By Mona El-Farra
As a physician from Gaza, I have treated far too many Palestinians wounded by Israeli troops. Now a day has come that I thought I would never see. Throughout our 59-year struggle to obtain our freedom, we Palestinians debated strategy and tactics. Political factions competed for popular support. But never would I have believed that we would turn guns against each other. What brought us to this point? Hamas won free and fair elections in 2006, on a platform that promised clean and efficient government. But Israel and the West meddled in our democratically elected choice by imposing devastating economic sanctions on us. How would Americans feel if a foreign power expressed its dissatisfaction with your freely elected government in this way? Our economy and our livelihoods have been destroyed, reducing many of us to poverty. At last, we exploded with a desperation born of decades of oppression, lack of opportunity, and loss of hope. We brutalized each other over the crumbs of power. The shame is ours — but the responsibility is shared between reckless Palestinians and external powers that turned the screws on our people.
Israel may have physically removed its soldiers and settlers from Gaza in September 2005, but it still controls Gaza from the sea, air and land. Our borders are mostly closed according to the whim of the Israeli occupation, transforming Gaza into an enormous open-air prison for its 1.4 million people, half of whom are children.
Too many of these youngsters suffer from the stifling effects of political violence and hunger. Their future is dangerously circumscribed by the chaos and uncertainty that envelop us.
To thrive we need access to the sea and to commerce. Most importantly, our people must be imbued with some sense of hope.
Sanctions imposed after the election of Hamas made hard lives harder, but we must not forget that even under the "moderate" leadership of President Mahmoud Abbas we did not control trade in and out of Gaza.
"There is a seeming reflex," said United Nations peace envoy Alvaro de Soto in a leaked End of Mission report, "in any given situation where the [U.N.] is to take a position, to ask first how Israel or Washington will react rather than what is the right position to take." Washington’s bias toward Israel is significantly responsible for the appalling situation in which we now find ourselves.
Yes, we Palestinians must accept blame for our perilous situation. However, Palestinian foreign minister Ziad Abu Amr has correctly declared, "If you have two brothers, put them in a cage and deprive them of basic and essential needs for life, they will fight." The fact that we would sink to this level is perhaps the surest sign of the terrible damage meted out to us over the years by dispossession and occupation.
When one is in a hole, it is imperative to stop digging. If we are to win our freedom, surely it will not be done with one brother digging the grave of another. The violence must stop. That is our first responsibility, as Palestinians, and we must meet it immediately. And the United States and the international community must end the sanctions that deprive us of our basic needs and our hope for a better future.
The Israeli leadership brandishes our current plight as evidence that we cannot govern ourselves, nor be trusted as "peace partners." White South Africans similarly claimed that black South Africans were incapable of self-governance. In the last years of apartheid, more than 250 blacks per month were killed in black-on-black violence.
Yet decency and equality eventually prevailed in South Africa. Apartheid was vanquished and ANC vs. Inkatha violence soon stopped. And the world learned that black-on-black violence was an outgrowth of apartheid — not an indication that apartheid needed to continue because black South Africans were incapable of self-rule and undeserving of rights. We, too, have the right to be free. But we must first free ourselves from fighting over the scraps of power.
And we must raise our aspirations beyond accepting Bantustans in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The fighting in Gaza makes clear that a cordoned-off Gaza Bantustan is no solution. Like oppressed people everywhere, we yearn for our rights. Out of this ugly period, we must promote a new vision of equality for all people living on this land, regardless of race or religion.
-Mona El-Farra is a physician and human-rights advocate in the Gaza Strip.