Friday, June 22, 2007
Gaza: Slaughter of Civilians; Destruction of Infrastructure
‘Dangerous and Chaotic’
The Gaza violence has forced the United Nations to suspend most of its relief operations for Palestinians trapped in the middle. How the fighting is affecting education and aid.
Mahmud Hams / AFP-Getty Images
NEWSWEEK: What's the situation like on the ground in Gaza?
John Ging: Movement is highly restricted. It's very difficult to get around at the moment. We only move if it's essential. We're just having to exercise extreme caution. The fighting is really everywhere. There are lots of checkpoints and lots of obstacles to movement.
How have your facilities been affected?
In some cases the fighting has spilled over into the food-distribution centers. They've been overrun with armed individuals. They've sought to take over some of our installations to gain the advantage of the high ground. It's very dangerous and chaotic at the moment.
What's the biggest danger of the current fighting?
Extremists have much more space to operate given the lawless state of affairs. There's a serious breakdown in law and order. Extremists and radical groups have a lot of space to operate.
This has been our fear—that each time the violence flares, we cross more and more red lines. The great fear is that we will cross over to the point of no return. Of the past three outbreaks, each has been more ferocious than the last. Now they're fighting in hospital wards, individuals are being thrown from buildings. What's worrying all of us is that we can't keep going with these cycles without crossing a point of no return.
Conventional wisdom holds that Hamas seems to have the upper hand. Do you agree?
One can only see it as one sees the surface. Hamas has taken control of a number of security spaces. The wisdom on the ground is that both sides have a lot of resources. If both sides are intent on fighting to the end, it will take a very, very long time.
Back in March, armed militants attacked the convoy you were riding in. Did you ever discover who was responsible?
To date, nobody has been arrested; we honestly don't know. This is the problem. In broad daylight a U.N. car can be ambushed. Three months later nobody's been arrested.
Don't you feel a little taken advantage of? You're trying to help and you're being attacked.
The way people like me rationalize our circumstances is to look at our mission. I've gone to the morgue in Beit Hanun. I have looked at dismembered bodies of children that I will never forget. That's what motivates us to do our jobs. We have to continue to have the resolve to help those decent people. Many of those who have been killed are innocent children. They are civilized people living in difficult circumstances, but they have not become their environment.
How do you judge Israel's response to all this?
We just hope that everybody shows restraint. This is first and foremost the responsibility of the Palestinians. Israel has legitimate security concerns, but they have to find solutions without adding to or compounding the problem here. Israel, in our view, can significantly contribute to stability by finding a solution to the issues at the border crossings which allow the borders to function. In economic collapse, there's fertile ground for extremism. Peace is a dividend of economic wellbeing.
Are there other ways that the fighting has affected your operations?
We had to close a number of our operations centers yesterday, and then again today. Of 18 health centers we run in Gaza, seven are closed. Of five food-distribution centers, three are closed. [After Wednesday's shootings, UNRWA announced that it would temporarily suspend most other Gaza operations.]
What about schools?
The school year for us has ended, so that's not an issue. But we have a massive recreation initiative due to kick off this weekend, involving 200,000 children. This will now have to be postponed until the fighting ends. We were also due to run a remedial education program for 50,000 children, who were underperforming because of the disruptions last year. That's in jeopardy of being postponed.
What are you able to do in the current environment?
Our operation is focused of the delivery of the vitals. For many of the refugees, if they don't get our food, then they don't have food. We're doing our best to mitigate a complete collapse. People who are aid-dependent have no other sources. The moment we get an opportunity to reopen, we will. The need of the people is very great. There's nowhere else to turn. We are their last resort.© 2007 Newsweek, Inc
Gaza's Brain Drain - Destroying a People
'Back to the Stone Age'Even before last week's violence, Gaza's middle class had begun to flee the territory. Thousands may follow—and take with them the skills needed to rebuild.
Khalil Hamra / AP
Why Gaza Matters
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The Gaza Effect
June 25, 2007 issue - The Israelis didn't want Palestinian elections back in January 2006. Even Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, had been worried about them and kept asking for delays. As early as the spring of 2005, Abbas had warned American officials that he did not have the popular support to disarm Hamas, the Islamist party that turned suicide terror bombings into a standard tactic in Israel and which both Abbas and the Israelis saw was growing in power. But Bush administration officials insisted, confident of the curative powers of democracy. Later, after Hamas stunned the world by winning control of the Palestinian Parliament, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice claimed: "Nobody saw it coming.
The line could describe much of what has resulted from George W. Bush's efforts to transform the world—or at least one part of it, the Middle East [Seven Stones: transform it into puppet nations]. As long as the Islamists of Hamas refused to recognize Israel, the United States refused to deal with the Hamas-dominated Palestinian government. The hope was not that ordinary Palestinians would suffer, but that they would realize such a government was not in their best interests.[Seven Stones: Liars! They KNEW the Palestinians would suffer - their hope was that their suffering would become so intense and intolerable that they would rise up in revolt against the government they LEGALLY voted in- that refused to be a Bush puppet.] At the same time Washington tried to bolster Abbas and his Fatah movement—the secular Palestinian party founded by Yasir Arafat. The strategy backfired. America was seen to be taking sides. Hamas, under pressure, built up its own paramilitary forces to counter those controlled by Abbas (and trained by the United States). Then, last week, as tit-for-tat killings in Gaza spiraled out of control, those Hamas fighters in Gaza turned out to be far more fierce than their better-funded opponents. The result: the radicals are now in charge of Gaza, a 140-square-mile strip of land on the Mediterranean Sea along Israel's western border that is packed with 1.4 million Palestinians, most of them desperately poor. Until late 2005 Gaza was occupied by Israeli troops, and until last week Bush still saw it as part of the new Palestinian state he wanted to create along with the larger West Bank. Now Gaza may become Hamas's private enclave and perhaps even an ungovernable font of terror. [Seven Stones: AS usual. Bush and the Neocons were too stupid to foresee the blowback from their manipulatiove plots.]
Wissam Nassar / MaanImages-AP
Critical Condition: Seriously wounded during one of last week's battles, a young Palestinian is rushed into a Gaza City emergency room for treatment.
Why does the disaster in Gaza matter? In part because the defeat of the secular—and more moderate—Fatah forces could, along with the insurgents' success in Iraq, inspire Islamist radicals in the region and around the world. Hamas is not the Taliban, and it knows that an uptick in rocket attacks against Israel will be met with a harsh response. But, as Bush said in his second Inaugural, the whole point of promoting freedom [ Seven Stones:Bush brand of "freedom" is submission to the US and Neocons et al] is to blunt the hopelessness and anger that breed radicalism [It has increased anger and hopelessness and radicalism.]. Gaza faces 50 percent unemployment in the best of times. Qaeda-like splinter groups that have carried out kidnappings of foreigners have already begun to appear. Further isolating the territory is not likely to fill its residents with faith in the future
Citizens of countries where Washington has called for greater democracy—Iran, say, or Syria—now have three less-than-inspiring examples close to home. In Lebanon, Iranian-backed Hizbullah reigns as a power unto itself. In Iraq, the sect-based parties that came to power in the 2005 elections have created a bloody nightmare, and stymied any attempts to forge a truly national consensus. And in the Palestinian territories, Washington simply rejected the election results.
Optimists in Israel and America argue that Abbas, having dismissed the Hamas-led Palestinian government, is now free to receive millions in aid money and customs revenues that had been held back. The idea seems to be to bolster the wealthier, less radicalized West Bank and starve Gaza (of attention and respectability, if not food) [Seven Stones: OH YES<>
Gaza also poses a lesson in the limits of imperial power in the 21st century. Let's face it: Americans have always made crummy imperialists. A century ago Teddy Roosevelt complained that "America lacked the stomach for empire." A senior White House official echoed that lament early in the Iraq occupation, noting that America has the power of a true empire, like Rome or like Britain in the 19th century, but not the taste for acting like one. "Look at us in Iraq—how much difficulty we have in saying we will anoint people to run the country. Does anyone think the Romans or the Brits would have been deterred?" he grumbled.
Mahmud Hams / AFP-Getty Images
Mourning: Relatives of an Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade leader weep at his funeral
Labels: why gaza matters
Gaza: Hamas vs Fatah - Divide and Conquer
The Lion's Den
After its lightning conquest, Hamas is trying to present an image of calm and control in Gaza. But seldom has the territory seemed so desperate and chaotic.
June 21, 2007 - There wasn't much left of Mohammed Dahlan's house by the time I stopped by Wednesday morning. The whitewashed villa in Gaza City's lush Remal neighborhood had been torched, robbed and stripped by looters of any loose fixture or ornament of value, including the sewage pipes in the backyard. Children had sketched unflattering charcoal drawings of Dahlan, the reviled founder of the Fatah-controlled Preventive Security apparatus, on the walls upstairs; captions like HE IS A SPY and HAMAS WAS HERE were scrawled underneath. Adolescent boys swung sledgehammers at the floor, chipping away rectangular slabs of marble and stacking them in a donkey cart. "I'm taking this stuff," a teenager with a pickaxe told me, explaining that he was going to "pave" his living room with marble. While we talked, another small boy jumped up and snatched my sunglasses, while a third grabbed the tiny flashlight clipped to my backpack. "Let's go," said my translator, Hassan. "And check your pockets."
Visiting the Gaza Strip is always a surreal experience, but I don't think I've ever seen it quite so desperate and chaotic. After Hamas's lightning conquest of the territory last week, the Islamists were trying their best to present an image of calm and control to the world. The group's leaders ordered fighters to take off their black ski masks and stow most of the Kalashnikovs and RPGs. Traffic cops in fluorescent yellow vests and green Hamas baseball caps had been dispatched to busy intersections to channel the snarl of taxis. Hamas leaders insisted they would grant amnesty to any Fatah security personnel who wanted to come back to work. "We are going to help them reconstruct themselves," Hamas cofounder Mahmoud Zahar said later Wednesday afternoon at his bullet-pocked house, which had been fortified with concrete blast walls and sandbagged sniper nests spilling over the edges of the roof. "We are controlling everything now."
Mahmud Hams / AFP-Getty Images
Down with Dahlan: A Hamas militant stomps on a portrait of the the Fatah strongman in Gaza
Emilio Morenatti / AP
Seeking Safety: Palestinian men shed their clothes for a security check as they approach the Israeli side of the Erez Crossing
After stopping at Dahlan's house, we drove by the Preventive Security headquarters he once controlled. Like the Fatah leader's house, the building had been completely burned, hacked to pieces, and stripped of furniture. The charred résumés of Rashid Abu Shbak, another top Preventive Security officer, littered the floor of the complex. Broken glass crunched under our feet, and the entire building smelled like a marshmallow roast gone bad. We walked toward the prison complex in the back—a row of tiny white cells with eight-inch peepholes that once held some of Gaza's most prominent Islamists, including Mahmoud Zahar. On the wall of one of the cells, someone had scratched the words AL QAEDA IN PALESTINE in Arabic.
As Hassan and I began to walk out of the jail, we heard what sounded like a fist banging on one of the steel doors inside the jailhouse. "Hey!" a voice shouted in Arabic. "Let me out!" We asked the man what he was still doing in jail while everyone else had gone. "I'm a thief!" he cried. "Please open the door." That didn't seem like a good idea. The prisoner told us he had been looting the Preventive Security complex and the new Hamas guards locked him up. Hassan asked whether he belonged to Fatah or Hamas. "I'm Hamas, but tomorrow I'm going to be Fatah," he griped. As we walked away, we could hear the thief quietly singing in Arabic: "We are the nation of freedom…."
Our last stop of the day was the home of Mahmoud Zahar's younger brother Yussef, a former militant in Hamas's Izzedine al-Qassam militia. Yussef, like his brother Mahmoud, was dressed in a pale gray linen safari suit, which made the brothers look unfortunately like Gazan versions of Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movies. I didn't think it was a good idea to tell them that. Instead we sipped sweet tea and talked about the difficulty of the job Hamas has ahead of it.
Yussef's grandson, a chunky, bald toddler, climbed up onto his lap. I asked how an isolated Hamas would ever get the money it needed to run the territory. He answered my question with a warning. "Don't put a lion in a corner, or he will bite," Yussef said. If the sanctions continue, "the victims will not be in the Gaza Strip only. They will be everywhere. Because we want to live. Do you believe I will give you a chance to live, and I will die? If I don't find food, I will eat men. If I am hungry, I will eat you." He looked at me for a second and then cracked a smile. "Don't worry," he said. "We still have food." We all laughed, a little too hard, the way you laugh at something that is not really a joke at all.