Otherwise Occupied / Measures of Corruption

The demand to open the Rafah terminal is a double-edged sword that plays into the hands of three hostile regimes.

Already during my first Ramadan in Gaza, 17 years ago, I learned how not to risk my life, by keeping away from the streets from 12 noon until the meal that breaks the fast begins. I have attempted to stick to this preventive measure ever since, in the cities of the West Bank too. It isn't religiously correct to say so, I know, but six or seven hours after the daily fast begins, most drivers are less diligent about other cars, pedestrians and traffic laws. Just their incessant honking is enough to keep people with high blood pressure at home. And it isn't necessarily the abstention from food and drink: The complete withdrawal from cigarettes and coffee distracts drivers from the road.

And so for a month, the withdrawal process begins anew each day: From the end of the meal until dawn, there is time to take in a double quantity of nicotine and caffeine. All this does not negate my admiration for the ability of most people of all ages to maintain the fast, particularly when they do so in the summer. How many of them fast for social reasons and how many out of profound religious belief, which also grants them a spiritual high and a feeling of inner purity? I don't know.

Mohammad Dahlan - Daniel Bar-On - August 2011
Daniel Bar-On

What is sure is that not purely social reasons motivate tens of thousands of people to take advantage of a minuscule relaxation in Israeli travel bans and go to pray on Fridays in Jerusalem. Those of a certain age (men 50 and over, women 45 and over, while people one month younger than this minimum age are sent back ) board buses toward the pervasive watchtowers, barbed wire fences, the landscapes-killing concrete wall of separation and the rest of the technical innovations of Israeli mass detention facilities, toward the crowding at the checkpoints and castigation by soldiers the age of their grandchildren. The same checkpoint where, 10 or 12 hours later, those people aged 50 and 60 and 70 will return, without having drunk or eaten.

There is something else I refrain from doing during these days - I don't get down to the details of rumors about investigations of corruption. The two subjects of investigation currently taking their turn are the national economy and agriculture ministers. Why them, what about all the others about whom rumors of corruption are always overflowing, but nevertheless they sit fixed to their chairs for years? Rumors of corruption are always in fashion, equally directed at NGOs' senior employees and Fatah senior members. The difficulty in discerning between truth and spin or the dissemination of lies, for political reasons or out of envy, is enormous.

And there are rumors about the interrogation of Gazans living in Ramallah and considered close to Mohammed Dahlan. Forget Dahlan, once the favorite of the Americans and Israelis. He has been the legitimate son of a system that developed along with the Oslo years and was encouraged by Yasser Arafat: Senior partners in negotiations with Israel opened profitable construction and other commercial businesses, thanks to their ties with the Israeli establishment. There had always been Palestinian businessmen who depended on ties with Israelis. But with "Oslo" official representatives of the occupied people were also doing business, and enjoyed precious movement-facilitations granted to them by the very occupier with whom they were negotiating over Independence.

There are different estimations of how much the conflict of interest weakened their staying power and creativity in negotiations. It certainly brought about the defeat of Fatah in the democratic elections of 2006.

Was this method destroyed by the expulsion of Dahlan from Fatah and Ramallah a month ago? Is the exploitation of senior positions in the PA (and international and local NGOs ) for the enrichment of individuals a thing of the past? No, if one listens to what people say. But the separate focus on Gazans seems suspicious to me. Can it be that 10 measures of corruption were apportioned to Palestine and nine of them were taken by Gazans?

It's no secret: In the West Bank and Ramallah in particular, it is quite common to look down on Gazans. Perhaps before 1994 this was part of the natural tension between different regions, a sort of local patriotism that was also expressed in jokes and snipes. With Oslo, all possible blame began to fall on the Gazans: that the clannish, repressive government was their creation; that they were the weakest cultural element in Palestinian society; that religious extremism originated there; that all of Gaza was for Hamas; that those (Fatah members ) who had fled Gaza were cowards and must return.

"Why don't you and 30,000 West Bank residents move to Gaza just for one year?" I asked someone who complained about those who are said to have "fled" Gaza. "They get permission to come to Ramallah for medical treatment and then stay here," someone was heard saying, as an explanation why inter-Palestinian coordination of some patients' arrival took so long. Imagine that a doctor in Tel Aviv refused to receive a patient from Dimona, lest he settle in the big city.

And so I was annoyed to discover that another self-described militant initiative had made its way to Facebook, demanding that the Rafah border crossing be opened regularly and unconditionally. "Act: Open the Rafah crossing." Participants press "Like." Foreign solidarity activists are enticed by such initiatives. Opening the crossing is a worthy venture, but a double-edged sword if not combined with the demand for freedom of movement between Gaza and the West Bank. The need of residents of Khan Yunis and Beit Lahia is not to travel 800 kilometers to Cairo, but to reach Hebron and Ramallah, 50 to 70 kilometers away.

The Hamas regime does not want Gazans to be exposed to life on the West Bank (and western life in general ). They know that even if Rafah is completely open, only a minority will be able to travel. And in addition, they will not forfeit their "right" to decide who will leave. The Fatah government has completely ignored this central issue of freedom of movement (for mortals, not only senior officials ) since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, and they don't want to see too many Gazans in the West Bank. Israel is the one who started in 1991 (and not in 2006 ) to blockade Gaza as one way to sabotage the two-state solution on the basis of 1967 borders.

It is not politically correct to say, but the apparently progressive and militant initiative to open the Rafah crossing suits the interests of the three hostile centers of power like a glove: to turn the cutoff of Gaza from the West Bank into an unchallenged reality.