Palestinian unity grows as life gets worse : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread


Palestinian unity grows as life gets worse By Judy Dempsey in Jerusalem Published: November 27 2000 20:33GMT | Last Updated: November 27 2000 21:30GMT

When Eyad Sarraj recently visited a group of elderly Palestinian men, what struck the Gaza-based psychiatrist most was their determination.

"I asked them what they thought about Israel's air raids on Gaza. I was astonished by their replies," said Mr Surraj, one of the most persistent campaigners for human rights and reform since Yassir Arafat set up the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 1994.

"They said the raids were a test from God, a gift from God as if to test their resolve to defend their land," recounted Mr Surraj, director of the independent Gaza Community Mental Health Programme.

Not since the first intifada, or uprising, against the Israeli occupation of 1987-1993 had he recalled such determination. Nor, said Mr Surraj, had he experienced "such cohesion in our society. But I must warn you, this will disintegrate if there is no honourable peace in the future. Palestine will then be hell."

In common with other Palestinian intellectuals, Mr Surraj has seen an extraordinary transformation of Palestinian society since the start of the "Al Aqsa intifada" two months ago. Until then, they say the social and political fabric of society was breaking down as the PA became more remote from the public, the gap widening for several reasons.

Those in the first intifada believe they were betrayed by the 1993 Oslo peace accords which Mr Arafat signed. "That intifada was hijacked by the PA elite who returned from exile in Tunis to Gaza," said Husam Khader, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. The intifada was fought in order to end the occupation. Instead, the PA opted for several interim accords that perpetuated it.

The PA's other weakness was that it failed to provide either leadership - such as building civil society and strong institutions - or resistance to Israel's policy of expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. It also quickly established a reputation for corruption, nepotism, mismanagement and abuse of human rights. "The Palestinian people lost their sense of respect and dignity," said Mr Surraj.

As a result, over the past seven years, leadership from the PA became frozen. "Now the people are going for broke," said Roger Heacock, history professor at Bir Zeit University near the West Bank city of Ramallah. "There is a tremendous sense of solidarity combined with the feeling that the leadership is institutionally removed from what is going on."

On the ground the PA's civil institutions hardly function. The closures imposed by Israel two months ago on the West Bank and Gaza, as well as the internal closures between Palestinian towns and cities, have disrupted the functioning of basic services, such as public transport and rubbish collection.

Trade is paralysed, people cannot travel to work and basic food stuffs, such as cooking oil and flour, are in serious short supply. More than 120,000 Palestinians who had worked in Israel are now without work or money - felt even more acute as Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, started on Monday.

Notwithstanding the closures, the PA's ministries are silent, the ministers no longer available for consultations. There are few officials to register births, issue passports, file complaints, hold court cases or answer the telephones, let alone give interviews.

These ministries had functioned in a haphazard manner during the 1990s. But their efficacy, say human rights groups, was marred by a reluctance to challenge Israel's delays in releasing prisoners and stop the confiscation of land and expansion of settlements - and a toleration of corruption.

As a result, explain academics, Palestinian society became increasingly fragmented and frustrated. The social cohesion that held it together after the first intifada soon dissipated.

In its place came crime and violence, said Mr Heacock. In Ramallah, where he lives, the city drifted towards anarchy as rival gangs and car theft rings prevailed. Palestinian human rights groups in vain constantly criticised the local police and the PA for conniving or turning a blind eye to these activities.

Other academics argue that, as the social cohesion broke down, with opinion polls consistently showing a steady decline of public credibility in the PA and its institutions, people shifted from the nationalist cause to the clan and tribal systems to settle old scores.

"Crime increased 100 per cent each year," explained Mr Surraj. But once the new intifada began he noticed a sharp decline. "People are now mobilised around a nationalist agenda. They are united. People are willing to die in order to get their dignity back."

That unity and resolve, said Mr Khader, imposed a huge burden on Mr Arafat, and Ehud Barak, Israeli prime minister. "This is Arafat's last chance to negotiate a just and honourable deal with Israel and introduce the rule of law in our country," he added.

Failing that, said Mr Surraj, "the radicals will take over, not only here but in the region as well. It will require very courageous leaders to tell their people the whole truth. Otherwise, the next intifada will be an Islamic one. It will be hell."

-- Martin Thompson (, November 27, 2000

Moderation questions? read the FAQ