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Politics of Chaos

Gaza’s Turmoil in Context

by RAMZY BAROUD

The most recent kidnappings in the Gaza Strip are a disheartening testimony to how factionalism, corruption and lack of discipline can scar a national struggle that was meant to exemplify precisely the opposite.

Although attempts to hijack and reduce the Palestinian struggle date back to its very early days, never before have these efforts succeeded in eclipsing Palestinian national priorities in their entirety, as we are witnessing today.

Thousands of headlines around the world have reached a similar deduction: "Gaza Engulfed in Chaos. "While the chronic failure to place Gaza’s ‘anarchy’ in a proper framework persists, almost all news media, without fail, have managed to link Gaza’s disorder to Israel’s Disengagement Plan of late last year. "After Israel: Who Can Run Gaza?" asks the Christian Science Monitor, as if occupation is a legitimate form of governance, as if Gaza is anything but an exclusively Palestinian entity.

But never mind that. Never mind that a few months of Palestinian failure to control Gaza–with very few causalities resulting from the chaos–espoused greater media outrage, questioning and scrutiny than all 38-years of the catastrophic Israeli occupation combined. Never mind that Israeli bombardments and assassinations of Palestinian activists in Gaza–carried out simultaneously during the kidnapping ordeals–received little coverage and no rebuke. Never mind that because after decades of mostly one-sided media coverage, one, though grudgingly, is forced to concede that Western media is, by and large decidedly on the wrong side of any legitimate national struggle. Iraq and Palestine are the most obvious examples.

But this is not a discussion on the role of the media per se, misguided or otherwise. Rather, it’s an attempt to expose Palestinians misuse of the legitimate struggle of their people to achieve prominence, fame and fortune, while ordinary Palestinians continue to endure under the boot of Israeli soldiers and now the rein of militants.

The timing of the Gaza turmoil is suspiciously impeccable. Israel had argued for long that Palestinians are unruly and incapable of governing themselves, that occupation was the best worst case scenario considering Palestinian incompetence, that Israel cannot rely on Palestinian police to secure its borders, thus must take matters into its own hands. And so it did. Israel’s designation of a "no-go" zone in Gaza–enforced by air strikes and artillery fire- thus seemed a rational conclusion to the security gap in Gaza; the zone’s first victim, killed on December 31, compelled no condemnation. Even the Palestinian Authority seemed disinterested.

But the timing is also appropriate from the point of view of some Palestinians; those who have benefited from the status quo and wish not see a fundamental shift in the balance of power within the Palestinian political milieu.

Genuine and transparent democracy has always stood at odds with the interests of the self-imposed elites, the political and ideological profiteers to be exact. Several rounds of Palestinian municipal elections have already proven that a serious political shakeup is forthcoming on January 25–the due date for the legislative elections – and that those who made millions while paying lip service to Palestinian freedom, liberation and so forth, might have to answer to a truly representative parliament, who cannot easily be bought, intimidated or silenced.

By destabilizing Gaza through disaffected militant groups, influential members of the ruling Fatah party–who risk loosing their power and relevance altogether–are likely sending a message that if democracy subtracts them out of the political equation–with all of its privileges–militancy and disorder can bring them back.

Though Gazans are frankly speaking about whom these individuals are, no names are confirmed and none should be expected. However, it’s safe to conclude that the Gaza kidnappings (14 within the last 12 months, according to the BBC’s Alan Johnston) is a political message, a bit of muscle flexing and a warning shot. We know so because similar tactics were used in the past, but most importantly because of the PA’s baffling response: only one arrest has been made so far, an indication that high-ranking individuals are likely to be the actual culprits.

Most Palestinians don’t subscribe to the illusion that the upcoming elections equate to any form of political independence. But according to most polls conducted by various West Bank universities, they also realize the urgent need to flush out and reconstruct their political and civil institutions in a way that equally represents and fairly speaks to the needs and aspirations of all Palestinians. If this task was achieved–despite attempts by Israel and disaffected Palestinians to torpedo such efforts–then, and for the first time in decades, one could expect a unified Palestinian position, indeed a political strategy to confront the growing threat presented by the Israeli occupation.

The task is indeed daunting. Not only are Israel and the likely-to-be-marginalized Palestinians erecting their barriers in the face of the Palestinian democratic movement, but also the European Union, the US Congress and the Middle East Quartet, are all pounding their fists enraged by the participation of political movements that are deemed "unfit for democracy".

While such stances should be of no surprise, considering the dismal track record of duplicity and double standards, one cannot help but feel dismayed that some Palestinians are taking part in this arm-twisting, targeting foreigners who come to Palestine to show solidarity with its people. While the word "cowardly" immediately comes to mind, "self-defeating" seems even more suitable a term to describe such debased acts. If only those ill-advised militants could possibly fathom the damage they’ve caused and the sense of betrayal that there hostages must have felt.

My hope is that the January elections will embroider a new Palestinian political fabric, a sense of collectiveness, a new strategy, a new narrative, and finally a sense of direction. I am confident that the movement for change in occupied Palestine will prevail over all attempts aimed at destroying it, no matter how obstinate, no matter how dishonorable.

RAMZY BAROUD, who teaches mass communication at Curtin University of Technology, is the author of the forthcoming book "Writing on the Palestinian Uprising: A Chronology of a People’s Struggle (Pluto Press, London)". He is also the editor-in-chief of PalestineChronicle.com