An Evaporating Palestine – Negotiating One’s Demise

“For 17 years they [Palestinians] negotiated with the Israeli government during settlement construction … ”


– Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 1 October 2010

The United States-brokered peace talks between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority (PA) head Mahmoud Abbas are in suspended animation.

Abbas is deciding whether to continue to partake in them despite the expiration of a 10-month moratorium on new Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank. Although his inclination appears not to do so, he also believes the opinion of Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Libya this Friday is first worth taking.

It is remarkable that those representing the Palestinian people would waiver in the slightest about quitting the talks in the face of ongoing land seizure. If this is not a red line, what is? It suggests a leadership which has not only failed to stand for the basic rights of its people, but a further reminder of Abbas’ illegitimacy as a spokesperson for those rights.

Two incontrovertible, overlooked facts:

The presence of even a single Israeli settler in the occupied West Bank or East Jerusalem is illegal. Articles of the Fourth Geneva Convention, reaffirmed by numerous United Nations resolutions and the principles of the U.N. Charter, prohibit an occupying power from transferring its population into forcibly acquired territory.

Second, Abbas’ presidential term ended on Jan. 9, 2009. In the absence of elections, the Palestine Liberation Organization—of which Abbas’ Fatah faction is the largest party—extended his tenure indefinitely (a move not recognized by Hamas, the decisive winner of the January 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections). His authority as PA president is therefore in question.

But could Israel find a better “partner” with whom to conduct peace talks than Abbas? His protestations against Israel’s December 2008 onslaught of Gaza were noticeably muted. The PA also endorsed a recent vote by the U.N. Human Rights Council postponing action on the Goldstone Report which alleged Israeli war crimes in the conflict.

Maysa Zorob of the Palestinian rights group Al-Haq characterized the resolution as “a betrayal of victims’ rights” and the PA’s support of shelving it reflective of “a lack of genuine commitment to justice.”

The price of clinging to power and remaining in the good graces of the U.S. State Department has been forsaking Gaza. The Israeli government seized on this, bolstering Abbas’ stature by pretending they had found a trusted negotiating partner—all while the quiet annexation of land continued.

But it is hard to solely blame Abbas. As Netanyahu stated, Israel has mastered the art of entering empty dialogue with Palestinians as new East Jerusalem and West Bank settlements are built.

As the map shows, Palestine is evaporating. It is now just a tangle of checkpoints, roadblocks, barriers and military zones.

Five hundred thousand settlers in 120 West Bank settlements and counting; the expropriation of territory and expulsion of Palestinians is rendering a one-state, two-state or any-state solution moot.

“Everyone knows that measured and restrained building in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank and Jerusalem] in the coming year will have no influence on the peace map,” Netanyahu said.

Nothing could be further from the truth, of course, when no map remains. The “measured” and “restrained” qualifiers used to describe robust, relentless settlement activity are typical of the doublespeak employed by Israeli prime ministers.

As Abbas seeks outside opinion, consults Arab foreign ministers and holds cabinet sessions to decide the wisdom of pulling out of talks, Palestine is being whittled away … as the PA whittles away time.

Rannie Amiri is an independent Middle East commentator.


Ref: Counterpunch


ANALYS: The Dubai Hit

THE TWO classic intelligence disasters occurred during World War II. In both, the intelligence agencies either provided their political bosses with faulty assessments, or the leaders ignored their accurate assessments. As far as the results are concerned, both amount to the same.

Comrade Stalin was totally surprised by the German invasion of the Soviet Union, even though the Germans needed months to assemble their huge invasion force. President Roosevelt was totally surprised by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, even though the bulk of the Japanese Navy took part in it. The failures were so fantastic, that spy aficionados had to resort to conspiracy theories to explain them. One such theory says that Stalin deliberately ignored the warnings because he intended to surprise Hitler with an attack of his own. Another theory asserts that Roosevelt practically “invited” the Japanese to attack because he was in need of a pretext to push the US into an unpopular war.

But since then, failures continued to follow each other. All Western spy agencies were totally surprised by the Khomeini revolution in Iran, the results of which are still hitting the headlines today. All of them were totally surprised by the collapse of the Soviet Union, one of the defining events of the 20th century.  They were totally surprised by the fall of the Berlin wall. And all of them provided wrong information about Saddam Hussein’s imaginary nuclear bomb, which served as a pretext for the American invasion of Iraq.

* * *

AH, OUR people say, that’s what’s happening among the Goyim. Not here. Our intelligence community is like no other. The Jewish brain has invented the Mossad, which knows everything and is capable of everything. (Mossad – “institute” – is short for the “Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations”.)

Really? At the outbreak of the 1948 war, all the chiefs of our intelligence community unanimously advised David Ben-Gurion that the armies of the Arab states would not intervene. (Fortunately, Ben-Gurion rejected their assessment.) In May 1967, our entire intelligence community was totally surprised by the concentration of the Egyptian army in Sinai, the step that led to the Six-Day war. (Our intelligence chiefs were convinced that the bulk of the Egyptian army was busy in Yemen, where a civil war was raging.) The Egyptian-Syrian attack on Yom Kippur, 1973, completely surprised our intelligence services, even though heaps of advance warnings were available.

The intelligence agencies were totally surprised by the first intifada, and then again by the second. They were totally surprised by the Khomeini revolution, even though (or because) they were deeply imbedded in the Shah’s regime. They were totally surprised by the Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections.

The list is long and inglorious. But in one field, so they say, our Mossad performs like no other: assassinations. (Sorry, “eliminations”.)

* * *

STEVEN SPIELBERG’S movie “Munich” describes the assassination (“elimination”) of PLO officials after the massacre of the athletes at the Olympic Games. As a masterpiece of kitsch it can be compared only to the movie “Exodus”, based on Leon Uris’ kitschy book.

After the massacre (the main responsibility for which falls on the incompetent and irresponsible Bavarian police), the Mossad, on the orders of Golda Meir, killed seven PLO officials, much to the joy of the revenge-thirsty Israeli public. Almost all the victims were PLO diplomats, the civilian representatives of the organization in European capitals, who had no direct connection with violent operations. Their activities were public, they worked in regular offices and lived with their families in residential buildings. They were static targets – like the ducks in a shooting gallery.

In one of the actions – which resembled the latest affair – a Moroccan waiter was assassinated by mistake in the Norwegian town of Lillehammer. The Mossad mistook him for Ali Hassan Salameh, a senior Fatah officer who served as contact with the CIA. The Mossad agents, including a glamorous blonde (there is always a glamorous blonde) were identified, arrested and sentenced to long prison terms (but released very soon). The real Salameh was “eliminated” later on.

In 1988, five years before the Oslo agreement, Abu Jihad (Khalil al-Wazir), the No. 2 in Fatah, was assassinated in Tunis before the eyes of his wife and children. Had he not been killed, he would probably be serving today as the President of the Palestinian Authority instead of Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas). He would have enjoyed the same kind of standing among his people as did Yasser Arafat – who was, most likely, killed by a poison that leaves no traces.

The fiasco that most resembles the latest action was the Mossad’s attempt on the life of Khalid Mishal, a senior Hamas leader, on orders of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. The Mossad agents ambushed him on a main street of Amman and sprayed a nerve toxin in his ear – that was about to kill him without leaving traces. They were caught on the spot. King Hussein, the Israeli government’s main ally in the Arab world, was livid and delivered a furious ultimatum: either Israel would immediately provide the antidote to the poison and save Mishal’s life, or the Mossad agents would be hanged. Netanyahu, as usual, caved in, Mishal was saved and the Israeli government, as a bonus, released Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the main Hamas leader, from prison. He was “eliminated” by a hellfire missile later on.

* * *

DURING THE last weeks, a deluge of words has been poured on the assassination in Dubai of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, another senior Hamas officer.

Israelis agreed from the first moment that this was a job of the Mossad. What capabilities! What talent! How did they know, long in advance, when the man would go to Dubai, what flight he would take, in what hotel he would stay! What precise planning!

The “military correspondents” and “Arab affairs correspondents” on screen were radiant. Their faces said: oh, oh, oh, if the material were not embargoed…If I could only tell you what I know…I can tell you only that the Mossad has proved again that its long arm can reach anywhere! Live in fear, oh enemies of Israel!

When the problems started to become apparent, and the photos of the assassins appeared on TV all over the world, the enthusiasm cooled, but only slightly. An old and proven Israeli method was brought into play: to take some marginal detail and discuss it passionately, ignoring the main issue. Concentrate on one particular tree and divert attention from the forest.

