By Joharah Baker
One law of nature is that if organisms are crowded together in a confined area with limited freedom to move or expand, they will inevitably turn on each other. This is already happening with our hamsters, which continue to reproduce in exponential numbers. Now, with ten furry rodents in a cage designed for two, the critters are constantly flipping over each other, biting one another and pushing each other off the treadmill in a territorial bid to claim their own slice of space in their cramped quarters.
At the risk of oversimplifying the otherwise complex situation, the Gaza Strip is more or less a huge hamster cage, its inhabitants viciously vying over exaggerated seats of power and positions, each side ready and willing to spill the blood of their neighbors in the name of their distorted cause.
The clashes between Hamas and Fatah in the Gaza Strip, which witnessed a brief lull in the past few weeks when Israel pounded the Strip instead, have resurfaced with a vengeance. According to Palestinian media sources, nearly 40 people have been killed in the clashes since Monday morning alone. Scores more have been injured, many of them seriously. Hospital sources in Khan Younis and Gaza City have reported that a number of injuries have been to the lower extremities, namely the knee area, which has resulted in many amputations given the extent of damage.
The details of the clashes have been splashed across newspapers, internet websites and television screens for days – makeshift checkpoints set up by armed members of the Fatah-backed security services and similarly by the Hamas-affiliated executive force. Then there are the bloody scenes at the hospitals – young men being carried hastily in on gurneys, covered in blood and surrounded by adrenaline-pumped comrades vowing for revenge.
While the numbers are shocking – on Tuesday alone, 28 people were killed in armed confrontations – the performance of those supposedly responsible leaders at the helm is even worse. While both sides claim to want calm and a “ceasefire”, in the same breath, these forked-tongued leaders are spewing out incendiary remarks that can only serve to fan the flames of discord.
There has been no shortage of these mixed messages over the past few days, but with the intensity of the fighting, the gravity and dangerousness of the statements from both sides has equally intensified.
Just yesterday, the Fatah Central Committee convened in an emergency session to discuss the situation in Gaza. The meeting was adjourned with a warning to Hamas that if it did not halt its attacks on Fatah operatives, Fatah’s ministers and parliamentarians would refrain from participating in the national unity government and the Legislative Council. A statement released this morning confirmed that the ministers had indeed suspended their participation. Fatah, obviously, is holding Hamas completely responsible for the mayhem in Gaza, claiming that Hamas is attempting a coup against the “legitimate” Palestinian authority.
“In Mecca we agreed to share power,” said Deputy Prime Minister Azzam Al Ahmad, in reference to the Mecca Agreement signed between the two parties last March. “We are all required to serve the people. We are all required to protect the national interests, and hold our responsibilities.”
Hamas, no doubt, had a different take on the situation. In response to the statements coming out of the Fatah meeting, Hamas media spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri retorted, “If Fatah is interested in stopping the clashes, it should stop some of its members who are committing these crimes, especially members of the Security Forces.” Abu Zuhri maintained that President Mahmoud Abbas is fully capable of making decisions that would stop those members and force them to commit to a ceasefire. If both parties choose, the tragic situation the Palestinians have already fallen into will only continue. More lives will be lost in the name of an equally lost cause and nothing but an empty, pockmarked shell will remain of what was once our just and justified national goal.
Nothing much can justify what is currently transpiring in Gaza today. It is far too easy to lay blame on the Israeli occupation for all our woes, even if valid points can be made in defense of this argument. As mentioned previously, the Gazans in particular, have been caged up in this small and grossly overpopulated corner of the world with no room for expansion or economic improvement. This claustrophobic situation can only compound existing problems between the components of one people and exasperate otherwise ordinary issues.
Still, we must bear responsibility for our own misjudgments, and what catastrophic misjudgments there have been. Not only have armed men from both sides killed each other in numbers that exceed even those resulting from Israeli military operations, they have burned homes, fired shells at colleges and kidnapped men from their homes. Both sides are guilty of these crimes, make no mistake. On June 12, Hamas activists stormed the home of PLC member and former foreign minister Nabil Shaath, causing extensive damage. Earlier in the day, mortars were fired at President Abbas’ Gaza headquarters. Apparently, this was in retaliation for a rocket-propelled grenade being fired at Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh’s home where material damages were incurred but no causalities reported.
This tit-for-tat mentality has continued unabated for the past 48 hours with no end in sight. The “million-dollar question” that remains unanswered however, is what exactly are Fatah, Hamas or anyone else involved in this absurd fighting, hoping to achieve? What are they fighting for? Seats of power? Independence? Fortune? Our leaders, and hence, those poor and unguided souls that blindly pledge their allegiance to them, have become so embroiled in these power struggles that they have forgotten that those “seats” can easily be pulled from beneath them by the oppressive hand from which we have so far failed to shake ourselves free.
Has everyone – leaders and people alike – forgotten about Israel? Are Fatah and Hamas so hell-bent on preserving their seats of false power at the expense of their own people that they fail to realize this power is transient at best, and at worst, is a catalyst for their own self-destruction?
For any break in this utter madness to occur, the leaders of Fatah and Hamas will have to step up to the plate and truly lead the people back from this dangerous precipice. It is too late to undo the damage already done by truncated agreements such as the Oslo Accords, which indirectly pitted one group against the other, but it is not too late to regain our right minds and remember that our ultimate goal is to rid ourselves of the Israeli occupation and rule over our own independent, sovereign and united Palestinian state. We have drifted so far from this goal that it seems almost impossible to recapture. It is the responsibility of our leadership to remind our people of this dream and the years and lives they have sacrificed in its name.
The time is now. Otherwise, if more Palestinian blood is shed so senselessly, it will be on the heads of our leaders for eternity and no one will care whether Hamas or Fatah was to blame.
-Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Programme at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. (www.MIFTAH.org – June 13, 2007)