By Mats Svensson
Not a long time ago…..
He himself intended to vote for Hamas. "I am not religious," he said. "I don’t pray, I don’t fast. But I will vote for Hamas because we are sick of all the thieves, we are sick of seeing them steal our money. We have received billions of dollars from around the world, but where are they?" – Excerpt from an article by Amira Hass in Haaretz, 27 Jan. 2006.
In meetings with Palestinians in Bethlehem, in Nablus, in Hebron, in Jerusalem and in Gaza have those willing, been able to hear. The message has been clear.
"I will never vote for corruption."
"What does that mean?" I asked a Christian man living in Bethlehem.
"It simply means that I will never vote for corruption."
And there I stood, 2004. In my hand, I held the World Bank proposition to save the Palestinian Authority, to save Fatah. Save them from what?
We were afraid of something unclear, something inconstant or maybe too constant. Was it the men dressed in green with the long beards? Men, men, only men. We all saw something scary ahead of us. And the big budget supports were paid out. Not from Sweden but from many other countries. Trust funds, budget support. Paid out to create security, keep something alive. Artificially, it would survive. But what was it that was meant to survive?
The Palestinian Authority’s cash box was empty. Voters believed that the cash box was hollowed out by corruption, by violence, by a wall that brings normal life and economic activity to a standstill, a wall that ensures that Palestine, as a whole, no longer exists. It was the time Palestinian criticism was directed as much towards their leaders as towards the occupying power.
As Mavivi. Advisor to president Mbeki, said when she was visiting Palestine, "Someone has taken the cheese and left the holes, but the holes are empty and someone thinks that one can create something out of nothing." She asked, "Who believes that?" She also said, "Apartheid was stupidity, but here one has sophisticated the stupidity.”
Everyone spoke of ‘the window of opportunity.’ And we asked ourselves for whom did this window open. Did the Palestinian people have an open window, a window towards new possibilities? Was it all those who lived in, what Mavivi called, the holes of the cheese? Enclosed in an impossible future behind high walls. Or was it someone else who was meant to start believing in the future? Maybe it was the small elite they had in mind, those who could still easily leave Gaza, Ramallah, Nablus, Bethlehem or Hebron.
And the international community continued its work. Increased its support through new creations and large transfers to the Palestinian Authority with Fatah in the driver’s seat. At the same time, the World Bank promised that reforms within the Palestinian Authority were working.
The problem was that by the wall in Abu Dis, Muhammad did not believe this; Rashid in Nablus saw something else, and the children on their way to school in Hebron saw their road lengthening. Every day that passed, it took them longer and longer to arrive to school while the number of eggs thrown at them did not decrease.
Now the women wore black and green and went to the ballot boxes, taking the decision into their own hands. They defied the world, defied the donors, defied the World Bank, defied Arafat’s successor, defied Israel, defied the USA, defied the EU, and defied the peace process. Staked it all on one card.
At the ballot boxes, the women said that a party with social pathos but without corruption was better than what they had endured. They did not want the whole package, but the majority said no to corruption. They said that the economic abuse of power had to be stopped, that the wall had to be torn down. Every day since the wall’s construction began, the women lost.
Every day was a lost day. No one could identify a day where a square meter had not been lost to the other side. Olive trees pulled up by bulldozers. Not a day when the wall had not become longer, not a day that wages had not decreased. They were saying no to something but with few alternatives.
There had not been a day that the arm did not been weaken, that the heart did not pump more heavily, that anxiety did not increase. Every woman in Palestine knew it. Along the wall, every Palestinian has this knowledge. They have informed diplomats, donors and analysts about their lost days. They have informed those who have wanted to listen. We, who are a part of the international community, have always had the knowledge.
Sweden did not at that time pay out any budget support to the Palestinian Authority. Sweden is cleared in this regard. We placed ourselves at the sidelines. But where was our position?
What did we say?
Where were we?
Not a long time ago, but who dares, can and wants create a change today?
– Mats Svensson, a former Swedish diplomat working on the staff of SIDA, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, is presently following the ongoing occupation of Palestine. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.