Elections

By Samia Khoury
Friday, January 17, 2003

Yesterday was Epiphany, and as part of the tradition my daughter prepared for us the special sweet known as Zalabiah: deep-fried small balls of saturated dough with syrup. It is also known as Awwameh or Zungol. Awwameh seems to be a logical name for it because “awwameh” in Arabic means floater, and that is what the little balls do, they float in the oil and then in the syrup. Where Zalabiah and Zungol came from is beyond me. Irrespective of the name, they are delicious, and you need company to consume them.

So we did have have company, and as we were trying to share the secret of the best Zalabiah from recipes handed down from mothers and aunts, the political situation kept dominating the general discussion, as usual. It was mainly triggered by one of the young men who commented that the latest double suicide bombing in Tel Aviv was very stupid. Of course that started a very controversial discussion, and I thought that was my opportunity to listen and get my theme for this January column.

What was really interesting was that the radical voices were those of the elderly people who had been through 1948 and 1967. It was not the younger people who were born and brought up under the Israeli Occupation, and who have been continuously exposed to the daily harassment of the Israeli Military Forces. It is very possible that those elderly men who have been waiting hopelessly for a political solution — through the implementation of the UN resolutions or through the Oslo Peace agreement — have realized that the armed struggle might be the only way to make Israel hurt, and to change its policies towards the Palestinians.

It seems that neither way is working. We are damned if we do, and we are damned if we don’t. Again it was the young man who had started the whole conversation commenting that those suicide bombers were playing into the hands of Sharon, and that such acts will strengthen his position in the upcoming elections in Israel later this month. Of course, he was reminded that in spite of the “lull” in suicide bombings during the last six weeks, the Israeli Military Forces killed more than one hundred Palestinian civilians, including a number of children. And not one single voice from the U.S. administration was heard condemning these killings, as they immediately do when a suicide attack takes place and the Israelis are hurt. It is as though the sight of Palestinian blood has become the norm and is an acceptable daily fact.

I could not help but wonder about how much hope we Palestinians have put on elections. Every time there are elections in the United States of America we keep hoping that the policy in the Middle East will change. And every time there are elections in Israel we keep hoping we will get a government that will have the courage to redress the injustice that has been inflicted upon us. So for half a century we have been waiting hopefully in between elections for a miracle to come about with one of those elections, but to no avail.

Whether it is the Democrats or the Republicans in power in the USA or whether it is the Likud or Labor in Israel we remain dispossessed of our rights. Moreoever, the unwavering support of the U.S. administration to the State of Israel has encouraged Israel to defy all United Nations resolutions and hold on to the Palestinian Territories for the last thirty-five years using a very brutal military occupation.

Of course, in the meantime, we had our own elections for the first time in preparation for statehood, which was to come about in the last stages of the Oslo Accords. I remember how excited I was to be able to vote for the first time in my life. I even took along my camera and had my husband take a photo of me putting in my ballot for fear I will not have this opportunity again.

I was not very much mistaken. The way the situation looks these days, those first elections in 1996 might end up being our first and last elections. Yet in spite of the suffering of the Palestinian population as a result of the harsh measures of the military occupation, the international community has been focusing lately on elections, reform, transparency, and the need for a Palestinian Constitution.

How very thoughtful of the international community to be so concerned about our democratic life under occupation. Never mind the daily shelling of towns and refugee camps, the assassination of activists, the incarceration of young men and women without trial, the demolishing of homes, the confiscation of land, and razing of orchards and olive groves, the separation of the Palestinian Territories by roadblocks, and by the most recent monster, “The Apartheid Wall.” Are all these brutal measures supposed to disappear once we have reforms, elections, and a democratic system? Who more than the Palestinians themselves want and demand reform, transparency and elections?

In fact there are many initiatives going on, and the NGO’s specifically have been working very diligently on these issues to help the Palestinian Authority to bring about those changes. But we would be very grateful if the international community would provide us with a magic wand that could show us how we can have elections when we cannot travel five kilometers without facing a road block; or how the legislative council can vote on issues of reform when its members cannot meet, since each Palestinian town is under siege and under constant curfew.

The Palestinian question has been the core of the Middle East conflict for more than half a century as a result of a grave injustice inflicted upon the Palestinians. To shove away Palestinian rights and water down the issue of our just cause to a problem of reform is very naïve, and an unfair demand. Of course there is a lot to be desired in the performance of the Palestinian Authority and there is room for reform, and we do not need experts from abroad to tell us that. But the basic issue is the Occupation. It is the Occupation that encourages and allows corruption, because nothing works under occupation and people start finding illegal ways and even resort to bribery to get things done to be able to survive.

At the end of this month the Israeli elections will take place. Already stories of corruption in the Likud Party are surfacing. But the best news about these elections is that the Israeli Supreme Court was wise enough to rule against the decision of the elections committee to bar two Arab citizens of Israel, Dr. Bishara and Dr. Tibi, from running for office in the Knesset (the Israeli parliament).

Sharon’s last campaign was to grant the Israelis “security and peace.” Well, he failed in that, and now he is focusing on “victory and peace” in his new campaign. Victory means winning a battle or conquering land. So what is new in Sharon’s campaign? He has won the battle and has conquered the land already, yet there is neither security nor peace.

The Labor Party candidate, Amram Mitzna, is promising to resume peace talks with the Palestinians without any preconditions. Will this be another election that will not make any difference, or dare we hope that there will be some wisdom in the Israeli society? Maybe this time, the voices of the peace activists, the refuseniks and the conscientious objectors will be loud enough to bring about a change that will end this brutal occupation “which is killing us all.”

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