Unprecedented pressures have built up in recent weeks on the beleaguered Palestinian people, fuelling a heightened sense of despair. Participants in the Palestinian struggle for a national home and identity are convinced that never in the nearly six decades since the “catastrophe” of 1948, have things seemed as dark and gloomy. This applies as much to the communities that have been scattered widely across Arab lands by Israeli ethnic cleansing, as to those that have been corralled into desperately squalid and congested urban spaces in the West Bank and the Gaza strip.
Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, which have enjoyed tacit immunity and a high degree of administrative autonomy under a four-decades old agreement, were attacked by the Lebanese army in May, ostensibly to track down and eliminate certain “extremist” elements within. These punitive raids enjoyed the ostentatious support of the U.S., which made a special point of shipping arms and equipment deemed essential for the operations to the Lebanese army.
Mid-June, the Palestinian resistance group Hamas, acting by all accounts to preempt a move to void national elections and oust it from power, carried out a swift, surgical strike within the Gaza strip to efface all traces of Fatah, its principal rival for influence. This brought to an end the diarchic situation within the occupied Palestinian territories, under which Hamas controlled the government but was compelled to work under the irksome tutelage of the Fatah president, Mahmoud Abbas.
The Hamas takeover was the unexpected denouement to a global campaign launched by Israel and its U.S. patrons to isolate the Palestinian people living under military occupation for close to four decades. In the pressure-cooker like atmosphere that resulted from a complete denial of contact with the outside world, the Zionist state expected that the more amenable elements within Fatah would feel emboldened to confront and defeat the militant nationalists within Hamas.
Even if the Hamas takeover of the Gaza strip was unexpected, it has presented ardent expansionists within Israel with something akin to an opportunity. The parting of ways between Hamas and Fatah, and their sequestration respectively, within the Gaza and the West bank, now affords Israel the opportunity to continue with its brutal military rampage through the Gaza. This has been a signature activity of its campaign to suppress the Palestinian uprising that began in September 2000. Now that the good Palestinians in the West Bank have been separated from the bad Palestinians of Gaza, even the faint murmurs of protest that were heard will presumably be silenced.
The havoc wrought on Gaza by periodic Israeli military incursions punctuate the slow haemorrhage that has been caused by a year-and-a-half of economic siege – not to mention 40 years of military occupation. Since the Hamas takeover, Israel’s closure of all land crossings into and out of Gaza has if anything, become even more comprehensive. An estimated two-thirds of Gaza’s population is now living in dire poverty. The essentials of life have become increasingly scarce, not least because one of Israel’s first military actions since Hamas’ electoral triumph, destroyed the Gaza’s sole power station.
Seemingly to underline its belief that the good can quite easily be sundered from the bad Palestinians through the coarse application of the lure of lucre, Israel has ordered that Palestinian tax revenues -- illegally withheld for years together – can now be released to the Fatah authorities in the West Bank.
There is an unbroken thread connecting these developments with the Israeli effort to undermine any credible leadership emerging within the Palestinian society, so that it can persist with the foundational myths of the Zionist state. The myth has itself undergone mutations over the years but its fundamental premise is the denial of the humanity of the victims of Israeli ethnic cleansing. The victims then are compelled to bear the burden of blame for their misfortunes.
When Hamas won a landslide victory in the January 2006 Palestinian national elections – universally certified as free and fair -- Israel with the active encouragement of the U.S., contrived a way of delegitimising the outcome. It was not sufficient that Hamas win a mandate from the Palestinian people, it also needed to recognise the state of Israel, renounce violence and publicly proclaim that it would honour all the preceding agreements that had been concluded between Israel and the Palestinian authority.
It was an irony of this demarche placed upon the Palestinians, one that passed largely unremarked, that Israel has never acknowledged their existence as a people. When a qualified and hesitant recognition came with the Oslo accord of 1994, it was only to recruit them as accomplices in the task of policing the occupation of their own lands.
This was an endeavour that had little chance of success so long as Yasser Arafat remained the symbolic head of the Palestinian people. Mahmoud Abbas though was a far more pliable figure: the memorandum of understanding he concluded with Israeli cabinet minister Yossi Beilin in 1994 as the basis for the peace accord, has rightly earned notoriety as a shameful document of surrender.
Though Arafat refused to instigate the Palestinian civil war that Israel dearly wanted, the structures of patronage that he created flourished during the years of pretended peace negotiations. They have persisted well into the Palestinian intifada and the breakdown of all dialogue. Hamas’ landslide election victory last year was a popular insurrection by against a conniving Fatah leadership that had since Arafat’s death, functioned unabashedly as a corrupt clique intent on pursuing its own interests at the cost of the larger struggle. In seeking retribution, Israel has imposed a collective punishment upon the Palestinians much more severe than anything seen till now, which is likely to enormously compound its own formidable record of crimes against humanity.