Two Fox News journalists, Steve Cantani and Olas Wing were released by their Palestinian kidnappers in the Gaza Strip on Sunday, August 27. Just one day earlier, two Reuters cameramen were seriously wounded in an apparently deliberate Israeli strike on their clearly marked vehicle, according to news reports. The names of the two wounded cameramen, as well as their story went largely unreported. Why was their fate deemed inconsequential, compared to that of the Fox News journalists.
Video recordings released earlier by the kidnappers of Cantani and Wing revealed similarities in style with that of Iraqi groups, notorious for their gory beheadings and other acts of savagery. The Palestinian group has no clear record and no apparent affiliation with any other known Palestinian faction. They laid out impossible demands and employed Islamic rhetoric. Both journalists were forced to convert to Islam, in a very disturbing, yet amateurish act. Any Islamic interpretation, no matter how fundamental, forbids such practice. Qoranic verses in this regard are indisputable.
Did the Holy Jihad Brigades — a dodgy name by any Palestinian standards — know that forcing a person to recite that “There is No God but Allah” does not qualify them as Muslim? What business did the dubious holy worriers of Gaza have demanding a release of all Muslim prisoners in American jails? Not enough Palestinians in Israeli prisons, perhaps?
How interesting that the Palestinian kidnappers wished to twist American arms which was of course met with US defiance the same way that the capturers of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit on June 25 tried to extract concessions from Israel,m when they rightfully demanded the release of Palestinian women and children held illegally in Israeli jails. Once again the American public are being introduced to the outlandish ways of Islamic terror, and once again asked to appreciate the ‘courage’ and defiance of the Israeli government in the face of extortion and intimidation.
While the kidnapping of the two Fox News journalists — the method, the demands and the dark-age presentation that lasted for two weeks – all exhibit the work of disturbed and ignorant young men their timing and the PR disaster they’ve caused are hardly above suspicion.
Though it’s difficult, if not impossible, to determine for sure who was exactly behind that charade, it’s important to fathom the context in which it took place.
Israel, on the one hand, had desperately tried to link its fight against Palestinians,which evolved into a war against Palestinian democracy following the January 2006 legislative elections, with America’s war on terror. Palestinian factions, wary of the Israeli scheme seemed averse to any involvement with al-Qaeda.
The advent of Hamas to the political scene in Palestine, and despite its utterly moderate position if compared to most Islamic political and/or militant movements dotting the Middle East and the Muslim world, prompted Israel into renewed allegations of the existence of that link: Hamas to Israel is as al-Qaeda to America. So ran the Israeli mantra.
That ploy too has failed, even with the help of President Bush and his administration, who have never shied away from linking Hamas with al-Qaeda at every available opportunity. The Israeli redeployment around Gaza was hardly the end of Israeli interest in the impoverished Gaza Strip. It left behind a legion of self-seekers, eager to retrieve the many privileges lost since the restructuring of the political landscape after the democratic toppling of Fatah in the recent Palestinian elections. While many Palestinians wish not to admit the size and significance of such a group, all signs point to their unmatched influence, and ability to wreck havoc on Palestinian society, prompt chaos, and impede the genuine attempts of Hamas and a less corrupt Fatah faction to achieve a national unity government.
Though Palestinians are an occupied nation, a unity government could be very positive. Without it Palestinians have little chance to develop meaningful internal and external strategies to unify their ranks and to resist Israel’s onslaught and unremitting land grabs in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Every time officials from both sides promised that such a government will be declared very soon, sometimes within hours, a dramatic event sends talks back to square one. The Israeli onslaughts on Gaza, which killed hundreds in recent months, came at the heels of an inter-Palestinian agreement according to which Hamas would accept international law as the most plausible resolution to the conflict with Israel, and also ensure the release of the captured Israeli soldier. The kidnapping of the two American journalists was timed in such a way to embarrass the Palestinian government and provide Israel with enough leverage to carry on with its incessant violence.
But how could the Palestinian kidnappers be so outdated in their rhetoric, yet so skilful in producing a faultless PR disaster, handing Israel the most convenient illustration as of yet, of al-Qaeda-like mindset of Palestinians?
The kidnapping episode will certainly be milked for all its worth while the deliberate targeting of the two Reuters journalists by the Israeli army will hardly register for more than a day or two as a fleeting item. The Israelis and their friends will eloquently associate the journalist kidnapping with its most rational kin, the capturing of the Israeli soldier.
few will dare challenge that scenario, or point at the discrepancies between the Holy Jihad Brigades’ style and technique and other Palestinian militants fighting Israeli occupation.
The irony in all of this is that Israel, the United States and much of Europe behind them have collectively punished the Palestinian people for electing Hamas, imposing an effective siege, economic and diplomatic against Palestinians, which resulted in further chaos and instability.
Regardless of who is exactly behind the journalists’ kidnapping in Gaza, this episode highlights the volatility of a situation in which an elected government is being forced to operate under ground (with many of its members already in Israeli jails), leaving the matter of security to be handled by same Fatah factions that caused a significant part of the chaos and insecurity in Gaza.
Is it a surprise that the Fatah security forces always fail to carry out even one arrest once the release of foreign hostages is secured, perhaps with the hope that the kidnappers will strike once more whenever such distractions are convenient for both Israel and its beneficiaries? The mockery is most disturbing.
RAMZY BAROUD is a US author and journalist, currently based in London. His recent book, “The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle” (Pluto Press, London) is now available at Amazon.com. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of PalestineChronicle.com.