by Iqbal Siddiqui (Perspectives, Crescent International Vol. 36, No. 7, Sha'ban, 1428)
Asked about the lesson of fasting, Imam Husain (r.a.) is reported to have replied that “the rich should feel the pangs of hunger and appreciate what the poor have to endure, and therefore share Allah’s bounty with them.”
As Muslims begin the month of Ramadan later this month, they should think of the suffering of their brothers and sisters in Palestine, and Ghazzah in particular. Almost three months after Fatah launched its coup against the elected Hamas government, and took power in the West Bank, leaving Ghazzah to cope alone with international sanctions and Israel’s economic boycott, the situation of Palestinians in Ghazzah is becoming desperate. Almost all substantial economic activity has stopped; the Palestinian Businessmen’s Association said last month that over 3,000 manufacturing enterprises in Ghaszzah had closed because of the inability to import raw materials. This has resulted in over 56,000 workers being laid off, having a massive knock-on effect on the lives of tens of thousands of families. Palestinian farmers have also been forbidden from exporting agricultural produce through border points with Israel, resulting in massive losses for them. The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNWRA) said that nearly 800,000 people in the Ghazzah Strip -- out of a population of 1.5 million -- are now dependent on UP aid, and that the entire territory will soon be dependent on external aid, such as it is, if the situation continues to deteriorate. The impact has also been felt by those institutions responsible for helping the Palestinians in these desperate times. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights reported last month that more than 150 types of common medicines have run out in hospitals, health clinics and pharmacies. Medical equipment has also been affected. The Al-Ahram Weekly reported on in early August that hundreds of kidney dialysis patients had sent a letter to prime minister Ismail Haniyeh and president Mahmoud Abbas pleading that they resolve the situation so that they do not die.
While the international media and concerned observers tend to focus on the political developments in relations between Palestine’s political groups, and with Israel and the West, a genuine tragedy is unfolding which is liable to have the most appalling consequences if nothing is done to help the Palestinians soon. What makes the tragedy even harder to watch is that, as a result of Israeli and Western political manipulation, and the weakness of Mahmoud Abbas, for the first time the direct responsibility for the suffering of the Palestinians of Ghazzah rests not only with Israel, but with a Palestinian leadership that is attacking its own people in the hope of currying favour with the Israelis. While the Hamas authorities in Ghazzah repeatedly urge the Ramallah-based regime of Mahmoud Abbas to enter into serious talks to resolve the political crisis, Abbas -- knowing that Israel will accept nothing less -- is insistent that Hamas must surrender to his authority.
Abbas’s gamble is that if he accepts Israeli demands that he destroy Hamas, he will be rewarded with meaningful concessions in a peace deal to justify his actions and provide the Palestinians with some degree of independence and some semblance of a state. The dealings with Israel are now being conducted by the Arab states on the basis of the Riyadh land-for-peace initiative. What Abbas cannot afford to acknowledge is that all his concessions to Israel so far, which have resulted in near starvation for Ghazzah’s people, have elicited not one meaningful concession from the Israelis. For all the Israelis’ claims to be helping Abbas, little has changed for Palestinians in the West Bank; Nor is anything likely to.
Abbas’s approach is based on the assumption that Israel wants a peace deal provided that Palestinians make enough concessions. This basic assumption is flawed. Time and again, Israel has demonstrated that it can gain more from the continuation of conflict than it can hope to achieve in a peace agreement, and that it has little to lose by it. Israel knows that its main demands -- full control of al-Quds and the Haram al-Sharif, the annexation of large tracts of Palestinian land, and control over all key aspects of the Palestiian state -- will never be acceptable to the Palestinians. But it also knows that it has little to lose by maintaining the conflict; everytime Palestinians refuse to accept Israel’s terms, it simply seizes more by force in any case. There is no pressure on it to make any concessions for peace. This is the recurring cycle of Israeli-Palestinian politics, and one which is bound to be repeated, whatever Hamas or Abbas may do.