What happens when one and a half million human beings are imprisoned
in a tiny, arid territory, cut off from their compatriots and
from any contact with the outside world, starved by an economic
blockade and unable to feed their families?
Some months ago, I described this situation as a sociological experiment
set up by Israel, the United States and the European Union. The
population of the Gaza Strip as guinea pigs.
the experiment showed results. They proved that human beings react
exactly like other animals: when too many of them are crowded
into a small area in miserable conditions, they become aggressive,
and even murderous. The organizers of the experiment in Jerusalem,
Washington, Berlin, Oslo, Ottawa and other capitals could rub
their hands in satisfaction. The subjects of the experiment reacted
as foreseen. Many of them even died in the interests of science.
But the experiment is not yet over. The scientists want to know what
happens if the blockade is tightened still further.
caused the present explosion in the Gaza Strip?
of Hamas' decision to take over the Strip by force was not accidental.
Hamas had many good reasons to avoid it. The organization is unable
to feed the population. It has no interest in provoking the Egyptian
regime, which is busy fighting the Muslim Brotherhood, the mother-organization
of Hamas. Also, the organization has no interest in providing
Israel with a pretext for tightening the blockade.
But the Hamas leaders decided that they had no alternative but to destroy
the armed organizations that are tied to Fatah and take their
orders from President Mahmoud Abbas. The US has ordered Israel
to supply these organizations with large quantities of weapons,
in order to enable them to fight Hamas. The Israeli army chiefs
did not like the idea, fearing that the
arms might end up in the hands of Hamas (as is actually happening
now). But our government obeyed American orders, as usual.
American aim is clear. President Bush has chosen a local leader
for every Muslim country, who will rule it under American protection
and follow American orders. In Iraq, in Lebanon, in Afghanistan,
and also in Palestine.
believes that the man marked for this job in Gaza is Mohammed
Dahlan. For years it has looked as if he was being groomed for
this position. The American and Israeli media have been singing
his praises, describing him as a strong, determined leader, "moderate" (i.e. obedient to American orders)
and "pragmatic" (i.e. obedient to Israeli orders).
American aim is clear.
President Bush has chosen a
local leader for every Muslim country,
who will rule it under
American protection and follow
American orders. In Iraq,
in Lebanon, in Afghanistan,
and also in Palestine.
And the more the Americans and Israelis lauded Dahlan, the more they
undermined his standing among the Palestinians. Especially as
Dahlan was away in Cairo, as if waiting for his men to receive
the promised arms.
In the eyes of Hamas, the attack on the Fatah strongholds in the Gaza
Strip is a preventive war. The organizations of Abbas and Dahlan
melted like snow in the Palestinian sun. Hamas has easily taken
over the whole Gaza Strip.
the American and Israeli generals miscalculate so badly? They
are able to think only in strictly military terms: so-and-so many
soldiers, so-and-so many machine guns. But in interior struggles
in particular, quantitative calculations are secondary. The morale
of the fighters and public sentiment are far more important. The
members of the Fatah organizations do not know what they are fighting
for. The Gaza population supports Hamas, because they believe
that it is fighting the Israeli occupier. Their opponents look
like collaborators of the occupation. The
American statements about their intention of arming them with
Israeli weapons have finally condemned them.
is not a matter of Islamic fundamentalism. In this respect all
nations are the same: they hate collaborators of a foreign occupier,
whether they are Norwegian (Quisling), French (Petain) or Palestinian.
Washington and Jerusalem, politicians are bemoaning the "weakness
of Mahmoud Abbas".
see now that the only person who could prevent anarchy in the
Gaza Strip and the West
Bank was Yasser Arafat. He had a natural authority. The masses
adored him. Even his adversaries, like Hamas, respected him. He
created several security apparatuses that competed with each other,
in order to prevent any single apparatus from carrying out a coup-d'etat.
Arafat was able to negotiate, sign a peace agreement and get his
people to accept it.
was pilloried by Israel as a monster, imprisoned in the Mukata'ah
and, in the end, murdered. The Palestinian public elected Mahmoud
Abbas as his successor, hoping that he would get from the Americans
and the Israelis what they had refused to give to Arafat.
is not a matter of
In this respect all nations
are the same: they hate collaborators
of a foreign occupier,
whether they are
French (Petain) or Palestinian.
the leaders in Washington and Jerusalem had indeed been interested
in peace, they would have hastened to sign a peace agreement with
Abbas, who had declared that he was ready to accept the same far-reaching
compromise as Arafat. The Americans and the Israelis heaped on
him all conceivable praise and rebuffed him on every concrete
did not allow Abbas even the slightest and most miserable achievement.
Ariel Sharon plucked his feathers and then sneered at him as "a
featherless chicken". After the Palestinian public had patiently
in vain for Bush to move, it voted for Hamas, in the desperate
hope of achieving by violence what Abbas has been unable to achieve
The Israeli leaders, both military and political, were overjoyed. They
were interested in undermining Abbas, because he enjoyed Bush's
confidence and because his stated position made it harder to justify
their refusal to enter substantive negotiations. They did everything
to demolish Fatah. To ensure this, they arrested Marwan Barghouti,
the only person capable of keeping Fatah together.
