Jul 2, 2007
The armed confrontation between the two leading Palestinian political organizations in the Gaza Strip ended with the victory of Hamas. It took Hamas only a few days to push Fatah, which until then had controlled security forces in Gaza, completely out of the area. The Palestinian territories are now effectively divided in two: the Gaza Strip, controlled by Hamas, and the West Bank, controlled by Fatah.
The Gaza Strip, this tiny coastal strip of land 25 miles long and 7 miles wide, is one of the most barren and most densely-populated areas of the world. Most of the 1.5 million residents of Gaza are the children or grandchildren of Palestinian refugees, who were driven from their homes starting in 1948. The population has continued to grow, but there has not been any kind of economic development in Gaza to support it. Effectively, Gaza is little more than a refugee camp. Today, almost 60 years after the first mass exodus of Palestinians from Israel, about 70% of Gaza residents still depend on U.N. refugee aid.
The responsibility for this situation lies squarely on the shoulders of Israel and the big powers that stood behind it. The founders of Israel systematically and by force drove Palestinian people out of their homes in the name of creating a “Jewish state.” Israel isolated, besieged and occupied the Palestinian areas in the name of “security.” Today, it continues to blockade the area – not to mention bomb and raid the population living in Gaza.
Driven out of their land and forced into misery, the Palestinian people fought back. In particular, Gaza was the cradle of a massive, popular revolt, known as the Intifada, which erupted in 1987. Led mainly by young people (teenagers facing Israeli tanks with rocks became the symbol of the Intifada), this revolt was supported by the whole population.
When brute military force and repression by Israel were not enough to suppress the Intifada, the U.S. tried to defuse it by other means. The exiled PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) and its leader, Yasser Arafat, were allowed to come back to the West Bank and Gaza to set up a Palestinian government – if they proved themselves ready to take on the job of policing the Palestinians, that is, stopping the Intifada. The U.S. joined the effort by funding and training Fatah militias to help their transition from rebel to cop.
At the same time, the money, aid and independence that were promised never arrived. Over time, this alienated the Palestinian people from the government led by Fatah. And it certainly didn’t help Fatah that some of its leaders openly displayed their greed and corruption.
Under these circumstances, it’s not surprising that the opposition to Fatah – this is, Hamas – won the parliamentary elections in January 2006. But Fatah used the security apparatus it controlled to block Hamas from taking power. Israel and the U.S. joined in, cutting practically all the money that was supposed to go to the Palestinian government. Thus, it was Fatah and its sponsors, the U.S. and Israel, who provoked an armed clash between Hamas and Fatah, which Hamas won easily in Gaza.
Thanks to its social and charity work among the poor, Hamas has been able to appear “cleaner” than Fatah. But that doesn’t mean Hamas offers any solution for the Palestinian people either. In the end, Hamas, like Fatah, is an organization that imposes its policies, including reactionary attitudes toward women, on the population. It certainly never called on the population to express and defend its own interests. In fact, the manner in which Fatah was ousted in Gaza shows this. Many, if not most people in Gaza may have agreed with this outcome. But the population did not participate in the ouster of Fatah, let alone control the events during and after it.
The Intifada is the ultimate proof that the Palestinian people are capable of organizing their own fight. There was even a second upsurge of the Intifada starting in 2001, which was at least part of the reason behind Israel’s decision to pull out its military from the Gaza Strip.
Fatah with its narrow, nationalist outlook and Hamas, with its narrow, religious outlook, are both hostile to the aspirations of the Palestinian workers and poor. Be that as it may, the fight of the Palestinians for their national rights and for a decent life is a fight that should be supported.
But it is in the interests of the Palestinian workers and poor themselves to break with the politics of both parties, to fight for what they need, which includes to find a way to co-exist with all the neighboring people, including the Israelis who are ready to break with the policies of their own government.