FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Orgy of the Dead

Bethlehem

It has been an unnatural string of days here in Bethlehem. Gone is the usual quaintness. Palestinian police are working overtime and coffee shops are being lit up by men in suits with cigars in town for Fatah’s sixth general assembly. The movement, which was established by Yasser Arafat in the 1950s as a nationalist and secular group, has since fallen from its dominance after the death of Arafat in 2004 and been confronted with  innumerable allegations of corruption and nepotism.

This is the first visit for many of the 2,200 Fatah officials who were exiled from Palestine decades ago. The last general conference of this kind happened more than 20 years ago in Tunis, but this year’s assembly, which will re-elect the organization’s 18-member central committee, comes at a bitter point in the Palestinian struggle. With Israel’s recent (and yet another) act of violence and provocation — the dispossession and eviction of two families from their Sheikh Jarrah home in East Jerusalem — Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah cohorts have to work against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s uncompromising posture.

But if there is one thing for which Fatah can be counted on, it is exemplary power and its capacity to intimidate — in this case with the trappings of totalitarianism as defined by the single party and the suppression of all opposition.

Back in Bethlehem, the opening ceremony to the conference began. Covering the walls of the conference room were posters of martyrs and multiple banners attempting to make a spirit of resistance visible: some with slogans calling for the Palestinian right of return, others emphasizing armed struggle and independence.

The Fatah anthem played. In a matter of seconds, the delegates became absorbed in a spectacle of chanting and clapping when Abbas, whose presidential term expired in January, appeared on stage. As Abbas waited for his turn to read from what seemed like an inevitable 60-page speech, a man walked around the aisles handing out cheaply-made, Fatah-branded kuffiyehs  to delegates and journalists. He insisted everybody wear it for the cameras.

The spectacle proceeded with an affectedly dramatic speech by former prime minister Ahmed Qureia, who partially owns al-Quds Cement, a company that has allegedly sold cement to Israel for the construction of Israel’s wall in the West Bank. Qureia called for remembrance of the deceased Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and a moment of silence for the Fatah martyrs of Palestine.

Abbas then took command of the stage, promoting Bethlehem as the besieged birthplace of Jesus. Delegates from Syria, Lebanon, Germany and other places, listened to Abbas talk about all the challenges facing Fatah, including an extended attack on Hamas’ “shamefulness” for not allowing Fatah officials out of Gaza. As Abbas spoke about Gaza, a delegate stood up from his chair, yelling in a repeated and ominous tone, “Death to Hamas!” Nobody seemed bothered. for the next two hours.

Abbas proceeded with his two-hour speech, giving a skewed history of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) from its birth in 1964 to the present day. One hour into his speech the old nationalist figures became restless. In and out they went from the corridors to the outdoor canopy to catch up with their old comrades. In between the political gibberish, a sunglasses-clad Qaddafi clone arrived fashionably late while cell phones rang and clouds of cigarette smoke haloed the heads of delegates who sat and listened to a history they already knew and lived through.

It was hard not to hear the loud self-congratulatory tone of Abbas exuding from the speakers when he spoke of the importance of improving security measures inside Palestine. He spoke on the new laws the Palestinian police have been enforcing that are being used to “discipline Palestinians,” as well as an investigation into Arafat’s death — without, of course, mentioning Fatah Secretary-General and PLO political department head Farouq Qaddumi’s recent allegations that Abbas himself had collaborated with Israel to bring about the late president’s death. He indirectly called out Qaddumi, saying those who wish to point fingers regarding Arafat’s death should be ashamed of themselves. No mention, however, was made of Abbas’ draconian decision to temporarily shut the West Bank offices of Al Jazeera for airing interviews in which Qaddumi made his bombshell accusations.

Already, Abbas has been voted — with no challenge — as Fatah’s leader for the next five years (only 65 of the 2,200 delegates voted against him), and it is has been reported that the US-backed Mohammed Dahlan and Ahmed Qureai are leading the nominee list for leadership posts – both involved in allegations of corruption.

Fatah’s Internal Coup?

Many of Fatah’s young and old remained cynical about the possibility of overcoming the organization’s infighting, saying they’d heard it all before. Apparently the one true believer was Jibril Rajoub, a former senior Fatah security official and former head of one of the many PA security forces, who is seen as a possible successor to Abbas. Rajoub told the horde of journalists who stuck microphones in his face that the conference was “a rebirth” that would revitalize Fatah.

But one just had to go outside to see the segregation among the delegates. The old and exiled, wearing khaki-colored uniforms reminiscent of their revolutionary days, gathered together to smoke cigarettes and drink coffee, while expressing gratitude to be back in Palestine for the one-week permit that was allowed them by Israel. Then there were the young: former fighters, such as Zakariya Zubeidi, who once led the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, but signed a so-called amnesty deal with Israel. He exuded optimism to the press on the urgency of pacification with Israel.

