For years Gaza has been identified with rifles held aloft, with mothers expressing joy at the fact that their sons have committed suicide in an attack against Israelis, and with pleading looks by people who have nothing to eat at home. Not only Israelis see these television scenes as representing reality in its entirety, so do those Palestinians living in the West Bank who have never entered Gaza - certainly not during the past 16 years, since Israel began to prevent free entry and exit from this impoverished and crowded strip of land.
Only a prolonged stay among the residents of Gaza can add other nuances to the televised version. The jokes and the rumors, the talent for self-mockery, the power of endurance that alternates with fatalism, the frankness, the generosity, the ability to be both emotional and tough at once, the common sense acquired over 60 years of exile and loss, the shouting and the silence, the pain over the fact that education was once the highest priority. These are only some of the character traits that endear the residents of Gaza to those who know them well.
And these are the nuances that have been erased in recent weeks, as Gaza has come to be identified first and foremost with lethal internecine battles between armed men from two hostile political movements, with mutual killing that everyone says is insane but which they are unable to stop.
To the point that two days ago, after the terror attack in Eilat, residents of Gaza were hoping that the Israel Defense Forces would invade the Strip and detain some of the armed men and chase others out of the streets. The clear signals that the IDF does not intend to do so are additional proof for them that Israel wants this internal war to continue.
Despite the new cease-firesigned early yesterday morning, there is a fear in Gaza that many families are still seeking revenge for their children's blood, and will act at some point. The fear hints at another certainty: the fact that there is no chance that there will be a political, national leadership that will be able to restrain dangerous hamula (extended family) traditions in the foreseeable future.
Fatah is interested in emphasizing the danger of a civil war in order to undermine the legitimacy of the Hamas government. However, there are some who express hope that in spite of everything, the war of the security organizations will not deteriorate into an overall civil war. In one typical Gaza home, we were told, one brother is the driver of a senior member of the Fatah security organizations, and another brother is the driver of a senior Hamas minister. Members of Hamas and Fatah, who have been friends since their school days, sit together in the evening and openly discuss the seriousness of the situation.
All this is in contrast to the 1980s. Back then, when members of the Islamic movement (the Muslim Brotherhood) confronted leftist and Fatah activists, they would not speak to one another, but felt and behaved like two mutually antagonistic nations. Today the lethal hostility is limited to the armed men on both sides. Those who are unarmed continue to support their own political streams and to justify the behavior of the different security organs, but not at the price of personal quarrels. They are all afraid of being caught in an exchange of fire, of being hit by a bullet or an RPG bomb.
The Palestinians are right in placing the overall blame for the present situation on the occupation: It is the occupation that determines the framework of an economic siege (which also existed before the intifada and before the establishment of the Hamas government), it is the occupation that has imprisoned the residents of Gaza in a huge holding pen since 1991, without any opportunities and without hope for improvement. The imprisonment is the cause of the widespread ignorance. The severance from the rest of the world only reinforces the loyalty to hamulas, including such acts as blood revenge, because in the absence of political and economic hope, the only source of support for the individual is once again the hamula.
But those Palestinians who are tired of hearing that the occupation is to blame are also right. A war of the security organs and a civil war are also the product of decisions and instructions by those who see themselves as leaders, and must therefore be aware of the results of their acts.
There is no point in asking "Who started?" (Fatah started with the armed provocations). In any case, the lethal confrontation stems from two ills both rivals share.
One is the cult of armed men and weapons, which has spread in Palestinian society and has silenced any attempt to discuss the huge damage the use of weapons has caused the struggle against the Israeli occupation. The other is the illusion that the Oslo process (or "democratic" elections in the shadow of the occupation) can enable a Palestinian party to govern, and that a Palestinian party is able to form a respectable government as is the case in an independent state.
The armed security organs of Fatah and Hamas were sent to fight, to kill and to endanger the welfare of the entire public in order to uphold the illusion of self-government under a foreign occupier, disguised as a concerned neighbor.
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