Joharah Baker: When the Poison Spreads

By Joharah Baker

No one should be surprised by the current deterioration in Palestinian internal affairs. Never has there been such a gash down the middle of our society, painfully dividing and alienating us from each other. This is no coincidence however – it is not a freak accident of nature that the Palestinians are constantly turning on each other. It is a result of bad decisions, worse internal politics and an unfortunate lack of vision by our leaders.

Hence, we were not shocked, albeit greatly saddened, by the recent clashes that took place at Nablus’ An Najah University on July 24. Media sources reported that 16 people were injured in confrontations that broke out between the student blocs affiliated with Hamas and Fateh. One young man now lies brain-dead in a Nablus hospital as a result of a gunshot wound directly to the head.

The incident, like so many others these days, was ignited by factional disputes. A similar scene played out earlier in the month at Birzeit University north of Ramallah when the university administration was forced to close down the university for a few days to avoid further clashes between the two blocs after several students were wounded in Hamas-Fateh confrontations.

At An Najah, reports on the events are conflicting, depending on who is telling the story. Still, there are some undisputed points which prove that neither side was looking for a peaceful solution.

According to the official university version, students from the Islamic bloc defied university orders not to carry out any political activities on campus due to the volatile situation following the Gaza events last month. Apparently, the Hamas-affiliated Islamic bloc made a speech and distributed leaflets about three of their members arrested by Israeli forces the night before.

This raised the ire of the Fateh students, who reportedly attacked the Islamic bloc students to try and stop the speech and the distribution of the leaflets. Shouting, cursing and fist fights gave way to armed confrontations and the consequent injury of several students.

To make matters worse, a few dozen Islamic bloc female students held a sit-in on campus insisting that those arrested by Fateh-backed security forces be released. In the midst of the melee, the student council building was set ablaze – ostensibly by the protesting female students – causing considerable material damage.

In a bid to contain the already out-of-control situation, the university suspended classes for the rest of the day and also closed its doors on Wednesday until an investigation into the clashes is completed.

While we always hope that the people, the average citizen, will rise above the mentalities of the power hungry leadership, this is usually not the case. The Palestinians have thus proven they are no exception.

Ever since the clashes in Gaza turned into a full blown battle between forces loyal to Hamas and Fateh, leading to the Hamas takeover of the Strip, the flow of accusations between the two sides has yet to subside. The lethality of the charges being spewed out by leaders from both movements has continued to grow worse, reaching a level tantamount to accusations of treason.

It is no doubt this seething and mutual contempt for the “other” has spilled over into the street. Why should our leadership expect its people, thirsty for sound guidance, to adhere to national unity when in practice, they are doing everything to undermine it?

These incidents at Birzeit and Al Najah Universities should be a red flag for the leadership of both Fateh and Hamas in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. While the new government formed in the West Bank under President Abbas is basking in its newfound international recognition, it cannot claim any real credibility with its people if it is alienated from the Gaza Strip.

Conversely, Hamas’ stronghold on the Gaza Strip may have seemed like a victory when they first claimed control, but their proclaimed legitimacy and rule over the residents of the Gaza Strip will ultimately lead to a political – and economic – dead end. The international community is certainly not ready or willing to negotiate with Hamas, which means political ostracism as well as economic strangulation. If the Hamas leadership there remains unyielding in their position vis-à-vis their claim to the throne of Palestinian governance, it will ultimately find itself preaching to the last Hamas diehards it managed to rally around itself, with the remainder of the population forsaking them.

The Abbas government should not expect a better future if it continues to shun Hamas. This government’s success in achieving international and even Israeli legitimacy will amount to almost nothing if it is not granted equal legitimacy from its own people.

If either leadership wants to see what they both claim to strive for – that is, the creation of a Palestinian state on our national soil – they need to shift gears and reshuffle priorities. National unity must be at the top of this list under any and all circumstances because without it we are just rivalry forces with no other purpose than to discredit the other.

The unfortunate incidents in Palestinian universities, which up until now, have been a safe haven for education, culture and civilization, clearly illustrate what path our leaders have chosen to take. What is worse, these clashes will pale in comparison to what could be in store for us if our leaders do not come to their senses and halt this counterproductive war of words. Our leaders have always been aware of Israel’s policy of divide and conquer and they have often warned of the dangers of such an approach. Still, here we are, clawing at each other’s throats and playing straight into Israel’s hands.

In the course of 60 years, Israel and its military occupation have failed to annihilate our national cause and identity. It is unfathomable that we allow our own leaders to reduce the Palestinian dream to a mere blip across the screen of history, simply because they could not embrace the diversity that once made Palestinian society so unique.

– 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 mip@miftah.org. (MIFTAH – www.Miftah.org; July 26, 2007) 

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