with light weapons and RPGs do whatever they think fit; the Palestinian police are not effective and the courts are not functioning. In armed feuds between clans, the Palestinian security forces do not get involved at all.


Tuesday was a relatively quiet day, compared to the last few weeks in Gaza: Unknown assailants attacked and seriously injured a resident of Khan Yunis, hitting him over the head with a blunt instrument, and armed gunmen shot at the car of Majdi Arabeed, head of the Voice of Freedom radio station in Gaza, but there were no casualties. Two years and three months ago, Arabeed was very seriously wounded by shots from an Israel Defense Forces unit operating in the Gaza Strip while he was filming a report together with Channel 10 correspondent Shlomi Eldar. He recovered and went back to work. But in recent days he has once again become a target - this time of Palestinian armed men. It is not clear whether they are from one of the Islamic movements or one of the rival clans. "There is no law in Gaza," he says. "No one talks any more about negotiations or about freeing prisoners. They are all busy with the question of who killed whom and how. The police are afraid of the gunmen because if they try to arrest them, they will immediately be depicted as collaborating with Israel. In addition, the competition between the various forces of Fatah and Hamas has become destructive from their point of view, and their image is negative. Everyone stores up weapons at home to defend themselves. Even if the state prosecutor publishes an arrest order against a resident of Gaza, who is able to arrest him if he and his family are armed?" Arabeed claims that the responsibility lies with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh's Hamas government, which is not able to function. Some analysts in Gaza believe that Hamas' decision to fire Qassam rockets at Israel on Independence Day was an attempt to make the Palestinian public forget the movement's failure to restore order in the streets of the Strip. It seems as if Hamas is trying to remind the Palestinian public once again of its "good old" image as a terrorist organization that fights Israel fearlessly. But the chaos in Gaza has also had an effect on its ranks. "They have become like us," one Fatah activist says. "They fight over everything: money, positions, ranks, who will be director general and who will be captain in the offices and the security mechanisms that they are responsible for. There is no longer one leader who decides everything. The authority of Khaled Meshal, the head of the political bureau, has been badly eroded since the Mecca agreement. Their message to the Palestinian people is not uniform; all of a sudden, they sound like a supermarket of different ideas, just like Fatah was at one stage: [Hamas co-founder] Mahmoud al-Zahar speaks about destroying Israel, while Haniyeh broadcasts a moderate message. The military wing does whatever it wants."

There are some among the enemies of the Palestinians who will gloat at the reports of this anarchy. To them, it proves the essential depravity of the Palestinian people, it proves there is "no partner for peace" among them, it justifies the harsh regime of repression and isolation that has caused this situation. To others, the weakening of Hamas is regarded as a success of their policies; they busy themselves shipping arms to Fatah and promoting the overthrow of Hamas by force, as if Fatah, any more than Hamas, would be capable of taking control over the chaotic situation.

None of them seem capable of lifting up their eyes to see how very much conditions in Gaza are coming to resemble those in Iraq, where gangs that call themselves al-Qaida are also running loose, where there is no power capable of checking them, where even some of the Shi'ites are wishing that Saddam Hussein was alive again.

When Gaza reaches this point, there will be many in Israel who wish that Hamas was in power again. But it will be too late.

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