One Man, One (Stupid) Vote, One Time: Bronner on Gaza and Democracy in the Arab world

Ethan Bronner, who probably should think twice before going back to Gaza, has an interesting article in the NYT on feelings in Gaza. According to him, the isolation and devastation that Gazans see around them has led them to rethink their support for Hamas. This goes counter to the “conventional wisdom” of most Western observers, who berate Israel both in principle — collective punishment — and in practice — it backfires.

But ironically, many of those who make that argument are also the people who jump on Hamas’ election as proof of democracy. They thereby offer a magnificent example of the way “progressives” treat Palestinians as children who must, at all costs, be protected from the consequences of their actions. Democracy without responsibility. What an excellent formula for the 21st century!

In the interviews, we get some insights into the way Palestinians — here, largely the professional, middle class — thought about the elections.

Opportunities Fade Amid Sense of Isolation in Gaza
Published: October 26, 2009

GAZA — The bank executive sits in a suit and tie behind his broad empty desk with plenty of time to talk. Almost no loans are being issued or corporate plans made. The Texas-trained engineer closed his firm because nothing is being built. The business student who dreamed of attending an American university — filling a computer file with meticulous hopes and plans — has stopped dreaming. He goes from school to a part-time job to home, where he joins his merchant father who sits unemployed.

Ten months after the Israeli military said it invaded this Palestinian coastal strip to stop the daily rocket fire of its Islamist rulers, there are many ways to measure the misery of Gaza.

Bits of rubble are being cleared, but nothing is going up. Several thousand homes remain destroyed. Several dozen families still live in United Nations tents strung amid their ruined houses. A three-year-old embargo on Hamas imposed by Israel and Egypt keeps nearly all factories shut and supplies away. Eighty percent of the population gets some form of assistance.

At least Bonner is honest enough to admit that the embargo is Egyptian as well as Israeli, something many, including Goldstone, do not concede explicitly. This point will be important, and absent, later on.

But the misery of the educated and professional class has a particular poignancy. Many abroad view Gaza as a large slum, yet there is near universal literacy here and infant mortality is low by regional standards. Midsize glass towers gleam. Many thousands have advanced degrees. Half a dozen stylish restaurants fill each day with young women — a few with heads uncovered — carrying laptop computers, and with the underemployed, who smoke hookahs and lament their future.

“We are entering very dark years,” remarked Slama Bissiso, vice chairman of the Palestinian Bar Association, slowly exhaling scented tobacco smoke on the balcony of the Deira Hotel overlooking the Mediterranean. He said that the embargo on Gaza and the divide between the Hamas government here and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority in the West Bank were driving Gaza into deeper isolation every month.

Note, these are all consequences. The Israeli “blockade,” whether punitive or defensive, is only part of the problem. Hamas has alienated everyone, from Fatah in the West Bank, to Egypt in the south. Egyptians are not punishing the Gazans, they too are protecting themselves from the destabilizing forces that opening their border with Gaza would entail.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, announced on Friday that elections would be held in January. But it was effectively an announcement that Fatah and Hamas had failed to reconcile their differences despite Egyptian mediation. There will be no election here without the agreement of Hamas, and it has no intention of granting it now. If that means a vote will be held in the West Bank only, the horizons of Gaza will retreat even further.

Interesting formulation. Why does Hamas have no intention of granting it? Did Bronner interview a Hamas spokesman for an explanation? Is it because Hamas would lose? And if so, what signs indicate that? In any case, this sounds a lot like, “one man, one vote, one time” — precisely what constitutes aborted democracy.

Hamas’s control of Gaza feels solidly unchallenged. Its security forces patrol the streets. Pictures of President Abbas with big X’s across his face line the main avenue, sadly known as Unity Street. A new sign on the Gaza side of the Israeli border bars even foreigners from bringing in alcohol.

There’s more to be told here about the imposition of Sharia here, but let’s say there’s a word limit.

Left out of the banking system, Hamas affiliates opened their own bank recently. In keeping with Muslim strictures, it does not charge interest or offer loans, making money by buying cars or homes the customer wants, then reselling them at a higher price.

In other words, if banks can’t charge interest (Sharia law), they don’t make loans. This is banks and pawn shops.

Israel allows about 100 trucks a day to pass into Gaza bearing food, medicine and other humanitarian goods. But it has closed off commerce in the hope of alienating the population here from their rulers.

This strikes me as a strange formulation. Israel allows far more necessities to get into Gaza than Egypt, and yet they’re the ones who want to punish the Gazans into abandoning Hamas. As noted, even this is not incomprehensible.

That seems to be happening. Yet if no election occurs, it is hard to see how the alienation can be expressed or government changed.

