In Gaza, chaos versus democracy and democracy versus chaos

Unknown gunmen set fire to a charitable association affiliated with the fundamentalist ‘Salafi’ Islamic group in Rafah refugee camp in the south of the Gaza Strip, 8 May 2007. This follows an attack on an UNRWA school in Rafah on Sunday, believed to be carried out by Salafi followers who believed a celebration at the school was contrary to Islamic laws. (Hatem Omar/MaanImages)

“Perhaps some youth are trying to imitate what’s going in the outside world; we don’t have solid information on the existence of such groups,” said Palestinian Interior Ministry spokesman Khaled Abu Helal in response to the recent attack on a UN-operated school in Rafah City.

Early this week, a group of militants opened fire on a celebration at a UN-operated elementary school in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, having warned ahead of time that the event was “indecent.”

On Sunday afternoon, the Omariya elementary school in the Tal al-Sultan neighborhood of Rafah came under fire while it was celebrating end of the school year, an occasion that was meant to put smiles on the faces of weary children.

The school was not the only educational institution to be recently attacked by masked gunmen, a new phenomenon in Gaza; a northern Gaza school, was also hit few weeks ago.

One Palestinian man was killed and six others were wounded, while dozens of children were horrified as smiles turned into tears and fear appeared in the eyes and hearts of an already traumatized population. The reason: “breaching the rules of Islam.”

Sa’d Abdelqader, a local school’s headmaster, was shot and wounded in his thigh during the shooting which he was attending peacefully. “While I was walking along the Omariya school’s wall, I abruptly heard sounds of bombs and bullets. I saw the smoke of a bomb around me then I found that my thigh was wounded,” Sa’ad says.

Was that because of indecency? Let’s listen to Sa’d’s account:

“During the sports festival to which I was invited, there was no indecent action that either breaches rules of Islam or traditions of the society. There were some boys performing exercises, while girls were watching alongside the attendees.”

Muslim cleric Salem Salama, an MP for the governing Islamist Hamas party as well as a prominent preacher in Gaza, voiced concern over the increasing violence in the name of Islam.

“Islam is really acquitted of any attacks that target any Muslim; therefore, we reject any linkage of Islam to these attacks against Muslims. Those who carry out such actions do not represent Islam. So they alone must hold responsibility for their sins, the way any criminal must, when committing a crime.”

Local residents in Gaza, like university graduate Iyad Albar, also denounce these actions.

“What happened was wrong, it is wrong to shoot at school children who have not committed any crime,” he says.

The interior ministry spokesman stated that the crippling economic and political siege imposed on the Palestinian people has engendered “extremism” across the Palestinian territories.

“The continuation of the internationally-imposed economic embargo as well as the miserable conditions our Palestinian people live, have altogether fueled extremism,” says Abu Helal.

One doesn’t really know whether the reasons beyond these attacks are economic-driven, politically motivated or even religious-based.

Over the past several months Gaza has been rocked by spates of internal violence involving family feuds, factional infighting, bombing of interet cafés, music stores, bookshops and most recently, preperatory schools.

Based on supposedly religious claims, Swords of Islam, a newly-born Islamist group has in recent months claimed responsibility for bombing at least a dozen internet cafés and music stores throughout Gaza, claiming they breach Islamic values and spread corruption in the society.

Following the attack on the school, Ban Ki-Moon, United Nations Secretary General — partly responsible for the imposition of economic sanctions on the Palestinians — urged the Palestinian Authority to enforce law and order.

The international Quartet for promoting peace in the Middle East (the United Nations, United States, European Union and Russia) has placed an economic embargo on the Palestinian Authority, following the democratic election of the Hamas government in the January 2005 parliamentary elections.

The poverty rate across Palestine has rocketed to nearly 85 percent, while unemployment is estimated at 70 percent, comprising 190,000 members of Palestinian work force.

If the governing Islamist Hamas accepts the Quartet’s demands — recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and accepting past signed agreements — is there any gaurantee that the chaos and lawlessness in the Palestinian territories will be replaced with democracy and respect of human rights?

Rami Almeghari is currently contributor to several media outlets including the Palestine Chronicle,, IMEMC, The Electronic Intifada and Free Speech Radio News. Rami is also a former senior English translator at and editor in chief of the international press center of the Gaza-based Palestinian Information Service. He can be contacted at rami_almeghari at

Related Links

  • Palestinian killed and seven wounded in Rafah fighting, PCHR (8 May 2007)
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