Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Choreographed Chaos

photo: Mohammed Omer
Masked gunmen from several Fatah-linked armed factions protested noisily in Gaza City against the insult offered to Islam by cartoons published in a Danish magazine.

Mohammed Omer filed this special report with Morgenbladet (a Norwegian weekly)a few hours ago.

Choreographed Chaos?
By Mohammed Omer
reporting from Gaza City, Occupied Palestine

Norwegian nationals, heeding s strong request from their government, left the Gaza Strip under the protection of the Palestinian security forces on Monday, 30 January. Over the weekend, the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, the armed wing of the defeated Fatah party, distributed a leaflet in Gaza City demanding that all Norwegians, Swedes, and Danes leave Gaza within 48 hours, pending an apology from the governments of Denmark and Norway for cartoons insulting the Prophet Mohammed published late in 2005.

The offending cartoons, caricaturing the Prophet as a terrorist, first appeared in Denmark's Jylland Posten and were later republished in one Norwegian magazine. The Danish paper, in the wake of the resulting furor throughout the Islamic world, published an "apology" that made matters worse, saying that they had not meant to insult anyone. Since all visual portrayals of the Prophet Mohammed are strictly forbidden to Muslims, and the disrespect in the images was flagrant, the Danish newspaper's statement, coupled with their government's defense of free expression, only inflamed the situation.

A Fatah spokesman, Abu Qusai, explained his position by saying: "We respect other religions and cultures. It's a must that they should respect ours as well." Asked if their insistence that Danish and Norwegian nationals leave Gaza might have an adverse effect on Palestine, both internally and internationally, he replied, "We don't want these Danes and Norwegians to be harmed. We understand they personally had no part in the insult to the Prophet. But we do hope they'll press their governments to apologize to the Islamic world. Actually, we welcome foreigners as our guests, but basic respect for religion is a red line that no one should cross."

The Al Yasser Brigades, another militant faction linked to the defeated Fatah, demonstrated against the Nordic countries over the weekend, while the Popular Resistance Committee, a third armed militant group, staged a second demonstration in which people trampled the Danish flag and burned Danish and Norwegian flags. "The Danish government doesn’t want to apologize to Muslims for what they did to them," one of the demonstrators said. "We belong to Fatah. We defend our religion. So we ban Danes and Norwegians from entering the Gaza Strip until the Danish government apologizes."

The militant groups, however, constitute about 5000 men among the 1.3 million citizens of Gaza. Ordinary Palestinians expressed quite different views from the fiery rhetoric of the Fatah-linked militants. "When Fatah asks Danes and Norwegians to leave Gaza, that doesn’t mean that all Danes and Norwegians are bad. We understand that. We know the insult to the Prophet was the work of only a few," said one Gaza resident, Umm Wael Salam, 45.

The landslide victory of the Islamist movement Hamas in last week's parliamentary elections is not without its ironies. While one might expect the overtly Islamist Hamas members to be the first to take to the streets to demonstrate against an insult to the Prophet, instead the new ruling party distributed a somber, even statesmanlike, press release demanding that the issue could not and should not be resolved by violence against foreigners. Their statement insisted the resolution had to be a diplomatic one via a formal apology. It is, in fact, the militant wings of the defeated secular Fatah party that are creating disorder over the humiliation offered to Islam. Astute observers are wondering if the real humiliation of interest to Fatah is not disrespect to the Prophet, but the embarrassment Hamas may suffer in the international community if it cannot control the unruly militants. So far, though, the demonstrations against the Nordic oountries have been loud, but brief, with no harm done to any Danish or Norwegian citizens.

read entire article. . .

Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Carnival of Destiny--Palestine Goes to the Polls

photo:Mohammed Omer
Voters' fingers were dipped in indelible ink to prevent double-voting. Everyone, even those dismayed by Hamas's unexpected landslide victory in the January 25 Parliamentary elections, agreed the election had been honest, orderly, transparent and free of fraud.

Mohammed Omer's election-day report of the final week of campaigning was published in Norwegian in Morgenbladet on Friday, 27 January. Morgenbladet stretched its normal deadlines almost to the breaking point, but Hamas's caution in declaring victory meant Mohammed had to file his copy pre-Thursday night's official speeches

The Carnival of Destiny: Palestine Goes to the Polls
by Mohammed Omer
Reporting from the Gaza Strip, Occupied Palestine

The scene was played out with only small variations through January in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank: the establishment party, Fatah, would race into town in a convoy of limousines with a police escort, sirens blaring. Crowds would gather for a campaign rally, complete with The Candidate's stump speech, before his bodyguards hustled him back to his limo to roar on to the next stop. In case anyone failed to get the message, sound trucks blaring campaign songs and slogans trundled through the streets, often late into the evening. Children found it amusing, while their elders enjoyed or resented their captive-audience status.

The less affluent, but highly disciplined and organized Hamas candidates, were as loud at their rallies, but sent out fewer sound trucks. Branded a "terrorist" group by Israel, the United States, and the EU, the Hamas candidates have run as independents on the Change and Reform slate. Although the resistance group's official charter calls for continuing armed struggle against Israel, they have scrupulously avoided armed attacks since February and their candidates for Parliament have concentrated on local issues, promising a corruption-free government, an end to cronyism, more jobs and civil order.

As campaigning drew to a close this week, polls showed Hamas making impressive gains. Local, Israeli, and international election-watchers predicted a too-close-to-call cliffhanger. The Change and Reform slate might become a strong enough presence in Parliament to demand power-sharing with Fatah. And there were several secularist slates who might win 10% to 15% of the vote. Some expressed fears that a strong showing for Hamas would bring about a "Taliban-style" theocracy, yet Hussam Al Tawil, 40, a Greek Orthodox Christian from Gaza, is running on the Hamas slate. "I'm proud of and loyal to my Christianity," he said, "but these are political issues, and my Church doesn't mind my running with Hamas. I certainly don't have a "Christian speech" and a "Muslim speech"—we are all Palestinians, and we must exercise our right to democracy together and choose the best people." While a few Hamas candidates promise a Quran-governed state, most have said nothing about lifestyle issues like mandatory veils for all women, preferring to concentrate on jobs, civil order and clean government. And all analysts expected a victorious Hamas to seek Cabinet-level posts dealing with domestic matters like Education, Health, and Welfare, letting the Fatah old-guard handle direct negotiations with Israel.

Regardless, Fatah wasn't gaining the lead it sought. So in the waning days of the campaign, Fatah said Hamas would refuse to negotiate with Israel for Palestinians to work in the cross-border "industrial zones." Then, citizens in Gaza and the West Bank saw the edifying sight of the suddenly-humble Candidate walking on his own two imported-leather-shod feet down the narrow alleys of poor neighborhoods. No Mercedes with red government plates, no bodyguards, no police escorts. Just The Candidate, reborn as a man of the people, nodding to one and all, talking with ordinary citizens who normally couldn't hope for a moment of his time. In Rafah, The Candidate passed bullet-riddled homes before reaching his destination, a haircutter's shop, the well-known gathering-place for young men. Smiling, nodding, paying the normal price—no special privileges for The Candidate!--he sat down to have his hair trimmed and give his campaign speech.

photo: Mohammed Omer
The militant factions scrupulously kept their promise of a violence-free election. The same people who had threated violence a week before checked their guns and voted peacefully.

His audience started peppering him with tough, specific questions. Voters 18-25 make up about 30% of the electorate and most of them have been passionately following the campaigns. "Change now!" has been the theme of their demands—as The Candidate learned to his sorrow. He tried to keep his smile intact as he discovered platitudes and slogans were accomplishing nothing with this audience. Their support would be crucial if he hoped to win.

On the other side of Rafah, another Candidate visited the divan—an extended-family gathering place—of one of Gaza's most powerful clans. Again, he came alone, the humble guest, there to persuade the entire family to vote for him. He began to recite his usual campaign promises when a young man interrupted him. Perhaps he was 20, or a bit older, but his black baseball cap and casual dress set him apart from the traditionally-clad elders.

"None of you Fatah men will help us," he declared. "I tried to see you a year ago. I needed your help in solving a simple problem. But I never spoke to you—you were always too busy."

The Candidate started to stammer a reply while his elderly hosts smiled gently. The young man wasn't finished. "The last time I visited your office, your staff told me never to come back. When I phoned, they told me not to call again. So there you are, just a mid-level government manager, but too busy to help a citizen. Of course, you have a nice office, and a staff to get rid of ordinary people. Now, if you become a member of Parliament, you really will be important! You'll have even more office workers to throw me out. So why should I believe you'll help me?"

The Candidate flushed with anger, but said not a word. He stood, bowed his thanks to his hosts, and left. A few feet from the divan's entrance, a bodyguard opened the Mercedes door for him and his driver whisked him away—to that comfortable office, no doubt.

During these last-ditch campaign efforts, the Palestinian police, all 60,000 of them, voted early so they would be free on election day to guard the polling stations. Palestinian citizens who took intensive training to be official election observers voted early as well. The actual voting went smoothly, with 20,000 police guarding the polling places. Voter turnout was enormous, nearly 78% of registered voters. As many voters explained, this was the first Parliamentary election in a decade, and the first ever offering voters a real choice. Hamas and Fatah activists stood silently at the required distance from the polls, showing a sea of flags, green for Hamas and yellow for Fatah. Incidents were few, minor, and quickly resolved. Police in Khan Younis fired in the air as over-eager voters jostled to reach the polling place. In East Jerusalem, two extreme-right Israeli politicians attempted to force their way into a voting station, but 75 police blocked their way. The same armed militants who threatened violence last week checked their rifles with police and voted peacefully.

The shooting didn't start until after the polls closed when Fatah supporters, and even the Palestinian police started firing in the air to celebrate—prematurely—a Fatah victory. Based on several exit polls, Fatah was estimated to have won 63 of 132 Parliamentary seats, or 43%; Hamas had 58 seats, or nearly 40%, while the smaller parties were estimated to have some 11 seats. Hamas, however, refused to claim victory until the official results were announced. President Mahmoud Abbas, whose office was not in question, said a Hamas presence in Parliament meant peace negotiations with Israel would be endorsed by a broad spectrum of Palestinian society while US President Bush restated his refusal to deal with Hamas.

Despite the rhetoric from all parties, when the official results are finally announced, the one thing certain is that Palestine will finally have a multi-party legislature. No matter who is sharing power with whom, and no matter what domestic reforms may be enacted, the war-and-peace issues with Israel will be the unavoidable backdrop.

read entire article. . .

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Shout Behind the Veil

Mohammed Omer

VEILED BUT VISIBLE Arwa Umran, 19, wears a traditional full veil at a Hamas campaign rally, but has no hesitation about stating her political opinions.

Norwegian People's Aid commissioned Mohammed to report in-depth on young peoples' involvement in the Palestinian Parliamentary elections. His article below was posted 24 Jan as the lead article on their website. (http://www.npaid.org)

The Shout Behind the Veil
by Mohammed Omer
reporting from the Gaza Strip, Occupied Palestine

"Occupation's bad enough—stop the chaos!"
"Palestinian youth say: stop the violence!"
"Youth demands change now!"

Finally there is something more numerous than bullet holes on the walls of Palestine: political posters. Candidates, slogans, party logos, plus a surprising number of this sudden crop of posters in the Gaza Strip which have been made and put up by student organizations and youth groups. Young people aged 18-25 are 30% of the population in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and are determined to make their voices matter in the 25 January Parliamentary elections. While some posters endorse a specific party, they all have a common theme of "Change—NOW."

Young people in Palestine have faced endless frustration from the paternalistic "old guard" of the Palestinian Authority and its ruling Fatah Party. On many occasions, youth groups petitioned the PNA to allow candidates aged 18-25 to run for the Legislative Council, and were turned down with infuriating diplomacy. "Now, now, children," was the unspoken message, "we know better."

Typical of this unhappy scenario was "Our Voice," a Sharek Youth Forum event in Gaza City funded by Norwegian People's Aid. One of the PNA elders attending was Abdel Aziz Shaheen, a former member of the Legislative Council. When he took questions from the floor, a young man declared, "It's time for some of the older generation of legislators to step aside and make room for our generation in Parliament." Shaheen interrupted him: "That's against the law! Our election law is clear that candidates must be at least 30 years old. And that is actually very progressive. In all the other Arabic states, candidates for office must be at least 40!"

Nonetheless, the election law is also clear that those 18 and over can register to vote. And there are no age limits on campaign volunteers. So in the last two days, the Gaza Strip has been humming with the energy of youth workshops, training sessions, and seminars, all aimed toward training "get out the vote" workers. Indeed, Palestinian young people form the majority of door-to-door "get out the vote" volunteers, some affiliated with non-partisan groups, others working for specific slates of candidates. Fairly equal numbers of young men and women are involved in the effort, the women workers usually adding a full face veil to the usual headscarf to avoid any possible accusations of impropriety.

It is not in the least surprising that young women are fully involved in campaigning. After all, in the past five years of the Intifada, they suffered every bit as much as the young men at the Israeli checkpoints; they were kept from their homes, their schools, their jobs as often as any man. Due to the recent rash of civil disorder in the Gaza Strip, a recent poll showed young voters have an overwhelming interest in local elections. The pollsters cite two reasons: the young people are desperate for positive change, and are unafraid of new situations, including new political parties and brand-new activities like being campaign volunteers.

Some young people will also serve as official election observers. Forty members of the Sharek Youth Forum in Gaza City, aged 18-25, have reported to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights for intensive training to serve as election observers on January 25.

Moheeb Sharek 24, the director of Sharek Youth Forum in Gaza City, pointed out that this was still only a civil and volunteer role. "They can't be candidates," he said. "The youngest person running is a Hamas candidate 29 years old on the Change and Reform slate. And there's one independent candidate who is 35. So our generation will not actually be in Parliament, despite all our appeals for a change in the election laws."

But the importance of the civil and volunteer role cannot be underestimated. Ali Al Nims, 23, the Public Information Officer for the Central Election Commission in Gaza, pointed out that candidates may succeed or fail based on the youth vote. In the last presidential elections, voters aged 18-25 numbered 153,877 in the West Bank and Gaza, 63, 245 women and 90,632 young men. For this week's elections, however, registered voters 18-25 in the West Bank and Gaza are 216,680. Those 50,000-plus new young voters are certainly planning to turn out at the polls this week.

Iman Hamdi, a student from Al Azhar University in Gaza City said, "It's time for all of us students to give our votes to those who deserve them. We have to let the country know we're here, and are determined to have a say in our future." Asked if she's planning to vote, she said, "Of course! I have to! But I haven't made my mind up. I'm hoping to see some debates between opposing parties, so I can better judge their programs."

Arwa Umran, a woman of 19, is campaigning for the Hamas slate. "Thank God I can finally vote," she said. "I will be voting for the Change and Reform Hamas list. They're not about to give away Palestinian rights. There's certainly no way I'd vote for the old system. They negotiated for years with the Israelis and achieved nothing. Their only gift to the people of Palestine was corruption." Her face was veiled, but the voice behind it was brave and decisive.

Of course, some Palestinian young people have given in to the massive frustrations of life under Occupation and are cynical, if not downright apathetic, about the upcoming elections. But this week, a veritable army of their contemporaries will be knocking on their doors, sending text to their mobile phones, and bringing them a very different message: that their vote counts, and every vote will be counted. For years, the youth of Palestine have proven over and over that they are talented, energetic, idealistic and motivated—and so far, the powers-that-be have failed to respond to all that positive energy. On January 25, however, the young voters of Palestine are hoping to change all that and start building a better future for their homeland.

read entire article. . .

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Hi-Tech Hamas

ON THE AIR: Fathi Hamad, a Hamas candidate in the upcoming Parliamentary elections, delivers a campaign speech during a test broadcast of Al Aqsa TV, Hamas's new television station.

Mohammed's article on Al Aqsa TV appeared in Norwegian yesterday in Morgenbladet.

"What's happening? Do you see anything? Anything?" Talal Abdelawwad, 54, was shouting from the roof of his home in one of Rafah's refugee camps.

His wife stuck her head out the window to reply. "Nothing clear—try moving it the other way!"

"It" was an antenna for which Abdelawwad had spent US$15 in the hopes of pulling in a clear signal from the new Al Aqsa TV station broadcasting from Gaza City. Hamas, the Palestinian welfare and resistance group, launched limited broadcasting in Gaza on January 8, the first step in establishing a TV network modeled on the Lebanon-based Hizb Allah satellite network. The Al Aqsa station launched its first trial broadcasts just weeks before Palestinians will vote in Parliamentary elections on 25 January, in which Hamas is fielding a large slate of candidates and poses a serious challenge to the ruling Fatah party. The sooner the fledgling TV station completes its technical shakedown cruise and broadcasts a full schedule, the more help it will give the Hamas campaign efforts.

"The transmission tests for Al-Aqsa Television in Gaza began today," said a Hamas official on January 8th, and will offer a limited schedule for up to three months before its official launch. The Palestinian Authority, backed by the ruling Fatah Party, granted a broadcast license to Al Aqsa Television, the first private television station in Gaza. For over a year now, Hamas has run Al Aqsa Voice, one of 10 private radio stations in Gaza. The Palestinian Authority has also enabled Hamas to produce a range of print media and websites.

Right now, the Al Aqsa TV test broadcasts can only be seen in the Gaza Strip. Hamas hopes to upgrade its facilities to broadcast to the West Bank before long, and hopes to produce world-class news coverage, unlike the stodgy "talking heads" so prevalent in much state-sponsored Arab TV. Hamas has also expanded its print media, and their weekly Al Risalah newspaper is now publishing twice-weekly. Naturally, with the election campaign in full swing, Al Risalah has been heavily promoting the Hamas candidates.

Ultimately, they hope for a level of sopistication comparable to Hizb Allah's Al Manar TV, with reporters throughout the Middle East, including Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, covering breaking news on location. When Hizb Allah attacks Israeli targets, Al Manar often broadcasts images of the strike.

Right now, though, Al Aqsa TV trial broadcasts are only an hour a day, 10 to 11 am, mainly speeches by Hamas candidates, news bulletins, memorials to Hamas martyrs like Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, assassinated by Israel in 2004, plus readings from the Koran and patriotic songs.

While Al Aqsa TV will be something new for the citizens of Gaza, the message will be much the same as that on their radio station, Al Aqsa Voice. Its effectiveness can be measured by the fact that the Israeli Army bombed Al Aqsa Voice's broadcast facility. Certainly, Hamas's radio broadcasts have given the Gazan street a new vocabulary. Israeli Defense Minister Mofaz is routinely described as the "terrorism minister," while Ariel Sharon is always identified as a "war criminal," two descriptives other Palestinian media have occasionally adopted Hamas has financed its media operations solely through donations from individual supporters and Islamic organizations, both inside and outside Palestine.

Moheib Nawati, a political analyst based in Gaza City, commented: "Under the democratic principle of freedom of expression, every political party is entitled to have whatever media it wishes to present and promote its programs and viewpoints."

Fathi Hamad, the director of the board of Al Aqsa TV, as well as a candidate in the January parliamentary elections said, "Every free country has a range of media outlets which express unique viewpoints. It's only fitting that the Islamic movement, Hamas, should have a TV station where we can explain our hopes, our Islamic culture, and counter-act the widespread and incorrect stereotyping of struggle and resistance as terrorism. Ultimately, we hope Al Aqsa TV will be a bridge between Hamas and the entire world, so we can have our own voice in the international media. That will be our second phase, after we broadcast throughout Gaza and the West Bank. We know much of the international media have described us as destructive trouble-makers and terrorists, but resistance against occupation is our right under international law. We anticipate that our brothers abroad will have our satellite network broadcasting worldwide sometime in the first half of 2006."

But first things first: after considerable tinkering, the Abdelawwad family in Rafah did see part of the trial broadcast. A modest start, perhaps, for Al Aqsa TV's large ambitions, but then, as the old proverb goes, the longest journey starts with a single step.

read entire article. . .

Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Calculus of Chaos

Hamas leaders make their anti-civil-disorder position clear at a campaign rally.

Mohammed's latest article was published in Morgenbladet (in Norwegian) yesterday. Here is the original English:

A masked gunman was setting up a roadblock along Salah Al Deen Street, Gaza's main north-south highway. One of his comrades, voice muffled by his mask, leaned close to whisper: "Why here? Why make problems for ordinary people? Shouldn't we be blockading some Ministry in Gaza City?"

"We've done that," said the other. "Now we have to get the citizens to understand we've been begging for jobs and been ignored over and over."

To the motorists trapped far back in the growing traffic jam, it must have seemed like a time-warp back to the bad old days when the Israeli Army closed roads for any, or no, apparent reason. But now their adversaries were fellow Palestinians.

ASSESSING THE DAMAGE after masked gunmen bombed UNRWA's Gaza City Beach Club, a long-established gathering-place for UNRWA staff and foreign visitors. The Beach Club contained a cafeteria, restaurant, and a bar where alcohol was sold, which may have been why the building was attacked.

Road blocks, abductions, taking over government offices and public buildings, even private wars that descend into public chaos—this has become everyday life in the Gaza Strip. To the distress of Palestine's friends, and very likely to the delight of her enemies, a relative handful of the armed, desperate, and frustrated have created a public-relations nightmare for Gaza. The high officials of the Palestinian Authority, while issuing predictable condemnations, have been woefully short on any useful action. While the armed demonstrations and building takeovers sound dramatic, and always have the potential to turn tragic, the Palestinian security services have no more interest in starting a shooting war with fellow Palestinians than do the armed militants. When all goes well, the militants fire in the air. The police arrive and fire in the air. Demands are stated. Promises are more or less made. Everyone fires in the air some more. Then, honor satisfied on both sides, everyone goes home—and nothing has changed for anyone. But at least no one has been hurt.

In some ways, the inter-family vendettas are more disturbing, with two especially bad ones growing into major violence in the last month. In Beit Hanoun in North Gaza, a feud between the Al Kafarneh and Al Masri families escalated into a full-scale shooting war, with the fighting families imposing curfews on their neighbors, setting up checkpoints and free-fire zones. One wonders, of course, what terrible crime, or alleged crime, started this conflict that to date has killed and injured scores—surely they're fighting over an alleged murder, rape, or massive theft?

In fact, all this bloodshed began when a donkey-cart driver of one-family scratched a car belonging to someone from the other clan. In Khan Younis in southern Gaza, two other families have gone to war for equally murky reasons—the only thing clear is the amount of collateral damage to uninvolved citizens, as bystanders get caught in the cross-fire. It is, however, a sign of the huge frustrations Gazans are living with—the powerful armed families have seen no action whatsoever from the Palestinian Authority in restoring the lands they lost to the now-empty Israeli settlements. One has to wonder if they would be so eager to wage war over a dented car, if they could actually reclaim and start rebuilding their ruined farms and groves.

Kidnappings of foreigners, mainly journalists and NGO workers, have mushroomed in the last few months, with 18 incidents to date. Without exception, the foreign victims have been released unharmed, and told the press they had been treated well by their captors. In almost every instance, the masked militants were asking for jobs within the Palestinian Authority. Perhaps the most dramatic case was the New Year's Eve kidnapping of 24 year old Kate Burton and her parents, all citizens of the UK. Burton had been living in the Gaza Strip for a year as a volunteer with the Al Mazen Center for Human Rights. Her parents came to Palestine for the Christmas holidays and toured Bethlehem and other pilgrimage sites in the West Bank. Wanting to show her parents her home in Gaza, Burton and her parents flew to Egypt and entered Gaza through the Rafah Crossing—and were abducted by armed militants soon afterward and held for two days. The irony, of course, is that those victimized by the abductions—NGO workers and international journalists—are the very people working to help the Palestinians, or at least report the truth of daily life in Gaza to the international community. Worse, in the heat of each kidnapping crisis, the Palestinian Authority usually promises jobs to the militants and never, ever keeps those promises.

One of the 20 militants from the Al Aqsa Brigade who invaded a government building in Khan Younis agreed to speak only if he could remain anonymous. Asked what he was protesting, or against whom, he replied, "We're protesting against every government official throwing up roadblocks to our getting employment. We spent years sacrificing and risking our lives for a better future for Palestine. Now we want jobs and the Palestine Authority ignores us."

Asked if there wasn't some better way to state grievances and stage protests, he replied, "Some get their demands through pure favoritism and good connections. We don't have any special connections, so power and pressure seem the only means open to us," he explained.

Abu Nabil Abdel Razeq, a social reformer who heard this exchange, commented, "It's dangerous that the chaos is so out of control, and it's shameful because it harms not only the government targets but normal citizens. We cannot accept this, even though there is justice in the militants' demands."

The Burton kidnapping, plus border clashes between rogue militants and Egyptian police, brought new protests from Gaza's citizens and other militant factions. A coalition of six militant groups, including Fateh, Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and the Popular Front, issued a statement condemning the kidnappings, building seizures and other violence as "not serving the Palestinian national interest."

Some international media have, quite simplistically and incorrectly, stated that the Israeli occupying army imposed civil law and its withdrawal is the cause of the present internal problems. To the contrary, the Israeli Army did all in its power to destroy Gaza's civil institutions, especially the Gaza police and the Palestinian Authority, and since the withdrawal have maintained their stranglehold on the Gaza economy.

Of course, the Palestinian Authority has committed non-violent "crimes of omission" by promising jobs to the militants time and again, and failing, time and again, to keep those promises. The militants, with their dangerous, if rarely lethal theatrics, seem the obvious villains, while the high government officials do little more than watch. But the incontrovertible fact is that many in the Palestinian Authority are collecting high salaries and living extremely comfortable lives while many other Gaza citizens cannot find food to feed their children. But when the militants fire in the air and occupy a public building, they are of course, in the eyes of the world, the "terrorists" while the Palestinian Authority is blameless—all of which, sad to say, makes it that much easier for the Sharon government to solemnly declare "they have no partner for peace."

read entire article. . .