Gaza spirals into lawlessness
JERUSALEM (CNN) — Random kidnappings. Daily exchanges of gunfire between police and armed militants. Different neighborhoods patrolled and controlled by competing militias.
It appears as if Gaza has degenerated into anarchy.
In just the past 10 days in the 146-square-mile territory (about twice the size of Washington, D.C.):
# Three Palestinian government offices were occupied by gunmen.
# Armed militants detonated explosives in a United Nations club.
# Three British nationals were kidnapped at gunpoint.
# An Italian man was abducted.
# Two rival families unloaded weapons at each other in a personal dispute.
# A Palestinian police officer was killed in a shootout between police and militants.
# The Palestinian-controlled border crossing was shut down by police angry at the death of their colleague, prompting European Union monitors to leave.
# Palestinian police took over government offices in their continuing protest.
# Israel launched air strikes on suspected terrorist targets.
Gaza was not supposed to turn out this way.
Last summer, Israel ended its 38-year military occupation of the area. For the first time in history, Gaza came under Palestinian rule.
No Ottoman Turks, no British mandate, no Egyptian control, no Israeli occupation. And in November, the Palestinian Authority took control over an international border crossing for the first time in history.
But there is this seeming absence of law and order in the territory — caused by a number of factors and the subject of various theories.
First, a look at those theories:
Some Palestinian politicians say the trouble is a result of “labor pains.” Palestinians are just beginning to taste political freedom, and freedom can sometimes be messy.
Others point to the Israeli occupation of 38 years, arguing it engendered a culture of violence in Gaza.
There is also the claim from some Palestinian officials that Israel decimated the Palestinian security forces during the past few years of fighting, rendering Gaza’s police impotent.
Finally, many ordinary Palestinians point to the weakness of Fatah, the main Palestinian political movement which controls the Palestinian government. Fatah’s leadership is widely seen as ineffective and, in some cases, corrupt.
Let’s deconstruct those theories.
There is no doubt that the turmoil in Gaza is directly related to the fact that Israel’s occupation has ended. Palestinians are now in control of their destiny in Gaza, and it’s a new experience for a people who have lived most of their lives under some type of foreign control.The Israeli military occupation and the Jewish settlements certainly didn’t help make Gaza a “peaceful” place — especially in the last five years of the occupation. But my experience, reporting from both inside Gaza and in the former settlements, showed the violence was not a one-sided affair.
The argument that Israel decimated the Palestinian security forces and helped render them impotent is an increasingly thin one. More than a quarter of the Palestinian budget is allocated towards the security services. Compare that to less than 10 percent for both health care and education.
Under the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, the security services were divided up into more than a dozen different command structures. Arafat liked it that way. He preferred to “divide and rule,” leaving a legacy of chaos and disloyalty to his successor, Mahmoud Abbas.
Today, there are tens of thousands of Palestinian men who are, formally, members of the security forces. Some have doubled as militants. Others have refused to carry out the orders of Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority.
In terms of Fatah’s imminent implosion, that has a lot to do with the disarray. The movement founded by Arafat in 1959 has dominated Palestinian political life since then. But between 1982 and 1994, most of Fatah’s top leadership was based abroad, in Tunis, Tunisia.
When they returned to the West Bank and Gaza in 1994 after the Oslo Accords, many younger members of Fatah who never left the Palestinian territories resented these old men who rapidly assumed control.
Some of these older leaders were accused of skimming money from the Palestinian budget and favoring their political allies over the interests of the general Palestinian population.
It’s now coming to a climax, and its causing a major headache for Abbas. He heads Fatah and later this month, he’s hoping his movement will win the majority of seats in elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) or parliament.
Most political observers believe Fatah will win, but emerge badly bruised. Many ordinary Palestinian voters are tired of Fatah and tired of the movement’s poor performance in government.”
So like so many others I sit here and wonder about what the future holds and how Israel should respond to the consistent attacks and threats of violence coming from the Palestinians.
Here is an excerpt from an editorial in Haaretz
“It is hard to expect a sovereign state to put up with Qassam rocket fire without striking back. The feeling in the Israel Defense Forces’ top command and in the cabinet is that circumstances are dragging Israel into increasingly drastic reactions. Clearly there is no desire to reoccupy territories in the Gaza Strip, which Israel evacuated after many years of occupation. Israel has also refrained from operating massive ground forces in the Strip. But there is no telling what would happen if the rocket fire continues and even intensifies.
Israel has a right to defend itself, but it must make sure its reactions are measured and proportional. It must also ensure that they are in keeping with the requirements of international law, which stipulates, for example, that only if a structure is used by people firing arms, will it lose its civilian status and its residents would no longer be protected.
Both the government and senior IDF staff realize that any unnecessary strike at the Palestinian population will strengthen the radical groups such as Islamic Jihad.
PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is a weak leader, but if Israel wants to help him rather than weaken him further, it must make every effort to avoid punishing the entire Palestinian public for the actions of its radical members. Israel is often forced to respond by taking extreme measures that harm the civilian population as well, like destroying roads and bridges that are used by those launching the rockets.
Clearly, without public Palestinian pressure on these radical elements, the deterioration will not stop. However, every effort must be made to make sure that the reactions are measured and reasonable, and to avoid striking at crowds of innocent people.”
I agree with the sentiments here but I wonder about the ability to follow them. There is a lot of nice talk that has taken place. There are a lot of sweet sentiments being voiced but until there is a real change of language and approach I am not confident that we will see any real advances in peace.