Friday, February 04, 2011

Dream of Democracy, Nightmare for Oppressors

THE courageous huge demonstrations that seem to have united the Egyptian people against Hosni Mubrak and his thugs are not abating, and behind them the uprising has depth, in the people taking responsibility for their neighborhoods, and the trade unionists organising at work.

Whatever happens, and whether or not the Western powers can cook up something, or the revolution is temporarily diverted or usurped, the geni is out of the bottle. People have tasted their own power, and things can not be easily restored to as they were.

The same discontents, and the same dreams of democracy and justice, are spreading from Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, across the Arab world from Mauretania in the west to Oman in the East, though naturally the form and degree of protest varies, as does the political awareness.

Needless to say, not everybody in the Middle East is happy about what is happening. Israel's supporters in the West are fond of repeating that it is "the only democracy in the Middle East", and leaving aside that it maintains what must be the longest running military occupation in the world. They even used to pretend that it was only surrounding dictatorial regimes that made their people oppose the Zionist state among them. But that's an old one.

Making clear democracy is not for export to lesser breeds, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has cautioned his US backers not to be hasty in letting the Egyptian people free to hold democratic elections.

"If extremist forces are allowed to exploit democratic processes to come to power to advance anti-democratic goals - as has happened in Iran and elsewhere - the outcome will be bad for peace and bad for democracy," Netanyahu declared.

Well, he should know. ...He is heading the most extreme right-wing government Israel has ever had, with ministers who openly call for ethnic cleansing, and say they can ignore what the rest of the world thinks. Seeing their own rights threatened with restrictions and the methods of Occupation, Israeli peace campaigners like Uri Avnery have warned of the danger of fascism.

Suddenly feeling the seismic tremors from Egypt, Israeli leaders are not their usual confident selves. They are remembering they had peace with Egypt. Labour's Binyamin Fuad Ben-Eliezer, a military man who had to deny accusations of shooting Egyptian prisoners in the 1967 war, has been speaking about his good friend Hosni Mubarak. Less sentimentally, others know that a popular Egyptian government is not likely to be one that helps maintain the siege of Gaza.

According to Ha'aretz journalist Gideon Levy, "Israel is now hunkering down, frightened of what the future will bring. What if the new government in Egypt revokes the peace treaty? Quick to the draw, as usual, spreading the typical fear of real and imagined dangers, Israel's prime minister has forbidden his cabinet ministers from speaking on the subject - and they are even obeying him. Warning, danger: the peace is about to be torn up.

There have been small demonstrations within Israel in support of the risings in Tunisia and Egypt, Palestinians and Israeli Arab citizens demonstrating outside the Egyptian embassy in Tel Aviv. Avnery and others have warned that if Israel wishes to save its peace with Egypt it had better make peace with the Palestinians, now.

"Only one who lost all basic human feeling can oppose the aspiration of young Egyptians to live in a democracy", writes Adam Keller in a statement from Gush Shalom. "To maintain and strengthen the peace with Egypt, we must end the occupation and make peace with the Palestinians".

"Only one who has lost all basic human feeling can oppose the aspiration of masses of young Egyptians, mostly secular, to live in a democracy and enjoy the basic rights which citizens of Israel take for granted - the right to freely express their opinions, to organize politically as they please and to freely elect their government and parliament. It is in the supreme interest of the State of Israel that in its neighboring countries a real democracy will prevail, a democracy growing from below out of the dreams and aspirations and determined struggle by thousands and millions of people".

But it is safe to say that Adam Keller has no illusions in the present Israeli government's thinking like that.

Not that Netanyahu and his government are the only ones afraid.

More detentions in Ramallah at rally for Egypt
Published Wednesday 02/02/2011 (updated) 04/02/2011 12:40

RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- Palestinian Authority police beat back protesters with clubs and detained at least two at what witnesses described as a spontaneous rally and show of support for the Egyptian people as chaos hit Cairo streets.

"I was sick and tired of sitting at home and doing nothing," one Ramallah resident said, explaining that she had seen on the social networking site Facebook that friends were attending a peaceful protest at 9 p.m. in the city center.

When she arrived shortly after nine, she said one protester was already being dragged away. "There were only 30 people there at the start," she said, adding that after the arrests more gathered.

Palestinian police officials in Ramallah could not be reached for comment by phone, but told Ma'an earlier that officers would be "ready for any problems" that erupted.

Protesters said the event had been peaceful until police broke out batons and started pushing women at the front of the group back and away from the city center.

"Our rally was simply in support of Egypt," one protester told Ma'an by phone, "we said nothing against the PA, we were not even out in the street."

Earlier in the day, dozens of Fatah supporters had gathered in the same spot protesting in support of Mubarak. Protesters were said to have carried signs accusing Egyptian opposition leader Mohammed ElBaradei of being a CIA agent, according to a report in Israel's The Jerusalem Post.

The paper cited sources in Ramallah who said the demonstration was initiated by the PA leadership.

Turnout at the protest was low and there were no reports of arrests.

On Sunday, PA security forces shut down a demonstration in front of the Egyptian embassy in Ramallah, after calling in one of the organizers for questioning multiple times a day earlier, organizers of the rally said.

Forces pushed demonstrators and a man who identified himself as a police commander said the demonstrators were in a "security area" and would have to disperse, they said.


For the Palestine Authority the upsurge in Egypt comes along with the widespread anger fanned by the recent Palestine Papers leak, exposing how far US-backed President Abbas and his crew were prepared to go to appease Israeli occupation and wage aggression against their own people. But their opponents in Hamas, notwithstanding their link to Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, don't seem sure how to respond to developments.

BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Police in the Gaza Strip shut down a demonstration Monday in support of the uprising in Egypt.

Activists said six women and two men were arrested at a park in Gaza City, where a few dozen demonstrators had gathered. The women were released after a few hours. It was not immediately clear when the men were freed because they were separated, one of the protesters said.

Asmaa Al-Ghoul, a Gaza-based journalist and writer, was among those detained.
"Hamas police arrested me with group of demonstrators in Gaza in solidarity with Egyptian people," she wrote on Twitter. "Women's police beat me violently" and detained other young women.

They were standing in solidarity with the Egyptian uprising, Al-Ghoul added.
Human Rights Watch slammed Gaza's Hamas rulers for breaking up the rally.
"The Hamas authorities should stop arbitrarily interfering with peaceful demonstrations about Egypt or anything else," said Sarah Leah Whitson, the group's Middle East director, in a statement.

"Police committing unlawful arrests and abusing demonstrators should be held to account," she said.

Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian writer and activist, said neither authority tolerated protests. "Fatah and Hamas agree on so little; at the core of that little common denominator lies repression of dissent and suppression of freedoms," Barghouti said Monday in an email.


Things seem to have eased in Gaza, whether because of the strength of feeling or a UN human rights observer's impending visit.

Hundreds in Gaza rally in solidarity with Egypt
Published Thursday 03/02/2011 (updated) 04/02/2011 21:28

GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Hundreds of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip rallied Thursday in solidarity with the uprising in Egypt. Marchers carried banners reading "People want the regime out" and "Down with Hosni Mubarak".

A student group distributed a statement calling on the UN to take action against the regime. "The massacre being carried out against protesters in Tahrir square warrants a decisive stance," the statement said. It called on the international community to "respond immediately" to the crisis.

Police in Gaza broke up a smaller rally this week as did the Palestinian Authority government in Ramallah.

On Thursday, Human Rights Watch called on the Palestinian Authority to end violence against demonstrators, the latest instance being Wednesday evening in Ramallah. "The Palestinian Authority should immediately make clear that its ‘state-building’ training of security forces does not include beating peaceful demonstrators," said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW's Mideast chief.

Israeli journalist Amira Hass, who has lived in both Gaza and Ramallah to report sympathetically on people's lives and struggles, noted that "The Palestinian leadership has been careful not to support the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, and has banned demonstrations in solidarity with the rebelling peoples. Palestinian television has virtually ignored the events in Egypt".

She spole with Dr. Mamdouh al-Aker, a 68-year-old urologist, who was a member of the Palestinian-Jordanian delegation at the Washington-Madrid talks. He treats patients in Ramallah and Jerusalem's Augusta Victoria Hospital. For the past seven years, he has been the general commissioner of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights, an organization formed by a decree by Yasser Arafat in 1993. The commission seeks to guarantee that the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization meet the requirements for safeguarding human rights.

How is that so many people like yourself are happy about the developments in Egypt [before the bloody clashes erupted], yet there is no public expression of support in West Bank cities?

[On Tuesday] afternoon I returned from a meeting on another matter with [Palestinian President] Mahmoud Abbas. Appalled, I told him about a young man who initiated on Facebook a solidarity vigil for the Egyptian people. He was detained and interrogated the evening before the demonstration. Abbas expressed dissatisfaction and promised that the young man would be released immediately. I didn't know that he had already been freed.

Demonstrators who went to the Egyptian consulate in Ramallah and were dispersed told me that security personnel in civilian clothes monitored them, threateningly. Two weeks ago, other young people organized a similar solidarity event for Tunisia. They told me they intended to demonstrate even though they had been told this was forbidden. In both cases, young people said they were thankful to the two peoples for their support of the Palestinian cause.

I was impressed by their enthusiasm. But most people don't demonstrate because they know it is not welcomed. We have a pattern of restricting the freedom of demonstration and assembly. Demonstrations of support for our own people, during the attack on Gaza and against the occupation, were suppressed.

What is that Palestinian Authority afraid of when it bans solidarity demonstrations?

There are two reasons. Due to the close relations with the Mubarak regime, the leadership is perplexed by expressions of support for the opponents of a friend. The second reason - when a regime is insufficiently democratic, it fears that popular demonstrations might spin out of control.

There are reasons to suppose that many of the factors that drove people to protest in Tunisia and Egypt are in play here.

There is one huge difference: Here we live under Israeli occupation. We have to focus on the main goal of ending the occupation. And that's the problem: For years we have behaved as though we have turned into a subcontractor of the occupation, so we have to return and make the occupation pay a price. Not necessarily by using arms, and definitely not by harming civilians.

People dare in several places to confront the Israeli army, but not the Palestinian police.

Yes. But that won't continue indefinitely. The main lesson to be drawn from the Al Jazeera documents is that Israel is not ripe for a fair political agreement. So we should concentrate on our internal situation, put our home in order, enhance our steadfastness. A storm of change is soon to happen, and if we fail to change our path, we will be swept up by it.

Dr. al Aker, who has been quoted as saying the Palestinian Authority was becoming a police state even though it was not a state, complains of arbitrary arrests and torture of detainees, of the security and intelligence apparatus screening people for jobs, and security bodies ignoring the courts.

And in the Gaza Strip?

"It's a mirror image", he says, going on to refer to the PA's building an army under supervision of the occupier, and to the size of the security apparatus. "Our ratio between security men and civilians is one of the highest in the world. Why?"

Isn't it strange, Amira Hass asked, that the leaders of an occupied people are not supporting a popular uprising?

"That's the result and the price of being dragged to the status of a regime, before liberation, while giving up on the agenda of a national liberation movement. As a regime, they must identify with regimes.

Is the situation reversible? Can the PLO return from its status as a virtual regime to a national liberation movement?

"The same people? No. But there is a new a spirit. The Palestinian Authority's role has to change. The leadership core must return to the PLO, while the PA should remain with powers as a large municipality. Nothing more. The PLO, which has lost its structure, must be rebuilt.

"I can feel the seeds of change. There are demonstrations in the villages, the BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel], the boycott on settlement products, defying the PA on the Goldstone report. What has happened in Tunisia and Egypt will expedite the process of change, revitalize the Palestinian cause and bring it back to where it belongs - not to a government or a "state," but as a movement of national liberation."

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