Sunday, June 24, 2007

10 Days: the Palestinian crisis and the Hamas-Fatah struggle

24 June, 2007

It has now been 10 days since Fatah leader and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared a state of emergency, sacking the Hamas led Palestinian National Unity government. During this period, Abbas has moved to isolate Hamas further and strengthen his positon.

While the US, Israel and the European Union has come out in support of Abbas, promising to lift the crippling economic blockade and return taxes Israel stole from the Palestinian people, an attempt by the US to get UN Security Council backing for Abbas' action has failed. Russia, South Africa , Indonesia and Qatar have al opposed the US sponsored Security Council declaration of confidence in the emergency government on June 20. According to Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper, " Russia and South Africa have questioned the legitimacy of the Palestinian emergency government and argued that a Palestinian unity government is not only still possible, but would be preferable to the emergency government headed by Fayad, which has authority in the West Bank only". In addition, "the South African ambassador argued that the international community, especially the U.S., Israel and the Quartet, are to blame for the situation in the Gaza Strip". Objections were also raided to the declaration of support by the Palestinian observer who argued that such a declaration would constitute intervention in the PA's internal affairs.

Last week, I spent two days in Ramallah and it was clear that there are divisions amongst the other Palestinian factins. The Palestinian People's Party and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) has come out in support of the Abbas, the declaration of the state of emergency and the dismissal of the government. They have also called for new elections based on proportional representation.

However, the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) have stated that they weren't part of the new emergency government despite reports in some of the Palestinian media and they didn't see the emergency government as a solution. The PFLP has publicly stated that they reject Hamas's military take over of the Gaza , but they also support a new unity government involving Hamas.

While I was in Ramallah, I also tried to speak to as many internationals and "ordinary" Palestinians as possible. Amongst the internationals I spoke to, whether individuals or involved with different solidarity groups, their primary concern was for the plight of the Palestinian people as a whole and they were angry that both sides seem to have forgotten about the occupation.

Amongst the Palestinians, in the first 5 days after the state of emergency being declared, there seemed to be no clear consensus about whether Abbas was right or not - as one Palestinian told me, you can ask one person a question and get two different answers from that same person. Some expressed support for one side or the other depending on their party affiliations. Others while agreeing that Hamas had been undemocratically ousted, also felt well what else were we to do, the blockade was causing such hardship.

However, it was clear that while Abbas, with US and Israeli backing, is trying to move as fast as he can to legitimise his emergency governments and to isolate Hamas, as the dust is beginning to settle more and more ordinary Palestinians are coming out in support of not only new elections but also unity between the factions. This as I mentioned before will put more and more pressure on Abbas to negotiate with Hamas, despite objections from the US and Israel . As veteran Israeli peace activist, Uri Avnery, has correctly pointed out in his latest piece, Saving Abbas, it is "pure fantasy" to think that any Palestinian "will agree to the separation of Gaza and the West Bank" or that the Gazan people will rebel against Hamas and that the West Bank Palestinians will forsake those in Gaza. They instead will demand unity and any party that does not respect that will be lost to the Palestinian street.

In addition, a number of Palestinian media outlets have either begun to question the way in which Abbas has "bent" Palestinian basic law, while other Palestinian Human Rights organisations have accused Abbas outright of violating the letter and spirit of Palestinian Basic law.

For example, the most popular Arabic and English language Palestinian news website during the crisis, Ma'an, while not explicitly condemning Abbas, has increasingly begun to refer to him as either "bending" or "eradicating" Palestinian Basic Palestinian laws. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) while condemning both Hamas and Fatah for trying to resolve the conflict between the two factions military, has also come out and condemned Abbas for violating and violated undermining the Basic Laws saying this was "no less dangerous than what is happening in Gaza

In a statement issued on June 18, the PCHR argued that "Steps taken by President Mahmoud Abbas in response to these events violate the Basic Law and undermine the Basic Law in a manner that is no less dangerous than what is happening in Gaza". It went on to say that Abbas had no authority " to dissolve or interrupt the work of the PLC during the period of emergency (article 113). The Basic Law is superior to all laws, from which all powers, including those of the President and Prime Minister, are derived, and it must not be undermined or suspended in all circumstances". According to PCHR, the steps taken by Abbas "complicate the crisis" rather then solve it. It went onto say that the crisis is political rather then constitutional and the only solution was dialogue between Fatah and Hamas.

In recent days, PCHR, the Palestinian National Initiative (PNI) and the Palestinian Non-Government Organisation Network (PNGO) have come out and criticised Abbas for issuing a presidential decree on June 21 suspending the Palestinian laws relating to the Palestinian Civil Society Organisations (CSO) and NGOs.

According to the PCHR, "this decree as a first step in a crackdown on civil society organizations with the aim of closure or restricting its work during the state of emergency in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT)". PCHR noted that the decree the Ministry of Interior has the right to "review all permits for associations and organizations issued by the Ministry of Interior or any governmental source" and has the right to "take any steps deemed necessary against associations and organizations with the intent of closure, amendment, or any other action". The decree also demands that "all organizations and associations must submit new registration applications within one week; and all who violate this directive are subject to the law". According to PCHR, "this decree is a serious violation of the right to establish organizations, which is a basic human right guaranteed by article 26 of the Amended Basic Law for 2003, stating Palestinians' right to Establish unions, associations, federations, clubs, and public organizations in accordance with

Similarly, the PNGO stated in a press release on June 23, that "this Presidential Decree violates the law governing societies and organizations (Law N. 1 of 2000). It will restrict the work of associations and institutions and put them under Palestinian Authority's control without legal justification or practical procedure".

The issuing of the decree by Abbas is widely seen as an attempt to under cut the work of Hamas affiliated charities and NGOs, however, as Mustafa Barghouti's Palestinian National Initiative pointed out in statement (on June 23) condemning Abbas's decree that most Hamas affiliated NGOs were not registered under the NGO laws anyway. According to the PNI "as such, the decree has serious implications only for those CSO's [Civil Society Organisations] that adhere to and respect the NGO law". The PNI statement went on to state that "Palestinian CSO's are viewing the decree as a dangerous step that could represent an attack on CSO's and on Palestinian democracy, and see it as a move that could jeopardise the legal position of the new Palestinian emergency government"

Over the past week, the PLO Central Committee has met and has declared support for Abbas and has called for new elections. At one point, some PLO members called for the PLO central committee to replace the PLC. However, as outlined previously, this would be completely illegal as there is no provisions in the Palestinian Basic laws to dismiss the PLC (although Abbas has sought to isolate them). Despite repeated calls from Hamas and Haniyeh for renewed dialogue between Hamas and Fatah, Abbas and the PLO Central Council rejected any possibility of dialogue with Hamas. Instead, they called for amendments to the election law, establishment of a proportional electoral system rather than a district-based system.

However, the head of the PLO's political department Farouq Qaddoumi has been reported by the Egyptian media as denouncing not only the Palestinian Authority is as a "an illegal and illusory authority" but also denouncing Abbas for misusing his presidential authorities. According to reports, Qaddoumi stated that Abbas and the presidential office had misused PLO departments such as the Preventative Security forces using them "to commit things which we were not satisfied with, especially after the appointment of [Muhammad] Dahlan as national security advisor". Qaddoumi, while condemning the role of Hamas in Gaza , also called for unity between Fatah and Hamas, saying that it was unacceptable to establish separate "cantons" in the OPT.

In response to the dissolution of the Unity government, Israel has segregate Palestinian political prisoners for the first time. However, leaders of the various factions have rejected the new policy and called on all factions for unity, saying that the Palestinian struggle for their own land is greater then the struggle amongst their own people. According to one leader, Tawfiq Rabay'a, the segregation was aimed at separating brothers and to prevent them meeting. He accused Israel of implementing this rule as part of its policy of deliberately severing the Gaza Strip from the West Bank.

Hamas has continued to argue that its actions in Gaza were to stop collaborators undermining the Palestinian national struggle. According Ahmed Yousef, the political advisor to Ismail Haniyeh (Hamas leader and Palestinian Prime Minister) in an article in Ma'an, " Hamas's actions to secure Gaza from the horrific recent violence of the Palestinian contras have been out of self-defence. The assassinations of Hamas officials and supporters, attempts on the life of the elected prime minister, and kidnappings and bombings by some in President Mahmoud Abbas's paramilitary groups had to stop". He went on to argue "The PA has a clear legal right, indeed an obligation, to prevent this violence, by force if necessary, and to protect the Palestinian people. It is not Hamas that has "outlawed" the government. When has an elected party with a voting majority ever resorted to banning the government to get its way?".

Yousef went on to say "Some critics raise the red flag of 'al-Qaeda' and say that Hamas and parliament are a stalking horse for Salafi Jihadists. I defy them to demonstrate one instance in which Hamas's military structure has struck against any force outside the theatre of the occupation. The struggle has always been against the Israeli agenda of ethnic cleansing and conquest. Hamas is a movement of Palestinian liberation and nationalism - Islamist, yes, but in the sea of contending faiths that is the homeland, where is the sin in loving one's creed? Likewise, those who demean resistance to the occupation as little more than a proxy for Iran, Syria or Hezbollah are ignorant of history".

Hamas has also claimed that they have found conclusive proof amongst documents they seized from the headquarters of the Fatah aligned Preventative Services that there was extensive collaboration between Fatah, Israel and the US to undermine the democratically elected Hamas lead PA, as well as the Palestinian National Unity government. At press conference on June 23, Hamas said they could produce documents it has seized.

In response to Hamas' allegations, Abbas, has accused Khaled Mes'hal of being behind an attempt to assassinate him. However, Abbas and Fatah are yet to provide proof of the tape they say they supposedly have. In addition, the Fatah aligned head of the Palestinian intelligence agency has accused Hamas of receiving training from Iran and Syria and denied that any Preventative Security members had been involved in assassinations of Hamas members.

Over the past week, several rallies have been held in Gaza by Hamas supporters. According to Pal media, "several thousand Hamas supporters demonstrated on the streets of the Gaza Strip on Wednesday evening, protesting and condemning the speech of President Abbas, during which he launched a strong attack against the Hamas movement ....Protesters shouted slogans against President Abbas, and burned photographs of him, alongside American and Israeli flags, demonstrating their anger at his rejection of dialogue with the Hamas movement"

In the West Bank proper, it has been exceedingly quite on the highways and only minimal movement from the Israeli occupation forces, this is primarily because the Preventative Services are currently doing most of the arresting of Hamas militants, arresting 120 in the last week. During this same period, however, Israel has continued its occupation, killing at least 5 Palestinians in Gaza and arresting at least 13 Palestinians in the WB, including members of Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad and the DFLP. On Friday, they killed a young Palestinian man at a checkpoint in Hebron . Israel and the IOF has also continued to restrict the movement of Palestinian human rights workers, including Shawan Jabarin, the director general of the Palestinian human rights non-governmental organization Al-Haq and one of the editors of Ma'an news agency.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Bil'in: Teargassed again but the struggle continues...

