Shame On Us

By Joharah Baker – Palestine

An uneasy calm has taken over the Shujaiyeh neighborhood of Gaza City after a weekend of bloodletting that has, frankly, put us all to shame. Eleven people in all were killed and over 100 injured in one of the bloodiest inter-factional episodes between the two rival Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fateh since the former’s takeover of the Strip over a year ago.

The fighting was ostensibly triggered by a ‘security campaign’ carried out by the de facto Hamas government in the Gaza Strip against those they claim were involved in the seaside bombing two weeks ago that left five Hamas military operatives and a six-year old girl dead.

Since the bombing, Hamas has swept through the Strip, arresting scores of Fateh loyalists and closing down Fateh-affiliated institutions and offices. The mainstream Palestinian movement, which is also at the helm of the Palestinian Authority, squarely denies Fateh’s involvement in the killings, claiming Hamas is using the unrest to deflect efforts towards national conciliation.

In the customary tit-for-tat response, PA security forces rounded up dozens of Hamas members in the West Bank. As the week proceeded, the incendiary rhetoric against each other escalated to unprecedented heights. One Hamas official even warned the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah that it would carry out an uprising against it if it did not release its people. Fateh, on the other hand, claimed the bombing on the Gaza shore was a result of splits within Hamas.

When the pot finally boiled over, it left behind a calamity of devastating proportions. When Hamas police forces entered Shujaiyeh, raiding what is known as the Hillis family square, all hell broke loose. Gunshots, RBGs and missiles were shot to and from the neighborhood and men, women and children were killed and injured in a day of mania. Approximately 150 men from the Hillis clan crossed over into Israel, trying to flee the fighting and in fear of their lives if they returned. Israel has since sent some back to Gaza while others will be shipped to the West Bank.

The details of who shot which bullet and who fired the first RBG missile are really unimportant at this point. To get into who is the guiltier party and who has the "right" to take the law into their own hands will only push us further into this madness and into this chapter in Palestinian history that should never have been written.

It is the fact that Hamas and the Fateh affiliated clan allowed themselves the liberty of taking ‘justice’ into their own hands that is so disturbing. Each side could very well have had a valid case – the Hamas authority may have obtained verified information about the perpetrators of the seaside bombing. In turn, the residents of the ‘security square’ in Shujaiyeh could have had nothing to do with it. Hamas claims the square is heavily armed and that those running from the law run there for protection. Again, whether this is true or not does not justify what happened that Saturday, August 2.

Here is the ugly truth and it is time we as Palestinians look it straight in the face. As a people, as a liberation movement and as a government, we are in grave danger. The moment we turn our weapons on each other and threaten an Intifada against our own people, we are at the risk of self-annihilation, at least at the national level. Our leaders know it, even as they fail to stop the poison flowing from the mouths of those who follow them. That is why Hamas has now ‘restored calm’ and promised to reopen the institutions it earlier ransacked and shut down. That is why its deposed government is now saying all those who left Gaza that day can return to their homes ‘safely,’ even though they arrested and shot at these same people 72 hours earlier.

Fateh is doing the same, urging the Palestinians to heed President Mahmoud Abbas’ call for conciliation talks. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said the conciliation initiative proposed by the president was ‘still on the table’ in spite of the Gaza events, adding that such an agreement would "end the suffering" of the 1.5 million people in the Strip.

Unfortunately, these lofty words come too late. We have witnessed this scenario before, namely when Hamas wrestled authority over the Gaza Strip from Fateh back in June 2007. Dozens of Palestinians were killed during the bloody coup, throughout which seething words of incitement were spewed from both sides. What these leaders need to understand is that such venom is not reversed overnight, nor can the damage of this kind of incitement or the killing of brother by brother be forgotten with a few candy-coated words about unity and waxy smiles that barely conceal the enmity from within.

It is beyond absurdity that the situation has spiraled so much out of control. If Hamas and Fateh have forgotten, Israel has not gone anywhere. The clampdown on Gaza is as harsh as ever and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is still threatening a wide-scale military operation into the Strip. Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem are expanding at exponential rates and the separation wall, which continues to cut the lifeline of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, is being built undeterred.

Israel can now sit back and watch the show, relaxed and confident that the Palestinians are fully capable of sabotaging their own chance at unification. When Israel kills a Palestinian, they are martyrs, killed in the line of duty, an honor to their country and their cause. While their family will never forget their fallen son, they are not tortured by the fact that he was killed by someone who could have been his classmate, his neighbor or teacher – someone supposedly in a position of authority with the duty of protecting the people.

Yes, we are in trouble. This time, we can not turn to the international community, to the United Nations or to peoples of conscience to come to our rescue. We cannot blame the Israeli occupation for our missteps. This time, we need to clean up our own mess and hope for a miracle that our people can move past this bloody chapter in our story. The truth is, we cannot look for salvation elsewhere. Only we can save us from ourselves.

-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. (This article was originally published in MIFTAH – www.miftah.org – and is republished by the PalestineChronicle.com with permission.)

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