As one Fatah official said, “There are two planes in this movement: one plane of Dahlanists [Mohammed Dahlan and his cohorts] — those who spout peace and pragmatism, and another plane of resistance — those who want to keep armed struggle alive. But there is so much corruption that is occurring from those who hold high positions that I don’t think we can come together … it’s between them and us.”

No matter that the West Bank and Gaza are becoming increasingly dependent on Western aid organizations to develop their own cities and villages, Abbas insisted on showing the exiled delegates the PA’s “success.” Despite Palestine’s statelessness, Abbas mentioned how he has been improving security for the state. Upon hearing this, Mohamed Edwan (Head Press Officer to the PA who happened to sit beside me) shook his head and said, “This is a police state, not a state of security.”

It is already difficult to see the purpose of such ceremonies, but when Abbas’ very own communicator dismisses what he says as a falsehood, how can we expect Fatah’s central committee, political agenda and electoral decision-making bodies to act in unison with party members, much less the political leaders of other factions, or even Israel? These are the internal bonfires Fatah faces at the conference.

SOUSAN HAMMAD is a journalist based in  Ramallah. She can be reached at sousan.hammad@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:
July 16, 2018
Sheldon Richman
Trump Turns to Gaza as Middle East Deal of the Century Collapses
Charles Pierson
Kirstjen Nielsen Just Wants to Protect You
Brett Wilkins
The Lydda Death March and the Israeli State of Denial
Patrick Cockburn
Trump Knows That the US Can Exercise More Power in a UK Weakened by Brexit
Robert Fisk
The Fisherman of Sarajevo Told Tales Past Wars and Wars to Come
Gary Leupp
When Did Russia Become an Adversary?
Uri Avnery
“Not Enough!”
Dave Lindorff
Undermining Trump-Putin Summit Means Promoting War
Manuel E. Yepe
World Trade War Has Begun
Binoy Kampmark
Trump Stomps Britain
Wim Laven
The Best Deals are the Deals that Develop Peace
Kary Love
Can We Learn from Heinrich Himmler’s Daughter? Should We?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Franklin Lamb, Requiescat in Pace
Weekend Edition
July 13, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Brian Cloughley
Lessons That Should Have Been Learned From NATO’s Destruction of Libya
Paul Street
Time to Stop Playing “Simon Says” with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: In the Land of Formula and Honey
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s Intellectuals Bow to the Queen of Chaos 
Michael Collins
The Affirmative Action Silo
Andrew Levine
Tipping Points
Geoff Dutton
Fair and Balanced Opinion at the New York Times
Ajamu Baraka
Cultural and Ideological Struggle in the US: a Final Comment on Ocasio-Cortez
David Rosen
The New McCarthyism: Is the Electric Chair Next for the Left?
Ken Levy
The McConnell Rule: Nasty, Brutish, and Unconstitutional
George Wuerthner
The Awful Truth About the Hammonds
Robert Fisk
Will Those Killed by NATO 19 Years Ago in Serbia Ever Get Justice?
Robert Hunziker
Three Climatic Monsters with Asteroid Impact
Ramzy Baroud
Europe’s Iron Curtain: The Refugee Crisis is about to Worsen
Nick Pemberton
A Letter For Scarlett JoManDaughter
Marilyn Garson
Netanyahu’s War on Transcendence 
Patrick Cockburn
Is ISIS About to Lose Its Last Stronghold in Syria?
Joseph Grosso
The Invisible Class: Workers in America
Kim Ives
Haiti’s Popular Uprising Calls for President Jovenel Moïse’s Removal
John Carroll Md
Dispatch From Haiti: Trump and Breastfeeding
Alycee Lane
On Heat Waves and Climate Resistance
Ed Meek
Dershowitz the Sophist
Howard Lisnoff
Liberal Massachusetts and Recreational Marijuana
Ike Nahem
Trump, Trade Wars, and the Class Struggle
Olivia Alperstein
Kavanaugh and the Supremes: It’s About Much More Than Abortion
Manuel E. Yepe
Korea After the Handshake
Robert Kosuth
Militarized Nationalism: Pernicious and Pervasive
Binoy Kampmark
Soft Brexits and Hard Realities: The Tory Revolt
Helena Norberg-Hodge
Localization: a Strategic Alternative to Globalized Authoritarianism
Kevin Zeese - Nils McCune
Correcting The Record: What Is Really Happening In Nicaragua?
Chris Wright
The American Oligarchy: A Review
Kweli Nzito
Imperial Gangster Nations: Peddling “Democracy” and Other Goodies to the Untutored
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail