More than eight months after Israel’s latest high-tech onslaught on Gaza, large sections of Gaza City continue to resemble the dead cities left over from twentieth century saturation bombing or 21st century ‘chimneyvilles’ that Sherman’s army left in Atlanta and Georgia. Looking at the shocking photographs of the devastation during the last week or so reminded me of the three visits I made to Gaza in the mid-80s and during the first Intifada.
I thought of the people I met then, the pupils I taught English to; the smiling kids waving V-for Victory signs everywhere; the families who invited me in for dinner; the long conversations about politics, Zionism, national liberation and colonialism and so many subjects with people who unlike so many of my own compatriots, could not ignore politics and history because politics and history had not ignored them.
I remembered the deep red sunsets, the palm trees and the big waves that nearly dragged me out to sea one day; and the young Palestinian who swam out to see if I was ok and escorted me back to shore; the schoolchildren singing ‘One man went to mow, went to mow a meadow’ in English. I remembered the teachers, the students, the former prisoners, the families living in tents because their houses had been demolished by the IDF.
Back then Gaza was a difficult place to live in – a pressure cooker with 800,000 Palestinians crammed into a tiny strip of land that had been reduced still further by the Israeli settlers. You could see the ‘Sharon boulevards’ in many of the refugee camps where the IDF had blasted thoroughfares for their vehicles and crushed the armed resistance in the early 1970s. In Djabalia camp you could walk past the large sewage pool where the conquerors made dozens of Palestinian men and boys of all ages sit or kneel for an entire afternoon after their first arrival.
Much of Gaza City was poor and rundown, but it was also a vibrant and surprisingly appealing place where thousands of people tried as best they could to lead ordinary lives under the weight of the occupation. But even during the first Intifada I never saw anything that remotely compares to the apocalyptic devastation inflicted on Gaza last summer, and which has yet to be repaired.
Less than five percent of the aid that was promised to Gaza five months ago has actually reached it, according to the IRIN news agency, and donors now appear to be making their donations conditional on a political outcome which isolates and marginalizes Hamas. One senior EU diplomat told IRIN last week that donors are waiting to see if the Palestinian Authority ‘gets a foothold in Gaza’ and produces ‘political certainty.’
And it has now emerged that the Quartet is withholding reconstruction assistance in order to pressure Hamas to accept certain preconditions. And who is leading this process? Why it’s none other than Peace Envoy Tony Blair. According to Mousa Abu-Marzkouk, a senior member of Hamas political bureau chief, the Quartet has demanded that the following conditions must be met in order for Gaza to receive reconstruction assistance:
- Accept the Palestinian reconciliation.
- Accept the political programme based on a Palestinian state on 1967 borders.
- Reiterate that Hamas is a Palestinian faction with only Palestinian goals and it is not part of any Islamist movement with regional goals.
- Adopt the two-state solution as a final, not temporary, solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
- Send an assurance message to Egypt that Gaza is not a terror base for Sinai terrorists and hold talks with the Egyptian government to stop terrorism in Sinai.
No one will be surprised to hear that Blair has laid down these conditions, which naturally are not matched by any comparable conditions directed at Israel. As is always the case with the Palestinians, the occupied/bombed population is expected to acquiesce to the demands of the occupier/bomber nation and its allies, which in the case of conditions three and four, now include Egypt, whose dictatorship Blair is advising in addition to his tireless work for world peace (that was irony folks).
The Quartet’s attempts to blackmail Hamas are really directed at the population of Gaza itself, at the tens of thousands of people who are still living in schools or bombed-out buildings. This is a continuation of a game that Israel and the ‘international community’ have been playing ever since 2006, when the Gazans made the mistake of believing that democratic elections entitled them to vote for a government of their choice, which just happened to be Hamas.
And the fact that all this should be happening nine years later, to a population that is moving ever closer towards total ruin and collapse, is a shockingly cynical gambit from which none of those concerned emerges with any credit whatsoever.