Though the recent war on Gaza prompted us to go beyond our typical focus on the US to cover extensive efforts to silence anti-war dissent in “the Middle East’s only democracy,” the fact is that the suppression of dissent is a well documented phenomenon throughout the Middle East. There is clearly a great deal of media control, intimidation and violence in the region that may or may not be associated with the US supported Israeli occupation of Palestine, and resistance to that occupation. What is clear is that the recent Israeli attack against Gaza has served to highlight the forces and tensions working within Palestinian, Israeli and US populations to support and justify their respective actions.
On top the frank destruction visited upon Gaza by Israel (with full US support), Gaza residents also have to contend with another terrible burden of occupation – internecine warfare resulting from divide and conquer policies. Hamas both during and after the Israeli attack has been threatening, kidnapping, torturing and killing those it considers collaborators and/or supporters of Fatah as well as those who might, in any way dissent from/protest Hamas actions and policies. This has been documented in numerous places and shouldn’t come as a surprise. Individuals have been shot in the legs, multiple members of families have been shot in front of other family members, others have been tortured and then killed. There has been no obvious evidence of trials, reminiscent of Israeli summary executions of Palestinians (both Hamas and non-Hamas) in Gaza (using information supplied by Palestinian collaborators).
Fatah’s use of torture and arbitrary detention is equally well-documented. The Israeli military’s history of arbitrary detentions and torture of Palestinians, and its ongoing predilection for obliterating the infrastructure of Palestinian government, services, and commerce are just some of the complex elements of the larger story of occupation and the resulting chaos and repression that has fed this situation.
Israel’s policies of annihilation (of Hamas, of homes, of farms, of infrastructure..), far from having a moderating force, has fed extremism on both sides of the green line. An extremism that both the residents of southern Israel and the Palestinian people of Gaza are paying are paying a dear price for. (With the imprisoned Palestinians of Gaza experiencing far greater destruction and suffering).
Similar to the brutal actions of the ANC in South Africa who executed suspected collaborators by using such means as “necklacing”, (putting a lit tire around a person’s head) Hamas justifies its actions by claiming they have proof of Fatah collaboration in helping Israel target senior Hamas members. This violence, while unconscionable, in its justification is hardly different than Israeli claims that they were simply trying to defend themselves. I suppose all people at war feel that almost anything goes in regard to what is perceived to be safeguarding its survival. We have seen this repeatedly throughout history
Such “internal” violence is often sited by the occupier to show that those being occupied, oppressed, etc, are more brutal than those doing the occupying, oppressing, etc, thus requiring unfortunate but needed drastic action. In the past, language such as “civilizing the natives” was employed to show that far from being unkind, such colonial behavior would ultimately benefit those being occupied. “out of the goodness of our hearts, best of intentions and all that, old boy.” It’s not clear Israel thinks of the situation past needing to pacify unruly natives who don’t seem to be able to get with the program of becoming complicit in their own subjugation, so we only hear the language of specious self-defense—or even more sinisterly, Israeli claims that Israel is trying to bomb some sense into Palestinians so that they throw Hamas out. (As stated before, an awesomely misguided policy that combines in equal parts racism, historical amnesia and truly bad leadership).
Making matters even worse for the people of Gaza. Egypt, for its own reasons, is cracking down on those who show any support for the Palestinians of Gaza. Recently Philip Rizk, an Egyptian-German dual national was arrested for organizing and participating in protests supporting non-violent resistance in Gaza as well as demanding that Egypt open the Rafah crossing. This latter demand is a particular sore point because Egypt, both because of US aid and antipathy towards Hamas (strongly related to the Muslim brotherhood in Egypt), was seen to stand-by while Israel committed war crimes against an essentially helpless population.
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