The nation is in grief; our memories are full of anguish, and yet we have fresh wounds. As the Palestinians were commemorating our losses to the Israeli occupation in the Nakba and the Naksa, our blood was running hot in Gaza — but this time we are the murdered and the murderers, too.
Hamas won a free and fair election in spite of deliberate postponement and manipulation to affect its results; they survived a 17-month boycott even though Fatah-controlled syndicates were forcing people to strike against the government; they accepted the prisoners’ initiative and made compromises to make a unity government possible but nevertheless were not welcomed by the PLO. Israel robbed their tax money, arrested one third of their parliament members to make them a minority; they were patient even with the torture and assassinations committed against them by a Palestinian contra over a long period of time; when they finally realized that there was a plan to liquidate them by forces equipped and trained by American money in two neighbouring Arab countries, they took the painful step to eliminate the leaders who worked assiduously to topple them.
This was not a civil war; the use of the term relieves all outsiders of their responsibility and tells the world that Palestinians do not deserve a State. If it were a civil war, why would the killing stop in Gaza now that the security forces have fallen down? Why would the thousands of protective security members drop their guns so quickly? It is not their fight. It is a battle against the Palestinian contra, against the lords of corruption whose job was to buy some fighters’ conscience with a few hundred dollars while the rest of the nation was not receiving any salaries, to terrorize and bribe our people. Horrible things took place during that fight. We don’t really know who was behind them even if the mainstream media likes to attribute them to Hamas to further demonize them, but everyday a new video coming from Gaza tells us something else.
This anarchy in Gaza is predictable; freedom fighters are not saints. Gaza is an open-air prison with unlimited Israeli interference in it. There are very limited opportunities and resources there; if you imprison two well-mannered brothers with limited vital resources together, they will fight each other for survival. In Gaza, there are young men who have known nothing in their life but the fight. There, people have more guns than bread. Arms have given status to a few marginalized people in society, and they won’t give up their arms so as not to lose this status, even if they use them for the wrong reason. In Gaza, you feel isolated from the rest of the world. Isolation can also be a pathogenic factor that allows hostility to develop against those outside the prison who couldn’t care less. When this external power is beyond reach, anger and hostility will turn inside. The state of chaos has made the factional party a refuge for those people who seek a sense of belonging and security. There has been a very strong polarization; the absence of the two fathers — Yasser Arafat and Sheikh Ahmad Yassin — has created a vacuum and has allowed factional chauvinism and bigotry to become more prominent.
This does not mean that our situation is unique to us. Few countries have escaped their intra-community violence while facing an external power. In sociopolitics, divide and rule is a combination of political, military, and economic strategies of gaining and maintaining power by breaking up larger concentrations of power into smaller ones that individually have less power than the one implementing the strategies.
Many colonial regimes aided and promoted those who are willing to cooperate with them, often by giving them power and wealth and connecting their personal advantage with the regimes. Currently, the U.S. military and media are fostering an opposition between Shiah and Sunni Muslims. When the British ruled Sudan, it restricted access between the North and the South. The British also neglected to develop southern Sudan or include southern Sudanese in governance. The disparity between the North and South helped lead to the First and Second Sudanese Civil Wars. When Belgium took over East Central Africa in 1916, they defined “Tutsi” as anyone with more than ten cows or a long nose, while “Hutu” meant someone with less than ten cows or a broad nose. The socioeconomic divide between Tutsis and Hutus continued after independence and was a major factor in the Rwandan genocide. In South Africa, the ruling Nationalist Party formulated a covert policy to instigate and foment violence between one black group and another in order to divert their attacks against the whites and to prevent a united stand by blacks against whites. There was the ugly “necklacing” method with burning tires as a type of punishment meted out in townships against suspected black collaborators with the white apartheid government. In brief, war, everywhere, is a very dirty game; it is capable of dirtying even the hands of those who don’t choose to play it.
The democratically elected government is now dismissed. The world that boycotted Palestinians over 17 months is now shedding the tears of crocodiles over a “Hamas-hijacked Gaza” and has immediately embraced the newly appointed “moderate” government that has no popular backing. In the near future, this government will be negotiating in our name to institutionalize the occupation rather than to terminate it, and Gaza will be turned into a penal colony like Devil’s Island for the “rejectionists” — anyone who would oppose the Israeli-American plans for our future.
Those who warn us of an Islamic State in Gaza and extremists — meaning the people who stand up for Palestinian rights and actually try to prevent the ultimate Israeli theft of Palestine from its people — wish upon us an American-supported, autocratic, elitist regime of businessmen and contractors who plug well into the international financial and economic power structure and are ready to monopolize the national agenda of the Palestinians and hijack our democracy.
Now acts of vengeance and vandalism are taking place in the West Bank, and it seems that no one is interested enough in stopping it. The Hamas call for dialogue and a fact-seeking committee is met with presidential rejection while at the same time there is presidential willingness and desire to start up a dialogue with the Israeli occupation that kills our people every day.
What is the remedy for all that pain? We need a leadership from us and for us that can lead us through a process of healing and reconciliation and stop the acts of revenge, settling of scores, and intolerance: a leadership that will protect our freedom fighters from becoming murderers.
Palestine cannot be oppressed forever; 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 forever; if this continues, it will only shift Palestinians toward a greater militancy. Overturning the election results with militias is a recipe for violence and instability. That’s what happened in Algeria in the early 1990s, and it has caused instability and human suffering to this day.
Palestinians have a very astute and acute sense of dignity because we have struggled against an oppressive enemy. Even the Nakba and the Naksa could not hurt that sense of dignity.
The resistance by the Palestinians against the Israelis has given us a sense of purpose, a sense of self-respect, and a heightened self-esteem. What happened in Gaza has hurt our national dignity profoundly, and this injury won’t heal until we reconcile, get over our bigoted attitudes and polemical dismissals, and work together for our national liberation project.
Samah Jabr is a Palestinian psychiatrist from Jerusalem. This essay was published in Al-Oufok on 2 July 2007.