Really, why did the agents use the names of actual people who live in Israel and have dual nationality? Why, of all possible passports, did they use those of friendly countries? How could they be sure that the owners of these passports would not travel abroad at the critical time?

Moreover, were they not aware that Dubai was full of cameras that record every movement? Did they not foresee that the local police would produce films of the assassination in almost all its details?

But this did not arouse too much excitement in Israel. Everybody understood that the British and the Irish were obliged, pro forma, to protest, but that this was nothing but going through the motions. Behind the scenes, there are intimate connections between the Mossad and the other intelligence agencies. After some weeks, everything will be forgotten. That’s how it worked in Norway after Lillehammer, that’s how it worked in Jordan after the Mishal affair. They will protest, rebuke, and that’s that. So what is the problem?

* * *

THE PROBLEM is that the Mossad in Israel acts like an independent fiefdom that ignores the vital long-term political and strategic interests of Israel, enjoying the automatic backing of an irresponsible prime minister. It is, as the English expression goes, a “loose cannon” – the cannon of a ship of yore which has broken free of its mountings and is rolling around the deck, crushing to death any unfortunate sailor who happens to get in its way.

From the strategic point of view, the Dubai operation causes heavy damage to the government’s policy, which defines Iran’s putative nuclear bomb as an existential threat to Israel. The campaign against Iran helps it to divert the world’s attention from the ongoing occupation and settlement, and induces the US, Europe and other countries to dance to its tune.

Barack Obama is in the process of trying to set up a world-wide coalition for imposing “debilitating sanctions” on Iran. The Israeli government serves him – willingly – as a growling dog. He tells the Iranians: The Israelis are crazy. They may attack you at any moment. I am restraining them with great difficulty. But if you don’t do what I tell you, I shall let go of the leash and may Allah have mercy on your soul!

Dubai, a Gulf country facing Iran, is an important component of this coalition. It is an ally of Israel, much like Egypt and Jordan. And here comes the same Israeli government and embarrasses it, humiliates it, arousing among the Arab masses the suspicion that Dubai is collaborating with the Mossad.

In the past we have embarrassed Norway, then we infuriated Jordan, now we humiliate Dubai. Is that wise?  Ask Meir Dagan, who Netanyahu has just granted an almost unprecedented eighth year in office as chief of the Mossad.

* * *

PERHAPS THE impact of the operation on Israel standing in the world is even more significant.

Once upon a time it was possible to belittle this aspect. Let the Goyim say what they want. But since the Molten Lead operation, Israel has become more conscious of its far-reaching implications. The verdict of Judge Goldstone, the echoes of the antics of Avigdor Lieberman, the growing world-wide campaign for boycotting Israel – all these tend to suggest that Thomas Jefferson was not talking through his hat when he said that no nation can afford to ignore the opinion of mankind.

The Dubai affair is reinforcing the image of Israel as a bully state, a rogue nation that treats world public opinion with contempt, a country that conducts gang warfare, that sends mafia-like death squads abroad, a pariah nation to be avoided by right-minded people.

Was this worthwhile?

REF: Counterpunch

Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch’s book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.

Egypt and Fatah sellout so that Israel can do what they are best at; genocide

“Only hours before the attack, the Egyptians told our representatives that they were under the impression that Israel would not launch an operation,” the Hamas official said. “We believe the Egyptians deliberately deceived us because they had given Israel a green light to attack.”

Another Hamas official told the Post that Abbas and his top aides had long been urging Israel to bring down the Hamas government so that they could return to the Gaza Strip.

“The Egyptians even made it clear to us that they had convinced Israel not to attack the Gaza Strip,” he said. “Abbas also wanted to reassure Hamas by talking about his intention to renew the reconciliation talks with us.”

Mussa Abu Marzouk, a senior Hamas official based in Damascus, claimed that some Arab parties had pushed Israel to launch the attack. “We are astonished by reports according to which some parties have been urging Israel to wipe out Hamas,” he said. “We are also shocked to hear officials in Ramallah and Cairo blame Hamas for the Israel aggression.”

Abu Marzouk claimed that the IDF operation was designed to force the Palestinians to succumb and make political concessions. “The Israeli enemy won’t succeed in achieving its goal,” he said. “In the past, they launched a military operation in the northern Gaza Strip and imposed blockades which didn’t work.”

Ref: Jpost

PA ‘ready’ to take Gaza if Hamas ousted (Fatah guilty of genocide on their own!!!)


Palestinian Authority officials in Ramallah said Saturday that they were prepared to assume control over the Gaza Strip if Israel succeeds in overthrowing the Hamas government.
Abbas waves to supporters in…

“Yes, we are fully prepared to return to the Gaza Strip,” a top PA official told The Jerusalem Post. “We believe the people there are fed up with Hamas and want to see a new government.”

Another PA official said Fatah had instructed all its members in the Gaza Strip to be prepared for the possibility of returning to power.

“We have enough men in the Gaza Strip who are ready to fill the vacuum,” he said. “But of course all this depends on whether Israel manages to get rid of the Hamas regime.”

The two officials voiced hope that the current IDF operation would end Hamas rule in Gaza.
They said that the PA was also prepared to dispatch security forces from the West Bank to replace the Hamas militiamen.

However, they denied Hamas allegations that the PA had urged Israel to launch a massive attack to overthrow the Hamas government.

Also Saturday, Fatah called on its supporters in the Strip to storm Hamas-controlled prisons to release Fatah detainees. The call came as most of Hamas’s security installations were demolished by IAF planes.

Fatah representatives in the West Bank said that Hamas was holding more than 250 Fatah men in its various prisons throughout the Gaza Strip. They expressed fear that Hamas would use the detainees as human shields against the Israeli air strikes.

Ref: Jpost

Also read Hamas accuses PA, Egypt of collusion

Palestinians: divided we fall

Two locations, two rival political powers. Solidarity against Israel is gradually disintegrating as both regimes, and many individuals living under them, begin to see the future only in terms of their personal survival.

By Amira Hass

At the beginning of July, people in the West Bank and Gaza were relieved to hear that high-school graduation results in both of the occupied territories were to be made public at the same time – there had been a rumour that Gaza’s ministry of education would publish its own results a day early. That shows the anxiety that has existed since June 2007 when Palestinian self-rule became dual – with one administration run by Fatah in Ramallah in the West Bank, and another by Hamas in Gaza. “But this doubling of authority hasn’t affected the ministries in charge of essential services [education, health and social security],” people say, seeking to reassure themselves. The madness of this dual regime does have its limits, then.

People tell you: “Everyone here knows the rift only serves the Israeli occupation, and it’s Israel, not the two ‘governments’, which holds the real power.” At the end of August, however, this warning seemed to fall on deaf ears: just as a new round of Egyptian-sponsored talks aimed at reconciling Fatah and Hamas was due to begin, the Fatah-affiliated trade unions in Ramallah called on Gaza’s public sector workers to strike.

However, for just a few days in mid-July, Palestinian society had become one big village again. Everyone knew who had done well in their exams and who had failed. In the West Bank the results were celebrated in the usual fashion, with guns fired into the air. Despite public criticism, the Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces have not managed to put a stop to this dangerous tradition. Whereas in Gaza, not a single gunshot was heard – the Hamas police do enforce the ban on gunfire at social events.

In Gaza, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh gave a bursary to the best student and promised dozens more to students in both parts of the occupied territories. He was acting just as if he was still prime minister of the legal Hamas government elected in January 2006. But in June 2007, President Mahmoud Abbas had dismissed him and his newly formed national unity government, after Hamas had defeated the Fatah-dominated security forces and taken military control of Gaza.

The million-and-a-half inhabitants of the Gaza Strip suffer the consequences of the dual authority every day, and the animosity between Hamas and Fatah. They also pay the price of the crippling Israeli blockade, which is directly responsible for the number of Gazans living in poverty: 79.4% (based on income levels) or 51.8% (based on consumption levels), compared with 45.7% and 19.1% in the West Bank (1).

The international embargo and Israeli blockade imposed after the 2006 elections initially targeted both the West Bank and Gaza. When Haniyeh was dismissed and the two territories split politically, they were lifted in the West Bank, providing some relief for the two-and-a-half million Palestinians there, but widening the gulf with Gaza.
The real concerns

The dual regime does not seem to concern the residents of the West Bank, judging by the small number of people who turned up at a demonstration in Ramallah this spring to show solidarity with Gazans living under the blockade. People in the West Bank would have difficulty even naming the two governments’ ministers. “We’re not interested,” says a lively group of young artists, standing outside their newly opened private gallery in Ramallah.

But others in the Ramallah arts scene have, to their cost, learned the name of the deputy minister for religious affairs, Youssef al-Raqab. In April he publicly denounced the organisers of a Ramallah dance festival, criticising them for dancing while Gazans were suffering the effects of the blockade and Israeli attacks.

In Ramallah, though, many suspect his real concern was gender mixing. Men and women rarely mixed at public events in Gaza even before the Hamas electoral victory – nor, for that matter, did they in most parts of the West Bank. The apparent liveliness of cultural life in Ramallah is an exception: people from Jenin or Nablus, who are used to military incursions and an Israeli blockade, regard Ramallah as frivolous and escapist.

“It’s cynical, too,” adds C, a secular, university-educated man from a well-known family of PLO militants in Gaza. Like many of his peers, he fears Hamas’ religious agenda and doesn’t want to raise his children in an authoritarian, religious regime. His profession would allow him to move to the West Bank, and Israel would probably give him a permit (2). But he’s disgusted by Ramallah because of what he sees as the PLO’s cynicism – selling out the national liberation struggle for the sake of dubious international recognition and personal advantage. He is reluctantly thinking of emigrating, as many of his middle-class friends have done already.
Looked down upon

The current political and ideological crisis between Gaza and the West Bank is built on long-standing divisions between the two territories. Gazans have always felt, with some justification, that people from the West Bank look down on them. This tension even exists within Fatah and the structures of the PA. The PA’s internal affairs used to be run from Gaza (3), so people in the West Bank associated the PA government with Gaza and the “Gaza mentality” just as before they had associated it with the “Tunis PLO” (4).

Dozens of prominent Fatah activists who fled Gaza in June 2007 now live in Ramallah. Their hatred of Hamas has not diminished, and they tell horrific tales of what is going on over there. Hamas activists say these accounts are exaggerated, as do human rights workers in Gaza, former activists of the Palestinian left (5). These “Gaza refugees” feel isolated in Ramallah, even though they share its political discourse. They feel they’re looked down on – both for defecting and for being Gazans.

If there’s one thing that should unite people, it’s concern for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Everyone joins in calling loudly for them to be freed. Even so, very few responded to an invitation by Hamas in the West Bank to welcome home those of its prisoners whose sentences had just ended. The welcome ceremony took place in the town hall in Hamas-run El Bireh, next door to Ramallah. Men and women sat at different ends of the hall; there were no Palestinian journalists, no Fatah members, and no one from the Palestinian ministry of prisoner affairs.

It’s easy to explain why there were few people there from Hamas: many of its leaders are in Israeli prisons and supporters are fearful of being seen at a Hamas-linked public event. Um Muhammad, a teacher and Hamas sympathiser, put her finger to her lips to show she preferred to remain silent. She does not express her views in public, especially not with her colleagues at the village school. “People are afraid,” she says. Of being denounced, harassed, sacked, arrested, tortured.

The PA has done all it can to weaken the influence of Hamas in the West Bank: it has replaced imams, closed down charitable organisations and NGOs or replaced their directors, arrested political leaders, used force to break up demonstrations, banned Hamas newspapers. And what the PA misses, the Israeli army and secret service finish off.
Mirror methods of control

M has a lot to say about informers. He was born in a refugee camp in Gaza. He is a practising Muslim but doesn’t support Hamas. He joined the Palestinian police force in the 1990s. When President Abbas ordered members of the Gaza security forces not to turn up for work in June 2007, M complied. But someone told the authorities he had gone to work, and his salary was immediately suspended. The government in Ramallah has since recognised that this was a lie but, because of bureaucracy, he has still not received his salary. Like many Palestinians, he relies on help from his brothers.

This is how absurd the system of dual authority is: public sector employees in Gaza who obey orders from Ramallah not to go to work receive salaries and accrue long-service pay (with the exception of people like M); then they go mad at home with nothing to do. Those who do go to work have their official salary suspended – but receive a salary from the Hamas government instead. The Hamas government pays the salaries of thousands of people recruited to fill the void left by those obeying the order to boycott their workplace. It has also dissolved Fatah-dominated local councils and replaced them with Hamas ones.

In a West Bank village, Kh, another policeman was sacked because someone accused him of being a member of the armed wing of Hamas. There was a wave of such sackings within the public sector in the West Bank in the second half of 2007: some of those fired had been taken on under the Hamas government which, like Fatah before it, favours its own supporters and family members. Others had been on temporary contracts which were not renewed when Salam Fayyad’s emergency government (later the provisional government) was appointed.

The intimidation and repression of Hamas in the West Bank is mirrored in Gaza, where Hamas persecutes Fatah members and their families: institutions are closed down; there are illegal arrests, torture in detention and press restrictions; the PA’s television station has been closed down; demonstrations are repressed by force.Chatting on the phone to an old friend in Gaza, a devout Muslim, I mentioned a discussion we had had about suicide bombers some years back, when I’d been staying with him in a refugee camp.

“Don’t say ‘when I stayed with you’,” he said. “Say ‘when I stayed with you and your family’. Otherwise”, he added with a laugh, “anyone listening in might think we were alone!” The security services of the “respectable” PA were kitted out from the start with sophisticated surveillance equipment (it’s not for nothing that they get their training in the United Kingdom and United States). And now Hamas is following suit.

The movement’s opponents say that the way interrogations are carried out in Gaza shows Hamas has received training in Syria and Iran. I’m told Gaza is full of petty informants who spy on people’s homes and note who is, and who is not, attending the mosque – although this information is apparently not being used “for the time being”. At the beginning of August, Hamas police burst into a party attended by married couples. They shoved the men up against a wall, insulted and even hit some of them, and confiscated the alcohol. They said they had been looking for drugs. The warning was understood.

“Having a drink and chatting with friends at home is our only entertainment,” says C. “Now we’re even afraid to do that.” Rumour has it that Hamas police stop couples in cars and check they are married. However, that has never happened to S and his wife (she does not wear a headscarf). Many say that “normal” people are not afraid to talk freely and express critical opinions in public – in a taxi, at the hairdresser’s or the market, on the phone, or in discussions with Hamas supporters (6).
‘We had hoped for calm’

Intimidation seems to work better within a very specific sector of the population: Fatah activists and supporters. After Israel and Hamas agreed a ceasefire in June, the Gazan authorities set up a checkpoint near the Beit Hanoun crossing into Israel. They have started noting who comes and goes (a very restricted number of people), and what their reasons are for travelling. Upon entry, they search bags for alcohol. Apart from the sick, who struggle to get permission from Israel to receive treatment outside Gaza, most people leaving are either employees of international organisations or people whom the PA in Ramallah has asked to come. At the end of July, Hamas prevented two Fatah leaders from getting to Ramallah.

In Gaza, a young man was arrested after he received a text message which appeared to express joy at the killing of five members of Hamas’ military wing in an attack on the beach in July. Of course, Hamas could have claimed that Israel was behind the attack, and investigated who its collaborators might have been. But – either deliberately or through misjudgment – it chose to escalate matters, and immediately pointed the finger at Fatah. Hamas launched a new wave of arrests, carried out raids on social centres and well-known personalities, and closed Fatah institutions. It also engaged in deadly military confrontations with a Fatah-linked clan, which was supposedly protecting the killers.

“We had hoped the ceasefire with Israel would bring some calm,” says Y, who studied psychology at Bir Zeit university in the West Bank in the 1990s. It is 10 years since he was last out of the tiny Gaza Strip. “There was that killing on the beach this summer, and the Hamas reprisals. There were two or three weeks of calm but then came the order to strike from the PA.” Ramallah has also chosen escalation.

F, a schoolgirl, got bored in the long summer holidays. She has nowhere to go – the only escape still available to Gazans is the beach, but her parents won’t let her go there. The blockade, and the tiny amounts of oil that Israel allows in, mean the sanitation services don’t work properly, if at all, and sewage is pumped untreated into the sea.

So F was waiting impatiently to go back to school on 24 August – until she learned that the date had been put back. The teachers’ union, with its headquarters in Ramallah, had instructed teachers in Gaza to go on strike in protest at the transfer to other schools of teachers and headmasters who are Fatah supporters. (According to information collected by human rights groups, some of these people were transferred to other schools for professional reasons.) The government in Ramallah – ironically, the employer – supported the strike and warned anyone who broke it that their salaries would be suspended, and they might even get sacked. It later withdrew its threat.

A void quickly filled

L is a secondary school teacher. For the first two days she complied with the strike, but with a heavy heart. She was having sleepless nights over it, though, and discussed it with her family and friends, none of whom are members of Hamas. Their conclusion was that the strike had been called for political, not trade union reasons. They cannot forget that this same government in Ramallah, which supports the strike in Gaza, threatened sanctions a few months ago when public sector workers in the West Bank went on strike to demand that their salaries be index-linked to inflation and their salary backlogs paid (7).

Meanwhile, Hamas arrested several strikers linked to Fatah and threatened others. Unsurprisingly, Hamas quickly employed its supporters to replace the strikers – and often these were inexperienced young teachers, or even students, whose main skill was religious instruction. It’s the same pattern: either deliberately or through misjudgment, the PA is creating a void within the government, judicial system and public services which Hamas is quick to fill.

L went back to work after two days of hesitation. It was not long before she found her name on a Fatah-linked internet site which published the names of “defectors”, so that Ramallah would know whose salaries to freeze. At the same time, the health ministry in Gaza made it known that its employees would not be allowed to work in private clinics or NGOs if they followed the strike. Many ignored the call to strike, partly because of this threat no doubt, but also from the deep conviction that patients in Gaza are already suffering enough because of Israel’s draconian restrictions (8).

Hamas promised to pay the salaries of those who did not go on strike. The Gaza government manages to get hold of money, despite the Israeli blockade – via donations from abroad (the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran) and through internal taxation, mostly of goods that (as is well known) are smuggled from Egypt to Rafah through tunnels, under the border. The money isn’t enough for development, but there are no raw materials for building anyway. Observers say a sizeable proportion of this revenue goes to Hamas and its security forces, but it is reasonable to suppose that the organisation can and does pay salaries.

Most public sector workers in Gaza are having a bad time with this strike (for which they were not given statutory notice). But they comply with it so as not to lose their salaries, long-service pay and pensions.

What is most surprising is that Gazans are complying because they believe this dual rule will soon come to an end. In the West Bank, people take the opposite view, according to Ghassan al-Khatib, professor of communication at Bir Zeit university and head of the Jerusalem Media and Communication Centre. He holds videoconferences with colleagues in Gaza, and says they refuse to see that this political division will last for years.

In Gaza, C says he could put up with the current situation for another two or three years if he thought there was the prospect of a solution. B, in his 40s, agrees. Born in a refugee camp, he has four children and works as a researcher in social sciences at an independent institute. He does not want to pretend everything is going to be alright but he cannot afford to leave: “This year I couldn’t even send my nine-year-old daughter to my brother’s in France for a holiday. We’re busy just trying to survive, and worrying about electricity and sanitation. We can’t help wondering why we ever brought children into this world.

Ref: Le Monde

Amira Hass is a journalist based in Ramallah and author of Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege (Henry Holt, New York, 2000)

(1) Report by UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East): “Prolonged Crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory: Socio-Economic Developments in 2007” (PDF), Gaza, July 2008.

(2) Since the beginning of the 1990s, Israel has banned most Gazans from going to the West Bank.

(3) After June 2007, Ramallah had to go to great lengths to get hold of data that was kept in Gaza (relating to the interior ministry, the register of public sector workers and passports).

(4) A reference to the PLO’s leaders and activists who were exiled to Tunis in 1982 after the movement’s expulsion from Beirut, and who became the leaders of the Palestinian Authority after the 1993 Oslo peace accords.

(5) All interviews were conducted over the telephone, since the Israeli army does not allow Israeli journalists to enter the Gaza Strip.

(6) Even so, most people in Gaza and the West Bank, myself included, prefer to keep quiet about their identity.

(7) In the second week in September, the teaching union in the West Bank launched a new campaign of protests in support of teachers in Gaza and salary demands.

(8) On 5 September 2008, 48% of health sector employees and half of all teachers were on strike in Gaza, according to a UN estimate published by the Ma’an press agency, Bethlehem, 5 September 2008.