Monday, June 11, 2007

I'm here to help you kill Jews -- but first...

The old joke about the oxymoron, "I'm from the Government and I'm here to help," applies many-fold to the situation in Lebanon and Gaza. In January 2006, the Palestinians elected Hamas based on its reputation for cleanliness (from corruption), efficiency (in providing social services), and militancy (in resistance to Israel). By throwing out the corrupt Fatah regime, it was thought, the new Hamas government would be able to demonstrate that it knew how to run a country and put it on a solid footing for the struggle with the Zionist entity.

About six months later, a wanted terrorist named Shaker Youssef al-Absi showed up in Lebanon and offered to the Fatah leadership in the Palestinian refugee camps his services and those of his 60 or so followers to fight the Israelis, who at the time Fatah feared might attack the refugee camps to pressure the Palestinians in Gaza to release kidnapped IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit. The Fatah leaders welcomed al-Absi, not asking, if Syria viewed him as a dangerous terrorist, why he wasn't in a Syrian prison or extradited to Jordan to stand trial for murdering a U.S. diplomat. And soon al-Absi's cadres multiplied -- and started to worry their hosts.

Al-Absi, who is wanted in Jordan for involvement in a 2004 assassination of a U.S. diplomat there, spread out increasing numbers of recruits to several Palestinian camps - about 120 in Beirut's Bourj el-Barajneh, 60 in Beddawi in the north and 150 in Nahr el-Bared.

Abu Mohammed and another Fatah Uprising official, Mahmoud Doulla, told The Associated Press that their leaders were so impressed with al-Absi's selfless dedication to the Palestinian cause that, at first, they ignored warning signs of other trouble.

"We weren't of the same ideology," explained Abu Mohammed. "They followed a more puritan kind of Islam, you can say fanatic Islam. ... They were ready to kill disbelievers."

Abu Mohammed and Doulla said they were concerned when they noticed al-Absi and his men were hostile toward allies of Fatah Uprising, such as the Syrian government, Lebanon's Shiites and the militant Shiite group Hezbollah.

When Fatah Uprising officials in Lebanon alerted their superiors in Damascus that al-Absi's men "were behaving strangely," they were swiftly dismissed and told the group was in Lebanon for the "struggle" and to fight the "Zionist enemy," said Abu Mohammed.

Al-Absi's forces grew quickly. At the Shatilla camp, what started as 20 militants reached 100 during last summer's Hezbollah war with Israel, Abu Mohammed said.

Over time, it became clear that al-Absi wasn't going to fight Israel until he took on the Fatah leadership first.

Al-Absi's relationship with Fatah Uprising showed its first public sign of cracks last Nov. 23, when Palestinian and Lebanese security forces raided an apartment occupied by his gunmen in the Beddawi camp in northern Lebanon.

In the ensuing battles, a Palestinian security man was killed and two of al-Absi's militants were wounded and handed over to Lebanese security by the camp's Palestinian security. Al-Absi was angered that Fatah Uprising did not protect the men or protest their handover to Lebanese authorities.

On Dec. 5, Fatah Uprising leader Saeed Moussa ordered al-Absi and his fighters to leave his group's bases in the Shatilla and Bourj el-Barajneh camps. Al-Absi withdrew to the Beddawi camp.

In a new ultimatum three days later, Abu Moussa gave al-Absi 24 hours to leave Beddawi.

"Where am I going to take 400 men in 24 hours? Throw them in the sea?" Abu Mohammed quoted al-Absi as telling a Fatah Uprising official. Other Palestinians confirmed the remark.

The following day, al-Absi seized Fatah Uprising positions and weapons in Nahr el-Bared, where he had regrouped his fighters - and he announced the creation of Fatah Islam.

Now Fatah al-Islam has called down the wrath of the Lebanese Army on the Palestinians, with thousands fleeing the Nahr el-Bared refugee camp and thousands more trapped there in the crossfire. The Islamic fundamentalists of Fatah al-Islam are clearly willing to defer the battle against the Zionist enemy until they remake the Palestinian refugee camps -- and possibly all of Lebanon -- in their Salafist image.

At the same time, Hamas in Gaza has been willing to launch Qassam rockets at Israeli civilians and stage sporadic attempts to kidnap more IDF soldiers. But they've also been willing to direct attacks at Fatah members in Gaza, on an escalating scale. It's rapidly reaching a point where the leadership of Fatah can no longer surf along above the turmoil: the attacks are aiming higher and higher in their eschelons.

After sundown Monday, gunmen, apparently from Hamas, laid siege to the house of Jamal Abu al-Jediyan, the senior Fatah official in northern Gaza. They then dragged him outside and killed him, security officials said. Medics said he was hit by 45 bullets.

Al-Jediyan was a top aide to Gaza Fatah strongman Mohammed Dahlan and al-Jediyan's brother was also killed, apparently in the same shootout.

Fatah spokesman Maher Mikdad harshly denounced the killing and pledged revenge.

"What is this, if not a war," he said.

Fatah called on its members to target all Hamas political and military leaders.

"What is this, if not a war?" What, indeed? How about a purge?

The Oslo Accords demonstrated that Fatah could not be trusted to maintain purity of ideology and purpose against Israel. Even though they never implemented their obligations toward peace, and perhaps only undertook those obligations to mask their intention to build a base for destroying Israel at a future date, still the fact remains that they did undertake those obligations. For the true believers of Hamas and of the Salafist movement, this indicated that Fatah was a more immediate danger to the struggle against Zionism than Israel itself. Only a Palestinian society purged of such wobbly pragmatists could find the unity and strength to take on Israel.

Thus the Palestinian communities in Gaza and in the refugee camps of Lebanon needed to be purged, to be brought under the complete control of orthodox and unwavering Islamists. Any accommodation with Fatah was tactical, a brand of taqqiya toward unbelievers in the West to attempt to free up frozen finances and toward unbelievers in Fatah to attempt to co-opt them.

The Palestinians must choose one path or another before there is any point in pursuing talks with Israel. If the Palestinians choose Hamas and Fatah al-Islam, then talks with Israel will be pointless in the first place; if they reject Hamas and Fatah al-Islam, there may be a chance for peace.

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