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Anniversary of 1967 War Highlights Lasting Divisions
By ISABEL KERSHNER
The New York Times
June 6, 2007
The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, said Tuesday that the Palestinians were on the brink of civil war and that their internal battles were as dangerous to their welfare as Israeli occupation has been, if not more so.
A Look Back Mr. Abbas was speaking in a televised address to mark the 40th anniversary of the start of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, which ended in a stunning military victory for Israel and a sobering defeat for the Arab armies, and began Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Conflicting ideologies and internal divisions came to the forefront across Israel and the Palestinian territories as the meaning of the anniversary was debated.
Israeli peace activists protested against the four decades of occupation in Hebron, a tense and conservative Palestinian city with a biblical past, and tried to drown out a small counterdemonstration of local Jewish settlers with their chants.
In Gaza, fighting between the rival Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, flared again, two weeks after the sides had declared a cease-fire. Several fighters were reported injured in what news accounts described as a gun battle lasting up to three hours near the Karni commercial crossing on the Gaza-Israel border.
The crossing is controlled by the elite Presidential Guard loyal to Mr. Abbas of Fatah and is the entry and exit point for most cargo in and out of the Gaza Strip.
In his televised speech from Ramallah, Mr. Abbas said ending the occupation and establishing an independent Palestinian state would erase the memory of the defeat.
But he warned that the Palestinians were “on the verge of civil war,” and that internecine fighting “is equal to the danger of occupation, or even more.”
In six days of war in 1967, Israel captured, among other areas, the West Bank and the eastern half of Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Gaza Strip from Egypt. Israel unilaterally withdrew its troops from Gaza and removed all the Jewish settlements there in the summer of 2005. Israel, citing security reasons, has largely isolated Gaza, strictly controlling the traffic of people and goods among Israel, Gaza and the West Bank — a policy which Palestinians say has led to further impoverishment.
Mr. Abbas’s remarks reflected a sense of deepening despair in the Palestinian territories, particularly in the Gaza Strip, after two weeks of fierce internal clashes in May left about 50 dead. Hamas and Fatah formed a Palestinian unity government in mid-March, in large part to avoid civil war, but their security forces and military wings remain engaged in a bitter power struggle.
Recently, a few Palestinian columnists have broken a political taboo by referring to the Israeli occupation as perhaps preferable to the current chaos.
For example, Majed Azzam wrote in the Hamas-affiliated weekly Al Risala in Gaza that Palestinians “should have the courage to acknowledge the truth,” that the only thing that “prevents the chaos and turmoil in Gaza from spreading to the West Bank is the presence of the Israeli occupation.”
Another Palestinian writer, Bassem al-Nabris, a poet from Khan Yunis, in the Gaza Strip, wrote in the Arabic electronic newspaper Elaph that if there was a referendum in the Gaza Strip on the question of whether people would like the Israeli occupation to return, “half the population would vote ‘yes.’ But in practice,” he continued, “I believe that the number of those in favor is at least 70 percent, if not more.”
“If the occupation returns,” Mr. Nabris added, “at least there will be no civil war, and the occupier will have a moral and legal obligation to provide the occupied people with employment and food, which they now lack.”
Both commentaries were translated and distributed by the Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute, which translates Arabic media.
In an illustration of Gaza’s near isolation, the Israeli military announced Tuesday that it was upholding its ban preventing students from Gaza from studying in Israel. The announcement was made in the Supreme Court in Jerusalem in response to a petition by Gisha, the Center for the Legal Protection of Freedom of Movement.
Gisha had petitioned the court on behalf of Wisam Madhoon, a 28-year-old Gaza resident, who has not been able to reach his admissions interview for a doctoral program in environmental studies at Tel Aviv University, even though the army does not claim that his entrance into Israel constitutes any threat.
A Look Back Israeli institutions of higher education have asked the defense minister to be permitted to accept all students who meet the academic criteria, irrespective of nationality, according to Gisha. There are no doctoral studies programs in Gaza.
Fatah and the Israeli center and left are in favor of ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by means of a negotiated two-state solution. The Israeli nationalist right wing opposes giving up territory won in 1967, while Hamas seeks Israel’s destruction.
Hebron is of particular significance to religious Jews as the burial place of the biblical patriarchs. It is also the only Palestinian city with a Jewish settlement at its heart, with about 500 Jews and an additional 250 transient yeshiva students living amid 160,000 Palestinian residents. About 7,000 Jews live in the settlement of Kiryat Arba, adjacent to Hebron.
Close to 300 Israeli anti-occupation protesters from the Peace Now movement arrived here on Tuesday morning in bulletproof buses and an army escort. They shouted “Hebron settlers, a bone in the throat,” while about 30 settlers demonstrated behind police barricades at the other end of the lot. Scores of police officers and security forces separated the two groups.
David Wilder, a spokesman for the Jewish community of Hebron, called the return of Jews to Hebron a “miracle” and termed the Peace Now demonstration a “desecration.”
“They are coming and saying it would have been preferable if we had lost the war,” he said, adding that “it was a war of survival.”
Anam Bader Abu Mayaleh, 45, a Palestinian woman who passed by the parking lot before the demonstrators arrived, described the settlers as “evil oppressors.”
Mrs. Abu Mayaleh’s 22-year-old son, the eldest of 12 children, is in an Israeli jail awaiting trial after being caught in Jerusalem without a permit from the Israeli authorities. Her 15-year-old son was shot by an Israeli soldier about five years ago, she said, and suffers from a lack of concentration.
As she spoke, a steady stream of children walked by holding pails on their way to collect free soup. The soup is distributed to the poor on Tuesdays and Fridays at the Ibrahimi Mosque, inside the Tomb of the Patriarchs, Mrs. Abu Mayaleh said.
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