Tuesday, August 28, 2007
A Must Read Comment
By Khalid Amayreh in Occupied East Jerusalem
"Western governments never stop clamoring about the need to foster democracy, clean government, human rights and the rule of law in the Middle East and the wider Muslim world. However, in practice, western policies and behavior seem often at odds with these declared ideals.
I don’t know if European leaders themselves (the Americans are brazenly hypocritical about anything Arab or Islamic) do believe their own rhetoric in this regard. However, what we, as Arabs and Muslims, do know for sure is that there is a deep and wide gap between what the Europeans are preaching in public and what they are doing in reality.
I live in the Israeli occupied West Bank where Europe is now bankrolling a financially corrupt and politically despotic regime which is very much a police state without a state, since the Israeli occupation is ubiquitous and controls all aspects of life. Indeed, had it not been for our regime’s sullen hostility to Hamas and effective subservience to western blackmail, the regime would never have been able to obtain a certificate of good conduct from the West.
Last week, I wrote an article questioning Palestinian Authority (PA) reticence about the huge fortune amassed in such a short period of time by Suha Arafat, the widow of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. I wanted to know how this well-connected woman, to say the least, got all these millions of dollars and at whose expense. I spoke with several PA officials in Ramallah who agreed to speak only tersely and cautiously about the subject, with some of them going so far as suggesting that journalists dig for the truth, carry out an investigation and produce irrefutable evidence that would lead to an indictment of Arafat’s widow.!
Suha Arafat reportedly arrogated a huge fortune estimated at tens of millions of dollars, if not hundreds of millions. Surprisingly, no Palestinian official had the courage to ask “what is the source of all these millions?” This is at a time when many Palestinians are forced to sell their own furniture to feed their kids and send them to school.
So, why is the PA refusing to pursue this paramount issue? Is it because the ghoul of corruption is still haunting the PA regime from head to toe? Is Suha merely a small fish in a huge sea of corruption? Or, indeed, is it because the very people who are supposed to uphold the rule of law and prosecute the supposed thieves and embezzlers are themselves even greater thieves and embezzlers?
The people of Palestine, tormented for ages by a Nazi-like Israeli occupation, can’t just ignore this matter and pretend that everything is Ok. Everything is not Ok, and a government that tolerates, and consequently encourages, corruption can’t be entrusted with the national burden, the liberation of the country from the nefarious Zionist occupier.
In truth, bribery, graft, nepotism, cronyism, kickbacks, and outright theft of public funds are still widespread throughout the PA regime. This is why many PA operatives, including ministers and former ministers, security chiefs, etc. have mysteriously owned luxurious multi-million dollars’ villas and hefty bank accounts while 70% of ordinary Palestinians are suffering abject poverty. These are the same people who are flown to Europe for top-class medical treatment whereas other Palestinians are left to die slowly because they can’t afford to pay for medical care even at home.
Today, one of the main criteria for obtaining a license for a lucrative business venture, e.g. a petrol station, is affiliation with Fatah.
If you are a member of Fatah and well-connected, you can be almost automatically exempted from paying tuition at certain colleges and universities. Indeed, in many cases, a given student affiliated with Fatah is admitted to prestigious colleges, e.g. medical college, even though his or her grade accumulative average doesn’t qualify them for admission.
I am not suggesting that Europe and other donors ought to stop helping Palestinian students and colleges. Palestinians always thank and appreciate European aid. However, donors should pay more attention as to how the money is disbursed and whether transparency and fairness are observed when recipients are chosen.
In the administrative field, corruption seems to be the norm rather than the exception. Civil servants are often promoted or demoted, or even dismissed because of their political leaning, regardless of any meritorious considerations. Last week, Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas issued a decree demoting dozens of civil servants on no ground other than the fact that they had been appointed by the previous democratically-elected government. The manifestly unlawful decree utterly ignored the fact that on-job promotion is actually an earned right by these people and that nobody, including the President, has the right to deny or withdraw unless the people in question commit a crime or indulge in a breach of trust. Soon after the decree, Fatah militiamen, some of them wearing masks and wielding submachine guns, descended on government offices, telling targeted officials “not to return” or else, they would suffer.
This is happening concurrently with the spread of violent lawlessness that is becoming the modus operandi in much of the West Bank. Today, innocent people are arrested and rounded up rather wantonly by faceless security personnel, without any regard for the rule of law. According to reliable judicial sources, including non-partisan lawyers, the vast bulk of these arrests and roundups are aimed first and foremost to punish supporters of Hamas for its takeover of the Gaza Strip more than two months ago.
I am talking about teachers, doctors, journalists, college students, and ordinary people being snatched, often in brutal and savage manners, from their homes and places of work and taken to dungeons where they languish for weeks without charge or trial, before they are forced to sign a pledge to refrain from supporting Hamas in the future.
In one particularly ugly example showing the wide wild west that the West Bank is becoming , a PA security officer on 24 July shot from a very close range and brutally killed a 20-year-old college student named Muhammed Raddad at the campus of al-Najah national university. I spoke with the father and mother and friends of the victim as well as with some eyewitnesses who all informed me that the murder was cold-blooded and totally unjustified and that the murderer was well known. They also told me that the Najah university, in connivance with the Security agencies, were trying to cover up the crime because the murderer is affiliated with Fatah and his victim was affiliated with the Islamic student block at the university.
What is more scandalous is that the Ramallah-based government, which claims to be trying to restore the rule of law, has so far failed to prosecute the murderer and especially make sure that such brutal crimes won’t occur again.
Normally, one would vehemently object to outside interference in internal Palestinian affairs, especially the justice system. However, when the justice system is reduced to a rubber stamp in the hands of a government that itself is executive tool in the hands of foreign powers, these powers should also bear some responsibility for these serious violations of our people’s human and civil rights.
In short, the EU must make sure that its aid money is not instrumental in inflicting more injustice on the Palestinian people. Israeli Nazi-like oppression alone is too overwhelming for us to bear."