Archive for October, 2010|Monthly archive page

What do we want?

In PALESTINE on October 22, 2010 at 21:25

My soul burns for a sovereign Palestinian State. No such thing has ever existed before. We have always been a territory, up for grabs by the strongest fist, whether Turks, British, Jordanians or Israelis.

Our need for independence is so strong, so deeply embedded that we are willing to sacrifice anything. Pay any price. Fight to our last drop of blood.

But do we know what we are fighting for?

We have suffered for more than half a century, only to fill Israeli prisons and Palestinian cemeteries.

What if tomorrow’s headlines announced the establishment of the independent State of Palestine, recognized by the entire global community?

What would it look like? Do we even know? Cuba maybe?

New Castro, Same Cuba, a new report from Human Rights Watch, notes that under Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother, Cuba continues to harass and imprison dissidents. The criminal code punishes “dangerousness,” which punishes such crimes as handing out the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or any behavior deemed contrary to “socialist morality.” Posted by Lloyd Billingsley on Nov 25th, 2009 and filed under FrontPage.

Like Palestinians, the Cuban people fought for decades to gain independence from Spain. They succeeded in the Treaty of Paris. Since 1902, however, the independent Republic of Cuba has been ripped apart by one revolution after another. In 1959, the people cheered when Fidel Castro seized control. But all he has accomplished is to make Cuba an international pariah and a prison of more than 11 million people. Every year, for the past 20 years, the UN Human Rights Commission has received resolutions condemning Cuba’s egregious human rights record.

I do not think we want to model ourselves on Cuba, ruled like China and Vietnam by doctrines to which everything and everyone must conform.

Nor do I believe that we want a Palestinian version of North Korea or Sudan, ruled by tyrants who govern by force and fear.

What’s left? Absolute monarchy like Saudi Arabia? A theocracy like Iran?

Led by Hamas, Palestine would be an Islamic state, oppressed by religious leaders ruthlessly wielding sharia law. Led by Fatah, Palestine would be a corrupt nation like Romania, structured on bribes.

What about democracy? Democracy has proved throughout the ages to provide a firm and stable foundation. If the building topples, the foundation remains. What and how we build upon that foundation, however, is determined by our choices. While I love the freedoms and opportunities of America, I see that it has made moral, economic and political choices in recent decades that threaten its continuation as a world leader.

Sadly, because of the mistakes and excesses of many Western democracies, we refuse to consider a democratic Palestine. The word itself carries too much negative baggage.

But democracy does not mean America or Israel. It means “government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives.” It means you and I decide what we want a national homeland to be and how to build it. It means excising corruption with ballots instead of bullets. It means creating a binding constitution and a just judicial system. It means human rights over personal agendas. It means active, constructive membership in the global community, instead of continuing as an unproductive, non-contributing people group trapped in a hopeless struggle for we don’t know what.

We have become like a hunter in the forest, driven nearly mad by hunger. But he has never seen a deer and does not know what one looks like. So he shoots at rocks and trees, up in the air and into the wind. Finally, he starves to death in a wood filled with game. We have isolated ourselves from all of the opportunities the world offers to us and our children. We don’t know what a Palestinian State would look like. We don’t know how to join the international community. We have let ourselves be defined by what we call our cause.

But if we don’t know our endgame, why are we willing to pay such a heavy price?

What would happen if we stopped fighting?

Yitzhak Rabin, Bill Clinton, and Yasser Arafat at the Oslo Accords signing ceremony on 13 September 1993

Is there not one Palestinian with wisdom, love for our people and courage to sit across the table from the Israelis? Is there no hope of redeeming the Oslo offers? Do we still not see the stupidity of demanding all or nothing?

And once we became autonomous, is there no one among us with wisdom, love for our people and humility to ask thriving, successful democracies to show us how to build our own democracy? To show us how to avoid making the mistakes they’ve made?

If we stop fighting and start building, won’t the world be amazed?

Won’t the World Bank and International Monetary Fund provide us with enough resources to build a modern infrastructure and establish global commerce when they see that we have replaced our corrupt leaders with men and women of integrity, compassion and vision? Men and women who respect justice and human rights?

When they see what we can accomplish peacefully and creatively, won’t the global community demand that Israel withdraw its settlers and restore our land?

When we develop our land, won’t we be able to offer our refugees the right of return, as Israel offered it to Jews in the Diaspora?

And when we are a sovereign nation, won’t Israel be forced to empty its prisons of thousands of Palestinian sons, fathers and daughters and send them home?

Today, a Palestinian mother is honored if her husband or son is arrested and tortured or dies a martyr. Don’t our daughters, wives and mothers deserve better? Don’t our children deserve opportunities to become all they can—not terrorists and martyrs and victims of oppression, but men and women recognized by the world for their accomplishments in science, education, art, philosophy and industry?

Aren’t we tired of being a cause in the Middle East instead of an example?

Palestinian creativity has been channeled into digging tunnels, forming terrorist cells and planning attacks. We don’t have creative ideas because we are prisoners of a single destructive thought. What if we broke out of that suicidal mindset, stopped fighting for we don’t know what and unleashed our creativity?

Generation after generation dreams the same dream: drive out the Israelis, kill the Israelis, destroy Israel. We cannot see beyond our borders because we are blinded by our pain and hatred.

I am not saying that we can or should excuse the bloodshed, atrocities, assassinations, imprisonments and torture, theft and loss. I am saying that we need to move beyond it. We need to rise above it like a plane climbing through a deadly thunderstorm into the clear, open sky.

When will we stop dreaming the impossible dream and start dreaming of limitless possibilities? When will we stop targeting settlers, buses, schools and pizza parlors and target constructive goals as a nation, communities and families?

We can lift our hands in victory over a land charred by fire and soaked in Palestinian blood, or we can have jobs and industry, income and prosperity, health and education, freedom to travel anywhere in the world, whenever we want.

We can have leaders imposed on us or elected—and, if necessary, replaced—by us. We can have a Palestinian State that oppresses its people as the Israelis have during the occupation or a country with no limits on what we can achieve, how much we can accomplish or how big of a footprint we leave behind.

When will we begin fighting with our brains instead of our bombs? With reason instead of retaliation?

Even a two-year-old child can destroy. Only men and women of wisdom, vision and courage can build a nation.

The furious insignificance of Hamas – Part III

In HAMAS on October 6, 2010 at 15:30

Many Middle East analysts point to Tehran as the power behind the Hamas throne. If the flow of Iranian money and weapons could be cut off, they believe, Hamas would wither and die.

But Hamas does not rely that heavily on Iran. It needs Iran’s weaponry and training, but it also receives substantial financial support from Qatar and other Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia, as well as from individual deep pockets throughout the Arab world. During the Hajj, for example, (the annual season for pilgrimage to Mecca, November 14-18 this year) Hamas fundraisers, including exiled leader Khaled Meshaal, descend on Mecca, meet with Muslims from all over the globe and collect millions of dollars in donations.

Other observers wonder why Iran—a Shi’a Muslim nation—is helping Sunni Hamas in the first place.

From his perspective, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gains political currency by collaborating with Hamas. He needs the respect of the Sunni world if the Shi’a are to spread their doctrine and take control of the entire Middle East. So he supports Hamas, Syria and other Sunni in addition to Shi’a Hezbollah to show the Arab world that Iran’s concern extends to all Muslims, regardless of theological differences (of course, Hezbollah receives the lion’s share; Hamas receives only token support by comparison).

Nevertheless, Iran continues to play a key role in the destabilization of the region. So does the United States.

America, out of its own kind of ignorance, keeps the conflict burning between Israelis and Palestinians by supporting the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and enabling the PA to persecute Hamas.

Between FY 2007 and 2010, the U.S. government gave the PA $392 million to train and equip its security forces, oversee construction of related infrastructure projects and develop the capacity of the Palestinian Authority. And the State Department requested another $150 million for FY 2011.

When will Washington realize that it cannot join hands with people who do not believe in liberty and personal freedom? The PA does not believe in any concept in the American Constitution. Its security forces persecute and torture people for any reason, and people end up hating the United States because they know that it supports Abu Mazen* and his forces.

Like the PA, Egypt is considered a moderate regime and is supported by the U.S. It persecuted the Muslim Brotherhood for decades, and as a result we have to deal with Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri today. People fled persecution in Egypt, and they will flee persecution in the West Bank and find a place like Somalia, Afghanistan, Chechnya or Iraq where they can express their frustration and hatred and attack the United States.

This only fuels a deadly hatred in the heart of every Hamas member. And at some point, they will uproot Abu Mazen. But Hamas will not take over the West Bank as it did Gaza.

The worst case scenario in the West Bank is that Hamas will create underground cells, launch missiles into Israel, continue to kill Israeli settlers and perhaps assassinate key Fatah and PLO leaders. They do not have the weaponry for a coup or the tunnels through which to smuggle in the weapons. And, despite a huge base of people who sympathize with them, it would be virtually impossible for Hamas to recruit thousands of members to their military wing as they did in Gaza. The Gaza phenomenon was unique. It was a crime of opportunity that is unlikely to reoccur in the West Bank.

So, do I see any hope for my people?

Today, Hamas is doing the same thing it did 15 years ago, and I expect it will continue in the same disruptive and unproductive rut indefinitely. The unholy alliance of the U.S. and the PA will ensure that hatred continues to burn and spread in the West Bank.

There are now two Palestines. And the Bible says that a house that is divided cannot stand.

While peace-brokers continue to drag the same worn cards to the table, they leave the ace out of the deck. Islam has always been the chief obstacle to peace and reconciliation.

Israeli and Palestinian leaders have agreed before on independence, self-government and other important issues. There have been truces and ceasefires. Every intervention under the sun—military, diplomatic, economic, logistic—has been tried and failed.

And as long as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Salafis are part of the equation, dialogue and compromise and agreement are impossible. The god of the Qur’an stands in the way.

There can never be dialogue with Islam because every discussion begins and ends with “God said . . .”

Only if the people of the Middle East get rid of Islam, will they be able to deal with their problems and live in peace again with one another. Otherwise, Islam will continue to be the spoiler.

* Abu Mazen is a typical Arabic honorific that means “father of Mazen.” Abbas and his wife, Amina, have three sons: Mazen, Yaser and Tareq.

The furious insignificance of Hamas – Part II

In HAMAS on October 3, 2010 at 19:34

In addition to governing by kidnapping and torture, Hamas controls hundreds of tunnels that admit goods through Egypt into Gaza. Hamas gives the best to its own and sells the rest at black market prices to Palestinian families, half of whom are unemployed. It steals international medical aid and sells it in its own pharmacies. Hamas even bulldozed the homes of nearly 200 families and stole their land to build an Islamic religious center, similar to the proposed 9/11 mosque in New York City.

Last year, the UN was forced to stop all aid to Gaza because Hamas stole blankets and food meant for my people. This summer, Hamas broke into the offices of nongovernment charities, including United Nations partner organizations, and shut them down, cutting off resources to 80 percent of Gaza’s residents.

Fatah supporters carrying Abbas heir-apparent Mohammed Dahlan during a rally in Gaza City in 2007. (AP)

When Hamas campaigned in 2005, one of its two planks was to clean up PA corruption, especially the gangster rule of Fatah strongman Mohammad Dahlan. But Hamas is just as corrupt as the PLO was under Yasser Arafat and his cronies and the PA is today under Mahmoud Abbas.

During an interview with a Middle Eastern journalist, Abu Mohammed, a secular businessman with close family ties to the old Fatah security services, said, “After the takeover, people thought it might get better if the religious guys were in charge of the money, that security would improve and corruption would end. But they’re just as corrupt. If you’re not in Hamas, you get nothing. If anyone does anything, they are arrested, tortured or killed. Just like with the Israelis. Except the Jews always give you a lawyer.”

Yet, in an interview September 27 with CNN’s Nic Robertson in Damascus, exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal shamelessly told the world that, “Hamas’ strategy relies on reaching a way of determining our own destiny, taking back our land, defending our people against the occupation and the settlements and then working on establishing a true Palestinian state that will have true sovereignty.”

Khaled Meshaal

Is this how you defend your people? By destroying their homes to build your mosques? By stealing their international aid to line your pockets? By kidnapping and torture and forcing your religion on them? Is how you allow them to determine their own destiny?

When Meshaal is not blaming Israel for everything bad in Gaza, he blames the international community who he accused of “stand[ing] in silence and do[ing] nothing while the Palestinian people suffer, while they get killed, and they get oppressed.”

The Israelis have a word for that. It’s called chutzpah!

Hamas doesn’t get it. It cannot see what lies ahead if it continues along its present course.

For 14 centuries, the Arab world has been a major contributor to the world in mathematics, astronomy, medicine, architecture, horticulture, philosophy, art, music, literature. But Hamas, now that it has its opportunity to show the world how it can govern, is using Islamic sharia law to crush the life, soul and creativity out of the people who gave it their trust.

Women are forbidden to ride on motorcycles with men. Male hairdressers are not allowed to work in women’s salons. “Modesty patrols” check cars for men riding with unrelated single women. A female Palestinian journalist was arrested at the beach for laughing in public and not wearing a head covering. Female lawyers are banned from courtrooms, unless they wear a hijab. Hamas has shut down Internet cafes, movie theaters and bars where young people hang out, as well as a hotel and restaurant whose owners refused to enforce the new law against women smoking nagilas (water pipes).

One reporter from Abu Dhabi wrote that people in Gaza “seem to be losing any sense of hope and increasingly, according to social workers, smugglers and even the police, turning in massive numbers to cheap narcotic tablets smuggled through tunnels from Egypt. A sense of lethargy and hopelessness now pervades almost every aspect of life here.”

If a government oppresses its people, if it makes a big deal out of petty things like this, how can it work together with the community to resolve bigger issues of health, education and the future of the Palestinian people?

Hamas has become the Taliban of Gaza. Since its emergence in 1994, the Taliban battled Afghan warlords and the Afghan government to gain power. But when it finally attained its objective, it was unable to build any society. Its culture was non-culture. Its modus operandi was to oppress and destroy. Its GNP was drugs and terrorism.

Even under the best conditions, Gaza will remain a hot spot on the Mediterranean, like Somalia in the Horn of Africa. Sunni Islam filled the void created by the revolutions and counter-revolutions that plagued Somalia since the early 1990s. Last year, the Somali parliament approved sharia law nationwide. As a result, the Islamists will control the country beyond the foreseeable future. And they too will produce only fear, hatred and destruction.

My next blog posting will examine the key issues in the Middle East. And they are not the ones you read in the daily headlines.

%d bloggers like this: