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Gaza Implodes: The anti-Altalena of the Hamas


We are witnessing the unfolding of a great tragedy in Gaza. Civil war is always ugly, but this is not simply civil war, as occurred in the United States for example, and some other countries. People are thrown from the fifteenth story roofs of buildings, hospitals are invaded, doctors murdered. With considerable understatement, HRW has condemned the "Grave crimes" of the Hamas and Fatah.

The end is not quite in sight yet, but it seems we are witnessing the descent of Gaza, and perhaps all of Palestinian society, into religion and barbarism. It is a lesson in "democracy" for all of the Middle East, and for all of us. Palestinians had the freest elections in the Arab world, and for a while, they appeared to be the most democratic society in the Middle East. The denouement illustrates a fundamental fallacy in the understanding of democracy in the Middle East.

Democracy is not just elections. Democracy must be founded on a whole different conception of society than the one that present in Palestinian society and in many Middle Eastern countries. The Palestinian Constitution states that Sharia (Muslim religious law) is the basis of all legislation. That is a common proviso of many state constitutions in the Middle East, but it is impossible to have democracy that is founded on religious law. Stipulation of religious law as the basis for state legislation implies that there is a higher authority than the people and their elected representatives, and negates the basis of democracy. Sooner or later, different interpretations of religious law, and conflicts of state interests with religion, must undermine any such state.

It is also impossible to have a democracy in which the ruling party is committed to genocide, as is the case for Hamas. This was proven once before in Germany. Genocide can never be carried out democratically, and its actual victims are never limited to only one minority.

While there is some corruption in many democracies, it is impossible for democracy to last long when the government is so corrupt that institutions simple cease to function, as was the case under Fatah rule.

Most important, in real democracies, power cannot grow out of the barrel of a gun. The only armed force must be that of the state, and that force may only interfere at the request of elected representatives, in order to preserve democracy. It is impossible to have a democracy in a society of armed factions, whether it is Palestinian, Lebanese or Iraqi society, or that of Weimar Germany. This is essentially a recreation of the era of feudal oligarchy. It must always end in chaos in the modern world, where moats and castles and armour cannot protect against RPGs and rifles.

Israel faced a similar problem in 1948. When the Irgun tried to maintain its status as a separate militia, David Ben-Gurion ordered Yitzhak Rabin to sink the Altalena, a ship carrying arms for the Irgun. To many Israelis, it appeared obvious that the Palestinian government would have to take a similar step to make possible an independent and sovereign Palestinian state. Without a state monopoly on the use of force, there can be no sovereignty.

However, no such step was taken by Yasser Arafat. When the Hamas established its own "Executive Force" - a Palestinian police separate from their Izzedin Al Qassam martyrs brigade, Abbas did nothing. When Hamas began threatening Fatah positions, Abbas announced that guns provided to him by the Americans would only be used against Israel. Now Hamas has pushed the legitimate Palestinian authority forces from most of their strongholds in Gaza. Lacking orders, and perhaps lacking motivation, Fatah loyalists, theoretically a better armed and more numerous force than the Hamas, put up only token resistance. Hamas has now called on Fatah to surrender the last of their positions in Gaza.

Frequently, we ask "what if" questions of history. What if Yasser Arafat had accepted the peace proposals of President Clinton? What if Gamal Nasser had not closed the straits of Tiran in 1967? Many Israelis have asked in the past, "What if Ben-Gurion had not ordered the sinking of the Altalena?" They have their answer now. The alternative to the sinking of the Altalena, to defense of democracy and the rule of law, is the Ermächtigungsgesetz, the Enabling Act of Adolph Hitler, which puts an end to democracy. It is the same outcome that was prevented when Boris Yeltsin dramatically defied the Red Army forces called out by the leaders of the USSR coup.

There are, inevitably, some who insist that the violence is somehow the fault of Israel or the United States. Danny Rubinstein complains that it is due to the fact that the US and Israel prevented the Hamas, which was elected democratically, from exercising its rightful power. Hamas has now given us an example of its government. Opinion polls show that in Gaza, once the stronghold of the Hamas, only 20% of Palestinians support it. In any case, Hamas, which is unwilling to recognize the "Zionist entity," should never have been allowed to participate in an election that was supposed to create a peace partner for Israel, under the terms of the Oslo Interim Agreement.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Ziad Abu amr, made the following comments:

"Fatah so far has not decided what to do with Hamas and I don't think it makes very much sense to try to undermine the national unity government," Abu Amr, an independent, told a news conference.

Abu Amr blamed the deadly clashes on pressures imposed by outside forces.

"If you have two brothers, put them in a cage and deprive them of basic and essential needs for life, they will fight," Abu Amr told a news conference in Tokyo. "I don't think we should put the blame on the victim."

It is difficult for a mere outsider to understand how it makes any sense to talk of a union government, when the two major factions are shooting each other, or how it might make sense to consider the people who invade hospitals and throw people off roofs as "victims." Unrealistic thinking of this sort is part of what led to the problems that the Palestinians have today. The crisis happened because the secular Fatah and the Islamist Hamas cannot coexist, and because an armed militant group loses the rational for its existence in an orderly state society. They Palestinians could have either a state in the making or "resistance" groups. They could not have both. They have tragically chosen the latter.

It is not over yet. Perhaps a Palestinian Boris Yeltsin will be found, who may yet find a way to stop the madness. Fatah has always been a resourceful organization, especially when the chips were down. Perhaps the Fatah troops fleeing to Egypt through Rafah today will be back, or maybe not.

In any case, it is clear that there is no way forward in any peace process as long as the chaos and civil war continue.

Ami Isseroff

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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/00000595.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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Replies: 1 Comment

I do not want to speak about this being Israel fault since each one does what he does for his own and is nobody else to blame than himself. However, it is clear that the pullout from Gaza without giving it to nobody is one of the main roots of what is going on. Another root is what Netaniahu did with Oslo that put Fatah in an imposible situation. And then the moronic americans asking for elections because some stupid experts were thinking that Fatah would win. I knew this will eventually happen since 10 years ago. Israel should have managed the situation in a way that gives Fatah the upper hand when the war started. Israel did not so because the people ruling Israel in the key moments wanted this (and some of them as Sharon, dreamed, looked forward and carefully planned this). This war and the victory of Hamas are very good news for Yesha&company and consagrate Sharon as a genius in the business of building nations in the ancient way.

Posted by Aleph @ 06/14/2007 10:39 PM CST

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