Sunday, June 17, 2007

Death Trap Gaza?

ISRAEL'S former Sefardi chief rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu declared in a letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at the end of last month that all civilians living in Gaza were collectively guilty for Kassam rocket attacks on Sderot, and that there was absolutely no moral prohibition against the indiscriminate killing of civilians in a military onslaught.

The Rabbi's letter, citing Biblical precedents, was published in Olam Katan [Small World], for distribution in synagogues throughout the country. Eliyahu's son, Shmuel Eliyahu, chief rabbi of Safed, said his father opposed a ground troop incursion into Gaza that would endanger IDF soldiers. Rather, he advocated carpet bombing the general area from which the Kassams were launched, regardless of the price in Palestinian life."If they don't stop after we kill 100, then we must kill a thousand," said Shmuel Eliyahu. "And if they do not stop after 1,000 then we must kill 10,000. If they still don't stop we must kill 100,000, even a million. Whatever it takes to make them stop."

In the past week it has seemed as though the Rabbi's call for massacre and destruction was superfluous, as Palestinian killed Palestinian and destroyed buildings in an area which had already seen massive suffering and widespread damage to its infrastructure as a result of Israeli blockade and incursions, as well as Western cutoff of aid.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights reported on June 12:
"Gaza drowns in Blood Because of the Conflict between Fatah and Hamas Movements"

"For the 3rd consecutive day, Gaza City has witnessed unjustifiable violent internal fighting, and an atmosphere of tension has spread over Gaza that is not less violent than that which has spread as a result of the offensive that has been launched by Israeli Occupation Forces for nearly a month. Since Monday evening, violence has extended to most areas in the Gaza Strip from the north to the south, and militants have deployed in the streets, at the entrances of towns and near governmental headquarters and security compounds.

"Militants from Hamas and Fatah movements have used various kinds of weapons and have occupied a number of official buildings belonging to the Palestinian presidency and government. The attacks have even targeted the house and the office of Prime Minister Ismail Haniya and the presidential compound. Militants have been more violent than ever before as they have stormed hospitals and forced medical crews out. They even fired inside hospital and killed a number of persons. Moreover, mutual kidnappings and field executions have been reported. The two movements have even threatened to escalate the situation and extend the fighting to the West Bank.

"In this atmosphere of terror, approximately 67,000 students have attended the exams of the General Certificate of Education (Tawjihi), in addition to thousands of university students who have attended their final exams. The current situation threatens the overall educational process. PCHR strongly condemns such fighting which is not of the ethics, sacrifices and struggle of the Palestinian people, and warns that it threatens the overall national aspirations and lives of innocent Palestinian civilians, whose daily activities have been paralyzed. "

Apologising that it was unable to report fully because its own workers were unable to move freely and its office had been besieged in the exchange of fire, PCHR said its information then was that 21 Palestinians had been killed and at least 150 wounded in 72 hours. There had been a gun battle near the Beit Hanoun hospital between the Executive Force and members of the al-Masri clan, several of whom were killed. Fighting had gone on through the night in Gaza city, especially in al-Shati refugee camp, and al-Maqqousi housing project near security sites.

Armed groups had also set up road blocks. 'Amru Nabhan al-Rantissi, 21, a member of the 'Izziddin al-Qassam Brigades (the armed wing of Hamas) had been kidnapped, and his body was found later on the Khan YunisRafah road. Members of the 'Izziddin al-Qassam Brigades responded by driving security men from their sites in Khan Yunis, and seizing the governorate building.

The PCHR strongly condemned "the bloody internal fighting between Fatah and Hamas movements", and called upon the Palestinian President and Government to "fulfill their responsibilities, and to take immediate steps to restore order and security, and to protect civilians from the effects of these disgraceful clashes. "

Palestinian Centre for Human Rights29 Omer El Mukhtar St., El Remal, PO Box 1328 Gaza, Gaza Strip tel/fax: +972 (0)8 282 4776 – 282 5893

By the weekend, it was clear the Palestinian national unity government no longer existed, and that Palestine itself was now divided as surely by political rivalry as by Israeli border guards, with Hamas in control of the Gaza strip and Fatah supporters fleeing either to the West Bank or into Egypt.

Palestinian commentator Ali Abunimeh has blamed US and Israeli machinations behind President Mahmoud Abbas and more especially his security forces for the conflict.
"Mahmoud Abbas and his advisors have conspired with Israel, the United States and the intelligence services of several Arab states to overthrow and weaken Hamas. This support has included funneling weapons and tens of millions of dollars to unaccountable militias, particularly the "Preventive Security Force" headed by Gaza warlord Mohammad Dahlan, a close ally of Israel and the United States and the Abbas-affiliated "Presidential Guard." US Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams -- who helped divert money to the Nicaraguan Contras in the 1980s and who was convicted of lying to Congress in the Iran-Contra scandal -- has spearheaded the effort to set up these Palestinian Contras".
A setback for the Bush doctrine in Gaza
Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 14 June 2007

Abbas had declared a "state of emergency" and dismissed Ismail Haniyeh the Hamas prime minister as well as the "national unity government." But, Abumineh argued, 'the "state of emergency" is merely rhetorical. Whatever control he had in Gaza is gone and Israel is in complete control of the West Bank anyway'. Many elected Palestinian leaders are in Israeli jails, which may prevent them resisting Abbas but doesn't help his credibility.

Salam Fayyad, whom Abbas appointed as new prime minister, ran on an independent list which only got 1 per cent of the vote at the last election, as compared with 44 per cent for the Hamas list. US and British diplomats have reportedly promised to restore funding if his new government excludes Hamas.
It is hard to see this gaining respect and legitimacy for it, however desperate the Palestinian plight, even among those whom Hamas has tried to reassure that it will not impose religious coercion.

But even if Hamas holds on to power in Gaza, it remains besieged and deprived of resources. Besides, separation of the two halves of any Palestinian state -not to mention the further truncation of the West Bank by expanding Israeli settlements - fits in with an Israeli plan that could be seen emerging when Sharon decided to clear the Gaza settlements out (while encouraging settlers into the West Bank).

The danger is that with the two main Palestinian factions each playing a role of which they may be unaware, the Gaza strip is not only being turned into a miserable reservation-ghetto, but it could become a death-trap. Isolation, and the depiction of Gaza's people as something less than human, would be the first steps. Chief Rabbi Eliyahu could be voicing in religious terms what military men in Tel Aviv and Washington cold-bloodedly calculate.



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