Saturday, January 26, 2008

From: Rashid
Subject: Deborah Orr: The tragic truth about collective punishment
Date: Thu, 24 Jan 2008 17:06:22 +0000
Deborah Orr: The tragic truth about collective punishment
Those Palestinians unfortunate enough to live in camps in Lebanon, for example, are not utterly deprived of rights, and dependent on UN aid, because of Israeli policy alone. Pan-Arab policy also dictates that the Palestinians should live in absolute hardship, lest they decide to play into the hands of Israel, by abandoning the struggle and quietly assimilating and getting on with their lives.
It is easy to condemn Israel when it minimises the plain fact of a humanitarian crisis, and claims that in Gaza, the Islamists of Hamas are "making things appear worse". But it is more sensible simply to concede that Israel may, on this occasion, have a case, because it is clearly in the interests of Hamas to do so.
It is the policy of Hamas to highlight and to emphasise the oppression wrought on Palestinians by Israel. It would be far more mystifying if Hamas, as the eyes of the world treat Gaza to one of their sporadic glances, sought to understate matters as much as possible, rather than overplaying them. Hamas, in common with most other Islamist groups, thrives on promulgating the idea of Muslim victimhood, after all.
Hamas embraces this victimhood, engineers it and promotes it. Hamas does not condemn the firing of rockets from Gaza into southern Israel that forms the official and wearily accepted justification for every Israeli incursion into Gaza and every blockade on the Strip. On the contrary, Hamas insists that the firing of the rockets is "symbolic", a feeble and almost metaphysical expression of the Palestinian right to express its hostility to the humiliation and degradation that has been visited on its people.
In this respect, Hamas too colludes in the unleashing of collective punishment. It sees the suffering of Gazans as a tool in the fight for international attention, and a necessary component of the only war it can really afford to wage – the propaganda war. This war, it fights on two fronts – against Israel, of course, but also against Fatah, the secularist group that has become, by default, for now, the acceptable representative of the Palestinian struggle for nationhood.
In an unusual break-out of multilateral agreement, Israel, Fatah, the European Union and the United States all share a desire to isolate Hamas within Gaza, even though all consider themselves to be champions of the democratic cause, and even though Hamas won the 2006 parliamentary election. Never mind that Fatah was until recently the most evil embodiment imaginable of Arab anti-Zionism. Fatah, for all its many faults, was not an Islamist group.
Now, under the ancient rule whereby one's enemy's enemy is one's friend, Israel emphasises whenever it can how much it is itching to get back over to the West Bank and cut a peace deal with Fatah, and how only the agitations of Hamas are stopping this – suddenly easily attainable – situation from coming about.
Yet Fatah is still active in Gaza, even though its attempts to regain power by force have failed. Like Hamas, Fatah has never been above deploying a little sneaky collective punishment against the Palestinians in pursuit of its aims. Fatah, too, has long fetishised Palestinian victimhood, again because it was the only instrument of warfare available. It does not hesitate in augmenting that victimhood, or even question its moral justification for doing so, in the cause of its own political gain.
European funding for the Palestinian Authority, for example, suspended when Hamas won the election, has for a while been back on stream, with Fatah, not Hamas, controlling the portion of it that goes directly into Palestinian hands. Fatah pays the wages of public servants in Gaza, including doctors and nurses. But it has been accused of operating an unofficial policy whereby it requests that all those workers who support Fatah should stay at home if they wish to be paid. It does this in pursuit of the same policy that Israel accuses Hamas of, that of "making things appear worse", this time to the detriment of Hamas.
The saddest, most ironic, thing is that it was just this sort of Fatah realpolitik that allowed Hamas to usurp its political leadership in the first place. Hamas appealed to ordinary Palestinians not by proselytising Islam, but by offering the social support that the Palestinian Authority could have prioritised itself, had it not considered such basic governmental duties to have been strategically counter-productive. The extent to which ordinary Palestinians have been used as political capital in the Palestine-Israeli region is vast and horrible. But it is by no means correct to claim that the Israelis are alone in stooping to this.
The consequences of such manipulation are plain. It is far from outlandish to suggest that the promotion of suicide bombers is merely the most basic expression of the idea that individual Palestinian lives are nothing more or less than weapons of war. Yet there are many other ways in which such attitudes make matters worse for the Palestinians, politically as well as personally.
For many of those who sympathise with the Palestinian cause, it is difficult to understand how Israel can maintain its own collective inability to see the Palestinians as people who are stateless and suffering, just as the Jewish people itself so recently was. Yet the eagerness of the rest of the Arab world, and of the home-grown factions who claim to represent the Palestinians, to treat ordinary people as a malleable, expendable, collective mass, bolsters this attitude rather than challenging it.
At root, in order to maintain its own creation myth, Israel needs to believe that prior to the establishment of Israel there was no Palestine, and that even if there was a Palestine, it was a poor sort of place, let down by its own leaders, rather than obliterated by charter.
The continued Arab belief that it is politically wise to persist in portraying the Palestinians as passive recipients of aid, unable to help themselves or sustain themselves, hugely assists Israel in its ravenous desire to maintain this myth. It helps, in fact, just a little, in the ongoing project of making it an unchallengeable reality.

Labels: , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home