Gaza: The jailed state

The world cannot afford to stand by while the Israeli army and Palestinian militias fight their unwi

As hundreds of Israeli families leave the town of Sderot in southern Israel to escape Hamas-designed Qassam rockets and mortars, Palestinians in turn are fleeing the wrath of Israeli air strikes on Gaza, which in the past week have killed more than 30 people, many of them civilians. This latest bloodshed in the besieged Gaza Strip comes hard on the heels of deadly inter-Palestinian battles between Hamas and Fatah that Palestinian security forces have been unable to contain.

These events leave the impression that the political leadership within the unity government has neither the will nor the capability to enforce a ceasefire and maintain its effectiveness. Some within Hamas are even saying that it would be in the interests of the Palestinian people to dissolve the Palestinian Authority here and now, because it has proved incapable of alleviating the Palestinians' misery or finding an enduring solution to the conflict with Israel.

While leaders of Fatah and Hamas are united in making strides towards reconciliation, the resistance shown by their supporters has forced Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and President Mahmoud Abbas to order the training of large numbers of police and army to secure the borders and bring order to the unruly state.

The government of national unity had been seriously weakened by the resignation of the Palestinian interior minister, Hani al-Qawasmi. Selected for the key post because he was independent of both groups, Qawasmi believed he had been rendered powerless to implement measures agreed in Mecca on 8 February 2007 in a signed deal between Fatah and Hamas sponsored by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

The emergency summit had been called by King Abdullah following heavy fighting between Hamas and Fatah factions that had claimed about a hundred Palestinian lives.

During the Mecca summit, the king asked Khaled Meshal, the Damascus-based Hamas leader, why his movement couldn't recognise the State of Israel. Meshal's response was that this standpoint was not that of Hamas, but of the higher leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, the worldwide Islamist movement. Hamas is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which believes that the land of Palestine is held under an Islamic waqf - meaning that no Palestinian, whatever his position, has the right to relinquish any part of it to non-Muslims. For this reason, Hamas has always spoken of relations with the Israelis in terms of a long truce, or what in Arabic is called a hudna.

When the obdurate non-acceptance of Israel led the international community to enforce sanctions against the Hamas-led government, the Palestinian population paid a high price. Some 70 per cent live below the poverty line and many rely heavily on handouts from the United Nations and international aid organisations. Many had been clinging to the hope that the recently formed unity government would revive international confidence in Palestinian governance and lead to the lifting of sanctions.

But Hamas's landslide victory in January 2006 had empowered its leaders to assume that they were not obliged to listen to other voices within Palestinian society. Cronyism and favouritism were the selection processes by which unqualified people were appointed to plum jobs. Freih Abu Middein, a former minister, well-known lawyer and leader of one of Gaza's largest clans, described the level of corruption within the Hamas movement after one year in office as being on a par with that of the much-maligned Fatah administration.

There was no improvement in services or lifestyle. Salaries were paid only in the first two or three months, and then they dried up. This alienated many Palestinians who felt that Hamas was not taking on board their concerns about the movement's handling of the Arab-Israeli conflict. They believed Hamas had to deal with the reality on the ground - that Israel, like it or not, exists. This is borne out each day as Palestinians undergo rigorous checks at the border. European observers may control the checkpoints, but Israelis monitor from a distance. And Israel has overall authority for the checkpoints, which are being closed several times a week.

As if all this weren't enough, al-Qaeda has emerged in the theatre of Gaza. In a video released and broadcast by al-Jazeera, al-Tawhid wa'al-Jihad - an al-Qaeda affiliate and the kidnap group that has held the BBC correspondent Alan Johnston in Gaza for more than two months - demanded the release of al-Qaeda activists. Its list included Abu Qatada, the militant Palestinian-Jordanian imprisoned in the UK and described as Osama Bin Laden's man in Europe, and Sajida al-Rishawi, the Iraqi woman who played a role in the bombing campaign that targeted Jordanian hotels in late 2005.

Johnston's kidnappers gave a glimmer of hope to family and friends when they used the password "Mombasa", the name of Johnston's cat. It appears he is being held by the same group that held two Fox News journalists to ransom in 2006. They were released after two weeks.

But the demands made for Johnston's release, the style of the video and other tactics bear the hallmarks of al-Qaeda's operations worldwide. The video has confirmed fears that al-Qaeda is taking advantage of the chaos and lawlessness to extend its reach into the Palestinian territories, and specifically the Gaza Strip.

A likely point of entry is the sprawling secret tunnel network connecting Egypt with Gaza. More than a year ago, Mahmoud Abbas sounded warning bells that al-Qaeda was becoming active in small cells in Gaza. Palestinians do not welcome the idea of extreme elements on their soil, as they wish their fight to remain within the boundaries of the Palestinian territories.

One name widely talked about in connection with the kidnapping of the British journalist is that of Dagmoush, a clan once allied to Hamas. But, according to sources, Mumtaz Dagmoush, one of the clan's leaders, has recently switched allegiance to Bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri. His close relationship with Hamas was severed after a Hamas activist killed a member of his immediate family. In revenge, Dagmoush threatened to reveal information about the dirty jobs carried out on behalf of Hamas, including the murder of Moussa Arafat, head of Palestinian military intelligence, killed in a raid on his house in Gaza in 2005.

The government of national unity has been much criticised for its response to the Johnston kidnapping, in particular its failure to make make Dagmoush feel under any kind of pressure. In the light of both this and the deteriorating relationship between Hamas and Fatah, Mahmoud Abbas is likely to feel that he has no option but to dissolve the parliament and call an election for both parliament and the presidency. Such a move would have to be approved by both Fatah and Hamas, otherwise Gaza and the West Bank could all too easily face a situation similar to the one in Somalia, where clans and warlords hold sway and determine the daily life of the people.

This places a heavy duty on the international community to address the chaos. The effects of the situation in Gaza could reach far beyond the confines of the Palestinian territories. There is considerable peril in allowing al-Qaeda's newest recruits to operate in Gaza.

The Palestinians urgently need international financial support and a just solution to their crisis. Recent fighting in northern Lebanon between the Lebanese army and affiliates of al-Qaeda (led by a Palestinian) has already claimed the lives of nearly a hundred civilians and soldiers. Al-Qaeda's new allies in Gaza are banking on the desperation of Palestinians inside the occupied territories to spread throughout the region.

Zaki Chehab is the author of "Inside Hamas" (published by I B Tauris in the UK and by Nation Books in the US)

Key dates in history of the Gaza Strip
Research by Shabeeh Abbas

1949 Egypt occupies strip following 1948 Arab-Israeli War

1956 Occupied by Israel after Suez War, in which Israel, France and Britain attack Egypt. International pressure forces Israel to withdraw in 1957

1967 Recaptured by Israel in Six Day War. United Nations calls on Israel to withdraw

1970 First Jewish settlement in Gaza

1987 First Intifada. Hamas is formed

1993 Oslo Accords. First Intifada ends. Palestinian Authority takes control of strip

2000 Ariel Sharon visits al-Aqsa Mosque, sparking the Second Intifada

2005 Israel withdraws troops but maintains control of the strip's borders and airspace

2006 Hamas wins elections. Crippling economic sanctions imposed on new government because of its refusal to renounce violence and recognise Israel. Clashes between Hamas and Fatah militants become commonplace

2007 Fatah and Hamas form unity government but fail to prevent factional fighting. Israeli air strikes continue to kill civilians

This article first appeared in the 28 May 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Gaza: The jailed state

Michael Cooper/AFP/Getty Images
Show Hide image

The players make their mistakes on the pitch – I make mine on the page

I find that if I watch three live games in a weekend, which often happens, I have totally forgotten the first two by the time the third comes up.

I was a bit humiliated and ashamed and mortified last week because of letters in this magazine about one of my recent columns. Wait till I see the Correspondence editor: there must be loads of nice letters, yet he or she goes and prints not just one, but two picking me up on my mistakes. By the left.

But mainly, my reaction was to laugh. Typical, huh, I’ve gone through life spelling things wrong, with dates dodgy, facts fictional – will I ever learn?

John Lennon did not use a watch. He maintained that he had people on the staff who would tell the time. I don’t wear a watch, either, but for different reasons. I want to get my wrists brown and I hate carrying anything.

By the same milk token, I don’t worry about my spelling. Like Lennon, I expect others to clear up after me. Surely the subs should have spotted it was a typo, that it is 64 years since 1951, not 54 as I wrote? What do they do all day? The other mistake was about replays in the League Cup: too boring to repeat, you would only yawn.

I usually try to get the spelling right the first time I use a word, then bash on, letting it come out any old way, intending to correct it later. Is it Middlesbrough or Middlesborough? Who cares? I’ll check later. Then I forget.

I was so pleased when Patrick Vieira left Arsenal. I found those ten seasons a nightmare, whenever I realised his surname was lumbering into vieiw (I mean “view”). Why couldn’t I memorise it? Mental laziness. The same reason that I don’t know the phone numbers of any of my children, or the correct spelling of my grandchildren’s names, Amarisse and Siena. I have to ask my wife how many Ss and how many Ns. She knows everything. The birthday of every member of the royal family? Go on, ask her.

I might be lazy on piddling stuff such as spelling but I like to think my old brain is still agile. I have three books on the go which are hellishly complicated. I have the frameworks straight in my head but I don’t want to cram anything else in.

It can be a bit embarrassing when writing about football, though. Since sport was invented, fans have been making lists, trotting out facts, showing off their information. As a boy, I was a whizz on the grounds of all 92 League clubs, knew the nicknames of all the clubs. It’s what you did. Comics like Adventure produced pretty colour charts full of such facts. I don’t remember sitting down and learning it all. It just went in, because I wanted it to go in.

Today, the world of football is even madder on stats than it ever was. I blame computers and clever graduates who get taken on by the back pages with nothing else to do but create stats. And TV, with its obsession with possession, as if it meant anything.

I find that if I watch three live games in a weekend, which often happens, I have totally forgotten the first two by the time the third comes up. Not just the score but who was playing. When Wayne Rooney or whoever is breaking records, or not, my eyes go glazed, refusing to take in the figures. When I read that Newcastle are again winless in their first seven League games now, I start turning the pages. If I get asked who won the Cup in 1923, my immediate answer is HowthefeckdoIknow. Hold on, I do know that. It was the first Cup final at Wembley, won by Bolton Wanderers. I remember that, having been there. I don’t know the dates of any other Cup final winners. England’s World Cup win? That was 1966 and I really was there.

I love football history (I’ve written three books about it) but it’s the players and the history of the clubs, the boots and strips, development in the laws, that’s what I enjoy knowing. Spellings and dates – hmm, I do always have to think. Did the Football League begin in 1888 or 1885? If I pause for half a second, I can work it out. Professional football came in first, which must have been 1885, so the Football League came later. Thus the answer is 1888. Bingo. Got it.

But more often than not, I guess, or leave it out. So, sorry about those mistakes. And if you’ve spotted any today, do keep it to yourself. 

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide