Audio/Transcript: Ali Abunimah and Laila El-Haddad on the situation in Gaza

EI’s Ali Abunimah appeared on Democracy Now!, interviewed by host Amy Goodman, on Friday, 15 June 2007. He was joined by journalist and mother living in Gaza, Laila El-Haddad. Abunimah and El-Haddad discuss the current situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories as Hamas takes control over the Gaza Strip. The two discuss US and Israel’s involvement in the recent fighting between Fatah and Hamas which has been commonly referred to as a civil war.
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    AMY GOODMAN: Hamas is in full control of the Gaza Strip following days of bloody clashes with rival Palestinian faction Fatah. Hamas militants seized the presidential compound in Gaza City overnight after a week of fighting, which has left more than 100 people dead.

    Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday announced the dismissal of the Hamas-led government and declared a state of emergency. Abbas said he would now rule by presidential decree until the conditions were right for early elections. However, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh says his government will press on and impose law and order.

    The Occupied Territories have now been effectively split into two separate entities with Hamas in charge of Gaza and Fatah controlling the West Bank. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told Agence France Presse: “This is the worst thing I’ve seen since 1967.”

    Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gave her backing to Mahmoud Abbas, saying he had exercised his “lawful authority.” There are reports today the Bush administration will boost aid to Abbas while allowing Gaza to slip into further despair in order to weaken Hamas’ popular standing. Meanwhile, Haaretz reports that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is planning to tell President Bush that that there is an urgent need to view the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as separate entities and prevent contact between them. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon held preliminary talks on the idea of sending an international force to Gaza, but Hamas rejected the move, saying it would treat foreign troops as occupation forces.

    There are new fears violence will now spread to the West Bank where Fatah militants have rounded up nearly 90 Hamas fighters and claimed to have killed a Hamas member in retaliation for events in Gaza.

    This all comes as new details emerge about criticism from a former top UN envoy on the US and UN role in Israel and the Occupied Territories. In a confidential report disclosed earlier this week, Alvaro de Soto condemns the boycott on the Palestinian government and says the US and Israel virtually neutralized prospects for peace.

    AMY GOODMAN: Laila El-Haddad is a Palestinian journalist. She writes for and is making a film on Gaza’s underground economy. She maintains a blog Raising Youssef: A Diary of a Mother Under Occupation. Laila lives in Gaza and the United States. She returned from Gaza last week, joins us in our firehouse studio. Ali Abunimah is cofounder of the publication The Electronic Intifida, author of the book One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. he joins us from Chicago. And on the line from Gaza is Fares Akram, a freelance journalist in Gaza City. We will go to you, Fares, first. Tell us what is happening today on the ground in Gaza.

    FARES AKRAM: Well, now Hamas supporters and partisans, thousands of them are taking to the streets to celebrate what they call the victory. A day of victory in which Gaza was cleaned from the corruption and corruption makers. Those [inaudible] have witnessed some violence as [inaudible] in central Gaza Strip came under fire and one person from Hamas was killed. The Israelis came after all the security compound that are loyal to a President Mahmoud Abbas of rival Fatah, and have fallen in Hamas grip after days of bloody fighting that left more than 130 Palestinians dead.

    AMY GOODMAN: And what is the feeling of the general population right now, about what is happening, about Hamas being in charge of Gaza now, in control, and Fatah of the West Bank?

