Peace without democracy? The Palestinian case

A recent report by Human Rights Watch found out that despite the deep animosity between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas, they tend to share one common sad characteristic: ongoing, ruthless violations of human and civil rights. The report found out that critics of the two regimes are savagely arrested, dissidents and opponents are tortured, and two “police state” are mutually developed. The brutal methods of torturing and physically assaulting these detainees is said to be a governmental policy for both PA and Hamas.

The report mentioned one case in which “a PA civil servant, arrested after a friend tagged him in a Facebook post calling for protests on the electricity crisis, spent most of his days in the Internal Security’s Gaza City detention center subjected to positional abuse… causing him to feel ‘severe pain in my kidneys and spine’ and as if his neck would ‘break’ and his ‘body is tearing up inside.'”

According to the report, people were arrested for sharing critical news articles and posts in the social media, and the result is that activists identified with the Fatah party are brutally arrested and tortured by Hamas, while the Fatah detains activists identified with Hamas and uses the same methods employed by the security forces in Gaza against its opponents. These acts, that amount to crimes against the humanity, are ignored by the international community which continues to aid the Palestinian agencies responsible for these torture and abuse.

These agencies – including the PA Preventative Security Forces, General Intelligence Services and Joint Security Committee, and the Hamas-run Internal Security – are aided by countries which are regularly critical of Israel’s policies in the occupied West Bank. However, they fail to criticize Hamas and Fatah and do not take actions to prevent the cruel policies of detaining, torturing and abusing innocents because of their views.

The Palestinian ways of handling political dissent should not be regarded as a mere byproduct of decades of Israeli occupation. It is true that Hamas and Fatah developed their ruthless methods of abuse within the context of dealing with similar methods undertaken by the Israeli occupier, but the Israeli misdeeds cannot serve as a pretext to the awful oppression used by the Palestinian ruling elites against their people.

The fear of a local Arab Spring, in which old and corrupt regimes will be put to death, guides the Palestinian factions to prevent any free exchange of opinions; it leads them to forbid any expression of political freedom and shape a public discourse which promotes flattery to the regime and zero criticism. This situation is relevant not only to those who care for the liberties prevented from the Palestinians by their rulers but also to those who are keen to see a peace agreement signed between Israel and the Palestinian leaders.

Beyond the widespread assessment prevailing in right-wing circles which argue that the Palestinian leadership is incapable of signing an obliging peace agreement, the truth is that any agreement signed with tyrants and despots cannot endure for a long time. A genuine peace is to be forged by the peoples themselves, not by leaders whose mandate to rule is derived from ongoing political oppression. As much as Israel is to be blamed for oppressing and occupying the Palestinians through a process of colonization, the Palestinians themselves should be subjected to criticism for the way they aim to build their political sovereignty.

The current Palestinian leaderships lack, in fact, the basic legitimization not just to rule their people but also advance political moves on its behalf. In terms of political legitimacy, the suspects raised by skeptical circles in Israel about the Palestinian ability to sign a lasting peace agreement are justified. Thus, any peace rooted in political oppression and persecution is nothing but a sheer fraud.

The Palestinian people, just like the Arab masses which were mobilized under the banner of democracy and freedom during the Arab Springs, deserve to enjoy full democratic rights as much as they deserve to become free of decades of occupation. The liberal activists in the West Bank and Gaza must be freed and enjoy full civil and political rights.

The sad situation of the oppressed Palestinians must be cared and cherished by all those who justly fight for their right to become free of Israel’s military occupation. Those who prefer to keep their eyes and ears shut and collaborate with the ruling dictatorships in the West Bank and Gaza are hypocrites; their opposition to the oppression of the Palestinians by the Israelis is a fig leaf for their support in ruthless regimes which will be, sooner or later, overthrown by their own people.

About the Author
DAVID MERHAV is a journalist writing for The Jerusalem Post, The Jerusalem Report and The Forward. Since 2008, he is working as journalist & Op-Ed columnist in Makor Rishon daily, Hebrew conservative newspaper published in Jerusalem; He also served as the Public Relations director for the Jabotinky Institute in Israel.
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