Friday, June 22, 2007

 

Gaza: Slaughter of Civilians; Destruction of Infrastructure

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19209872


‘Dangerous and Chaotic’


The Gaza violence has forced the United Nations to suspend most of its relief operations for Palestinians trapped in the middle. How the fighting is affecting education and aid.






Fighting on the streets of Gaza, June 13, 2007.
Mahmud Hams / AFP-Getty Images

Fighting on the streets of Gaza, June 13, 2007.





Web Exclusive
By Kevin Peraino

Newsweek


Updated: 12:36 p.m. CT June 13, 2007


June 13, 2007 - As gun battles continue to roil the Gaza Strip this week, militants from Hamas are tightening their grip on power. The Islamists have already taken over several hospitals and a number of key Fatah security installations. In the meantime, more than 50 Gazans have been killed, dozens more wounded. Militiamen executed rivals by throwing them off the roofs of high-rises, and masked gunmen set up checkpoints throughout the territory. Even some aid workers are finding themselves caught in the cross-fire. Two Palestinian employees of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) were shot to death on Wednesday, and the agency announced that it would temporarily suspend most of its Gaza operations. (UNRWA distributes food and offers health services to Gaza's 1 million refugees; some essential aid will continue.) As Hamas tightened its grip on power, NEWSWEEK's Kevin Peraino spoke with John Ging, UNRWA's director of operations in Gaza, about the continuing violence. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: What's the situation like on the ground in Gaza?
John Ging:
Movement is highly restricted. It's very difficult to get around at the moment. We only move if it's essential. We're just having to exercise extreme caution. The fighting is really everywhere. There are lots of checkpoints and lots of obstacles to movement.








Ging: 'The great fear is that we will cross over to the point of no return'

Mohammed Abed / AFP-Getty Images

Ging: 'The great fear is that we will cross over to the point of no return'



How have your facilities been affected?

In some cases the fighting has spilled over into the food-distribution centers. They've been overrun with armed individuals. They've sought to take over some of our installations to gain the advantage of the high ground. It's very dangerous and chaotic at the moment.


What's the biggest danger of the current fighting?
Extremists have much more space to operate given the lawless state of affairs. There's a serious breakdown in law and order. Extremists and radical groups have a lot of space to operate.

How do you think the fighting will play out between Hamas and Fatah? It seems to be spiraling, getting more dangerous with each outbreak of fighting.
This has been our fear—that each time the violence flares, we cross more and more red lines. The great fear is that we will cross over to the point of no return. Of the past three outbreaks, each has been more ferocious than the last. Now they're fighting in hospital wards, individuals are being thrown from buildings. What's worrying all of us is that we can't keep going with these cycles without crossing a point of no return.

Conventional wisdom holds that Hamas seems to have the upper hand. Do you agree?
One can only see it as one sees the surface. Hamas has taken control of a number of security spaces. The wisdom on the ground is that both sides have a lot of resources. If both sides are intent on fighting to the end, it will take a very, very long time.


Back in March, armed militants attacked the convoy you were riding in. Did you ever discover who was responsible?
To date, nobody has been arrested; we honestly don't know. This is the problem. In broad daylight a U.N. car can be ambushed. Three months later nobody's been arrested.








Don't you feel a little taken advantage of? You're trying to help and you're being attacked.
The way people like me rationalize our circumstances is to look at our mission. I've gone to the morgue in Beit Hanun. I have looked at dismembered bodies of children that I will never forget. That's what motivates us to do our jobs. We have to continue to have the resolve to help those decent people. Many of those who have been killed are innocent children. They are civilized people living in difficult circumstances, but they have not become their environment.


How do you judge Israel's response to all this?
We just hope that everybody shows restraint. This is first and foremost the responsibility of the Palestinians. Israel has legitimate security concerns, but they have to find solutions without adding to or compounding the problem here. Israel, in our view, can significantly contribute to stability by finding a solution to the issues at the border crossings which allow the borders to function. In economic collapse, there's fertile ground for extremism. Peace is a dividend of economic wellbeing.


Are there other ways that the fighting has affected your operations?

We had to close a number of our operations centers yesterday, and then again today. Of 18 health centers we run in Gaza, seven are closed. Of five food-distribution centers, three are closed. [After Wednesday's shootings, UNRWA announced that it would temporarily suspend most other Gaza operations.]


What about schools?
The school year for us has ended, so that's not an issue. But we have a massive recreation initiative due to kick off this weekend, involving 200,000 children. This will now have to be postponed until the fighting ends. We were also due to run a remedial education program for 50,000 children, who were underperforming because of the disruptions last year. That's in jeopardy of being postponed.


What are you able to do in the current environment?

Our operation is focused of the delivery of the vitals. For many of the refugees, if they don't get our food, then they don't have food. We're doing our best to mitigate a complete collapse. People who are aid-dependent have no other sources. The moment we get an opportunity to reopen, we will. The need of the people is very great. There's nowhere else to turn. We are their last resort.

© 2007 Newsweek, Inc




 

Gaza's Brain Drain - Destroying a People

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19263095/site/newsweek

'Back to the Stone Age'

Even before last week's violence, Gaza's middle class had begun to flee the territory. Thousands may follow—and take with them the skills needed to rebuild.
Stalled: A Palestinian family waits to cross the border into Egypt. More than12,000 Palestinians left Gaza last year and didn’t come back.
Khalil Hamra / AP

Stalled: A Palestinian family waits to cross the border into Egypt. More than 12,000 Palestinians left Gaza last year and didn’t come back.<





TROUBLE IN GAZA
















By Kevin Peraino
Newsweek

June 25, 2007 issue - Sana Dahman only dared peek out her window at night. The men with guns in the street looked like shadows. In the glow of the flames from the burning city, she could see grenade tubes on shoulders and ski masks on faces. Her neighborhood, like the rest of Gaza City, smelled like smoke. She was trapped in her house and food was running low. A friend tossed a loaf of bread through her window and then dashed away. Before the power failed for the night, she typed Hotmail instant messages to her husband: THEY'RE ASSASSINATING PEOPLE. THEY'RE BURNING HOUSES. WE CAN'T SLEEP.


Her husband, Mohammad Dahman, moved to Norway six months ago. He says he's never coming back to Gaza. Both Dahmans had been raised in Gaza's refugee camps, alongside roughly 1 million other Palestinians. After college, where Mohammad studied business management, he took a job as a trade-union leader and human-rights activist. His $700-per-month salary let the couple and their five children eventually move to a red-roofed condo with a balcony overlooking the sea. But after the Islamists in Hamas won power 18 months ago, Mohammad decided he couldn't stay. "He started feeling like a stranger," says Sana. "I'm glad he's out." She and the kids are still waiting for their Norwegian visas. In the meantime, she says, "I'm losing my mind."

All Gaza seemed to be losing its mind last week, as legions of Hamas fighters fanned out across the 25-mile strip of sand along the Mediterranean coast. By Friday the Islamists had seized control over almost the entire territory, storming the police and intelligence complexes that were once the most powerful symbols of Yasir Arafat's secular Fatah party. Masked gunmen threw one another off high-rises, executed rivals at close range and torched party compounds. More than 90 Gazans died and dozens more were wounded. For the Islamists, the conquest seemed a natural denouement to their surprise election victory last year. "The era of justice and Islamic rule has arrived," crowed Islam Shahawan, a Hamas military-wing official. Fatah leaders were despondent. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called the fighting "madness" before disbanding the government and declaring a state of emergency.

The rapid reversal of fortunes for Abbas's forces in Gaza poses tough new dilemmas for U.S. policymakers. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tried to cast events in a positive light, noting that the United States could now openly support the Fatah-led government based in the West Bank. Abbas smartly appointed former Finance minister Salam Fayyad, a technocrat well liked in Washington, as interim prime minister. (Reached the day before his appointment, Fayyad sounded harried and emotional. "I'm really disoriented right now," he said.)

But picking sides hasn't worked so well thus far. After Hamas's electoral wins, the United States and other Western countries cut aid money to the Palestinian government, instead funneling resources directly to Abbas's office. Some observers accuse Washington of baldly encouraging rivalry between the two camps. In a confidential report leaked last week, United Nations envoy Alvaro de Soto wrote that "the U.S. clearly pushed for a confrontation between Fatah and Hamas." De Soto recounts listening to a U.S. official declare "I like this violence" twice at an envoys' meeting in Washington recently. "The U.S. fanned the flames of this internal Palestinian conflict," says Haim Malka of Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack dismissed de Soto's remarks as "the views of an individual."





What seems certain is that Hamas-run Gaza is doomed to greater isolation and misery. With the Islamists in control, Israel may intensify its campaign of airstrikes on Hamas rocket teams and other militants. Some Israeli analysts point out that a strong Hamas leadership in Gaza could have its advantages; at least someone would be in control there. But that is a minority view. "There's no common ground [with Hamas]," says Ephraim Sneh, Israel's deputy Defense minister. Dialogue, he says, is almost certainly a nonstarter. "Listen to them, for God's sake!" he says. "Gaza will be worse than Mogadishu. Our Apache [helicopter gunships] will talk to them."

It is no wonder, then, that so many Palestinians like the Dahmans are trying to get out. Over the past year, thousands of Gazans have fled to Europe, Canada and Arab capitals like Cairo and Amman. In the past 12 months, 88,320 people have left Gaza for Egypt through the Rafah crossing, and only 76,176 have come in—a net loss of some 12,000 people. Many more would leave if they could. Ahmad Hanun, the director of the Shaml research center in Ramallah, says roughly 45,000 Palestinians applied to emigrate from Gaza and the West Bank in 2006. A travel agent in Gaza City, who didn't want to be identified for safety reasons, says he takes 50 calls each day from Gazans trying to wangle fake visa papers.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the vast majority of those who manage to escape are the young, wealthy and well educated. Many of those who are leaving are technocrat types who work for organizations like the United Nations and foreign NGOs with global reach. Khaled Abdel Shafi, the director of the United Nations Development Program's Gaza office, says he recently lost 10 percent of his employees, including many of the best. He says another 10 percent are trying to go, but can't get visas. "The big brains are leaving Gaza," says Sana Dahman. "We're going back to the Stone Age."

The irony is that the bulk of Gaza's 1.4 million residents are already from refugee families, mostly from Israel's 1948 War of Independence. Israeli historian Benny Morris, author of the seminal "Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem," says that a similar brain drain preceded that conflict. "The well educated fled first," says Morris. "It left the vast majority of the population leaderless." When fighting broke out, Palestinians "didn't have anyone to say 'Stay'," he says. "They were like chickens without heads." Some 700,000 Palestinians ended up fleeing or being driven from their homes, a quarter million of them to neighboring countries..




Now, with Gaza exploding into violence, even the United Nations-operated refugee camps have become unsafe. Militants have stormed several of the food-distribution centers run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), searching for high ground as the fighting raged. Two UNRWA workers were shot to death during gun battles, and two more were wounded. As a result, the agency announced it would temporarily suspend service at most of its Gaza health clinics and food-distribution centers. Refugees contacted by NEWSWEEK said they expected to run out of food within days. "If they don't get our food, they don't have food," says John Ging, UNRWA's director of Gaza operations. "We are their last resort."

Gaza was already on the verge of a humanitarian crisis even before the latest round of fighting. Unemployment runs at about 50 percent in good times, and has shot up since Hamas took power. Top "industries," according to the CIA World Factbook, include "olive-wood carvings" and "mother-of-pearl souvenirs." Once Israel began withholding roughly $55 million each month in Palestinian customs receipts, leaders were forced to stop paying government salaries altogether. According to a March IMF-World Bank report, real GDP fell between 5 and 10 percent in 2006—almost 40 percent below its 1999 level. The result: "a hollowing out of the Palestinian economy," according to the study.

Nearby countries like Jordan and Lebanon, which already host 1.8 million and 400,000 Palestinian refugees respectively, are not eager to take in more. Both have had to deal with their own recent problems with Islamist extremists. "Jordan certainly doesn't want to see Palestinian politics spilling over into its terrain," says Nicholas Pelham, an analyst with the International Crisis Group. "Both [Egypt and Jordan] will put their own survival ahead of the humanitarian crisis.

The Gazans most likely to escape, then, will be those with means and connections—the ones Gaza can least afford to lose. One black-market dealer of fake visa papers in Gaza City, who didn't want to be identified in order to stay out of jail, told NEWSWEEK that he could procure a phony borderless Europe "Schengen" visa for $2,000—roughly twice Gaza's per capita income. He says most of his clients are students who manage to raise the money from their extended families. "They know it's an investment," he explains. He says his business has almost doubled in the past three months.

Middle-class businessmen have other ways out. Mahmoud Ismail, a 46-year-old entrepreneur originally from the village of Deir al-Balah, left Gaza three months ago and moved to Cairo. He closed his Gaza potato-chip factory, which he says lost $12,000 in 2006, after it was repeatedly robbed and burned. Then he managed to get an Egyptian work visa by promising to invest $240,000 in a new factory in the Egyptian capital. For now his wife and four children are still stuck in Gaza; the Rafah crossing is closed, as it was for 271 days in the past year. He plans to get them out as soon as the border opens. "If you have money, you move out," he says. "If not, you're stuck. That country doesn't deserve me."

Most of the new refugees are fully aware that by leaving Gaza they are almost certainly doing harm to the territory's prospects, as well as the cause of Palestinian nationalism. "We're fighting for the right-of-return," says 34-year-old Khalil Safadi, another asylum seeker now in Norway. "Imagine this—and now look what we're doing! I feel so ashamed. I cheated my country." Still, he has no plans to go back to Gaza. "I will learn Norwegian very easily," he says.

Sana Dahman hopes she'll get that chance, too. As she waits in the dark of her house in Gaza she can hear the crackle of gunfire outside. She says she often bursts into tears. She has stopped combing her hair. "Gaza is in a hellish mood," she says quietly. "It's an extreme form of sickness. We have lost our brains." In a Gaza gone mad, the only sane thing now, she believes, is to get the hell out.

With Joanna Chen in Jerusalem, Nuha Musleh in the West Bank and Dan Ephron in Washington

© 2007 Newsweek, Inc.

Middle-class businessmen have other ways out. Mahmoud Ismail, a 46-year-old entrepreneur originally from the village of Deir al-Balah, left Gaza three months ago and moved to Cairo. He closed his Gaza potato-chip factory, which he says lost $12,000 in 2006, after it was repeatedly robbed and burned. Then he managed to get an Egyptian work visa by promising to invest $240,000 in a new factory in the Egyptian capital. For now his wife and four children are still stuck in Gaza; the Rafah crossing is closed, as it was for 271 days in the past year. He plans to get them out as soon as the border opens. "If you have money, you move out," he says. "If not, you're stuck. That country doesn't deserve me.Most of the new refugees are fully aware that by leaving Gaza they are almost certainly doing harm to the territory's prospects, as well as the cause of Palestinian nationalism. "We're fighting for the right-of-return," says 34-year-old Khalil Safadi, another asylum seeker now in Norway. "Imagine this—and now look what we're doing! I feel so ashamed. I cheated my country." Still, he has no plans to go back to Gaza. "I will learn Norwegian very easily," he says.Sana Dahman hopes she'll get that chance, too. As she waits in the dark of her house in Gaza she can hear the crackle of gunfire outside. She says she often bursts into tears. She has stopped combing her hair. "Gaza is in a hellish mood," she says quietly. "It's an extreme form of sickness. We have lost our brains." In a Gaza gone mad, the only sane thing now, she believes, is to get the hell out.With Joanna Chen in Jerusalem, Nuha Musleh in the West Bank and Dan Ephron in Washington© 2007 Newsweek, Inc.

 

Why Gaza Matters


http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19263096/site/newsweek
more news, videos at url site

The Gaza Effect











By Michael Hirsh
Newsweek

June 25, 2007 issue - The Israelis didn't want Palestinian elections back in January 2006. Even Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, had been worried about them and kept asking for delays. As early as the spring of 2005, Abbas had warned American officials that he did not have the popular support to disarm Hamas, the Islamist party that turned suicide terror bombings into a standard tactic in Israel and which both Abbas and the Israelis saw was growing in power. But Bush administration officials insisted, confident of the curative powers of democracy. Later, after Hamas stunned the world by winning control of the Palestinian Parliament, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice claimed: "Nobody saw it coming.



The line could describe much of what has resulted from George W. Bush's efforts to transform the world—or at least one part of it, the Middle East [Seven Stones: transform it into puppet nations]. As long as the Islamists of Hamas refused to recognize Israel, the United States refused to deal with the Hamas-dominated Palestinian government. The hope was not that ordinary Palestinians would suffer, but that they would realize such a government was not in their best interests.[Seven Stones: Liars! They KNEW the Palestinians would suffer - their hope was that their suffering would become so intense and intolerable that they would rise up in revolt against the government they LEGALLY voted in- that refused to be a Bush puppet.] At the same time Washington tried to bolster Abbas and his Fatah movement—the secular Palestinian party founded by Yasir Arafat. The strategy backfired. America was seen to be taking sides. Hamas, under pressure, built up its own paramilitary forces to counter those controlled by Abbas (and trained by the United States). Then, last week, as tit-for-tat killings in Gaza spiraled out of control, those Hamas fighters in Gaza turned out to be far more fierce than their better-funded opponents. The result: the radicals are now in charge of Gaza, a 140-square-mile strip of land on the Mediterranean Sea along Israel's western border that is packed with 1.4 million Palestinians, most of them desperately poor. Until late 2005 Gaza was occupied by Israeli troops, and until last week Bush still saw it as part of the new Palestinian state he wanted to create along with the larger West Bank. Now Gaza may become Hamas's private enclave and perhaps even an ungovernable font of terror. [Seven Stones: AS usual. Bush and the Neocons were too stupid to foresee the blowback from their manipulatiove plots.]

Critical Condition: Seriously wounded during one of last week's battles, a young Palestinian is rushed into a Gaza City emergency room for treatment.
Wissam Nassar / MaanImages-AP
Critical Condition: Seriously wounded during one of last week's battles, a young Palestinian is rushed into a Gaza City emergency room for treatment.

The violent takeover of Gaza by Hamas is not just a death knell for Israeli-Palestinian peace, splitting Bush's dream of a Palestinian state into two armed camps. It is also, along with the quagmire in Iraq, a historic rebuff. In his second Inaugural Address, the president embraced the promotion of democracy as his top priority, declaring: "The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands." But in Iraq and the Palestinian territories, as in Russia, Pakistan and other places, liberty is retreating. And the fact remains that those places where Washington has most actively and directly pushed for elections—Iraq, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza—are today the most factionalized, chaotic and violent in the region.

Why does the disaster in Gaza matter? In part because the defeat of the secular—and more moderate—Fatah forces could, along with the insurgents' success in Iraq, inspire Islamist radicals in the region and around the world. Hamas is not the Taliban, and it knows that an uptick in rocket attacks against Israel will be met with a harsh response. But, as Bush said in his second Inaugural, the whole point of promoting freedom [ Seven Stones:Bush brand of "freedom" is submission to the US and Neocons et al] is to blunt the hopelessness and anger that breed radicalism [It has increased anger and hopelessness and radicalism.]. Gaza faces 50 percent unemployment in the best of times. Qaeda-like splinter groups that have carried out kidnappings of foreigners have already begun to appear. Further isolating the territory is not likely to fill its residents with faith in the future

Citizens of countries where Washington has called for greater democracy—Iran, say, or Syria—now have three less-than-inspiring examples close to home. In Lebanon, Iranian-backed Hizbullah reigns as a power unto itself. In Iraq, the sect-based parties that came to power in the 2005 elections have created a bloody nightmare, and stymied any attempts to forge a truly national consensus. And in the Palestinian territories, Washington simply rejected the election results.

