By Ramzy Baroud
The father of 11-year-old Abdul Rahman Nofal contacted me asking for help. His son was shot in the leg during Gaza’s “March of Return” protests. The territory’s dilapidated health care system could not save the little boy’s leg, as it was later amputated.
His father Yamen, himself a young man from the Buraij refugee camp in central Gaza, only wants his child to receive a prosthetic leg so he can walk to school. Israel is refusing the boy a permit to cross into Ramallah to receive treatment. Desperate, Yamen composed a video where he pleads with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas to help his son. So far, his pleas have gone unanswered.
“What did this innocent child do to deserve such mistreatment?” Yamen asks in the short video. The same question can be asked regarding the ill-treatment of all of Gaza’s children and of all Palestinian children.
Abbas and Israel have subjected Palestinians in Gaza to a prolonged campaign of collective punishment. As cruel as Israel’s repeated wars on the impoverished and besieged territory have been, it is consistent with the country’s history of war crimes and apartheid. What Abbas is doing to Gaza is not just unfair but also puzzling.
Why is he so keen on engaging Israel through so-called security coordination, yet so insistent on isolating and punishing his own people in Gaza? Instead of helping Gazans, who are reeling under the destructive outcomes of Israeli wars and over a decade of hermetic siege, Abbas has been tightening the noose.
The PA has thus far cut salaries it previously paid to Gaza employees, even those loyal to his Fatah faction. He has cut salaries to the families of Gaza prisoners held in Israel. He has even withheld payments to the Israeli electric company that provided Gaza with some of its electricity needs, plunging it even further into darkness. Like Israel, Abbas wants to see Gaza on its knees. But unlike Israel, he is humiliating his own brethren.
Starting on May 14, when thousands of Palestinians in Gaza went to the fence separating the imprisoned enclave from Israel, his supporters in the West Bank viewed the protests as a validation of Fatah’s rival Hamas. So they took to the streets in celebration of his imaginary achievements.
Hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza have been killed and thousands more wounded in the ongoing “March of Return,” many of them children. But Abbas and his Fatah allies are far more interested in ensuring their own relevance than joining the protests to demand an end to the Gaza blockade.
When much larger rallies were held in Ramallah and elsewhere in the West Bank calling on Abbas to end his punishment of Gaza, they were attacked by his security goons. Men and women were beaten up, and many were arrested for their solidarity with Gaza, now an unforgivable act.
The truth is that Palestinians in the West Bank, not just in Gaza, loathe Abbas. They want him and his violent, corrupt apparatus to go away. But he refuses, crafting all sorts of tactics to ensure his dominance over his opponents, going as far as working with Israel to achieve such a dishonorable objective.
However, Abbas still wants to convince Palestinians that he is resisting — not the type of useless resistance displayed by Gazans, but his own style of peaceful civil resistance of villages in the West Bank. Such emphasis was made once more in recent days. As soon as Palestinian teenage protester Ahed Tamimi was released after eight months in an Israeli prison for slapping an Israeli soldier, Abbas was ready to host her and her family.
Footage of him hugging and kissing the Tamimi family was beamed all over Palestine and across the world. His official media apparatus was keen on placing him at the center of attention throughout the days following her release. Abbas then, once more, lectured about peaceful civil resistance, failing to underscore that thousands of children who were injured near the Gaza fence in recent months were also peacefully resisting.
Ahed is a symbol for a rebellious young Palestinian generation that is fed up with having no rights or freedoms, but the shameless attempt by Abbas to harness that symbolism to polish his own image is pure exploitation. If he truly cared about Palestinian children and agonized over the pain of Palestinian prisoners, as he claims he does, why worsen the plight of Gaza children and punish the families of Palestinian prisoners?
Ahed, a strong young girl with an empowered political discourse, cannot be blamed for how others such as Abbas are exploiting her image to uphold their own. The same can be said of Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by Taliban militants at the age of 14.
The West’s exploitation of Yousafzai’s struggle to recover from her wounds and preach peace and justice for her people is unfortunate. In Western psyche, her struggle is often, if not always, used to highlight the dangers of so-called radical Islam, and to further validate US-Western military intervention in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
This issue was addressed firmly by Ahed’s mother Nariman, who was also imprisoned by Israel and released eight months later. Nariman bravely spoke of the racist notions that made Ahed popular in Western media. “Frankly, it is probably Ahed’s looks that prompted this worldwide solidarity, and that’s racist by the way, because many Palestinian children are in Ahed’s position but weren’t treated in this way,” she said.
With this in mind, it is important that Ahed is not turned into another Yousafzai, where her peaceful resistance is used to condemn Gaza’s ongoing resistance, and where the fascination with her blonde, uncovered hair drowns the cries of the thousands of Aheds throughout besieged Gaza, in fact throughout Palestine.