Saturday, June 16, 2007

Two takes on the conflict in Gaza

There are, in my mind, two equally important takes on the events in Gaza. One is a political one, as articulated by Robert Fisk:

How troublesome the Muslims of the Middle East are. First, we demand that the Palestinians embrace democracy and then they elect the wrong party - Hamas - and then Hamas wins a mini-civil war and presides over the Gaza Strip. And we Westerners still want to negotiate with the discredited President, Mahmoud Abbas. Today "Palestine" - and let's keep those quotation marks in place - has two prime ministers. Welcome to the Middle East.

Who can we negotiate with? To whom do we talk? Well of course, we should have talked to Hamas months ago. But we didn't like the democratically elected government of the Palestinian people. They were supposed to have voted for Fatah and its corrupt leadership. But they voted for Hamas, which declines to recognise Israel or abide by the totally discredited Oslo agreement.

No one asked - on our side - which particular Israel Hamas was supposed to recognise. The Israel of 1948? The Israel of the post-1967 borders? The Israel which builds - and goes on building - vast settlements for Jews and Jews only on Arab land, gobbling up even more of the 22 per cent of "Palestine" still left to negotiate over ?

And so today, we are supposed to talk to our faithful policeman, Mr Abbas, the "moderate" (as the BBC, CNN and Fox News refer to him) Palestinian leader, a man who wrote a 600-page book about Oslo without once mentioning the word "occupation", who always referred to Israeli "redeployment" rather than "withdrawal", a "leader" we can trust because he wears a tie and goes to the White House and says all the right things. The Palestinians didn't vote for Hamas because they wanted an Islamic republic - which is how Hamas's bloody victory will be represented - but because they were tired of the corruption of Mr Abbas's Fatah and the rotten nature of the "Palestinian Authority"

Fisk is right. We in the West are upset with Palestinians because they voted for the wrong party. We have no right to commplain. Like it or lump it, Hamas is in control in Gaza, and we will have to deal with them.
So what will we do? Support the reoccupation of Gaza perhaps? Certainly we will not criticise Israel. And we shall go on giving our affection to the kings and princes and unlovely presidents of the Middle East until the whole place blows up in our faces and then we shall say - as we are already saying of the Iraqis - that they don't deserve our sacrifice and our love.

How do we deal with a coup d'├ętat by an elected government?

As a human rights activist, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the other take on events in Gaza. This is expressed in a press release from Amnesty International, concerning violations of international law and disaregard for human life on the part of both Fatah and Hamas in the conflict in Gaza:
Amid unprecedented political violence in the Gaza Strip, both Fatah and Hamas security forces and armed groups have shown utter disregard for fundamental principles of international law and have committed grave human rights abuses.

The indiscriminate attacks and reckless gun battles in residential neighbourhoods have left a beleaguered civilian population, already suffering from a year of international sanctions and continuing Israeli military blockades, virtual prisoners in their own homes. Both parties have killed captured rivals, and have abducted scores of members of rival groups and held them hostage, to be exchanged for friends and relatives held by their rivals, Killing captured fighters and hostage-taking are war crimes.

Rival security forces loyal to the Fatah party of PA President Mahmoud Abbas and the Hamas party of Prime Minister Isma'il Haniyeh, have signally betrayed their responsibility to uphold and enforce the law and to protect the population. Instead, acting in concert with the armed groups which serve as their proxy militias, they have engaged persistently in armed clashes, killing and injuring civilians not involved in the clashes with complete impunity.

Now that Hamas has gained control of Fatah' security forces installations in Gaza and repudiated President Abbas' decision to dissolve the coalition government and impose a state of emergency in the OPT, fears are growing that the fighting will spill over into the West Bank. In recent days Fatah's gunmen have been abducting Hamas members and holding them as hostages and ransacking Hamas offices in Nablus, Ramallah and elsewhere in the West Bank, deepening concern that abuses will increase if the fighting escalates there.

Here is what Amnesty is calling for:
to take immediate action to ensure that their forces and the armed groups acting as their proxy militias cease endangering civilians and violating international law through their reckless, disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force in Gaza, and to prevent further abuses in the West Bank - notably:

* to assert control over the security forces and ensure that they uphold the law and respect human rights, including international standards relating to the use of force and treatment of prisoners, and ensure that members of their security forces who abuse human rights or fail to carry out their duty are held to account;
* end impunity, by establishing effective mechanisms to bring to justice those responsible for human rights abuses, irrespective of their political affiliation;
* instruct their security forces that the armed groups who commit human rights abuses or crimes must be apprehended and brought to justice, irrespective of their political affiliations, in accordance with international human rights law and standards;
* put in place a mechanism to ensure independent, impartial and non-partisan oversight of the security forces and ensure that all killings, abductions and other attacks on civilians are investigated and that those responsible are brought to justice.