The victory of Hamas suited their aims completely. With Hamas one does
not have to talk, to offer withdrawal from the occupied territories
and the dismantling of settlements. Hamas is that contemporary
monster, a "terrorist" organization, and with terrorists there
is nothing to discuss.
So why were people in Jerusalem not satisfied this week? And why did
they decide "not to interfere"?
media and the politicians, who have helped for years to incite
the Palestinian organizations against each other, showed their
satisfaction and boasted "we told you so". Look how the Arabs
kill each other. Ehud Barak was right, when he said years ago
that our country is "a villa in the jungle".
the scenes, voices of embarrassment, even anxiety, could be heard.
the leaders in Washington
and Jerusalem had indeed
been interested in peace,
they would have hastened
to sign a peace agreement
with Abbas, who had declared that
he was ready to accept the same
far-reaching compromise as Arafat.
The turning of the Gaza Strip into Hamastan has created a situation for
which our leaders were not ready. What to do now? To cut off Gaza
altogether and let the people there starve to death? To establish
contacts with Hamas? To occupy Gaza again, now that it has become
one big tank trap? To ask the UN to station international troops
there - and if so, how many countries would be crazy enough to
risk their soldiers in this hell?
Our government has worked for years to destroy Fatah, in order to avoid
the need to negotiate an agreement that would inevitably lead
to the withdrawal from the occupied territories and the settlements
there. Now, when it seems that this aim has been achieved, they
have no idea what to do about the Hamas victory.
They comfort themselves with the thought that it cannot happen in the
West Bank. There, Fatah reigns. There Hamas has no foothold. There
our army has already arrested most of Hamas' political leaders.
There Abbas is still in power.
the generals, with the generals' logic. But in the West Bank,
too, Hamas did win a majority in the last elections. There, too,
it is only a matter of time before the population loses its patience.
They see the expansion of the settlements, the Wall, the incursions
of our army, the targeted assassinations, the nightly arrests.
They will explode.
Successive Israeli governments have destroyed Fatah systematically,
cut off the feet of Abbas and prepared the way for Hamas. They
can't pretend to be surprised.
to do? To go on boycotting Abbas or to provide him with arms, to enable
him to fight for us against Hamas? To go on depriving him of any
political achievement or to throw him some crumbs at long last?
And anyway, isn't it too late? (And on the Syrian front: to go
on paying lip service to peace while sabotaging all the efforts
of Bashar Assad to start negotiations? To negotiate secretly,
despite American objections? Or continue doing nothing at all?)
At present, there is no policy, and no government which could determine
So who will save us? Ehud Barak?
have destroyed Fatah systematically,
cut off the feet of Abbas
and prepared the way for Hamas.
They can't pretend to be surprised.
Barak's victory in last week's Labor Party leadership run-off has turned
him almost automatically into the next Minister of Defense. His
strong personality and his experience as Chief of Staff and Prime
Minister assure him of a dominant position in the restructured
government. Olmert will deal with the area in which he is an unmatched
master - party machinations. But Barak will have a decisive influence
In the government of the two Ehuds, Ehud Barak will decide on matters
of war and peace.
practically all his actions have had negative results. He came
very close to an agreement with Assad the father and escaped at
the last moment. He withdrew the Israeli army from South Lebanon,
but without speaking with Hizbullah, which took over. He compelled
Arafat to come to Camp David, insulted him there and declared
that we have no partner for peace. This dealt a death blow to
the chances of peace, a blow which still paralyzes the Israeli
public. He has boasted that his real intention was to "unmask"
Arafat. He was more of a failed Napoleon than an Israeli de Gaulle.
Ethiopian change his skin, the leopard his spots? Hard to believe.
In the dramas of William Shakespeare, there is frequently a comic interlude
at tense moments. And not only there.
Shimon Peres, the person who in 55 years of political activity had never
won an election, did the impossible this week: he got elected
President of Israel.
ago, I entitled an article about him "Mr. Sisyphus", because again
and again he had almost reached the threshold of success, and
success had evaded him. Now he might feel like thumbing his nose
at the gods after reaching the summit, but - alas - without the
boulder. The office of the president is devoid of content and
jurisdiction. A hollow politician in a hollow position.
Now everybody expects a flurry of activity at the president's palace.
There will certainly be peace conferences, meetings of personalities,
high-sounding declarations and illustrious plans. In short - much
ado about nothing.
The practical result is that Olmert's position has been strengthened.
He has succeeded in installing Peres in the President's office
and Barak in the Ministry of Defense. In the short term, Olmert's
position is assured.
And in the
meantime, the experiment in Gaza continues, Hamas is taking over
and the trio - Ehud 1, Ehud 2 and Shimon Peres are shedding crocodile
The above article is published by Gush Shalom.
by Uri Avnery:
Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom.
He is one of the writers featured in The Other Israel: Voices
of Dissent and Refusal. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch's
hot new book, The Politics of Anti-Semitism. Those who want
to help out Gush Shalom can email [email protected]
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