    FARES AKRAM: During the fighting some of Hamas leaders have vote they will clean Gaza from secularism. This has created fear among the ordinary people that their personal freedom might be confiscated and Hamas maybe going to impose radical thought on society. But soon after the capturing of the security compound Hamas has assured the people that the fighting was aimed at the coup-seekers among the security chiefs and those Fatah leaders who implement US orders on the Gaza Strip. And their war was against those who confiscate Hamas victory that the Islamic movement has achieved in January in parliamentary elections. Now Hamas men are calling on the security members to surrender and lay down their personal guns and give them an ultimatum that ends after half an hour. But they said anyone who delivers his weapons before that deadline he would enjoy full amnesty. And also Hamas has given amnesty to Fatah people, including some major security chiefs who were captured yesterday. And they released them today. Also, Hamas leaders are assuring the people that they will spread Islam in a very civilized way and will not be like the Taliban. They have been promising the people that Gaza is very safe now. Any individuals can walk from Beit Hanoun, in the north of the Gaza Strip to Rafah City in the far south of the Gaza Strip, enjoying full safety without being ambushed or killed or his car stolen. So Hamas has been promising the safety and security. And in the coming days will show if Hamas promises can come through or not.

    AMY GOODMAN: And the reports that Hamas had executed some Fatah fighters yesterday?

    FARES AKRAM: Yeah, at least they have executed two Fatah leaders. A day after the execution the chief Hamas Mufti has issued the fatwa approving the killing of Sami al-Madhoun, who Hamas accuses of being a symbol of those who try to confiscate Hamas legitimacy. Sami al-Madhoun used to live in northern Gaza and was responsible for affecting tens of Hamas men and torturing them and also killing a number of Hamas partisans. Two months ago Hamas reached a deal to evacuate al-Madhoun from the northern Gaza Strip and position him in a security compound. The deal came into effect. But when the previous round of violence erupted last month, al-Madhoun was responsible for affecting and killing a number of Hamas men including three pro-Hamas journalists. So Hamas has taken a decision to kill al-Madhoun, and they mostly have approved that decision. But on the other hand this was the only two events of public execution.

    AMY GOODMAN: Fares Akram, thank you for being with us. Joining us from Gaza City, a freelance journalist. When we come back from break, Laila El-Haddad and Ali Abunimah will be with us to talk further about the mass crisis in Gaza and the West Bank.

    AMY GOODMAN: As we continue on Gaza and the West Bank, our guest Laila El-Haddad, Palestinian journalist, mother, living in Gaza, just came to the United States last week. And Ali Abunimah joining us in Chicago, cofounder of the online publication Electronic Intifada. Describe what it is like to live in Gaza right now and what you understand to be happening, Laila.

    LAILA EL-HADDAD: Well, as you mentioned, I was just there. I just came back last Friday. The day I was trying to leave — it took me several days to leave because the Rafah crossing of course, which is still controlled by Israel, and the only outlet for Gazans to the outside world, is open less than a quarter of the time and is extremely difficult for people to pass. As I was leaving, we were hearing reports of activity and things happening in the southern Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip. The beginning of this latest bout of fighting. Of course, when I was there a month — or a few weeks ago, rather, the most recent state of fighting had begun. And then it was sort of quelled and died down. For a few days it was extremely terrifying in our apartment in central Gaza City. We were penned in there for about four days. We couldn’t leave. It was very unpredictable. The situation was very volatile. There were snipers that had taken position on various high-rise towers throughout the city and masked gunmen throughout the streets. What we had seen was a new phenomenon we had not seen before, was these stopping of cars and random abductions and targeting journalists, very specifically. So, journalists were not going out on the streets. And again it was by masked gunmen, nobody knew who was who and who was doing what. So it was best just to stay indoors until that had passed. So it sounds very similar to what has happened. Maybe this was in greater intensity in the past few days.

    AMY GOODMAN: Ali Abunimah, can you describe who is arming both sides, Fatah and Hamas?

