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All of us who wish for peace in the Middle East must begin by facing reality. The truth is unpleasant, and depressing, but it is the truth, and we cannot escape it. The suicide bombing that took place this morning in Jerusalem, committed by a PNA policeman who was one of those we all count on to carry out the roadmap, is another episode in the assisted collective suicide of the Palestinian people, and the unraveling of the Palestine Authority.
The bombing is not the work of the official "extremists," but rather the doing of the Fatah-Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, carried out by a Palestine Authority policeman. It makes little difference that Ahmed Qureia, the Palestinian PM condemns this bombing, or did not condemn the previous bombing at the Erez crossing. At this point, Ahmed Qureia probably has not much more real authority in the Palestinian territories than you or I.
The chaos that has been taking root in the territories controlled by the Palestine Authority is now an unavoidable reality. It is more important than the Israeli raids in Gaza that make headlines, it is more important than the utterances of Yasser Arafat and Ahmed Qureia that are reported so widely. The chaos is the reality, and not the sound bites and photo opportunities offered by meetings with US peace makers and Koffi Annan. Much too late, Ahmed Qureia reluctantly, under US pressue, agreed to meet with Ariel Sharon. However, in truth Qureia has nothing to offer Sharon, because he has no power, and never had any power. Qureia and the Palestinian authority cannot break up the terror groups or meet any other Road Map requirement. What troops would they use to do it? Policemen like the the suicide bomber? It is time to recognize that there is no longer a functioning Palestinian government, and to stop the farce.
The chaos in Palestine is described in detail in an article by Bassam Eid in yesterday's Ha'aretz newpaper (see below). It is a sample of the sporadic reports that are systematically ignored because they are not convenient for anyone. Eid writes:
Indeed. The situation is an open secret. It is known by all, but hardly anyone talks about it. The above are not isolated instances, and the sickness did not begin with Ahmed Qureia's government.
[The entire article is given below]
Palestinian "activist" Internet messages and Web sites go on and on about the ravages of the IDF, but never mention a word about the lawlessness and violence that have long since become a way of life in Palestine. Israeli sources do not refer to it either, and the USA and EU ignore it. After today's suicide bombing, US Secretary of State Powell expressed disappointment that the PA has not been implementing the roadmap and arresting terrorists, as though the PNA was capable of arresting terrorists and making order, or had any desire to do so.
Some have the illuson that the chaos can be controlled by minor reform of the Palestinian Authority, but it is not the case. The chaos is so unmistakable and all pervasive that it has not entirely escaped the notice of UN Secretary General Koffi Annan, who warned that the Palestinian Authority is in danger of "partial collapse."
Annan thinks that the problem can be remedied by successful negotiations with Israel for some reason. However, there is nothing for Israel to negotiate regarding the rule of thugs in Nablus, and there is no way to expect that the Palestine authority could send its policemen who moonlight as suicide bombers to arrest other policemen who moonlight as suicide bombers. The Palestinian Authority cannot be in danger of partial collapse, because most of the collapse occurred already. A corpse cannot get a heart attack.
At this point, it doesn't matter if the chaos began before or after the violence of September 2000, and it doesn't matter who contributed more to the chaos - the Palestinian factions who stirred it up, or the Israeli government that helped it along. If it pleases you, you can believe that the chaos was the result of disruption of Palestinian infrastructure by the Israelis, but then you have to explain the chaos that was there before - the stolen automobiles driven by policemen, the terror attacks that broke out repeatedly since the begining of the Oslo accords, the money that went to the PNA and was swallowed up in Swiss bank accounts, and the people who disappeared more quietly, and were not reported by Bassam Eid and others. You can point out that if the hundreds of Palestinian prisoners freed to bolster the prestige of the Lebanese Hizb Allah (Hizbollah) hand instead been freed last August, Abu Mazen might still be in power. However, the chaos did not occur overnight. Abu Mazen could not have saved the situation, which was already well advanced in his time. His fall was an expression of the chaos, not the cause.
If the chaos was not inevitable before September 2000, and did not in itself cause the outbreak of violence, then certainly the descent into chaos became inevitable then. The Palestine National Authority, the basis for the fabric of Palestinian national life, was created with the purpose of carrying out peace negotiations and creating a state. When that purpose was voided by the failure of the Oslo negotiations, the Palestinian Authority had outlived its function. Attempts to remedy the situation meet the fundamental dillema illustrated by the ill-starred premiership of Abu-Mazen. There is no way forward without the dethroning of Yasser Arafat and his cronies, but there is no legitimacy at all without their support, and removal of Arafat and the PLO from leadership positions will precipitate a total disintegration of Palestinian society.
We needn't concern ourselves with who is at fault. The chaos is here, it must be faced as a fact. The suspicion is not absent that the Israeli government recognized this situation quite a while ago, and encouraged it, and planned around it, in the foolish hope that the chaos would ultimately result in dissolution of Palestinian society, and perhaps flight of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza. The dissolution is before us, but the flight of the Palestinians is wishful thinking. For the most part, they will go nowhere, because they have nowhere to go.
The civil war that is coming in the areas controlled by Palestinian Authority will not be between Hamas Islamist "bad guys" and Fatah "good guys." It will be a war between clans, gangs and areas. Between Gaza and the West Bank, between Nablus and Ramallah. In a gang war, there are no "good guys." As it was in Lebanon, the gang war will be dressed up with a veneer of "nationalist" or "ideological" or "religious" alibis that are irrelevant for understanding the reality. Inevitably, these groups will also compete for support, each by demonstrating that they can kill the most Israelis. Inevitably, some group will fill the power vacuum and make order eventually. It will necessarily be a draconic sort of order, and an extremist type of group. A government will evolve that may be something like the Iranian revolutionary government in its early days.
Make no mistake. The dissolution of order in Palestine should not be a cause for rejoicing in Israel. The chaos is not "good for the Jews" as Ariel Sharon seems to think. No fence, barrier or wall will really succeed in keeping out the chaos.
Bassam Eid is waiting for Palestine to be saved by a Deus ex Machina - an international force that will rescue the Palestinians. However, the Palestinians cannot be saved if they won't save themselves. No country or countries will undertake a thankless "occupation" that would inevitably attract the same sort of opposition as the US occupation in Iraq.
Only the Palestinians can save themselves, and only the Israeli people can save ourselves. The hope for peace is not dead, though the mechanisms of peace have dissolved. According to Ami Ayalon, over 100,000 Palestinians have signed a petition of support for the Ayalon-Nusseibeh agreement that can eventually be the basis for peace. Thousands of volunteers are canvasing Palestinian homes door to door, braving intimidation and physical violence by the thugs, fanatics, and perpetrators of chaos. This good will must be translated into real political action that will create a new reality in the Palestinian territories and in Israel, a reality that is capable of supporting a peace process. The absence of peace will mean perdition for the Palestinians, and ultimately for Israel. Anyone who carries a different message is not a friend of the Palestinians or of the Israelis, and is leading them to oblivion.
The government of Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala), unable to separate the civil
It is obvious to the whole world that both the Palestinian people and
There is someone called an interior minister, who has lost his function,
Chairman Arafat issued a decree appointing Hakam Balaawi to be the
We all know that there are several gunmen who threaten and spread fear
The question is what Palestinian interior minister would be daring
In Tul Karm, the Al-Aqsa Brigades direct and manage the city's civil and
Nablus is ruled by two armed illiterate thugs. These two people are
This is an example of a further unacceptable situation where a city is
The emergency government completely disregarded the security and safety
It is not a source of shame for the Palestinians to admit that they have
The writer is the founder and the director of the Palestinian Human
The stolen Volkswagen truck roared along the chaotic main street of Nablus. As Kamel Salameh wove the VW through the morning rush-hour traffic, he slammed into nine-year-old Islam Atallah. She spun off the hood like a doll, dead. With screaming tires, Salameh turned his truck and sped off. He headed for Balata refugee camp at the edge of Nablus. The patrolmen chasing him were nervous. The camp is a no-go area for Yasser Arafat's police. Salameh swerved into Balata's narrow streets and disappeared. Soon after, the police found the truck abandoned, but Salameh had melted into the alleys of his home patch. Car theft is big business in Balata, so police were not completely disappointed. They found a dozen other stolen vehicles at the edge of the camp and impounded them.
That afternoon, back at the police station, the officers heard gunfire. It was Balata's answer to the lawmen's incursion. Forty stolen cars rolled slowly out of the camp, each loaded with car thieves firing rifles in the air. Behind them walked hundreds of Balata residents. The criminals drowned the police station and the municipality in the deafening racket of their Kalashnikovs. The people of Nablus fled in fear, and their rulers--the mayor appointed by Arafat, the police chief, the Governor--all got the message: Back off. "Every day there's a fight between someone from Balata and a Nablus guy," says Hussam Khader, 39, the reform-minded leader of Yasser Arafat's Fatah Party in Balata. "It's something we've never known before."
In Balata's narrow streets, the chaotic traffic writhes slowly and fractiously between the cinder-block auto shops in the simmering heat of spring on the valley floor. More than 245 m above the dusty camp, on the lush peak of Mount Gerizim, a monumental structure is rising, half Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, half Taj Mahal. It is the new home of a leading member of the Masri family, the most powerful and wealthy clan in Nablus. It is a reminder, too, of the differences between the unruly refugee camp and the Palestinian metropolis in the West Bank, and a symbol of the extreme tensions that exist within Palestinian society, riven these days between rich and poor, Christian and Muslim and dozens of other fractures. Even as Arafat struggled last week to deliver on his promise of a cease-fire, controlling anti-Israeli violence promises to be difficult because it also means trying to manage the divisions among Palestinians. It means trying to exert control in a land where impatience, fury and frustration conspire to divide instead of unify.
Down in the half square kilometer that is Balata, it is not venerated old families like the Masris who rule. The graffiti on the walls mark the territories of clan-based gangs like the Dan-Dan, or personal militias who owe their allegiance to local leaders with nicknames like Baz-Baz. Among the 30,000 residents of the camp, 65% of workers are unemployed, up from 25% before the Aqsa intifadeh kicked off eight months ago. It is estimated that there are 5,000 guns in the camp.
Between Balata and Nablus, the road bumps down a 1.5-km-long stretch of chop shops where cars stolen from Israel are gutted for parts. Arafat's police don't dare touch these garages. "It's a free-trade zone," jokes Khader. Outside the door of his second-floor office, Nablus mayor Ghassan Shaka'a keeps two guards armed with Kalashnikovs. Smartly dressed in a checkered sports jacket, Shaka'a is a member of the executive committee of the p.l.o., a confidant of Arafat's. "Balata is not against me," he says, laughing dismissively. Out on the street, however, he rarely shows his face for fear of assassination. The mayor smiles broadly when asked about the accusations of corruption made by Balata's people against his Palestinian Authority. It's "certainly a reason for discontent, but a minor one," he says. "It's a battle of good people against bad people." So, who's good and who's bad? The mayor laughs and answers a question he hasn't been asked. "The Palestinians are good, and the Israelis are bad."
There are good and bad people in Balata too. But the bad people got a leg up from this intifadeh. In the first intifadeh, from 1987 to 1993, Balata was the hot zone, a beacon of Palestinians' willingness to sacrifice. But seven years of Arafat's regime have destroyed that spirit. "People follow the religion of their king," says an Arab proverb. The religion of Arafat's henchmen has been corruption. So the people of Balata have learned to be crooks.
Balata and Nablus are not the only Palestinian communities torn by internal conflict. Tribal, social and regional enmities throughout the Palestinian territories grow more violent by the day. The intifadeh was supposed to free Palestinians from Israeli occupation, but it is fast pushing them into crime, poverty and gang war. Since the arrival of the Palestinian Authority seven years ago, the society of the West Bank and Gaza Strip has been cracking under the dual strains of Arafat's corrupt rule and continued occupation by Israel. The intifadeh took those fissures and blew them apart. This semi-anarchy has alarming consequences. Take a trip along the fault lines of Palestinian society and imagine what it is like to live astride them.
INSIDE AND OUTSIDE
At the United Nations food distribution center in the Gaza Strip's Tuffah neighborhood earlier this year, Palestinians clutched small, pink ration slips for the emergency foodstuffs the U.N. Relief and Works Agency hands out to refugees who have been unable to commute to work in Israel during the intifadeh. Abu Amira had already collected his ration and loaded it onto his cart. He was sweaty, dirty and angry. He came early, but it was hot even at 8 a.m. First, he pressed through a crowd of men to hand his ticket to a clerk behind a chicken-wire grill. The clerk stamped his ticket and Abu Amira jockeyed at another window for the second stamp required for him to collect his meager ration for the month. His battered donkey cart was loaded with enough food to last his family of five for a week. A few meters away, a man shoving to get to the clerk in his steamy booth threw a punch before others in the crowd held him back.
These refugees have the greatest anger for Arafat's Palestinian Authority. None of those jostling for handouts were among the elite who returned with Arafat from exile in Tunis in 1994. These refugees lived here and struggled against Israel's occupation through the first intifadeh. They expected Arafat to share the wealth on his return, to spread the billions of dollars pumped in by international supporters. Instead, they have seen it hogged by "the Tunisians." "I spit on the day they came," Abu Amira says. "I'd like to see them all shot in the street." This is more than just resentment of riches; it is a driving force for the intifadeh. No matter how much they might want to manipulate the intifadeh to pressure Israel, the "Outsiders" who arrived with Arafat from Tunis don't want to press so hard that Israel demolishes the Palestinian Authority's institutions and, with them, their power base. The "Insiders," leaders who were jailed by Israel or who remained underground during the first intifadeh, felt they didn't get a fair share of the wealth and position doled out by Arafat. So when this intifadeh began, many of the Insiders decided they had little to lose if they brought Arafat's system down on their heads. They figured they might be able to carve local power centers out of the general chaos.
The difference between Inside and Outside is more than just money. Insiders want reform, free elections and a level economic playing field, or, in some cases, just to be cut in on the corruption. Outsiders want to hold onto their power, squash the press and keep their business monopolies. The lawlessness of the intifadeh has made the squabbles more coldly violent. In February, Abu Amr, the owner of the Beach Hotel in Gaza City, invited Hisham Mikki, the head of the official Palestinian television station, to sit with him in his empty restaurant, smoking a water pipe and looking out over the Mediterranean. Mikki came back from exile with Arafat and amassed a fortune from corrupt deals. He began to puff on a nargileh filled with apple-scented Bahraini tobacco. Barely was the pipe lit when a man walked quickly toward him. Before Mikki could move, the gunman killed him with a three-shot combination known to hit men as "Mozambique style"--a bullet to the forehead and one in each breast. It was a local power play--a battle over cash that may have been spun off by a corrupt deal--but an example of the kinds of Palestinian-on-Palestinian violence that corrode the cause.
THE TOWN AGAINST THE TRIBE
At the top of madbassa street near Bethlehem's old souk, a group of peddlers recently set out wares at the side of the road. The intifadeh has hit the economy hard, and this was a chance for locals to buy good quality cheaply--all the goods were stolen. There was everything from jewelry to potted plants. A pair of "Nike" sneakers was $3. Shoppers jostled for bargains. From the rooftops all around, gunmen kept watch.
A Palestinian police officer arrived with his squad, all armed. The peddlers were trading illegally, so the officer told them to leave. But immediately the men came down from the rooftops and surrounded him. Paid by the peddlers for protection, they were armed with Kalashnikov and M-16 rifles. These were men from the Ta'amra tribe. Thought to be descendants of medieval Crusaders, they dwelled in goat-hair tents until a few decades ago, but in the 1960s they settled in villages on the edge of the Judean Desert and began to take over local farmlands. In the past few years, the Ta'amra have filled most of the jobs in Arafat's security services in Bethlehem. They have used the lack of central control during the intifadeh to cement their fiefdoms, pull in protection money and ride over townspeople. When the policeman showed up, it was time for the Ta'amra to show their muscle. "You have five minutes to leave," the police officer told the peddlers. The Ta'amra laughed. "You have three minutes to leave," one of them crowed at the cop. Then he delivered a hard slap to the officer's face. In the crowded street, the policeman sized up the dangers of a bloody gun battle and retreated.
But the Ta'amra were fired up for a fight. If the police wouldn't give them one, they decided to pick another. Across the street, they noticed a young activist from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine with a roll of posters and a bucket of paste. On the posters was the image of Raed Dabash, a 20-year-old p.f.l.p. member shot by Israeli soldiers. The activist set to work pasting up pictures of Dabash over the top of some older posters. That was his mistake. The martyr whose posters were obscured was Hussein Abayat, a gunman who became the first victim of Israel's policy of "liquidating" Palestinians with snipers and helicopter gunships. He was also a Ta'amra. In Bethlehem that makes him untouchable. The burly Ta'amra ran over, grabbed the p.f.l.p. youth and began to beat him in the marketplace. Within minutes, a gang of p.f.l.p. supporters arrived and a fistfight broke out. Some of the brawlers brandished guns. Later, people who were there said it was a miracle nobody started a gunfight. But Kamel Hemeid, local chief of Arafat's Fatah Party, dismisses the confrontation: "One guy got beaten up. That's a small problem." Hemeid is a Ta'amra.
WEST BANK AGAINST GAZA
A 19-year-old bethlehem man hitched a ride home from a local wedding party one night this past March. Three off-duty policemen who spoke with Gaza accents picked him up. Soon after, they pulled the car over on a lonely road. Palestinian legal sources tell Time that the policemen then sexually assaulted the youth. In the close-knit West Bank town, the attack was an unheard-of act that scandalized the territory in the same way a murder in American suburbia would shock the community. But the fact that Palestinians have begun attacking one another like this highlights the growing tension between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Gazans, particularly those in the police force, are unpopular in the West Bank. West Bankers say the Gazans take all the low-paid jobs; that they steal and run whorehouses; and that Arafat gave them all the top jobs in the security forces because they are more loyal to him than West Bankers. Of the 40 commanders on Arafat's Supreme Security Council, none are from the West Bank.
Principles like equality before the law for both Gazans and West Bankers have been widely violated by Arafat's regime. Two of the three men involved in the alleged roadside sex attack walked out of jail after just a couple of days. They have yet to be tried. Arafat is aware of the tension--he's hardly been to the West Bank during the intifadeh--but he has shown little inclination to combat the problem.
If there is a positive side to the abuses, it is that they are emboldening the reformers against Arafat's men. Says Khader, the West Bank politico: "They're afraid of democracy. We've succeeded in developing the concept of democracy on the street." So far, at least, Arafat has been able to keep the popular will jammed into place by the pressures of the intifadeh and by his unchallenged leadership. But as they look around, Palestinians see a society that is more fractured than ever before and further away from the goal of a free state than at any other time since the Oslo peace process began. Arafat cannot ignore those troubling facts. Now--particularly if his fresh cease-fire holds--he must face the difficult problem of leading his people beyond them. --With reporting by Jamil Hamad/Nablus and Aharon Klein/Jerusalem
Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000170.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to email@example.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.
Replies: 3 comments
Ami, your analysis reminds me of the report of one of my deceased professors who knew Franz Kafka in person. He told of how Kafka used to like to read his short stories to an assembly of his friends. At the conclusion of one of Kafka's stories, Max Brod(?) is reputed to have asked, "Franz, tell us, is there any hope?" To which Kafka replied, "Yes, there is hope; but not for us."
Posted by Shimon Gottschalk, Tallahassee, FL @ 01/29/2004 10:38 PM CST
Unfortunately, I agree with Ami's analysis, and with Shimon's comments. I do not think the situation will improve anytime soon, and I think Ami's predictions are about as good as anyone's, probably better than most.
The determined suicide of Palestine, and the delusional passivity of Israelis who believe they will not suffer if they wall themselves off (though I'm not sure what choice they have right now) will go down among history's most tragic instances of perpetual foolishness.
I just wish I didn't have friends and relatives over in that mess. The Palestinians will suffer far more than the Israelis, as they already do. But the Israelis seem poised to suffer more than they ever have before, and that is a frightening thought.
My prayers and meditations go out to the region, and I have no answers other than what people like Ami are doing, continuing to try to cultivate hope among sane individuals. I think there will ultimately need to be intervention from outside Israel/Palestine--as was written, from the Arab world, but I don't think that kind of intervention is coming anytime soon.
Posted by Joe (Eran) Rhinewine @ 01/30/2004 03:00 AM CST
I think that the Geneva accords are too early. I will not relate to the ancillary issues such as the accords being a lever for Beilin's reentry to the Labor party and Israeli politics.
Face it - Arab terrorists are sponsored by the PA and their Arab world partners.
Rudy Guiliani has become an admired public leader for the way NYC was cleaned up of crime and vandalism. Guiliani applied a simple notion - "The broken window theory"
Posted by Danny Lieberman @ 01/31/2004 06:59 PM CST
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