Optimists in Israel and America argue that Abbas, having dismissed the Hamas-led Palestinian government, is now free to receive millions in aid money and customs revenues that had been held back. The idea seems to be to bolster the wealthier, less radicalized West Bank and starve Gaza (of attention and respectability, if not food) [Seven Stones: OH YES<>

Gaza also poses a lesson in the limits of imperial power in the 21st century. Let's face it: Americans have always made crummy imperialists. A century ago Teddy Roosevelt complained that "America lacked the stomach for empire." A senior White House official echoed that lament early in the Iraq occupation, noting that America has the power of a true empire, like Rome or like Britain in the 19th century, but not the taste for acting like one. "Look at us in Iraq—how much difficulty we have in saying we will anoint people to run the country. Does anyone think the Romans or the Brits would have been deterred?" he grumbled.

Mourning: Relatives of an Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade leader weep at his funeral
Mahmud Hams / AFP-Getty Images
Mourning: Relatives of an Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade leader weep at his funeral
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>


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Gaza: Hamas vs Fatah - Divide and Conquer


The Lion's Den

After its lightning conquest, Hamas is trying to present an image of calm and control in Gaza. But seldom has the territory seemed so desperate and chaotic.










Web Exclusive
By Kevin Peraino
Newsweek
Updated: 12:18 p.m. CT June 21, 2007

June 21, 2007 - There wasn't much left of Mohammed Dahlan's house by the time I stopped by Wednesday morning. The whitewashed villa in Gaza City's lush Remal neighborhood had been torched, robbed and stripped by looters of any loose fixture or ornament of value, including the sewage pipes in the backyard. Children had sketched unflattering charcoal drawings of Dahlan, the reviled founder of the Fatah-controlled Preventive Security apparatus, on the walls upstairs; captions like HE IS A SPY and HAMAS WAS HERE were scrawled underneath. Adolescent boys swung sledgehammers at the floor, chipping away rectangular slabs of marble and stacking them in a donkey cart. "I'm taking this stuff," a teenager with a pickaxe told me, explaining that he was going to "pave" his living room with marble. While we talked, another small boy jumped up and snatched my sunglasses, while a third grabbed the tiny flashlight clipped to my backpack. "Let's go," said my translator, Hassan. "And check your pockets."


Visiting the Gaza Strip is always a surreal experience, but I don't think I've ever seen it quite so desperate and chaotic. After Hamas's lightning conquest of the territory last week, the Islamists were trying their best to present an image of calm and control to the world. The group's leaders ordered fighters to take off their black ski masks and stow most of the Kalashnikovs and RPGs. Traffic cops in fluorescent yellow vests and green Hamas baseball caps had been dispatched to busy intersections to channel the snarl of taxis. Hamas leaders insisted they would grant amnesty to any Fatah security personnel who wanted to come back to work. "We are going to help them reconstruct themselves," Hamas cofounder Mahmoud Zahar said later Wednesday afternoon at his bullet-pocked house, which had been fortified with concrete blast walls and sandbagged sniper nests spilling over the edges of the roof. "We are controlling everything now."

Down with Dahlan: A Hamas militant stomps on a portrait of the the Fatah strongman in Gaza
Mahmud Hams / AFP-Getty Images
Down with Dahlan: A Hamas militant stomps on a portrait of the the Fatah strongman in Gaza

Still, even Zahar must know that once the euphoria wears off, the Islamists are almost certainly due for a humbling lesson in real-world management. Maintaining order in a 25-mile strip of land choked with 1.4 million impoverished Palestinians is a daunting task for even the most disciplined and efficient of organizations. Governing will be all the more difficult while fighting periodic skirmishes with Israeli troops stationed just across the border. Earlier this week, Israeli and Palestinian soldiers exchanged gunfire at the busy Erez Crossing, and on Wednesday Israeli forces killed six more Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. American officials have pledged vigorous support for President Mahmoud Abbas's forces in the West Bank, and Hamas activists could face further arrests there, where Abbas’s Fatah faction remains relatively strong. Meanwhile, dozens of Gazans are still trying to flee the fighting; on Wednesday Israel allowed more than 50 residents to pass on a bus to Egypt, although others remained stranded at Erez.

The Erez Crossing is a creepy place, even in the best of times. The walls of the concrete tunnel that leads from Israel to Gaza are chewed with the charred pockmarks of past shooting attacks; brass M-16 casings litter the floor alongside the pulled pins of smoke grenades. At a series of locked gates along the way, the disembodied voices of Israeli soldiers bark confusing orders over loudspeakers, instructing you to open your bags, take everything out of your pockets, raise your arms. On past trips to Gaza, a Palestinian policeman has checked my passport on the far side, and then waved me in. But this time I was thrust into a scene of frenetic activity almost as soon as I stepped across the border. Dozens of Palestinian kids were hanging from the green steel rafters of the tunnel, swinging axes and hoisting blowtorches—stripping even the tunnel itself of any metal that could possibly sold for scrap.














Seeking Safety: Palestinian men shed their clothes for a security check as they approach the Israeli side of the Erez Crossing
Emilio Morenatti / AP
Seeking Safety: Palestinian men shed their clothes for a security check as they approach the Israeli side of the Erez Crossing


After stopping at Dahlan's house, we drove by the Preventive Security headquarters he once controlled. Like the Fatah leader's house, the building had been completely burned, hacked to pieces, and stripped of furniture. The charred résumés of Rashid Abu Shbak, another top Preventive Security officer, littered the floor of the complex. Broken glass crunched under our feet, and the entire building smelled like a marshmallow roast gone bad. We walked toward the prison complex in the back—a row of tiny white cells with eight-inch peepholes that once held some of Gaza's most prominent Islamists, including Mahmoud Zahar. On the wall of one of the cells, someone had scratched the words AL QAEDA IN PALESTINE in Arabic.


As Hassan and I began to walk out of the jail, we heard what sounded like a fist banging on one of the steel doors inside the jailhouse. "Hey!" a voice shouted in Arabic. "Let me out!" We asked the man what he was still doing in jail while everyone else had gone. "I'm a thief!" he cried. "Please open the door." That didn't seem like a good idea. The prisoner told us he had been looting the Preventive Security complex and the new Hamas guards locked him up. Hassan asked whether he belonged to Fatah or Hamas. "I'm Hamas, but tomorrow I'm going to be Fatah," he griped. As we walked away, we could hear the thief quietly singing in Arabic: "We are the nation of freedom…."

Our last stop of the day was the home of Mahmoud Zahar's younger brother Yussef, a former militant in Hamas's Izzedine al-Qassam militia. Yussef, like his brother Mahmoud, was dressed in a pale gray linen safari suit, which made the brothers look unfortunately like Gazan versions of Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movies. I didn't think it was a good idea to tell them that. Instead we sipped sweet tea and talked about the difficulty of the job Hamas has ahead of it.

Yussef's grandson, a chunky, bald toddler, climbed up onto his lap. I asked how an isolated Hamas would ever get the money it needed to run the territory. He answered my question with a warning. "Don't put a lion in a corner, or he will bite," Yussef said. If the sanctions continue, "the victims will not be in the Gaza Strip only. They will be everywhere. Because we want to live. Do you believe I will give you a chance to live, and I will die? If I don't find food, I will eat men. If I am hungry, I will eat you." He looked at me for a second and then cracked a smile. "Don't worry," he said. "We still have food." We all laughed, a little too hard, the way you laugh at something that is not really a joke at all.

© 2007 Newsweek, Inc. |

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