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March 11, 2004

Gazans Must Spurn Internal Strife and Egyptian Rule


by Ramzy Baroud

Khalid al-Zabin, a 59-year-old Palestinian journalist was ambushed outside his office in Gaza, on Tuesday, March 2. His body was riddled with bullets. All that is known about his executioners is that they wore masks. No faction has claimed responsibility for his murder and the Palestinian Authority has no suspects.

The disturbing episode is likely to be filed in the ever-expanding cabinet of Gaza’s victims of anarchy and disorder, where Israel is ultimately held responsible. This time however, the stakes are much higher, and blaming Israel alone, simply will not suffice.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned the murder and called on PA President Yasser Arafat to "act." RSF, among other groups, weighed up the crime in terms of its relation to a trend of assaults targeting Palestinian journalists by unknown assailants. Several other incidents were cited to further highlight the alarming trend: the ransacking of a newspaper’s office, the torching of a journalist’s car and others.

Al-Zabin’s murder was certainly the bloodiest.

Although one ought to appreciate the journalistic facet of al-Zabin’s death, it must be equally clear that the issue is much more worrying than the disconcerting need of some to suppress free speech and hush up, to say the least, those who advocate it.

Indeed, the issue is much more perilous and far-reaching.

Al-Zabin was a close advisor to Arafat; he ran a newspaper–Al-Nashrathat–is funded by the Authority and is trusted on the complex and controversial subject of human rights. Considering the PA’s own record, al-Zabin’s task must have been grueling.

Al-Zabin, a member of the popular Palestinian faction, Fatah, was killed just a few days after the movement’s top members concluded intense talks in Arafat’s Ramallah headquarters. Although Fatah’s senior members seemed as if they had patched up their differences by the last day of talks, the rift was not truly mended.

Since the mass desertion of hundreds of its members last December, and the substantial disparity in political stances among its various offshoots on the mandate of the movement’s military wing, Fatah has been facing one of its toughest challenges in recent years. The turmoil in Fatah however, if not contained, is likely to stir subsequent tremors throughout the occupied Palestinian territories, especially in the highly politicized Gaza Strip. 

The recent and unexpected announcement by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, revealing his intentions to evacuate–or relocate to the West Bank–most of the Gaza Strip’s illegal Jewish settlements, ignited an array of unpleasant predictions of power struggle among Palestinian factions, wishing to dominate the "liberated" Gaza.

"Palestinian power struggle worsens," wrote the Age newspaper of Australia, commenting on the "dirty assassination"–as described by Arafat–of al-Zabin. The US Christian Science Monitor went further in decoding the hidden indications of the assassination. "Hamas seeks primacy in Gaza", it alleged, although the article failed to fully explore such a claim.

But the touting of the media is not the only indicator of the feared power struggle. PA officials themselves are hardly discrete in their anxiety over the prospect of the "alternative authority" allegedly posed by Hamas in Gaza, as stated by Mohammed Dahalan, a former PA interior minister. 

Many in the Israeli press as well are up in arms. Commentators are employing the anarchy-in-Gaza scenario to express resentment to Sharon’s Gaza evacuation proposal and to, once again underscore the claim that Palestinians are simply incapable of ruling themselves, and, therefore, justifying the military occupation of Palestinian land. 

Moreover, by playing up the projection of power struggle in Gaza, Israel is managing to shift attention from its rapid land grab currently taking place in the West Bank under the ruse of building a "security fence" to keep suicide bombers at bay.

And now, Israel’s Gaza "concession" has once again posed a challenge to the PA, still unable or unwilling to unify rank along with Palestinian resistance movements who are equally responsible for achieving the long sought national unity. Yet while Israel is hoping to get Egypt drawn into the Gaza scheme, bypassing the Palestinian people’s representatives, the PA and various factions have displayed few indications of their ability to face Israel’s maneuvers.    

Even though Egyptian President Hosni Mubrak made it clear that his country has no interest in getting involved in Gaza again, Israel is unlikely to carry out a partial withdrawal from Gaza, if any, without "guarantees" of security, an ambiguous demand that often means the opposite to Palestinians.  

Certainly, the media might have overstated the political consequence of the killing of Arafat’s trusted advisor. This is in part a result of the timing of the assassination (in the midst of the Fatah contention, Sharon’s Gaza pronouncement and the hyped Hamas take over of Gaza claims.) But, although Palestinian society is remarkably still functional despite years of systematic Israeli attempts to force it into total chaos, one must admit: anarchy is not a fully alien concept in Gaza and other parts of the occupied territories. Although one can fathom the direct relationship between anarchy and military occupation, such an understanding should not excuse what could possibly evolve into a tragic end to the Palestinian uprising.

If the killing of al-Zabin was the first step in the path of political mayhem and subsequent power struggles, then Israel will have managed to prove its historic allegations of Palestinian incompetence to rule themselves.

Israel has played a prime role in the Gaza mess, but this time, it is not Israel alone that deserves the blame. Palestinians themselves are falling into a trap, already bickering over the Gaza prize before it was even offered to them. By failing to take charge of their own destiny in a unified fashion, Palestinians, regardless of their political and ideological affiliations, risk being marginalized and victimized by mandates and caretakers. "If it’s not possible [for Palestinians to take charge of Gaza] under the present circumstances, why should an interim Egyptian role be considered?" writes Hasan Abu Nimahm in the Jordan Times.

Those Palestinians who lived under an Egyptian mandate in the 1950’s and 60s, know too well the answer to that question.   

True, the death of al-Zabin is not the first politically motivated assassination and will not be the last. But for Palestinians, the stakes this time are much higher and an internal dispute coupled with muscle flexing will deeply harm all that the Palestinians fought to achieve.

The world is watching what is to yet come out of the Gaza quandary. The media is, as ever, willing to condemn and lambaste Palestinians, their incompetence and failures, retrospectively validating Israel’s policy and historic allegations that Palestinians are unable to govern themselves.

Palestinian factions must spurn internal strife if they truly wish to fend, not just for the repute of their struggle worldwide, but also for their political independence and a future territorial sovereignty, which, after all, are their foremost aspirations.

Ramzy Baroud is a Palestinian-American journalist, head of Research & Studies at Aljazeera Net English


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  • Ramzy Baroud is editor-in-chief of the Palestine Chronicle. His book The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle is now out in paperback.

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