by: Mona El-Farra, SPECIAL CONTRIBUTOR
As a physician from Gaza, I have treated far too many Palestinians wounded by Israeli troops. Now a day has come that I thought I would never see.
Throughout our 59-year struggle to obtain our freedom, we Palestinians debated strategy and tactics. Political factions competed for popular support. But never would I have believed that we would turn guns against each other. What brought us to this point?
In 2006, Hamas won free and fair elections on a platform that promised clean and efficient government. But Israel and the West meddled with our democratically elected choice by imposing devastating economic sanctions. How would Americans feel if a foreign power expressed its dissatisfaction with your elected government in this way? Our economy and our livelihoods have been destroyed, reducing many of us to poverty.
At last, we exploded with a desperation born of decades of oppression, lack of opportunity and loss of hope. We brutalized each other over the crumbs of power. The shame is ours — but the responsibility is shared between reckless Palestinians and external powers that turned the screws on our people.
Israel might have removed its soldiers and settlers from Gaza in September 2005, but it still controls Gaza from the sea, air and land. The borders are mostly closed according to the whim of Israel, transforming Gaza into an enormous open-air prison for its 1.4 million people, half of whom are children. Too many of these youngsters suffer from the stifling effects of violence and hunger. Their future is dangerously circumscribed by the chaos and uncertainty that envelops us.
To thrive, Palestinians need access to the sea and to commerce. Most importantly, our people must be imbued with a sense of hope.
Sanctions imposed after the election of Hamas made hard lives harder, but we must not forget that even under the “moderate” leadership of President Mahmoud Abbas we did not control trade in and out of Gaza.
“There is a seeming reflex,” United Nations peace envoy Alvaro de Soto said in a report, “in any given situation where the UN is to take a position, to ask first how Israel or Washington will react rather than what is the right position to take.”
Washington’s bias toward Israel is significantly responsible for the appalling situation in which we find ourselves.
Yes, we Palestinians must accept blame for our perilous situation. However, Palestinian Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr has correctly declared, “If you have two brothers, put them in a cage and deprive them of basic and essential needs for life, they will fight.” The fact that we would sink to this level is perhaps the surest sign of the terrible damage meted out to us over the years by dispossession and occupation.
When one is in a hole, it is imperative to stop digging. If we are to win our freedom, surely it will not be done with one brother digging the grave of another. The violence, therefore, must stop. That is our first responsibility as Palestinians and we must meet it immediately. And the United States and the international community must end the sanctions that deprive us of our basic needs and our hope for a better future.
The Israeli leadership brandishes our plight as evidence that we cannot govern ourselves nor be trusted as “peace partners.” White South Africans similarly claimed that black South Africans were incapable of self-governance. In the last years of apartheid, more than 250 blacks were killed in black-on-black violence each month. Yet decency and equality eventually prevailed in South Africa. Apartheid was vanquished and the world learned that black-on-black violence was an outgrowth of apartheid — not an indication that black South Africans were incapable of self-rule and undeserving of rights.
We, too, have the right to be free. But we must first free ourselves from fighting over the scraps of power.
Like oppressed people everywhere, we yearn for our rights. Out of this ugly period, we must promote a new vision of equality for all peoples living on this land, regardless of race or religion.
El-Farra is a physician in the Gaza Strip. She is slate to speak tonight at 7 p.m. at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 3208 Exposition Blvd.