After nearly a year of unrelenting Israeli attacks on Palestinian population centres, and with no prospects of an end to the Aqsa Intifada, the Palestinian Authority is showing increasing signs of disintegration.
The PA, many Palestinians are noticing, is not only miserably failing to defend and protect them from the brutal and often deadly attacks by the Israeli army and Jewish terrorists, but is also showing a shocking lack of leadership at virtually all levels.
This absence of leadership is pushing ordinary Palestinians to look to the resistance groups, such as Fatah and Hamas, for protection and leadership, especially at the local level where the signs and symbols of the Palestinian authority all but vanished.
Of course, nobody among the Palestinians ever expected the PA, with its small and utterly ineffective police force, to stand up to the mighty Israeli army, with all its state-of-the-art arsenal of F-16s and Apache helicopter gun-ships. Such a thing is obviously beyond the PA ability.
However, the fact that the PA failed all along to make its presence felt, at least symbolically, created a growing sense of alienation and estrangement toward it among the people.
Some of the most conspicuous failures of the PA happen to be in the law-enforcement sphere. In this field, there has been an almost total paralysis as most of the courts throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip are not operating, mainly due to draconian Israeli restrictions on the movement of Palestinians outside their immediate places of residence, as most Palestinian population centres remain effectively under Israeli siege and are cut off from one another.
The absence or gradual diminishing of law enforcement found a stark expression last month in the bloody dispute between two clans in the southern Gaza Strip. There, members of the two feuding families fought street gun-battles for several hours, using automatic rifles and heavy machine-guns. The PA police did intervene eventually, but not before seven people, including a PA intelligence officer, had been killed and ten others injured.
Last month, a bloodbath was averted when the bodyguards of Mousa Arafat, the widely-despised chief of the PA military intelligence in Gaza, exchanged fire with scores of popular militiamen (which included resistance fighters from various groups including Hamas and Fatah). The militiamen surrounded Mousa Arafat’s home in downtown Gaza, calling him a “traitor” and a “thief” for ordering his men a few days earlier to shoot at a group of Hamas fighters who had just fired a few mortar shells on a Jewish settlement near Gaza.
The incident was perceived as a direct challenge to Yasser Arafat’s leadership, prompting the PA to organize a pro-Arafat demonstration in Gaza a few days later. However, the demonstration was modest by Palestinian standards, and most people viewed it as a hapless and impotent show of force.
In early August, a similar, though smaller, incident took place in Nablus, when three people were killed, including one PA official. And as usual, the PA did very little beyond issuing statements condemning the incidents and repeating the ritual assertion that it intended to enforce “law and order.”
Unfortunately, such incidents are likely to continue, thanks to the virtual absence of “law and order” and of the PA’s inability to exercise authority owing to the Israeli occupation and the chronic internal factors permeating the PA structure.
Disenchantment with the PA growing
But such incidents, despite their grave nature, are not the main source of Palestinians’ present disenchantment with the PA.
The bloody Israeli rampage, particularly the almost daily assassination of Palestinian activists and accompanying collateral killing of civilians, including children, is really forcing people to cry out, “Where is the PA?” and “What are the 15 security agencies doing?
Much of the bitterness is directed at Yasser Arafat himself, who most Palestinians complain is spending far more time in the air flying between Europe and the Middle East than on the ground in Ramallah or Gaza, helping repulse Israeli aggression.
In the past, Arafat’s extensive travels generated more amusement and satiric comments than indignation among Palestinians. However, now with Israeli air-to-ground missiles and artillery shells raining on Palestinian towns round-the-clock, the most peripatetic person in the world is coming under growing scrutiny and even severe criticism from all directions for “fleeing the problems at home by flying away.”
On 31 July, after the Israeli aerial bombardment of the Hamas information office in downtown Nablus in which 8 civilians, including two Hamas political leaders, were killed, Palestinian Legislative Council member Husam Khader asked angrily, “What is he (Arafat) doing? The Israelis are slaughtering us like sheep, and he is flying from one capital to the other like Alice in Wonderland.”
Khader, who was speaking on the popular Qatari satellite television station, al-Jazeera, went on castigating the PA as “a bunch of thieves protected by70,000 policemen.”
The criticism was too harsh for PA Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo who reportedly asked al-Jazeera officials to refrain from re-airing Khader’s remarks.
Moreover, Abed Rabbo instructed the PA radio station programme, the Voice of Palestine, to launch a scathing attack against Khader, accusing him of “serving Israeli interests.”
Another central aspect of the growing indignation at the PA is its refusal (and inability) to crack down on “the collaborators”-Palestinians recruited by the Israeli domestic intelligence agency, the Shin Bet, to act as informers, saboteurs and quislings.
There is ample evidence that the vast bulk of Israeli assassinations of Palestinian activists over the course of the past 10 months would not have succeeded had it not been for the “collaborators” who, using cellular phones, informed their Israeli bosses of the smallest details on the movement of the individuals targeted for assassination.
Some collaborators, who were arrested, made stunning confessions illustrating the extent to which the Israeli intelligence penetrated the Palestinian society, employing a variety of sinister and immoral tactics and taking advantage of the economic degradation in the occupied territories.
The Palestinian public has, of course, welcomed the arrest and prosecution of a number of collaborators whose collaboration with the enemy led to the assassination by the Israeli army of several top-level political activists from Fatah, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad.
However, many Palestinians are complaining that the number of collaborators tried so far is too little and coming too late, and are demanding that the collaborators, many of whom are well known, be arrested before the act not after it.
Obviously, the PA can’t appear to be led by the rabbles in this regard and wouldn’t approve of “street justice,” as this would tarnish its image on the international arena and enable Israel to score more points in the vital public relations battle that is being fought on TV screens and the internet around the world.
However, the continuing assassinations are placing more pressure on the PA to act “tougher than usual” toward the collaborators, and to tacitly tolerate the “liquidation” of some collaborators, as happened during recent weeks.
Lack of support frustrates and angers Palestinians
Meanwhile, Palestinian frustration and anger at the feebleness of Arab official and popular reactions to the current Palestinian plight are becoming more focal than ever before.
On 3 August, Friday speakers throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip lashed out at Arab regimes (and people) for failing to provide tangible support for the Palestinians in the face of continuing Israeli atrocities and terror.
Sheikh Muhammed Hussein, one of the highest-ranking Muslim clerics at the Aqsa Mosque, pointed out that Palestinians were feeling deeply betrayed by the Arabs.
Describing Arab and Islamic reactions as “disgraceful,” Hussein complained bitterly that the Arab world is reaping “50 years of police-State repression and terror.”
“We have not seen even one big demonstration in solidarity with the Palestinian people in any Arab capital. And when such a demonstration takes place, the repressive regimes send their police to beat up and shoot at demonstrators.”
In Hebron, the imam of the Grand Mosque in Dura, sheikh Nayef Rajoub, used tougher words.
“Arab leaders and peoples are content with watching our children being slaughtered by the Nazi Jews. Is this what they want? I’m sorry to say that the blood of our children is on the hands of Mubarak, Fahd and Abdullah as much as it is on the blood of the criminal gang of assassins and murderers in Israel.”
Rajoub, who was speaking before an estimated 5,000 believers, questioned the logic of purchasing billions of dollars’ worth of modern arms from the West when the Palestinians are forced to use their own shoes to repulse Jewish attacks on al-Masjidul Aqsa.
“I hereby suggest to the esteemed Arab kings and Presidents-for-life that they substitute arms deals with shoe deals so that the Palestinians can have more shoes to defend Islam’s third holiest shrine.”
Rajoub was apparently referring to an incident at the Aqsa Mosque in recent days when Palestinians threw shoes at Israeli policemen who stormed the Aqsa Mosque esplanade to suppress Muslims protesting attempts by a Jewish messianic group to lay the cornerstone for a Jewish temple near the Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) of Jerusalem.