Thursday, January 24, 2008

Where were you when they blew up the wall?

We all remember the scene when the Berlin Wall was finally torn down, marking a historic moment in the twentieth century when time stood still and we all could recall the tiniest detail of where we were and what we were doing. Another date that encapsulates the same recollection is 9/11, where we felt surrealism at its most perverse when we witnessed smoking towers tumble, turning into ashes. Thursday January 24th, 2008, is set to be another landmark on the calender and with good reason. Nothing is a more gripping image than a massive wall being broken down, and earlier this morning (or late last night my time) in Rafah, the barrier was blown up with a few blasts, enabling Gazans the freedom that they have been aching for since June. Here's coverage of the extraordinary incident by Al-Jazeera English:

Only two days ago I wrote about the embarrassing situation that has the international community blaming the Palestinians about the latest Israeli decision to put Gaza in a complete blackout. Amongst the agony of Gazans who have been subject to total closures and at times, the perfect laboratory to try out new weapons, we have the EU, Israel and now even a Presidential candidate bending over backward to appease Israel and its feared supporters. As the images of Palestinians having a brief taste of freedom, Barack Obama is showing just what kind of steel he is made of by declaring to Ambassador Khalilzad that Israel had no option but to hermetically seal Gaza. The letter is making its rounds in the blogosphere, querying as to what Obama can accomplish with such a cowardly line. The answer: votes.

The joyous scenes is following closely with Martin Luther King Day, evoking his much cited "I Have a Dream" speech in where he bellows that "We are free at last." Yes, Palestinians finally have broken the prison that has caged them in since Hamas took control of the Strip. Streams of thousands piled into Egyptian Rafah, and stocked up on what they could get their hands on; cheese, concrete, iron, oil. diesel, cigarettes, foam mattresses, cleaning materials, flour, glass plates, mats, blankets; nothing was too scarce for these Gazans. Rafah had not seen anything like it before, as people came in droves, as well as donkey and carts, in order to taste some form of autonomy. Hosni Mubarak stated that they were "hungry" as he ordered his troops to help Gazans load up on supplies and usher them back to the crossing. That piece of altruism is shocking considering Egypt has done plenty to allocate the suffering of Gazans on Hamas, as well as collaborate with the occupier that this is the best thing to do for their security. Cairo has been seeing protests about their role in the closure for months, and it seems that with the prisonbreak, it would have been too embarrassing in front of a live connected media to deny these Palestinians some sort of relief. Mubarak has problems already; a confrontation with ordinary Palestinians just days after human rights organisations expressing deep concern over their plight would have been a wedge in his presidency.

And how ironic is it that Israel, the US and the West is blaming Hamas for the wreckage wreaked on Gaza, saying it's Hamas' fault that Palestinians are living with no electricity, no sewage control, no water, etc. that Hamas is the one responsible for setting them free of Israel's strangehold. Amira Hass reports:

"Hamas operatives had been sawing away the foundations of the wall between Egyptian and Palestinian Rafah for a few months to make it easier to blow it up when the time came, a source close to the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) in Rafah told Haaretz Wednesday.

A central Hamas operative partially confirmed the report, although he told Haaretz it was PRC operatives who had prepared to breach the wall, while Hamas policemen did not interfere. In any case, Hamas has for months been discussing the need to take the initiative in ending the siege of Gaza.

Apparently, after four days of hermetic closure, following months of siege, the planners believed the political and social conditions were ripe to bring down the iron wall that Israel had put up."

What we have here now is a problem: how can the world continue to blame the suffering on Hamas when it is they who seem to be the only one concerned about the Palestinians? How can we continue to accuse them of selfishness, cutting their own electricity for "propaganda purposes" and isolate them when they blow up a wall that has encased Gazans to their worst nightmare? How can we stop Gazans from responding positively to Hamas when they do so many things that help them?

That is the dilemma now that is posed for the West. Hamas has done what no other body was able to do: give relief to Palestinians, give them access to aid and supplies, and most importantly, give them (a brief sense of) freedom. This latest event has bodly defined what Palestinians have been saying all along: the world is indifferent to their suffering. All the lip service about two-states, refugees, and freedom has led them to a closed area that is one of the most densely populated in the world. The world looks on by, talks the good talk while doing nothing to stop Israeli atrocities that claim more and more lives. We sit in horror as Olmert overtly claims that his policy is a collective punishment, and yet the international community does nothing about it. In fact, it does worse than nothing: it praises the oppressor for dealing with it swiftly! Now that is hubris.

The suffocation of the Gazans as a strategy by the West to weaken Hamas culminated at the Rafah border. With stunning clarity, the explosions that broke down the barrier were the metaphor that highlighted the failure of the international consensus. Only uncanny timing can explain Kathleen Christison's article on the illegitimacy of the "international consensus" (IC) as a broker in the Israel-Palestine conflict appearing on the same date that the wall fell, focusing on how the IC has failed in even accounting for a Palestinian commentary on peace talks and negotiations. Christison is scathing on the purposes of the IC:

"The international community does not initiate policies; it merely parrots and goes along with the positions promoted by the centers of international power, in this case the U.S. and Israel.

There is in fact no international consensus supporting two states for Palestine-Israel. Those who cite UN Security Council Resolution 242 as the basis...did not even mention Palestinians except as "the refugee problem" and clearly did not put forth a proposal for two states in Palestine-Israel."

The advocacy of a one-state solution is consistently criticised by two-staters because of an agreement by the IC that two-states is what the world can accept. But the IC has always been dormant on Palestinian demands; hence the IC is only a lapdog for the superpowers who dictate policy of the conflict, aka the US and Israel since the fall of the Soviet Union.

What has the IC done for Gaza? Nothing but jargon and rhetoric. The UN is inept and Europe only wants to placate the US and Israel. Canada is silent, China is indifferent as they have nothing to gain, Russia is ineffective and Australia is mute on the topic. Six months went by and Gaza was a massive prison with the IDF exercising impugnity on helpless Palestinians. They turned off the lights, bombs flew and Gazans were starved; the IC sat on their hands and gave Israel a pat on the back for stealthly dealing with the irritating Qassams. Have we forgotten that Qassams are still being launched despite the sanctions and blockades? Or the narrative that Qassam fire was preceded by IDF-inflicted deaths? Where are the results that would justify this collective punishment that is a violation of the Geneva Accords?

Without a doubt the Rafah breach is a bitter rebuke to not only the IC but also on Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party. While Abu Mazen propped up his phony government to play the game of peacetalk with Olmert and Bush, he candidately embraced the IC's dismissal of anything Gaza-related. Annapolis is the perfect paradigm of this: constructed and supervised by the two heavyweights directing orders to the beaten. Gaza was not even mentioned in Annapolis. It is a rude awakening to Abu Mazen as he struggles to gain any hint of success through his process of engagement (or collusion?) while Hamas took a big stride for Palestinian resistance. Israel maintains its construction in the West Bank and violence has increased during the Annapolis timeframe: this is what the Palestinians have gained when playing peace with the occupier and its most ardent supporter (and exporter of arms and aid). This is what they have struggled for? More housing for Israelis? More land theft? More grievances and lost trees and crops?

Now Abbas faces a test that he has to match Hamas' resolve and message that the IC, US and Israel do not have the Palestinians' best interest at heart. The Palestinians have taken it upon themselves to break free of the entrapments and impasses that has afflicted them for so long. They were not meant to take matters in their own hands; the elite is meant to resolve this issue for them. But you could forgive them into thinking that the world has forgotten about them. Jeff Halper testifies of the Palestinian temperment of not giving in:

"Not only have the Palestinians experienced the dehumanization all oppressed and colonized peoples experience, not only have they been made into the embodiment of the rich and powerful's greatest fear, evil "terrorists" who may tear down their privileged "civilization," but they have been turned into guinea pigs...

And yet the Palestinian people -- and in particular those who remain sumud, steadfast, in Palestine -- continue not only to resist but to surprise and confound its would-be Israeli master at every turn. Despite unlimited control, a complete monopoly over the use of force, utter callousness and a vaunted Shin Beit, Israel's military intelligence, Palestinians vote as they want, resist, carry on their daily lives with dignity -- and blow huge holes in the walls and policies constructed in order to imprison and defeat them."

Certainly the fight is not over. Egypt will close the border, Israel will remain its tight squeeze on Hamas, and the world will try to isolate them again. But the piercing of the bubble might shake a few people to realise that Gazans are not living normal lives and that Israel is not being a benevolent occupier. Annapolis is on thin ice as of this moment and Hamas may have made the West take them seriously. There is plenty of resistance against the other wall that demarcates the West Bank into swiss cheese. They stand up to their bullies every day demanding justice. The world has been shamed by the Palestinians: Will they take this notice of despair and respond this time?

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