June 23, 2007

For the past two and half years, every week, the villagers of Bil'in have staged a heroic struggle against the Israeli occupation, as well as the illegal construction of the Israeli Apartheid wall and the theft of their land. On Friday (22/06), myself and three of my team mates were fortune enough to join the 124th demonstration staged by the villagers of Bil'in.

Bil'in has become famous as a model of non-violent resistance against the occupation and wall. It is home to around 1600 Palestinians and is located approximately 12 kilometers west of Ramallah and around 4 kilometres east of the 1967 Green Line. The construction of the wall will result in 60% of the village's farming land being stolen. On the land stolen from Bil'in, a new illegal Israeli settlement is being built called Modi'in Illit .

To get to Bil'in from Hares we need to travel to Ramallah (anywhere between 1 hour and two hours) and then to Bil'in (anywhere between ½ hour to 1 hour). We had arranged to meet some of the activists from the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) and the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and other internationals in Ramallah and to travel to Bil'in.

When we arrived in Ramallah, however, we received some bad news – one of the activists from the ISM had been literally "snatched" at Qalandia checkpoint the night before, when Israeli Border Police were waiting for him to come through (the IOF or Israeli Occupation Forces aka as the IDF can not arrest internationals, Palestinians or Israelis, only the Israeli Border Police can. Instead the IOF work hand in glove with the IBP to detain you until the Border Police arrive). At the time of his abduction, he was travelling with another ISM activist, however, she was let go as she had Israeli citizenship.

Discussing the incident with other ISM activists, while many were upset, they were also were not going to let such an event stop their activity. As one told me, reflecting the attitude of most internationals working in Palestine, "we all know this can happen, what we need to do now is regroup and make sure we keep doing our work. That is the most important thing".

While it was a shock to hear about the arrest, it was heartening to hear that resolve in the voices of the other ISMers. I felt inspired not only by their resolve but also by another: the simple fact that all of those who had made it to our meeting point in Ramallah were women.

Our little group of 9 women represented such a wonderful cross section: women from all over the world, who had come to show solidarity and oppose a brutal occupation. Our ages spanned a spectrum of 30 years, with the youngest being 21 years of age and the oldest being in their early 50s. We were women, who were represented not only the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths, but also women who were atheist. Some of us were teachers, some students, some journalists, some human rights workers, while others were artists. While our back grounds and belief systems may have been varied and many, we were united in one thing: our belief that the Palestinian people had the right to live lives free from Zionist occupation and oppression.

As we made our way to Bil'in, I recalled how in 2004, I had attended a number of demonstrations against the construction of the wall and theft of land in Budrus, the village right next door to Bil'in. At this time, the construction of the wall had only just begun and the illegal settlement of Modi'in Illit did not exist. As a result, I was keen to see if much had changed in the region, since I was last there. As we approached the village, myself and my team mates sat in stunned silence as we viewed the landscape in front of us. After few minutes of staring at the sight in front of us, one of us let out a shocked gasp.

Although, the region around Budrus and Bil'in is dotted with olive trees, across a range of hills, devastation was everywhere. I had seen photographs of clear felling of dense forests and photos of the environmental damage and ravages of open cut mining and the scene in front of me seemed to be a combination of both. In amongst this devastation, an alien entity seemed to be growing up slowly. I suddenly felt like I was on an alien planet or the set of a sci fi show, where a completely alien structure or city had been plonked, with little care for the surround environment or population. This alien structure in this case, was of course, the illegal Israeli settlement of Modi'in Illit. It was shocking to see such destruction on such a vast scale, so much so I still find it hard to fully take it all in.

A few minutes later, however, we arrived in Bil'in and we made our way to the "International House" the meeting point for the demonstration. Already at the house were other internationals, Israeli peace activists and Palestinians. Over the past two and half years, the size of the demonstrations have varied, from 100 people to 2000. At every demonstration, the villagers have been violently attacked by the IOF who fired on them indiscriminately with tear gas, rubber bullets, live ammunition and sound grenades. Today, we expected much the same again, although, the demonstration was on a smaller scale with around 120 people attending, most likey due to the recent Palestinian crisis.

We soon made our way down to where the wall had been constructed, we found the IOF waiting. They had already blocked of our approach about 300 metres from the wall/fence in a gully, with razor wire. As we reached the razor wire, the villagers began chanting and making speeches against the wall. Within in minutes, despite the protest being completely peaceful and the IOF being in absolutely no danger, the IOF began shooting of the first rounds of teargas and sound grenades.

As villagers, internationals and Israeli activists began to disperse, the tear gas canister kept whizzing over head and exploding. Everyone was crouched low to keep not only clear of the tear gas but to avoid being hit by canisters. In 2004, I had been hit from behind with a tear gas canister and it was not a pleasant experience. Israeli soldiers had opened fire on us as we attempted to lift an Israeli peace activist, who was injured, into an ambulance. This was the not the first demonstration I had attended where the IOF open fire on ambulances and medical aid workers.

For the next two weeks, I bore the legacy of my experience, carrying a massive multi-colour 30 centimetre in diameter bruise, as well as burns due to the heat of the canister. My entire body also ached all over as a result of the high velocity impact of the canister. I was, however, glad to have been hit by the teargas canister, rather then the live ammunition and the rubber bullets the IOF soldiers had also been firing at us.

While I avoided being hit by teargas canisters and sound grenades at Bil'in, one of my team mates was not so lucky. She was hit by two sound grenades, but luckily she was only lightly bruised. The most shocking aspect of the demonstration, despite the complete absence of violence on behalf of the demonstrators when we arrived at the razor wire and the retreat of protestors after the initial volley of teargas, was that the IOF soldiers kept firing on the demonstration. My team mates and I estimated that probably more than 60 canisters of teargas were shot at the small peaceful demonstration.

Tear gas works works in two ways: physically and psychologically. Physically, the chemicals in it react with the moisture on the skin and the membranes in your eyes, nose and throat. It causes a burning sensation burning in your throat and nose causing your eyes to start streaming tears, your nose to start running and you start coughing. If you take into much of it can cause severe coughing and vomiting, as well as causing disorientation, dizziness and restricted breathing. Psychologically, because you body begins to react in such a manner,it causes you first to limit your breathing (so as not to take in more gas) but the restricted breathing, along with disorientation can then lead to panic. This is why protesters are often armed with onions or lemons or something with a strong scent (such as a bandana soaked in vinegar). Breathing in the strong scent of onions, lemons or vinegar forces you brain to react and reminds you to start breathing again. This helps to stem the panic and it also gives you something to concentrate on, limiting your disorientation.

During the barrage of tear gas, the IOF and Border Police began advancing up the hill, firing more sound grenades and teargas and targeting two members of the Bil'in Palestinian Popular Committee against the Construction of the Wall and Settlements, abducting them. One member of the Committee was later released. The other member, however, was taken to a detention camp and is still being held.

The villagers and other protestors after 124 weeks of protest were no going to be discouraged by massive amounts of teargas. As the air began to clear, villagers began to make their way back towards the wall. Although it was impossible to get to where we had been, the Palestinian youth showed their refusal to be intimidated. They soon gathered under an olive tree and began chanting, singing, moving out into clear sight to let the IOF know that they would not be so easily run off their own land.

During the chaos of the tear gas being fired, I had made my way up the hill. At one point, I was finding it difficult to breath due to the intense saturation of the air from the amount of teargas being fired. As I moved to find a clear spot, the Palestinian Red Crescent workers, whose amazing bravery is witnessed at every demonstration, attended young Palestinians overcome by the tear gas. Myself and several other demonstrators sought refuge in a local villager's house. Inside we could hear the tear gas whizzing overhead and the sound grenades exploding. At one point, we all ducked for cover when the house was clearly hit by one of the missiles being fired by the IOF. Later when I went out of the house, we discovered that the IOF had advanced to just outside of the house and had been firing rubber bullets. One of the bullets had shattered the back window of a car, causing glass to fly everywhere.

At one point, when I was trying to escape the teargas, I also passed a house Palestinian workers were constructing. From the roof top, where they were working, they began shouting directions to those at the demonstrations trying to tell them the direction of the incoming tear gas. About an hour later when I passed the same construction site, I was completely astounded to see once again the amazing resistance of the Palestinian people and their refusal to let the Israeli occupation stop them living their lives. Although tear gas was still being fired (but not to the same level as earlier), the builders who had earlier sought to assist the dispersing villagers were now continuing to go about their business constructing the house. I stood and marveled their amazing fortitude and wondered if I would ever be able to display such qualities if I had to experience the occupation every day as they did.

After a tense stand off for another hour, the IOF began to once again fire a high barrage of tear gas at the demonstrators, who were probably a good kilometre from the wall and soldiers. As the tear gas began to rain down on us again, this time we moved further back into the village, with the hope that the IOF would not enter the village.

The demonstration may have been over for the day but next week, undeterred, the villagers of Bil'in will once again brave the teargas, rubber bullets and possible arrest to oppose the stealing of their land. Next week, once again, they willagain act as an inspiration to the rest of the Palestinian population (and many others around the world) by collectively organising in non-violent resistance to say no to Israeli occupation and oppression.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Abbas, Hamas and the Palestinian Crisis

18 June, 2007

Dear friends

As mentioned in my previous post, after 4 days of intense fighting, which left more then 110 people dead and hundreds injured, Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas declared a state of emergency and dismissed the Hamas led PA government ministry.

On Sunday, (17/6), Abbas swore in (illegally) a new unelected emergency government made up primarily of technocrats. The emergency government is headed by Salam Fayyad from the Hanan Ashawri’s Third Way party. According to Palestinian News Agency, Ma’an, it contains two Fatah affiliates, a member of Barghouti’s Palestinian National Initiative, 2 independents, 1 member of the Palestinian People’s Party, I member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and 4 others, who I am not sure who they affiliated with or if “independent”

Only one minister (an independent) is carried over from the previous unity govt member of the new emergency government. In addition, while Fayyad is feted by Israel, the US and the EU and amongst some Palestinian elites, his party only won 2.4% of the vote at the 2006 elections.

A coup by whom?
Abbas and his aides have accused Hamas of staging a military coup in Gaza, however, as Guardian Foreign Affairs editor, Peter Beaumont and veteran Middle East journalist, Robert Fisk have noted, it was Hamas who was the party which was elected democratically with an overwhelming majority in 2006, not Fatah and that in effect a coup has been staged against the democratically elected government led by Hamas.

On Saturday, Abbas issued presidential decrees suspending three articles of Basic Palestinian Laws which demand that Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) must give approval to any new government.

The suspension and violation of these laws are the clearest evidence that Abbas and Fatah have staged a political coup (backed by the US and Israel) against the 2006 democratically elected PLC. In addition, on Saturday, Pal media reported - either in response to or in coordination with the Presidential decrees - that Fatah gunmen stormed the PLC attempting to arrest PLC members.

According to Palestinian Basic Law:

• In relation to dismissal/convocation of government:
Articles 67 and 79 clearly demand that any and every new government must be approved by the PLC, including an emergency one.

It should be noted while Article 44 of the BL does allow the President “the right in exceptional cases, which can not be delayed, and when the Legislative Council is not in session, to issue decisions and decrees that have the power of law”, he does have carte blanche power. He must then present those decrees to the PLC “in the first session convened after their issuance, otherwise they will cease to have the power of law. If these decisions were presented as mentioned above, but were not approved, then they shall cease to have the power of law”.

• In relation to a state of emergency:
In addition, (as mentioned in my previous post) under Section 7 of the BL which deals specifically with state of emergencies specify that the president can declare a state of emergency for 30 days, however, he must have this approved by the PLC. Section 7, Article 114, section 4 clearly states that the PLC has “the right to review all or some of the procedures which have been implemented during the emergency state at the first session to be convened after the announcement of the state of emergency, or in the extension session whichever comes earlier, and to conduct the necessary questioning in this regard”

In addition, if he wants to extend the state of emergency beyond 30 days he must gain the approval of two thirds of the PLC (Article 110, section 1 & 2). Finally, Article 113 of Section 7 states emphatically that the President can not “dissolved or suspended during the emergency situation, nor shall the provisions of this chapter be suspended”.

Hamas response:
In response, Hamas has continued to refuse to step down from their positions in government and from the PLC saying that Abbas has acted illegal and in breach of the Palestinian Basic Laws.

Haniyeh and Mes’hal have publicly stated that they do not want to seize power in the Palestinian Authority and that they recognised recognizes Abbas as the head of the PA and would cooperate with him in the national interest. Mes’hal instead has argued in the media that “"What happened in Gaza was a necessary step. The people were suffering from chaos and lack of security and this treatment was needed”. Mes’hal was quoted in the Israeli english daily, Ha’aretz as saying the dissolution of the unity government "will not remedy the situation ... and will not solve the problem. There will be no two governments and no division of the homeland” and that a national unity governemtn was the only solution.

In the wake of the fighting in Gaza, an overall tense calm has apparently been established there, although there has been occassional sparodic fighting. Deposed Palestinian PM, Ismail Haniyeh has instigated a number of new security measures, including establishing a new police operational forces in the wake of the Abbas controlled interior ministry dismissing the Fatah aligned police force in Gaza. He has called on all police force members to return to their jobs and has stated that newly trained members will soon be sworn in.

Haniyeh has also banned Hamas members from wearing face masks on the streets, saying that Hamas member are only permitted to wear face masks during battle.

According to the Guardian, there has also been a rally of several thousand supporters of Hamas in Gaza on Saturday.

The “Abbas plan”:
According to both Pal and Israeli media, the current plan backed by Abbas, the US and Israel is to refuse to negotiate with Hamas, while seeking to hermetically seal of the Gaza. The intention is to maintain the siege of Gaza for a few weeks in the hope that build pressure against Hamas into agreeing to a compromise dictated by Abbas, the US and Israel. It should be noted that while the US has said they will, in an attempt to shore up Abbas, end the economic blockade and free up funds, they mean that they will only end the blockade of the West Bank, not Gaza. Israel has said it will only “consider” releasing the Palestinian taxes it has stolen.

The Israeli government has forced the sole supplier of fuel to the Gaza Strip, Israeli company Dor Alon, to cut of fuel supplies to Gaza, supposedly at the request of Abbas, an attempt to isolate the region more. The Israeli Infrastructure minister has called for complete isolation of the Gaza. Israeli has also moved to station Israeli Occupation Forces in the north of the Gaza Strip. Despite Hamas over running the US backed and trained Fatah forces in Gaza, the US is also planning to keep funding and training Fatah forces.

While Abbas is currently being backed by the old Fatah guard, it has been reported that a number of the young guard led by jailed Fatah leader, Marwan Barghouti have refused to sign on. Barghouti has refused Abbas request to publicly denounce Hamas.

A number of other Fatah leaders from the young guard, including Ahmed Hilas, have remained in the Gaza Strip and have been holding talks with the Hamas leadership. Hilas has denounced Fatah warlord, Mohammed Dahlan and several other old guard Fatah leaders as “collaborators”

In the West Bank, fighting has been sparodic, with the worst in Nablus. In Nablus, Fatah gunmen stormed the Nablus Municipality building “arresting” the elected Hamas officials. A number of charitable organisations aligned with Hamas were also set on fire. According to a Palestinian friend who lives in Nablus, people are basically staying off the streets at the moment.

There was fighting in Tul Karem on Thursday but according to a friend who is with one of the other international human rights groups based there, things have quitened down since then. According to friends in Ramallah, while there has been sporadic fighting, on the whole things have been quite.

Where to next?
Abbas is currently trying to strengthen his hand by demanding that Israel met the “benchmarks” set by the US, including massive removal of checkpoints throughout the West Bank, the resumption of negotiations and the release of Palestinian prisoners. In particular, according to reports in the Ha’aretz newspaper, Abbas is demanding the release of Barghouti, in an attempt to strengthen his standing. If he can get these conscessions then he will go a long way to isolating Hamas.

However, Israel’s usual tactic is to either delay committing to this or to say they will consider committing to them (or the other option is to say they will commit to them and then renege on their promise and get away with doing this, as they did when they last promised to remove a substantial number of checkpoints from the West Bank earlier this year). If they stay true to form, Abbas will have little joy.

While Hamas will no doubt come under intense pressure to compromise, they will probably be able to ride it out as they have done for the past year and half, although Israel’s attempt to starve out the people of Gaza will put immense pressure on them.

At the moment the only people really supporting the new emergency government is the international community lead by the US and Israel. Even the Arab League, which has said it supports many of the measures by Abbas, has refused to denounce Hamas outright (but you would not know this from the western media coverage). Instead, the Director of the League, Amr Moussa has sought to restart negotiations between Hamas and Abbas/Fatah. Also the Arab states, such as Egypt and Jordan will not want Hamas to increase their power in Gaza.

In addition, it is still yet to be seen whether the new emergency government will have the support of the Palestinian people or not. It is really only today that the Palestinan media have started reporting that Abbas has violated the Basic Laws and suspended ones which don’t sit with what he and the US and Israel want too do. This will not go down well in the eyes of many Palestinians and it will be interesting to see whether they will therefore accept the legitimacy of this new government.

Also, if the US do lift the econmic blockade, but do so only in relation to the West Bank, the majority of Palestinians will be appalled at the continued attempt to starve out their relatives in Gaza. Gaza is already the poorest area of the OPT. So even if the US actually does releases funds to the West Bank, it may do them little good as many Palestinians will resent that their families are being starved in Gaza.

And finally, as mentioned before the majority of Palestinians want national unity and there will be immense pressure on Abbas to achieve this and to eventually negotiate with Hamas (and to improve the plight of the Gazan population). Over the next few days and weeks, it will become a matter of who will blink first.

in solidarity, Kim

Friday, June 15, 2007

Some comments on the Palestinian Crisis

16 June, 2007

Dear friends,

As of today, more than 110 people have died in the last 4 – 5 days and hundreds wounded.

However, today, there has been a strange sort of calm in many places throughout the West Bank (including the village I live in), while in other areas there has been factional fighting.

Talking with a number of contacts and friends in different villages and towns, it reminded me when I was here last time when Arafat died. Peope are sad and depressed and seem at a bit of a loss and not sure what to do next (of course this was a much more deeper sentiment when Arafat died). They are also angry (at both factions) and ashamed of what has been going on.

On Thursday night, Abbas declared a state of emergency and dissolved the unity government. However, what the Israeli and Western media have failed to report that the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) is still functioning and that it still remains the democratically elected body through which legislation must pass and it is still the body which must approve Abbas presidential decrees (even the Arab media have not reported this very clearly)

Under Section 7, Article 110 of Palestinian basic law, a state of emergency can be declared for 30 days (I have included a copy of Section 7 at the end of the email). However, the state of emergency can only be extended for another 30 days be a two third vote in the PLC.

Under Section 3, Article 45 of the Basic Laws (the section that deals with the Presidential powers),the President (in this case, Abbas) has the right to appoint and sack the PM and invite them to form the cabinet – ie. he as the right to sack the PM and the government ministry.

HOWEVER: there is nothing in the Basic Laws that give him the right to sack the entire Palestinian Legislative Council during an state of emergency. In fact the Basic Laws (Amended in 2003) strictly prohibit this, with Article 113 stating "The Palestinian Legislative Council shall not be dissolved or suspended in an emergency situation, nor shall the provisions of this chapter be suspended".

There are also no provisions in the Basic Laws for the President to unilaterally call for new elections (altho in the past some in Fatah have argued that because the basic laws does not explicitly prohibit the president from calling new elections that he in fact has the right to do so – but this is all very gray)

This is why Haniyeh and Hamas have declared Abbas to have acted hastily, saying that Hamas members of the Unity government will continue to functions as the legitimate government – ie. that the currently democratically elected PLC, which is dominated by Hamas, is still the legitimate parliamentary body until 2010. If Abbas wants to extend the state of emergency after 30 days, he has to go back to the Hamas dominated PLC to get the extension and of course this most likely would not be granted.

Today I spoke with one of the Palestinan dipolomats I know and he confirmed that, yes, that in effect there are now "two governments" and that Abbas has no way of implementing his decrees because they need to approved by the PLC (outside of the initial sacking of the PM and govt and declaring the initial state of emergency). He was not sure where this was all going to lead.

Haniyeh told Palestinian and Arab media that Hamas would seek "national reconciliation through the appropriate mechanisms and there is no change to the relations with the nationalistic forces. We will go ahead with the unity program alongside those who would like to work with us". Haniyeh went on to confirm that Hamas would adhere to "domestic treaties, including the Mecca agreement and the Cairo dialogues, and our relations with Arab states are still brother-relations".

According to Palestinian and Arab news reports, Abbas had appointed Salam Fayyad as the new head of the emergency government. Fayyad is not aligned with either Fatah or Hamas (although Fatah courted him in the run up to the 2006, promising him the PM position if they won). Fayyad, along with Hanan Ashrawi and Yasser Abed Rabbo set up the "Third Way Party", which won two seats in the 2006 elections. Fayyd is highly respected within Palestinian politics and also apparently by the Israelis, which is why he was appointed the finance minister in the Unity government.

In response to the sacking of Haniyeh and the dissolution of the unity government, Israel and the US have moved quickly to attempt to sure up Abbas. According to Israeli media reports, Olmert is looking to easy the economic blockade and hand over the taxes Israel stole. The Bush Administration has also announced that they want to "fast track" peace talks.

Both Abbas, Israel and the US are playing a dangerous game. While on one hand, as I mentioned last night, this is exactly what the US and Israeli have been pushing for and Abbas, the clique leading Fatah and the PLO desperate regain their once former dominant position in the Palestinian political landscape have obliged.

However, the US and Israel have not had it all their way. Despite spending millions and millions on shoring up around 40,000 presidential guard and other Fatah security forces, Hamas quickly over run them and took control of Gaza. This has completely undermined the US plan to use the newly trained Fatah forces to fight and over run Hamas. Now Israeli is demanding that an international force be sent into the Gaza , but not to keep peace but to fight Hamas (now that their proxy army has cut and run).

While both Israel and the US will be hoping that they can isolate Hamas in Gaza (and this could happen), Haniyeh and Mes'hal have been making clear overtures towards Abbas, while still remaining the dominant force in the PLC and also maintaining their position of control over the Gaza (today Mes'hal stated that Hamas has no interest in over throwing Abbas and are willing to "cooperate" with him in the name of the national interest).

Hamas's project is for a full Palestinian state not just a state in Gaza, in addition, they know that the Palestinian people as a whole will not accept such an arrangement. This is where Abbas is on the back foot.

He may be the legitimate president and have some control over the West Bank, but he has no control over Gaza . In addition, he has to deal eventually with the Hamas dominated PLC (unless he can somehow twist the Basic Law to allow him to call new elections).

The US and Israel are trying to shore him up, but Abbas while wishy washy is also not stupid, he knows that the Palestinian street will not support two separate states and he will be forced eventually to negotiate with Hamas (although, Israel and the US will do everything in their power to prevent this). Israel and the US have still not come to understand that they can not buy of the majority of the Palestinian people and that the majority of Palestinians are horrified by the factional fighting and will seek national reconciliation.

Some other things to note:
(1) Over the last two days, demonstrations have taken place in Gaza City, Khan Younis, Bethlehem and Hebron (and other cities) protesting the factional fighting. In Gaza city and Khan Younis, on Thursday before the Gaza fell to Hamas there were demonstrations of 1000 people in each city. There has been subsequent rallies organised by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) calling for an end to the factional fighting and national unity. Other demos have taken place as I mentioned in Bethlehem and Hebron.

(2) Pal media reported on Thursday, that Fatah in Gaza had split. According to one report, the new head of Fatah in the Gaza is now Abu Hilal, who went on to denounce Mohammed Dahlan and several other Fatah leaders as "collaborators". According to Abu Hilal, an emergency committee had been set up to rearrange affairs in the Fatah movement (not sure if this is at a national level or just in Gaza) and that he had reached an agreement with the leaders of Hamas and the Al Qassam brigades to ensure that the "good" people (ie. those not suspected of collaboration) were not harmed.

(3) Despite reports in Israeli and Western media, Hamas is not running around willy nilly killing every Fatah member they can get their hands on. On Wed and Thursday, Hamas definitely sought out Fatah members they believe to be collaborators and did carry out extra-judicial killings (as did Fatah of Hamas members). With Hamas taking control of the Gaza, they imposed a tense calm once the fighting was over. However, Hamas did carry out the execution of two Fatah members today, that they claimed was responsible for the killing of Hamas members.

However, Hamas has not made a point of going around rounding up Fatah members to execute them willy nilly. Today, Haniyeh and other Hamas leaders announced that Fatah members would be granted amnesty or clemency and that Hamas was only interested in routing out the collaborators within Fatah.

(4) In response to the Hamas victory in Gaza , Fatah fighters have started to target Hamas affiliated organisation and Hamas members, killing 1 Hamas member. Fighting has taken place in Nablus, Ramallah and Tulkarem. However, at least 12 people who were abducted from a Hamas aligned organisation on Thursday in Nablus were released unharmed by the Al Asqa Martyrs Brigade.

(5) With Hamas taking control of Gaza , the Israeli and Western media have gone into a feeding frenzy of speculation, including declaring that there will be a separate Islamic state in Gaza and/or that Hamas will impose Islamic rule over Gaza and that Gaza will become a "taliban style" strong hold.

This of course ignores completely that Hamas is nothing like the Taliban, other than the fact they both happened to be Islamic. However, even on this front, the two groups are widely divergent – Hamas does not engage in applying an extermist versiono of Shari'a law like the Taliban, which prohibits listening to music, engaging in other cultural activities and it does not prohibit women from attaining an education or working (the main force behind Hamas electoral success were professional women – doctors, lawyers, teachers). As Haniyeh made clear when he was elected in 2006, he has no plans to enforce the hijab and/or strict reading shari'a law (it should be note that Section 1, Article 4, part 2 of the Palestinian laws, signed into effect by Arafat and Abbas state, already that shari'a law is the basis of Palestinian legislation)

In addition, Hamas under the leadership of Khaled Mes'hal and Haniyeh and others have prioritised the national liberation agenda over Hamas religious agenda. They have consciously worked to ensure they do not alienate secular and Christian Palestinians and recognise that if they are to stay in the mainstream of politics, they need to be more pragmatic and not alienate all of those Palestinians who voted for them but do not necessarily agree with their religious agenda. To say that they are suddenly going to become a carbon copy of the Taliban is hysterical clap trap and a deliberate black propaganda on behalf of Israel to scare not only their own citizens but also the West.

In response to these wild predictions, which have little basis in reality (much of which is emanating from both the Israeli and Bush administrations in order to generate fear amongst the US, Israeli and international community, so they can push their own agenda), Haniyeh has stated quite clearly that Hamas has no interest in setting up a separate state in Gaza. In addition, Hamas political bureau chief, Khaled Mes'hal has denied that Hamas will implement blanket Islamic law across Gaza .

in solidarity, Kim

Friday, June 8, 2007

End the Siege/Free Gaza campaign

50 activists from around the world have been working for the last few months on a campaign to break Israel's siege of Gaza by sending a boat load of supplies.

For more information on the campaign, click here:

A recent article on the campaign:

You can assist with the campaign by:

endorsing it
publicising it to your networks, newletters an on your website
donating money
You can make a donation to the campaign at

Monday, June 4, 2007

The Freedom to Dream

04 June, 2007

Today, my friend got his wish.

As I write this, right now, he is sitting in Queen Alia International Airport in Jordan awaiting a flight to Egypt.

And what was his wish, I hear you say?

It was a simple wish - he wanted to be able to leave the Occupied Palestinian Territories, for just one week, in order to attend a work sponsored course in Cairo .

For most of us, especially those of us in the Western world, being able to do such a thing may not seem such a big deal. While we may worry about such things making sure our passport is current or organising our work load while we are away or who is going to look after our pets for a week or two, the majority of us would not even give a second thought as to whether or not our freedom of movement would be restricted and we would be prevented from entering this country or that to do a work or study course. We would take it for granted that we can and could freely travel where we want, when we want.

However, for my friend and his fellow Palestinians, being able to do this simple thing often seems like an unattainable dream.

Ever since he was selected to attend the course, he has worried that he would not be able to attend because as a teenager, during the first intifada, he was jailed. He was one of the thousands of Palestinian youth, who armed themselves with stones and fought the Israeli occupier, who unlike the Palestinian youth, were armed with tanks, rocket launchers and automatic machine guns.

But that was over a decade and a half ago. And while today, like all Palestinians, he continues to oppose the occupation, he has chosen a different course - one which has involved non-violent direct action as a means to ending the occupation.

Over the past week, however, as his travel date has drawn closer, my friend's stress has increased. Did he dare to dream? Did he dare to wish? Would he be allowed to leave or would they turn him back? Would the Israeli military say no, he is a "security risk"?

Every time I spoke to him or saw him, I could see his stress increasing. He told me of the sleepless nights and constant worry he was experiencing. He told me, how this one simple thing - being able to cross freely from the Occupied Palestinian Territories to Jordan - would influence his future. Being able to make the crossing would mean that he could actually dare to dream of a better life: of perhaps completing an educational course or improving his job skills, of perhaps having a holiday somewhere and escaping the occupation for a couple of weeks.

Not being allowed to make the crossing would mean all of these wishes and dreams, would remain unfulfilled. His freedom to dream of a better life, his freedom to complete an education course or simply to have a holiday would become nothing.

Today, when he rang me to tell me that he just crossed into Jordan, I was so excited for him.

He told me how he had been made to wait a couple of hours, but that this was a small price because eventually they had let him pass. It seemed like a whole new horizon was now opening up and I could imagine the relief on his face. For my friend, he had dared to dream and the dream came true.

But for many other Palestine's the simple dream of being able to move freely and plan for the future is repeatedly stillborn. Just last week, our house team received an email from Rima Merriman from the Arab-American University in Jenin recounting how the dreams of one of her students were shattered.

The email recounted how her student had been short listed, from 50 applications, for one of six peace scholarship to attend New York University for a year (three for Israelis and three for Palestinians). The student's chances were excellent and in her email, Rima wrote:

"I have never seen anyone so excited or happy about a prospect. He put in a lot of energy preparing for the interview, interviewing other students about their understanding of peace and collecting "quotes" to take with him to the interview, going to the English Learning Center for English conversation to better his English, etc.- just walking on cloud nine for weeks".

The hopes of the student, however, fell fowl of the Israeli occupation. The interviews for the scholarships were to be in Jerusalem but as a Palestinian from the Occupied Territories, he would need a permit to enter the holy city. And as all Palestinians know such permits are notoriously difficult to obtain. The student applied anyway. However, it turned out that the permit had a price.
And this price, wrote Rima, was "to cooperate" with the Israeli military and occupation forces - to become a collaborator, to inform on the people around him in his village or on campus. The student refused, so of course did not get the permit.

In 2006, another student, Sawsan Salameh wanted to be able to travel not to New York but just two or three kilometres from the Occupied Palestinian Territories to Jerusalem. Her dream was to take up the full scholarship to the Hebrew University to begin a doctorate in theoretical chemistry. But again the reality of the Israeli occupation got in the way.

In 2001, the Israeli military introduced a new military law which meant that each new application by a Palestinian student to travel to Israel to attend university had to be reviewed by the Israeli military for "security" purpose. Between 2001 and 2006, not one new Palestinian student was granted a permit to travel from the Occupied Palestinian Territories to Israel do attend university. Just weeks before Sawsan was offered her scholarship, the Israeli military instituted an outright ban, refusing now to even make a pretense of reviewing each application.

Sawsan eventually won her case. However, Gisha (the Israeli based Legal Centre for Freedom of Movement) reported on May 20, 2007, despite this Israeli court decision, the Israeli military had not removed the ban and students were still being prevented from fulfilling their dream of attending university in Israel.
Despite the occupation repeatedly dashing their dreams and hopes, the Palestinians continue to dream.

Like my friend, they dream of a life not governed by the Israeli military and thousands of senseless and often contradictory military laws. They dream of a life where they can predict how long it will take them to travel to work and where they can see friends and family without having to wait 4 hours at a checkpoint for no apparent reason. They dream of a life, where they do not have to worry if their loved ones will make it to the hospital and recieve the medical assistance they so desperately need, instead of dying at a checkpoint because the Israeli military would not let them pass.

In short, they dream of a future free from Israeli occupation and free from Israeli oppression.

And as we mark the 40th anniversary of the brutal and illegal occupation of the
West Bank and Gaza, it is time for this dream to become a reality.