[News] Sword dancing while Gaza starves

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jan 24 11:33:03 EST 2008

Sword dancing while Gaza starves

Osamah Khalil, The Electronic Intifada, 24 January 2008


President George W. Bush and Prince Salman bin Abdul Al-Aziz (right) 
join sword dancers during the President's visit to Al Murabba Palace 
in Riyadh, 15 January 2008. (White House photo by Eric Draper)

A staggering disparity in images has emanated from the Middle East 
over the past two weeks. While US President George W. Bush received a 
warm welcome during his tour of the Persian Gulf, Israel pounded Gaza 
killing over 40 Palestinians, nearly half of them civilians. Bush 
participated in sword dancing ceremonies, watched the prowess of 
hunting falcons, and in the United Arab Emirates he was finally 
greeted with the flowers that he once believed American troops would 
receive in Iraq. The obscene displays of wealth and extravagant gifts 
by the Gulf states, whose coffers are flush with cash from 
near-record oil prices, contrasted sharply with the images of death 
and destruction unleashed on impoverished Gaza. This was compounded 
by Israel's total closure of the tiny strip late last week, leaving 
the 1.5 million Palestinian inhabitants with dwindling food and fuel 
supplies. As the only power plant in Gaza shut down Sunday night, 
Palestinian children in a candle-light march covered by Al Jazeera 
asked, "Where are the Arabs?" Yet, the Arabs weren't the only ones 
absent from the scene. Indeed, Gaza appears to have been abandoned by 
the entire world, further revealing the state of fragmentation and 
isolation of the Palestinian national movement.

Responding to the crisis, the Arab states again demonstrated their 
impotence and callous disregard for Palestinian suffering. In the 
diplomatic equivalent of a sword dance, an emergency meeting of the 
Arab League was held in Cairo on Monday. The result was a request by 
the League that the UN investigate Israel's actions. [1] However, it 
is unlikely that any such investigative body will be created. Even if 
impaneled, it is unlikely to have any impact, as was demonstrated 
with the UN investigative committee into Israel's 2002 invasion of 
the Jenin refugee camp.

Displaying the height of cynicism, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak 
deployed 300 riot control troops to the Rafah border crossing rather 
than send food or fuel. Egypt, which has 
<http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article9183.shtml>come under 
pressure from Israel and the US Congress for its inability to stop 
black-market tunnel traffic into Gaza, clearly wanted to demonstrate 
that while it publicly denounced the closure and privately mediated 
with the Israeli government, it was not about to unilaterally lift 
the siege. Instead, Hamas demonstrated on Wednesday that it could, as 
its militia destroyed 200 meters of the metal barrier separating 
Egyptian and Palestinian Rafah, allowing Palestinians to stream 
through and get needed supplies. Mubarak later claimed he ordered his 
troops not to interfere and that Palestinians could "come in and buy 
food" and return to Gaza as long as they were unarmed. [2]

Not to be left out, the UN held its own diplomatic sword dance in New 
York on Tuesday. Ambassador Riyad Mansour of the Palestinian Observer 
Mission to the UN, who five months ago blocked an effort by Qatar and 
Indonesia for a Security Council Resolution on the pending 
humanitarian crisis in Gaza, finally found the "specific need" absent 
in August. [3] Mansour called the situation "absolutely untenable" 
and argued that Israel was "creating a humanitarian catastrophe." [4] 
However, the resolution faltered in the Security Council, like many 
before it due to American pressure. Instead, the Security Council 
expressed "deep concern" in a non-binding and ultimately meaningless 
Presidential Statement. [5] While world leaders converged on Paris 
last month to shower money on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud 
Abbas in an attempt to bolster the "peace process," their silence on 
Gaza is deafening.

Back in Washington from its trip to the region, the Bush 
administration appears content to give Israel free reign and 
diplomatic cover in Gaza. Indeed, the escalation of Israeli military 
incursions and attacks began with Bush's arrival in Tel Aviv and 
climaxed last week as the trip was winding down. In his joint press 
conference appearance with Abbas, Bush called Gaza a "tough 
situation" that was unlikely to be "solved in a year." [6] The time 
table for that solution appears to have accelerated.

Rocket fire from Gaza has provided Israel with a convenient excuse to 
pursue punishing attacks and tighten its siege of the territory. 
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert justified Israel's actions by 
stating that "a war is going on in the south, every day, every 
night." [7] Meanwhile, Israel's supporters in the US, echoing Israeli 
government spokesmen, argue that Israel cannot be expected to sit 
still while its cities are targeted by Palestinian rockets. Yet, no 
rockets have emanated from the West Bank and the occupation not only 
continues there, it is further entrenched through settlement 
expansion, continued construction of the Apartheid Wall, and near 
daily military incursions, arrests and assassinations. All of this 
occurring under the watchful eye of American mediators designated to 
judge Israeli and Palestinian compliance with the terms agreed at 
November's Annapolis conference. After Foreign Ministry spokesman 
Arye Mekel claimed that Hamas had an "interest in exaggerating," 
Israel relented slightly by allowing enough fuel to restart Gaza's 
power plant on Tuesday. [8] However, implicit in the shipment was the 
threat of continued cuts and closures.

Perhaps most disturbing of all has been the actions of the 
Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA). While Abbas has publicly 
uttered words of sympathy for Palestinians in Gaza and condemnation 
of Israeli actions, privately his officials have continued their 
ongoing whispering campaign against Hamas. An anonymous PA official 
explained to The Jerusalem Post that "'We hope the residents of the 
Gaza Strip will now realize that Hamas has only brought disaster upon 
them'" and added, "'the only way to resolve the crisis is by getting 
rid of Hamas.'" [9] More telling has been Abbas' unwillingness to 
suspend negotiations with Israel until the blockade is lifted. If 
Gaza's children ponder Arab inaction, the same can surely be said for 
the PA in Ramallah.

Nor is Hamas blameless in this crisis. It has been almost two years 
since its stunning election victory, and the movement has yet to 
decide whether it wants to be a resistance movement or a government 
-- it cannot be both. If it is solely a resistance movement then it 
must begin to elucidate a clear political and military strategic 
vision for its followers, other political factions and the 
Palestinian people as a whole that demonstrates how it will achieve 
its goals. If it is an elected representative government, then it 
must begin to compromise and accommodate alternate points of view, 
even those it disagrees with. In addition, the movement cannot 
continue to behave like the opposition party when it has assumed the 
role of governing authority in Gaza. Although Israel bears ultimate 
responsibility as the occupying power in the West Bank and Gaza, 
Hamas wanted and took control of Gaza, and is at least partially 
responsible for the actions that occur within the territory and the 
consequences for the population. While this does not excuse Israel's 
brutality or the criminality of its actions, the Palestinian people 
are owed an explanation from Fatah, Hamas and the other factions for 
the political and military strategies they pursue and their 
implications. The failure of these groups to reconcile and their 
continued adoption of tactics that have proven to be detrimental to 
the national movement demonstrate their selfish myopia and expose 
their negligence and incompetence.

As the region is gripped by the coldest winter in memory, the sword 
dancing will continue. Gaza will remain under siege with Israel 
allowing the minimal amount of food and fuel supplies into the 
territory, attempting to slowly punish the Palestinians living there. 
The US, the EU, the UN, the Arab League, and even other Palestinians 
will sit back and allow it to happen in a conspiracy of silence and 
complicity. One can only hope that the people of Gaza will forgive 
the world's silence and inaction. But they have no reason to, nor should they.

Osamah Khalil is a Palestinian-American doctoral candidate in US and 
Middle East History at the University of California at Berkeley, 
focusing on US foreign policy in the Middle East. He can be reached 
at okhalil at berkeley.edu.

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