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Issue 627 Articles:

Only Fuels & Horseplay

Palestine: Occupation From Within

Taking Pole Position

Dodgy Export-Import Business


...And Finally...


Home | Friday 4th April 2008 | Issue 627

Back to the Full Issue

SchNEWS Special Report



A SchNEWS correspondent visiting Palestine writes... “I never thought I would miss the intifada, but in many ways the situation in Palestine now is so much worse. From dying on their feet, it’s people have been reduced to living on their knees. When I returned to the West Bank after an absence of four years, I was alarmed to discover that talk of resistance is met with scepticism. People have seen it all before: non-violent resistance crushed, armed resistance destroyed, negotiations devoid of substance. After so long now, all that remains, for the vast bulk of people, is just to get by day-to-day, to feed their families and educate their children in the hope that the next generation may have a better chance. While this is the goal of most people, Abbas’ Fatah government is quietly getting away with a form of oppression the Israelis before could only dream of achieving.

The Palestinians have been fighting for their rights for as long as any people have. After the Arabs fought alongside the British to rid themselves of Ottoman domination, they were rewarded with division. First the Sykes-Picot agreement divided the Arab nation into puppet states for control by Britain and France. Then the Arabs of Palestine had to face the Zionists, who claimed Palestine as the ‘national home for the Jewish people’. It is surprising how little has changed in the intervening decades.

The Palestinians have been resisting so long now, always against a superior force of arms, never on the winning side, always against the Western powers.

The first Intifada was the first time since the great Arab revolt of ‘36 that the Palestinians took matters into their own hands. Organising themselves en masse, they took to the streets, defied military orders, met tanks with stones, and nearly brought the Israeli army to a standstill. They boycotted Israeli goods, and educated themselves when the Israelis closed down the universities. The generation that has just reached adulthood has no first hand memory of this struggle.

It’s deeply unfortunate that the resistance inside Palestine has died down just as resistance abroad has grown stronger than ever. The Palestine solidarity movement in Europe is arguably stronger now than it has ever been, especially in the UK where the boycott of Israel by unions and academic bodies has achieved successes unimaginable just a few years ago.


Coming to Palestine and working in solidarity with the people here is a challenge to say the least. People have their stories of repression and torture at the hands of the Israelis. People see the settlements grow and take their land. When asked what we can do as concerned foreigners, whereas before they said “tell the world what is happening to our people”, now they say “we need money and computers”. It is not entirely selfish. For seven years or so internationals have been coming to stand in solidarity with Palestinians, dutifully returning home and writing articles for local newspapers and speaking to the concerned. And, seven years later, the official media still has the narrative of ‘Israeli security versus Palestinian terrorism’, and still refers to the occupation as a ‘conflict’. Even as the awareness of the plight of the Palestinians has grown exponentially amongst people in the West, this awareness remains divorced from the policies and public statements of the western leaders (not that the Arab leaders are any better).

This is definitely a ‘lull’ in resistance. Perhaps it is unrealistic to expect that after being beaten down so hard for so long people are willing to stand up for more of the same. Also, now there is the double threat. Not only from the Israelis, but also from the Palestinian Authority (PA), who are a much more effective oppressor than the Israeli Defence Force (IDF). Despite the Israelis’ force of arms they were never able to reach inside the population effectively. After 40 years they never went beyond an army of foreign occupation. The PA with its network of mukhabarat (secret police, spies and informers) has penetrated into every organisation, every union, every facet of society. ‘Every family has a mukhabarat’ is not far from the truth now. In return for a salary and preferential access healthcare and education, all that is required is a steady flow of information and the occasional act of disruption. In persuading Fatah and the PLO to do its work, Israel has finally achieved the level of control it has always sought for completion of the Zionist project.

The armed groups, even those allied to Fatah, are being systematically wiped out in close coordination with the Israelis. Even non-violent resistance to the occupation is now feeling the weight of the Bantustan dictatorship upon it. The head of the (stubbornly independent) Stop the Wall Committee, Jamal Jumar, was arrested and briefly imprisoned by the Palestinian security forces during a demonstration in Ramallah against the Annapolis talks. Palestinians who are involved in the boycott movement have been privately warned that what they do is against the interests of the PA. And if none of this was quite blatant enough, when Bush visited one month later the Israelis loaned a couple of their armoured personnel carriers to the Palestinian Authority so that they could better oppress their people.


A recent experience gave me a glimpse into how much more complete the oppression of Palestinians by their own authority can be. I wanted to take a walk in the hills but was stopped by a Palestinian checkpoint. What transpired was to be an education in the reality of modern Palestine. What at first looked like a group of men trying to catch a taxi turned out to be police from the Preventative Security Force. They stopped me and demanded to see my passport. They asked where I were staying. “Where? With who?” I told them. There’s little point lying to these cops. Unlike Israeli soldiers, they know the families, the houses, who’s related to whom, their occupations and political persuasions.

They went through the same routine as Israeli soldiers, only with that special Palestinian politeness- they smiled a lot, offered me cigarettes, even as they detained me “for five minutes”. More questions, and then, unsure what to do, they called for backup. Another 4x4 arrived with the commander, who wanted to know who I was, checked my passport again, and what I was doing here. I explained about the Friendship and Solidarity group that I was working with. They still wanted to know exactly what I did. “I work with the university.” They seemed satisfied with this, wrote it down on their notepads, and asked to look in my bag. It was as if they were playing at being Israelis at a checkpoint, like the kids do here, only these men were armed with Kalashnikovs and uniforms. They’ve all been stopped at checkpoints, they know the routine. They’ve had plenty of opportunities to learn from the Israelis. It’s telling that the longest time I’ve been questioned at a checkpoint here, and the only time I have been detained at one, was by Palestinians rather than Israelis.

Earlier I’d had the chance to talk to a member of the Preventative Security, one of the many internal security agencies of the PA. I asked him about his job. “Hamas hate us” He said. “We have to watch them. They’re bad news.” I said that I’d heard that Hamas have charities, that they run clinics and schools, and provide relief for the poor. Did he have to watch these as well? “Oh yes. If I find someone who’s Hamas, I take him to the police station.


It has been a long journey from Intifada to the current situation. The two lasting political legacies of the first Intifada: the creation of the Palestinian Authority and the rise of the Hamas movement, have both lost their legitimacy. The PA’s insatiable appetite for corruption disillusioned people long ago, and Hamas’ armed takeover of Gaza was a step too far for most people to accept. Palestine has been torn into two pieces, one piece starved half to death, the other cowed by a Fatah-controlled PA that is more than willing to do the work of Israel and the US in return for concessions (yet to be seen) at the negotiation table.

When the Palestinian Authority was first created on the back of the Oslo talks, it was because the first Intifada had made the Palestinians ungovernable by the occupation forces. The plan, to put the cities under the control of the PLO/PA, did not come from any altruism from the Israelis, but because the Israelis were incapable of doing the job themselves. The post Oslo period began the process of co-opting, binding the PLO to Israel’s agenda, but as Israel tightened the grip of the occupation and stalled progress for peace the process inevitably broke down.

Perversely, Palestinian civil society benefited in some ways from the second intifada. By pushing Arafat literally into a corner it meant that the PA and the Palestinians were united against the external threat. By bombing the police stations and killing uniformed policemen, the Israelis gave the Palestinians a dubious gift in that the Palestinian internal security system was simply not able to function, even if it wanted to.

With the self-serving corruption of al Fatah, Abbas had virtually no support amongst Palestinians, and threw his lot in with the Americans and Israelis. The Annapolis Conference did nothing to raise peoples’ hopes, convened as it was more to elevate the status of the failing Bush Administration than it had anything to do with peace or justice here. The undemocratic nature of the latest Abbas government ensures that the people are not privy to the negotiations. Meanwhile, local spectators to the event say that the Palestinians need their own Annapolis, between Hamas and Fatah, the West Bank and Gaza, before they can sit down with Israel and discuss the future with their occupiers.


Since the Hamas takeover of Gaza gave Mahmood Abbas the excuse to crush dissent in the West Bank, this new Palestine has been sleepwalking into dictatorship. The PA is finally doing the one thing that Arafat, whilst he was still alive, refused to do: turn itself into a colonial police force for the Israelis. Recently Abbas decided to defy Palestinian law and dissolve the (Hamas led) Palestine Legislative Council (the Palestinian ‘Senate’).
When the Israelis killed 120 people in Gaza last month, it looked like Abbas had had second thoughts about allying himself so closely to Israel when he took the unheard (for him) step of cancelling the negotiations with the Israelis. No matter though, after two days and a visit from Condi Rice and he was back at the table, even as the Israelis continued to bomb Gaza from above.

However, when the PA tortured to death the popular (and Hamas affiliated) cleric Majed Barghouti, riots and demos broke out around Ramallah. This is Abbas and his government’s predicament. He needs to rely on Israel and the United States to maintain his position, but the more that he does the more support goes to his rivals. Recent polls suggest that despite (or perhaps because of) the repression that the Hamas movement has suffered they would still win a national election.

It seems that Abbas and the PA have been learning from that master of political cynicism, Nicolo Machiavelli, who said that, given a choice of rule by love or by fear a leader will chose fear, because while the population controls its love, the ruler controls its fear. In this case, that fear is augmented by regular infusions of money, weapons and political backing from the US State Department.

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