by The Rev. Tony Higton
The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and Ministry
in Israel and the Palestinian Territories
Issue 12 June 21st 2007
Ministries encourages Christians to understand and pray
about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, seeing it through
the eyes of both people groups involved, and taking the
needs, fear and pain of both sides seriously. Its director,
the Rev Tony Higton, who was Rector of a church in the Old
City of Jerusalem for a number of years, circulates this
email newsletter, speaks at seminars and encourages support
of indigenous reconciliation ministry in Jerusalem. The
is available free on request to those who add their email
address to our Newsletter update list, available on the top
of the 'Newsletter'
page. Alternatively, send your email address and name to
us via our online
Please encourage others to join the mailing list.© Tony
The hopeful signs of the Arab Peace Initiative and the Mecca
Agreement on a unity government shared by Fatah and Gaza,
now seem shattered by the very violent,
meticulously-planned, lightning takeover of Gaza by Hamas.
But, as always in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, it is
unwise to jump to conclusions, whether negative or positive.
Is the situation hopeless? I do not think so. But, either
way, we need to pray earnestly for the 1.4 million people of
The Gaza Takeover
The alliance between Hamas and Fatah was, to say the least,
always an uneasy affair. Unrest grew after the Mecca
Agreement and one bad sign was the resulting mid-May
Hani al-Kawasmeh, the Palestinian Authority's Interior
Minister, an independent appointed after extensive
negotiations between Fatah and Hamas.
The chaos was partly caused by the existence of rival armed
militia: the official PA security forces, the militia of
various political factions and the family or clan private
armies. One new group is the well-funded, highly-armed Army
of Islam. With high unemployment, young men readily join
these militia to find a purpose in life.
The situation worsened. In mid-May, a columnist in Al-Ayyam,
the PA daily paper, commented: “"The situation in the Gaza
Strip, and especially in the city of Gaza, is scary. Murders
are committed by the dozen, using every [conceivable]
weapon... The murder machine, fuelled by every conceivable
type of hatred, is hurtling in every direction, all the
time, everywhere... in the mosques... in the schools...
[There are] executions... Leaders are attacked, and their
families humiliated... Children and innocent civilians are
being murdered...” The influence of Al-Qaeda was recognised.
Another journalist commented: “Palestinian society is
eroding, and the values of national affiliation are
disappearing, to be replaced by factional and tribal
affiliation and by personal interests.”
We need to hear, and respond to, the comments – from various
Palestinian journalists – which became more despairing and
heart-rending: “You are murdering the [Palestinian] cause,
[our] people and [our] future... Oh murderers, you have
ruined our world, castrated our nationalism, prostituted our
resistance... You have turned our lives into hell. [In
fact,] hell is preferable... Take your government, your
militias, and your gangs and go to hell.”
“Oh murderers in the streets of Gaza, we renounce you. You
cannot have emerged from the womb of the Holy Land. You are
despicable. You are chasing after [what is left] of our
shattered government, [pursuing your own] interests... You
are neither Muslims nor believers... Today, we are ashamed
to speak out loud of our Palestinian [identity], when in the
past we took pride in our Palestinian self-sacrifice,
revolution and martyrdom. Oh you mercenaries, you have
betrayed our dreams and murdered our promised state. [Our]
enemies have used you as a Trojan horse. Oh murderers, you
are the Satan of Palestine... Know that a bullet you fire in
the Gaza street, no matter what your affiliation, will turn
into a curse that will pursue you to your own graves. Oh
murderers of Gaza... you have no place [among us] now that
you have killed everything that is beautiful within
“We are immersed in the worship of chaos, in the destruction
of our national institutions and our home. Why are we angry
with those who say that the Palestinians are incapable of
managing their country's affairs?”
“Our only option is to [go out] on the streets and announce
that we refuse to take leave of our senses, of our reason
and of our determination to deal with the mother of all
nakbas [catastrophes] before it is too late, and before
history sweeps us all into the void of oblivion and death.”
However, when 1000 Palestinians mounted a peace march in
Gaza in mid-June under the banner "Stop the Killing" Hamas
militants shot at them killing two people. The next day
they killed three women and a child. They also threw a Fatah
activist from the 18th floor of a high-rise building.
Some 80 people were killed
in the takeover of Gaza by Hamas and over 170 in the whole
internal conflict this year.
The situation became so desperate that people in Gaza
expressed a desire for Israel to take over the Strip once
more, as the lesser of two evils.
The Causes of the Takeover
The causes of the Hamas Gaza takeover are complex. They
Hamas wants an Islamic state probably with Sharia Law
and linked with Iran.
The weakness of the PA (Fatah) leadership, particularly
President Mahmoud Abbas, who refused to take definite
action against Hamas.
The corruption in the PA.
The absence of Mohammad Dahlan, the PA head of security
in Gaza. Khaled Meshal, Hamas head in Damascus said the
people of Gaza were suffering from chaos and lack of
The unwillingness, partly through international pressure
and partly through self-interest, of the elderly
leadership of Fatah to transfer power to Hamas after
Hamas won the 2006 election, Hence Hamas has now taken
by force what it believed, as a democratically-elected
party, was its right.
The attempt to combine secular PA with Islamic Hamas.
Lust for Power.
Tribalism and Factionalism, including divisions within
The failure of Israel to achieve more in its
relationship with Mahmoud Abbas, by way of
Benefits to the Palestinians and improving their
difficult conditions. Growth in the Palestinian
economy is way behind that of Israel and Jordan.
Israel prevented the Palestinians from developing
their own factories and port and humiliated them as
cheap labour. For 40 years Gaza has been a
poverty-stricken refugee camp with 60% unemployment,
poor housing and overcrowding.
Meaningful moves towards peace, despite the Arab
Peace Initiative. Israel is afraid that this
initiative is to facilitate Israel, as a democracy,
being destroyed by the inevitable growth towards a
majority Arab population in the land, especially if
it had to accept Palestinian refugees back. However
Olmert invited 22 leaders of Arab countries to
discuss peace with no preconditions.
Allowing sufficient arms to reach the PA to combat
Hamas (Israel is afraid that such arms could be
misused - against it).
Allowing sufficient funds, including frozen
Palestinian taxes, to reach the PA to improve the
lot of the Palestinians (despite being urged to do
so by the US).
This has undermined Abbas. However, it should be pointed out
that Israel has shown restraint in responding to the
hundreds of Qassam rocket attacks issuing from Gaza, (140 in
one week) many launched by Hamas.
The Aftermath of the Takeover
Mahmoud Abbas dissolved the Fatah-Hamas Unity Government
and declared a state of emergency. He replaced
Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh by
Finance Minister Salam Fayyad, an independent. Haniyeh
refused to accept this. Fatah is refusing even to speak with
Hamas. Mohammad Dahlan referred to Hamas as an “occupation
force,” a term normally reserved for Israel.
Fatah is afraid, not least because of a warning by Mohammad
Dahlan, that Hamas would take over the West Bank as well.
The US has committed itself to work against this, by
encouraging Israel to unfreeze some $3-400 million worth of
PA taxes (out of $700 million) and transfer them to Abbas.
It has also urged Israel to loosen its restrictions on the
West Bank. If living conditions in the West Bank are clearly
seen to be better than Hamas-dominated Gaza, this will
It is reported that Israel and the US favour deploying an
international force in Gaza to maintain order but this would
be very difficult to achieve. Another US aim is to block the
flow of arms into Gaza. The fact that Israel supplies Gaza
with water and electricity is a bargaining chip. There is
likely to be a continuing freeze on exports from Gaza as
well as on travel documents for Gazans, which would mean
their being unable to go abroad.
Israel and some Palestinians think that the takeover will
mean a division of the Palestinians into “Fatahland” (West
Bank) and “Hamastan” (Gaza). Some think this was Ariel
Sharon’s purpose in withdrawing from Gaza, i.e. divide and
conquer. However such a division is by no means certain and
many think it impossible. It may be that the Palestinians
will reject this and work towards a unity government with a
stronger Hamas influence.
There has been strong criticism of Hamas in the Arab press
that it has destroyed the Palestinian cause, confirmed
Israel’s view that it has no partner to speak to and acted
as a servant of Iran. Egypt is very concerned about the
Hamas takeover because Hamas is related to the Muslim
Brotherhood who have perpetrated terrorist attacks in Egypt
and made political gains in the last parliamentary
elections. The Egyptians have also just moved their embassy
from Gaza to Ramallah near Abbas’ HQ – a clear snub to
Hamas. President Mubarak of Egypt has invited Olmert and
Abbas to talks in Sharm el-Sheikh next week.
Saudi Arabia, which is somewhat pro-Fatah, urged Fatah and
Hamas to revive the Mecca Agreement on a unity government.
Jordan expressed support for Abbas. The international
community, particularly the EU, the Quartet (US, UK, Russia
and the UN) has done likewise.
It is possible that the Hamas takeover will have some
positive effects. It could give something of a kick-start to
peace negotiations with Fatah in the West Bank, which would
have a beneficial effect on the parties concerned,
increasing Israel’s security and improving the Palestinian’s
conditions on the West Bank. This could weaken Hamas in
Gaza, especially if it suffers economic and political
isolation. Egypt may now be precipitated into effectively
preventing weapons entering Gaza. All this could have a
strong adverse effect on Hamas but it has its dangers,
particularly of causing even more suffering to the oppressed
people of Gaza and encouraging further extreme Islamist
support for Hamas.
There is already a humanitarian crisis in Gaza with
Palestinians seeking to leave for Israel. The Israelis are
being cautious partly for fear of terrorists slipping
through and partly for fear of a massive influx of
Palestinians threatening the Jewish majority in Israel.
However, Olmert has promised to provide humanitarian
assistance and said that refugees who are clearly not
terrorists should be let through and wounded and sick Gazans
should be given hospital treatment in Israel. The IDF has
facilitated the passage of some Gazan refugees to Egypt.
The Syrian Issue
Syria continues to make overtures about peace talks with
Israel, whilst increasing its military preparedness, lest it
be attacked by Israel. Some Israelis believe that, on the
contrary, Syria is building up to a war with Israel this
summer. However there is a widespread feeling that neither
country wants war. The danger is that a conflict could begin
through misunderstanding. Israel also fears a limited Syrian
attack on the Golan Heights which would provide Syria with a
Israeli Defence Minister Amir Peretz has stated publicly
that Syria’s peace overtures must not be ignored. Since the
Syrian Foreign Minister took a moderate line at the recent
Arab League summit in Riyadh, the US seems now to favour
Israel having talks with the Syrians. Israeli Military
Intelligence favour talks but Meir Dagan, the head of Mossad
(Israeli secret service) doesn’t. Ehud Olmert is cautious
and is playing down the possibility of talks. However, he
has hinted that Israel might consider withdrawing from the
Golan Heights if Syria broke its connections with Iran,
Hezbollah and Palestinian groups which reject Israel. Syria
has not changed its policy over these relationships.
Syrian President, Bashar Assad, is facing real difficulties.
The economy has been stagnant for seven years. He has lost
control of Lebanon. Syria is likely to be convicted of
complicity in the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister
Rafik Hariri. The Syrian Opposition have exposed corrupt
financial affairs on the part of the Assad family. Relations
with other Arab nations have been very cool since Assad
accused them of being “half-men” for not supporting
Hezbollah against Israel. All of this can be an incentive
for Assad to want to achieve something on the peace front
Iran and Lebanon
The Iranian threat continues but, on the positive side, the
Iranian and US Ambassadors met recently in Baghdad after 27
years without proper negotiations. Israel has mixed feelings
about this because Iran continues to call for Israel’s
destruction. Egypt an Iran may also re-establish full
diplomatic relations after 28 years. Jaw-jaw is better than
How should we pray?
Pray for the Palestinian people, particularly the 1.4
million in Gaza, suffering such hardships.
Pray for the Israelis, especially those suffering as a
result of rocket attacks from Gaza (or Lebanon).
Pray for the Christians caught up in the conflicts, who
are being persecuted, especially in Gaza.
Pray for a genuine movement towards peace with justice
between Israel and Fatah in the West Bank.
Pray for courageous, wise and statesmanlike leadership
by Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas and their colleagues.
Pray for wisdom on the part of the international
community in relating to Fatah on the one hand and Hamas
on the other, particular for a right balance in applying
pressure to Hamas to become more moderate (even if only
for reasons of self-interest) without causing a
negative, extreme reaction or further harming the
population of Gaza.
Pray for the frustration of people of violence,
including in Hamas, Al Qaeda and other extreme Islamist
Pray that Syria and Iran will and lose their negative
influence over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Pray for peace with justice between Israel and Syria.