This is how prime divider societies operate. This is why it’s dangerous to have “democratic” elections with an immature electorate that will vote for tyrants who will not give them another chance to choose their leaders. This is why people like Helena Cobban, who trumpet Hamas’ glorious democratic bona fides don’t get it, and have to soften the murderous organization’s edges for the sake of a readership of the ignorant.

Israel wants to isolate Hamas because the group rejects Israel’s existence. As Ayman Taha, a Hamas movement spokesman, said in an interview, “Our long-term strategy is the liberation of all of Palestine, but we would agree to a temporary solution involving a state in the 1967 borders with a truce of about 10 years, depending on the conditions of the truce.”

That’s a pretty tame quote. Why not mention the genocidal charter?

    Article 7: “Hamas has been looking forward to implementing Allah’s promise, whatever time it might take. The prophet [Muhammad] said: ‘The time (of Resurrection) will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews; until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him!'” Sahih Muslim, Book 41, Number 6985]

Or the almost daily reiterations of it on TV?

    Ziad Abu Alhaj, Hamas cleric, in Friday sermon: “No Jew or Zionist will be left on earth!” Source: Al-Aqsa TV (Hamas), Apr. 3, 2009

    Ziad Abu Alhaj: “The Jews today are leading the all-encompassing war against Muslims… We, the Muslims, know the nature of Jews the best, because the Holy Quran taught us… it is a cancer that wants to rule the world… The time will come, by Allah’s will, when their property will be destroyed and their children will be exterminated, and no Jew or Zionist will be left on the face of this earth.”

This quote is only good for pointing out that the apologists for Hamas, pacifists like Carter and Cobban, are in fact being duped into taking the “hudna” for a truce that will lead to a peace and acceptance of Israel.

Egypt rejects Hamas because of its affiliation with the Cairo-based Muslim Brotherhood. Both Egypt and Israel worry about Iranian arming of the group as well.

Now we get at the core of the problem. It’s not just Israel. The Gazans chose a group no one but other radical fanatics can tolerate. Their condition is the natural consequence of their choice. Any normal country would have declared war immediately on a neighboring country that elected a government with a plan to exterminate them, not waited for years while absorbing rocket attacks aimed at civilians. Israel’s response has, historically compared, been remarkably restrained.

The increasing isolation of Gaza is taking its toll. Opportunities for training and education abroad or for outsiders to come here, for example, are scarce. The children’s library in the center of the city could not persuade either Israeli or Egyptian officials to let anyone in to help set up new programs or carry out quality control.

Executives at Jawwal, the Palestinian cellphone company, sat last week at their work stations in blue jeans — as at the end of every work week it was Casual Thursday — and said their jobs were getting harder because spare parts and training were unavailable. Their senior managers, who used to travel abroad once a month, now cannot travel at all.

While 1,100 students admitted to programs abroad did get through the crossing into Egypt over the past few months — and another 50 were granted permission through Israel — more than 800 others who had spots waiting for them were unable to leave, according to Gisha, an Israeli human rights group.

Many of the professionals here reject Hamas’s ideology, although some voted for the party in 2006 out of rage over the corruption in Fatah.

“Hamas won by a slim margin, and it was because of people like me,” said Mohamed, who comes from a Fatah family and works for a charity. “I regret voting for them. I wanted to punish Fatah.”

Now that’s brilliant logic. Why not vote for a party more moderate than Fatah? Because no one else stood a chance of winning? (The only party approximating a moderate position got under 2% of the vote in both areas.) That says a lot about Palestinian politics, when the winning party represents far-right wing religious zealotry and the runner-up, far right wing secular fascism.

Like nearly all in Gaza who spoke about politics, he asked that his identity be hidden for fear of what the government might do. The rules of political dissent remain fuzzy.

Fuzzy? They seem quite clear. Shut up. Something maybe Judge Goldstone might have taken into consideration.

The Texas-trained engineer also voted for Hamas in 2006 and wishes he had not.

“Israel is saying, ‘Because you elected Hamas, you should have no life,’ ” he said. “Yet people elected Hamas because of Fatah corruption. I believe in peace with Israel, but I wanted desperately to get away from the corruption. I didn’t expect Hamas to win. Next time, I won’t vote at all.”

Now we get some really amazing stuff. Either this person is terminally stupid, or he’s not being honest. Hamas has been on record in word and deed since 1987. There’s no way anyone who “believes in peace with Israel” votes for them, especially not when Mahmoud al Zahar explicitly stated their position as part of his election platform.

    “We have a new plan; to teach men the land of Palestine; the geography of Palestine; the history of Palestine; and the history of the Arab and Muslim Nation. Our plan has nothing to do with the Israeli enemy. We do not recognize the Israeli enemy, nor his right to be our neighbor, nor to stay [on the land], nor his ownership of any inch of land. Therefore, we do not see [Israel] as an ally, not in policy, not in security, not in economy and not in any form of cooperation. Israel is an enemy who is interested in uprooting us, and we are interested in restoring our full rights to return all the people of Palestine to the land of Palestine. Our principles are clear: Palestine is a land of Waqf [Islamic trust], which can not be given up.”
    [PA TV, January 17, 2006]

Either he’s not telling us that he voted for Hamas because they were stronger in their opposition to Israel, or he, maybe, has changed his mind since about the peace question.

If he really thought this way — which is what the MSNM repeatedly explained to their Western audiences — then he’s a good illustration of how Palestinians were not ready for the vote. And now that, maybe, they are wiser and sadder, they’re not going to get it. Aesop’s fables are full of tales of foolish creatures who cannot see farther than their own nose.

While the legitimate economy here depends on foreign aid that provides salaries for tens of thousands to do little, the black market for high-priced goods smuggled in from Egypt through hundreds of tunnels is thriving, leading to the growth of a tunnel mafia.

Professionals here are frustrated that their political options are Fatah, which they still consider corrupt, and Hamas, whose ideology poses problems for them and for many foreign governments.

Some said the rejection of Hamas by the world meant it made no sense for it to stay in power, but they had no idea how to effect a change.

Now there’s an interesting answer to people like Carter and Richard Augustus Norton who complain bitterly that the international community should have embraced the Gazan’s democratic choice. To read Cobban, that rejection was a “tragic response the election of that leadership met with from Israel, Washington.”

“I’d like to see the creation of a political alternative with businesspeople instead of Hamas and Fatah,” said Rami Alagha, 39, manager of the Jawwal cellphone company. “The United States and the Europeans could get behind such a program. Otherwise we have no future.”

Now here’s where a real civil society, not a bunch of demopaths like PCHR, comes in. If you have sentiments like that, but you’re at the mercy of thugs in power, and those who feel that way are not willing to risk their lives for their hopes (for themselves and their children), you’re powerless.

Thank you, “progressive” Westerners, for feeding Palestinian grievances against Israel rather than building up their civic muscle. Alas.

14 Responses to One Man, One (Stupid) Vote, One Time: Bronner on Gaza and Democracy in the Arab world

  1. Cynic says:

    Several thousand homes remain destroyed. Several dozen families still live in United Nations tents strung amid their ruined houses.

    Several thousand homes while only several dozen are in UN tents?
    Why doesn’t the UN add them to the refugee camps they’ve forced a large part of the population to remain in all these years?

    Several thousand homes destroyed? Did he at least attempt to count them to arrive at several thousand?

    But it has closed off commerce in the hope of alienating the population here from their rulers.

    While Hamas destroyed the industrial areas set up under Oslo thus making the Palestinian worker dependent on its “Social Services”.

    Sort of the same kind of logic.
    Then again as Tony Blair’s sister in law demonstrated (lovely picture) the well stocked shelves in a supermarket while crying that Israelis were starving the population.

    See the picture in
    Tony Blair’s Sister-in-Law’s Gaza Media Circus

    Interviewed last week for Ynet by Noa Raz, Ms. Booth insisted that the conditions in Gaza were worse than those in Darfur, where an estimated 400,000 have been killed since 2003. She also compared Gaza to a concentration camp. “You were in the concentration camps,” she told the 20-something reporter, who was born in Israel two generations after the Nazi Holocaust. “And I can’t believe that you are allowing the creation of such a camp yourselves.”
    A few days before the Ynet interview was published, Ms. Booth was photographed by an AFP photographer while purchasing Snickers bars and bottled soft drinks at an apparently well-stocked Gaza supermarket.

    RL, you have your work cut out for you cleaning these stables.

  2. Cynic says:

    This is why people like Helena Cobban, who trumpet Hamas’ glorious democratic bona fides don’t get it,

    You’re being too nice. Of course she “gets it”. She needs an excuse to get them past the gate because they are her proxy in accomplishing her agenda.

  3. Cynic says:

    Now that’s brilliant logic. Why not vote for a party more moderate than Fatah? Because no one else stood a chance of winning?

    Please don’t forget the tribal/clan culture where honour is paramount and it only comes with power.
    A lot of those voted for Hamas because of the facts on the ground, not so much because of Fatah’s corruption. Had Arafat been around the majority would have gone for his Fatah for all his corruption.

  4. Cynic says:

    “I’d like to see the creation of a political alternative with businesspeople instead of Hamas and Fatah,” said Rami Alagha, 39, manager of the Jawwal cellphone company. “The United States and the Europeans could get behind such a program. Otherwise we have no future.”

    This is laughable in light of the fact that every time Palestinians get into a “mess” with Israel out come the dollars, pounds and euros for re-equipping the democratically elected officials.
    The points that Bibi made about improving the financial situation for those people from the ground up gets laughed out of court.

    That’s why it appears more and more that the Palestinians are being used as canon fodder and “peace process”; “human rights” etc., the code words used in the charge.

  5. Eliyahu says:

    RL, maybe Helena and jimmah carter really do know what Hamas wants but pretend because of their own Judeophobia, as cynic seems to argue.

    The Hamas is frank, at least in arabic. But those Westerners who pretend it is something else than what it is are the worst liars, worse then hamas and fatah.

    cynic is suggesting that the infatuation with “human rights” is hypocritical and a cover for genocidal Judeophobia.

  6. Ari says:

    I like the way he says “Ten months after the Israeli military *said* it invaded this Palestinian coastal strip to stop the daily rocket fire of its Islamist rulers”

  7. margie says:

    Cynic someone does seem to have counted the approximate number of houses destroyed. The BBC put out a map you can see here

    You ask why those who are homeless are not added to the refugee camps. I ask why there are refugee camps when these people are no longer refugees, being at home, Palestinians in Palestinian territory! There is some sharp practice here.

  8. Eliyahu says:

    Margie, the palestinian authority has gotten billions of dollars since its founding in 1994 for all sorts of public purposes, water supply, sewers, hospitals, etc.

    Yet, most of the money, as far as I know, has not been spent for those purposes. The PA officials and Hamas have been keen not to resettle refugees in permanent housing. The refugess are great as an exhibition proving Israeli evil, whereas the PA has received much money, some of which could have been used to build houses for the resident of the “refugee camps.” Actually, the “refugees” have been living in permanent houses in the “camps” for many years but better homes could be built for them. Israel does not keep these people in the official “refugee camps”. When Israel wanted to build new houses for them back in the 1970s, the UN and other parts of the international community objected strongly and the project was stopped, although maybe 100 houses were built in Gaza.

    So the refugees living in “camps” [long permanent settlements] must stay in those places as a permanent living exhibit of Israel’s iniquity.

  9. margie says:

    Eliyahu unfortunately you are correct. Keeping Palestinians in camps feeding from the world’s bounty is a deliberate policy. Here is an admission and description of this policy: in the translation of the minutes of a seminar The Set-Back and the Refugee Problem
    The Palestinian Refugee in Fateh Ideology and Organization
    The Palestinian Refugee and the Political Settlement From Fateh Perspective

  10. I would love to see a single Arab journalist who accuse his brethren with the passion Bronner and his likes accuse Jews

  11. Cynic says:


    Here’s a link which has appeared several times to illustrate what happened when Israel tried to provide the Arabs with infrastructure and decent housing after 67

    Why Palestinians Still Live in Refugee Camps

    For example, UN General Assembly Resolution 31/15 of Nov. 23, 1976: ……

  12. E.G. says:

    OTOH, all the universities in the disputed territories were founded after 1967. Cruel occupation.

  13. Cynic says:


    In the link you provided it says:
    1- Yasser Arafat Abu Ammar): a refugee from Jerusalem.

    Yasser Arafat The Nobel Peace Prize 1994


    Mohammed Abdel-Raouf Arafat As Qudwa al-Hussaeini was born on 24 August 1929 in Cairo ………..
    She died when Yasir, as he was called, was five years old, and he was sent to live with his maternal uncle in Jerusalem, ………….
    After four years in Jerusalem, his father brought him back to Cairo, where an older sister took care of him and his siblings. ………….
    In Cairo, before he was seventeen Arafat was smuggling arms to Palestine to be used against the British and the Jews. At nineteen, during the war between the Jews and the Arab states, Arafat left his studies at the University of Faud I

    The narrative chops and changes with the wind and the only thing that remains the same but unsaid is that they have been used and continue being used by the Arabs in their “Arab league” format as canon fodder against the Jews.

    Had the Jews not been on the scene a similar scenario to that played out by the Sauds stealing what is known as Saudi Arabia from the Hashemites who had received it from the British spoils of war after WW1, would have come about with Syria and Egypt at war to take control of the Palestine Mandate territory.
    Jordan would not exist and as for “Palestine” ….

  14. Cynic says:

    I should have remarked on Lebanon as well as it would have come under the yoke of the Alawites Syrian dictatorship.

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