    ALI ABUNIMAH: Yes. What we’ve seen is really a direct result of the Bush doctrine. Since January 2006 when Hamas won the legislative election fair and square, the United States refused the election result and it has been arming several Palestinian militias, particularly those controlled by the Gaza warlord, Mohammad Dahlan. This is a repeat strategy of the contras. These are Palestinian contras. And the architect of this policy is none other than Elliott Abrams, the deputy national security advisor, who was convicted for lying to congress in the Iran-contra scandal. And Alvaro de Soto, the UN Reporter that you mentioned in the introduction, Amy, confirms in detail the extent of the conspiracy that the United States has been undertaking to overthrow the election result and destroy Hamas. And just a few days before this round of fighting started on June 7, Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper reported that senior Fatah commanders in the Gaza Strip had asked Israel for millions of rounds of ammunition, RPGs, hand grenades and armored cars to use against Hamas. So I think what we’ve seen is Hamas taking a last resort move to put an end to what it describes as a coup intended to overthrow the election result. It’s a major blow for the United States and for the Bush doctrine, although it’s very hard to see how it helps Palestinians very much considering that Israel and the United States are likely to tighten the siege of Gaza and to continue to fund the militias. We’ve already seen Condoleezza Rice throwing her support behind Abbas and no sign of a letup in US interference and armed intervention in Palestinian affairs.

    AMY GOODMAN: How did the weapons get to both sides? And does that aid that Condoleezza Rice is talking about include weapons?

    ALI ABUNIMAH: Yes. The weapons that have been delivered to the Fatah militias to the Palestinian contras of Mohammed Dahan, come via Egypt and are delivered with the direct coordination of Israel. The Fatah commanders make requests to Israel and Israel coordinates the delivery of the weapons to Egypt. Hamas gets its weapons. There are reports that Hamas receives funding from Iran. Hamas also gets weapons from Egypt. What’s notable is that many of the weapons that Israel delivers to Fatah for use against Hamas are then sold on by corrupt Fatah commanders to the highest bidders, so recently Israel has been actually turning down Fatah requests for weapons because they say to the Fatah commanders you just turn around and sell the weapons to Hamas. So Gaza is absolutely awash with weapons and nobody seems to have any difficulty getting hold of them.

    AMY GOODMAN: Ali Abunimah, you’ve written a book, One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Now there’s discussion of three countries, not even a two-state solution. Gaza, West Bank, Israel. Your response?

    ALI ABUNIMAH: I wouldn’t put too much stock in that because the Israeli policy of cutting Gaza off from the West Bank is long-standing. It’s been for more than a decade, that Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank can’t travel from one place to the other. What I think we are seeing is the collapse of the two-state solution. Alvaro de Soto acknowledged that in his leaked confidential report. And today in the The Washington Post Edward Abington, the former US Counsel general in Jerusalem and now a lobbyist for the Palestinian Authority was quoted saying that these events signal the death of the two-state solution. I think we have to recognize that the Israeli policy of trying to create Palestinian ghettos and Bantustans is failing before our very eyes. Palestinians are the majority population in Israeli-ruled territory between Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea. And it’s only a matter of time before the world wakes up to this reality.

    AMY GOODMAN: Laila El-Haddad, what does this separation mean? And would you say it’s been effectively a separation between West Bank and Gaza for a long time or life on the ground every day as you write your blog, Raising [Yousef]?

    LAILA EL-HADDAD: Yeah. I was just actually going to say initially when you were commenting — and not just you. Many people saying Gaza and the West Bank has split now two different authorities. It’s always been the case for over a decade now that Israel has effectively separated Gaza from the West Bank and in the recent two years hermetically sealed the Gaza Strip, as a mentioned, opening the crossing less than a quarter of a time for a million and a half people, the only passage for a million and a half people. So to me I see this as the way it’s being described in the separation as part of the sort of larger plan. And what’s taken place, of course in Gaza, while a terribly tragic to watch as a Palestinian, for me signals the failure of the Bush policy over the past two years of starving Gaza’s population, of trying to fund and arm Hamas [correction: Fatah] with something of $84 million. I’ve seen these brigades they’re trying to arm in Jordan and train in Jerico and Egypt. As I was leaving they stalled the Rafah crossing as they allowed in several hundred and thousand of these troops last Thursday.

    AMY GOODMAN: You interviewed one of the men who was recently executed.

    LAILA EL-HADDAD: That’s right. I interviewed [name], who was [name] sort of the right-hand man in the northern Gaza Strip and the head of what’s known as the Fatah death squads. I interviewed him in December for an article I was writing about the infighting, the beginning of the infighting. It was called “An Eye for an Eye in Gaza.” I interviewed members of the Hamas executive force and then [name]. I had asked him about the situation and where he thinks it will go, where it will lead to, and who he gets his orders from. I specifically asked him if he gets his orders from [name]. He said everybody gets their orders from somewhere. And I said what do you anticipate will happen? He said, well, it’s going to get to a point where we’re not going to hold back anymore and we’re going to take that extra step and just attack. We’re just waiting for the right time. So this was in December, but I think he knew that his days were limited from this talk at least

    AMY GOODMAN: You have also been writing about the underground economy. How does that work?

    LAILA EL-HADDAD: Right. My colleague and I, [name] were working on a film called, Gaza’s Underground Economy which is about the tunnel trade in Gaza that evolved over the past decade and a half or so as a direct result of Gaza’s economic and political isolation. This is a trade that takes place under the Egyptian-Gaza border in southern Gaza Strip of Rafah. While certainly there are basic weaponry like [name] bullets that are traded it also involves something much more complex and is a means of substance for families there. It involves everything from food processors to even car parts and often heart medicines and even people who lack ID cards that can’t come into Gaza are often smuggled through these tunnels. That trade has evolved over the past few years as Gaza’s isolation has increased.

    AMY GOODMAN: We’re very much reporting on this as Hamas-Fatah internal fight, a civil war. Where does Israel fit into this?

    LAILA EL-HADDAD: […] plays a huge part. Every time this discussion comes up I like to remind people this is not something that’s happening in isolation, it’s not as though things just erupt. Certainly the factors were there — the environment was ripe for this to happen, but this was the result of years and years of siege and most recently a US-led global siege and an Israeli siege and aggressive violent occupation of the Gaza Strip that has completely isolated it from the West Bank, from Palestinians, from their counterparts in Jerusalem, the West Bank and the outside world, of course. In addition to the Israeli continued — American, rather, training and funding of Fatah. Something that is not unambiguous in any terms. As Ali mentioned just last week they were asking and actually received training and funding in Jericho. Israel allowed them passage to train in Jericho.

    AMY GOODMAN: You talked about the just retired UN Coordinator for the Middle East has warned international hostility to the Palestinian Hamas movement could have grave consequences by persuading millions of Muslims that democratic methods don’t work. He said, “Hamas is in its effervesce and can potentially evolve in a pragmatic direction that would allow for a two-state solution, but only if handled right. Your response to this?

    ALI ABUNIMAH: I think Alvaro de Soto’s 53-page report is very revealing. It’s on the internet in PDF form. It was leaked. It is a savage indictment of US, Israeli and European Union policy. I think any objective observer would agree with Alvaro de Soto and would agree that from the moment it won the elections Hamas had tried to be pragmatic and flexible. It had observed a unilateral truce with Israel. It had given up suicide attacks against Palestinian civilians. And there was no response to that. On the contrary. The United States, Israel, the European Union and some Arab states decided to launch a war against Hamas by trying to deny Hamas its fair share. And Hamas asked for less than its fair share. It is the one that immediately after the election offered a national unity government. By denying it its fair share they have assured that Hamas has taken the whole pie. It’s time for them to radically change their approach, stop treating the Palestinians like puppets and toys who could be manipulated, and start treating them like human beings who deserve at least their full human rights and freedom just like any other people.

    AMY GOODMAN: You said Palestinian — suicide attacks against Palestinians. You mean Israeli civilians?

    ALI ABUNIMAH: Of course. That’s exactly what I meant. Hamas had effectively suspended that tactic and had observed the unilateral truce with Israel — I mean just, Amy, in 2006 Israel killed 700 Palestinians, half of whom were civilians, and 141 of whom were children. In the same period Palestinians killed 23 Israelis. And the world is demanding that Palestinians renounce violence? It’s time to start treating the Palestinians fairly and end this dirty war that the United States and Israel are waging against the Palestinians just as the United States and Elliott Abrams waged such a dirty war for so long against people in Central America. It’s time for it to end.

    AMY GOODMAN: How does this relate to these two other crises now? You’ve got Iraq. You’ve got what’s happening in the occupied territories and its relation to Israel, and you’ve got Lebanon.

    ALI ABUNIMAH: It relates directly because the wider US strategy now is to install or support puppet regimes and client militias throughout the region in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine in order to fight proxy wars against the enemies of the United States, against this phantom enemy of an Islamic caliphate that George Bush and his friends have dreamed up. And everywhere it’s failing. In Afghanistan the Taliban are resurgent. Iraq has new reports every day. The US can’t even trust the Iraqi militias and the Iraqi army that it set up. And we see the total failure of the surge as violence intensifies. In Lebanon the United States has been arming and funding the Lebanese army, hoping that it will be a counter weight for Hizballah. And we’ve seen the Lebanese army performing very poorly against a few militants, foreign fighters in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp. Although they’ve caused devastation to the refugee camp itself. And now we see the US-backed Palestinian contras being routed in Gaza. Also, Amy, a final point. I wouldn’t overestimate the strength of Fatah or underestimate the strength of Hamas in the West Bank because Hamas has considerable resources in the West Bank. The thing I fear, though, is that the United States and its allies in the Palestinian Authority will be foolish enough to try to do in the West Bank what they’ve just failed to do in Gaza. And that would bring increased disaster and chaos for Palestinians throughout the West Bank as well.

    AMY GOODMAN: Laila El-Haddad, you write the blog, A Mother from Gaza. How do you live every day? Talk about your son. How do people wake up in the morning? Where do you go? How do you take shelter?

    LAILA EL-HADDAD: Obviously it’s a very complicated situation to explain to a three-year-old. I mean in terms of actually entering Gaza, of living in Gaza, in terms of explaining what is Gaza and who is in control of Gaza. As we go through the crossing he says, you know, “who’s not allowing us through?” And we’re stuck in the crossing, And trying to explain to him who that is. Then he sees, of course, on one side Egyptians and on the other Palestinians and European monitors. Yet it’s an outside force, meaning the Israelis ultimately [are] closing the crossing. Then, of course, going into Gaza and being subject to periods of time these bits of infighting and him having to deal with the gun fire so forth. Children are extremely adaptable. But, of course, he has become terrified by the loud sound of the gunfire on the one hand or the Israeli shelling on the other and just has taken to closing his ears. So I just told him there was a lot of popcorn being made outside. And when the gunfire subsided, he said, oh, I think the popcorn is done. Can we go and see it? So he managed that fairly well at least for those few days. But it’s certainly very troubling, setting an environment to raising a child in for any Palestinian, certainly. Whether your dealing with the occupation on one hand or the infighting on the other.

    AMY GOODMAN: And the level of hunger, of malnutrition?

    LAILA EL-HADDAD: Hunger, people like to focus and certainly with cause on the hunger and on the malnutrition. And that is a major concern, especially seeing as how it’s been so methodical. But I like to point out that it’s not just mere hunger that is the problem here. You’re starving a people of their basic freedoms and their rights. I think ultimately that’s been the grand scheme. Of course it becomes very significant and important.

    AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us. We’ll certainly continue to follow this situation. Laila El-Haddad is a Palestinian journalist, a mother living in Gaza, writing Raising Youssef: A Diary of a Mother Under Occupation. Ali Abunimah, speaking to us from Chicago, co-founder of the online publication The Electronic Intifada. his book is called One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse published by Metropolitan Books last year.

    Transcript courtesy of Democracy Now!

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