Skip to main content
Search
Services
WORLD



Gaza spirals into lawlessness

Analysis: History leaves Palestinian territory with seeds of anarchy

By Guy Raz, CNN Jerusalem Correspondent

Editor's note: In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences in covering news and analyze the stories behind the events.

story.guy.raz.cnn.jpg
CNN Jerusalem correspondent Guy Raz.

YOUR E-MAIL ALERTS

Behind the Scenes
Gaza

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Random kidnappings. Daily exchanges of gunfire between police and armed militants. Different neighborhoods patrolled and controlled by competing militias.

It appears as if Gaza has degenerated into anarchy.

In just the past 10 days in the 146-square-mile territory (about twice the size of Washington, D.C.):

  • Three Palestinian government offices were occupied by gunmen.
  • Armed militants detonated explosives in a United Nations club.
  • Three British nationals were kidnapped at gunpoint.
  • An Italian man was abducted.
  • Two rival families unloaded weapons at each other in a personal dispute.
  • A Palestinian police officer was killed in a shootout between police and militants.
  • The Palestinian-controlled border crossing was shut down by police angry at the death of their colleague, prompting European Union monitors to leave.
  • Palestinian police took over government offices in their continuing protest.
  • Israel launched air strikes on suspected militant targets.
  • Gaza was not supposed to turn out this way.

    Last summer, Israel ended its 38-year military occupation of the area. For the first time in history, Gaza came under Palestinian rule.

    No Ottoman Turks, no British mandate, no Egyptian control, no Israeli occupation. And in November, the Palestinian Authority took control over an international border crossing for the first time in history.

    But since then, it's the absence of law and order in the territory that's been its most notable feature.

    Some Palestinian politicians say the trouble is a result of "labor pains." Palestinians are just beginning to taste political freedom, and freedom can sometimes be messy, they say.

    Others point to the Israeli occupation of 38 years, arguing it engendered a culture of violence in Gaza.

    There is also the claim from some Palestinian officials that Israel decimated the Palestinian security forces during the past few years of fighting, rendering Gaza's police impotent.

    Finally, many ordinary Palestinians point to the weakness of Fatah, the main Palestinian political movement which controls the Palestinian government. Fatah's leadership is widely seen as ineffective and, in some cases, corrupt.

    Tainted legacies

    Let's deconstruct those theories.

    There is no doubt that the turmoil in Gaza is directly related to the fact that Israel's occupation has ended. Palestinians are now in control of their destiny in Gaza, and it's a new experience for a people who have lived most of their lives under some type of foreign control.

    start quoteToday, there are tens of thousands of Palestinian men who are, formally, members of the security forces. Some have doubled as militants. Others have refused to carry out orders.end quote
    --

    The Israeli military occupation and the Jewish settlements certainly didn't help make Gaza a "peaceful" place -- especially in the last five years of the occupation. But my experience, reporting from both inside Gaza and in the former settlements, showed the violence was not a one-sided affair.

    The argument that Israel decimated the Palestinian security forces and helped render them impotent is an increasingly thin one. More than a quarter of the Palestinian budget is allocated towards the security services. Compare that to less than 10 percent for both health care and education.

    Under the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, the security services were divided up into more than a dozen different command structures. Arafat liked it that way. He preferred to "divide and rule," leaving a legacy of chaos and disloyalty to his successor, Mahmoud Abbas.

    Today, there are tens of thousands of Palestinian men who are, formally, members of the security forces. Some have doubled as militants. Others have refused to carry out the orders of Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority.

    In terms of Fatah's imminent implosion, that has a lot to do with the disarray. The movement founded by Arafat in 1959 has dominated Palestinian political life since then. But between 1982 and 1994, most of Fatah's top leadership was based abroad, in Tunis, Tunisia.

    When they returned to the West Bank and Gaza in 1994 after the Oslo Accords, many younger members of Fatah who never left the Palestinian territories resented these old men who rapidly assumed control.

    Some of these older leaders were accused of skimming money from the Palestinian budget and favoring their political allies over the interests of the general Palestinian population.

    It's now coming to a climax, and its causing a major headache for Abbas. He heads Fatah and later this month, he's hoping his movement will win the majority of seats in elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) or parliament.

    Most political observers believe Fatah will win, but emerge badly bruised. Many ordinary Palestinian voters are tired of Fatah and tired of the movement's poor performance in government.

    Seeking stability

    The unsung beneficiary in all this is Hamas. The militant Islamist organization is also fielding candidates in the upcoming elections and has vowed to clean house. That is, to restore law and order to the streets of the Palestinian territories and to run an efficient, transparent, and open government.

    start quoteAll public opinion polls show most Palestinians want an end to internal chaos, a solution to the conflict with Israel, and self-determination. end quote
    --

    The problem, though, is that both the United States and the European Union are threatening to cut off vital foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority if Hamas takes power.

    Why? Because Hamas formally refuses to accept the existence of Israel and still, again formally, is committed to Israel's destruction. Under the Oslo Accords of 1993, political movements who take part in Palestinian government must accept Israel's right to exist.

    Now it should be noted that many Palestinians who will choose Hamas or another political party over Fatah aren't necessarily in favor of Hamas' political stance towards Israel.

    But many voters are coming to the view that Hamas will bring stability and restore order. There is already evidence of this in certain Palestinian towns and cities now governed by Hamas officials.

    Ultimately, all public opinion polls show most Palestinians want an end to internal chaos, a solution to the conflict with Israel, and self-determination.

    Now we have to wait and see the outcome of the January 25 parliamentary elections to find out what happens next.

    Story Tools
    Subscribe to Time for $1.99 cover
    Top Stories
    Get up-to-the minute news from CNN
    CNN.com gives you the latest stories and video from the around the world, with in-depth coverage of U.S. news, politics, entertainment, health, crime, tech and more.
    Top Stories
    Get up-to-the minute news from CNN
    CNN.com gives you the latest stories and video from the around the world, with in-depth coverage of U.S. news, politics, entertainment, health, crime, tech and more.
    Search JobsMORE OPTIONS


     
    Search
    © 2007 Cable News Network.
    A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
    Terms under which this service is provided to you.
    Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
    Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by CNN.com
    Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
    Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines