It strikes me as a bizarre perversion of the ideals of democracy that people should be expected to cast votes– and then to concur in the legitimacy of the leadership thus “chosen”– if these election campaigns and the subsequent elections have been held in a situation of gross public insecurity.
But that is what the US and Israel are trying to sell as “democratization” these days.
In Iraq, back in late October, it was evident there were major political issues to be resolved between on the one hand the Sunni Arab minority in the country, and on the other the Shiite Arab majority, the Kurds, the Interim Government, and the Americans.
Many parties were pursuing negotiations of these issues at different levels. But the Americans and their Allawist allies simply walked away from those negotiations. They were adamant that they wanted to “solve” the Sunni issue by force… “in time to restore calm before the Jan. 30th elections”.
Well, we’ve seen that they haven’t “solved” anything. Their disastrous decision to “clean out” Fallujah has led only to highly increased levels of public insecurity throughout huge swathes of the country.
But still, Bush’s spokesman tells us that the President remains adamant the elections will go ahead on time. This, despite the proliferation of reports that various figures in the interim government itself are floating the idea of a postponement…
You SHALL vote on the day ve tell you to! (How is that not gross foreign intervention in the country’s internal affairs?)
(Go see what Riverbend wrote about the elections, last Sunday. She’s heard you can sell a voter’s card there for $400 already.)
But back to my main theme.
One of the major “meta-ideas” of democratic theory is that in a democratic community it is always possible to find ways to talk through differences and arrive at compromises between competing interests… How on earth did anyone think that the escalatory tactics the US military has pursued in particular since last October provided any kind of a “preparation” for democracy at all?
And then, there’s Israel, another internally (though like the US, also problematically) democratic country that’s running a heavyhanded military occupation in foreign territory… And over there, too, the indigenous people in the country under occupation have an election coming up…
There too, you might think that the occupying power, professing as it does an interest in seeing the strengthening of democracy among the people in the occupied areas, might have helped prepare the ground for the elections by trying to broker and lead a de-escalation during the election campaign…
Yeah, you might think that Sharon, if he were sincerely interested in showing that his government can be a plausible negotiating partner for a re-elected and relatively moderate Abu Mazen, would have ordered the IDF to hold back on some of their more aggressive tactics like “extra-judicial executions” (i.e., assassinations) of suspected militants…
That he might have asked the IDF command to tighten up on the Rules of Engagement, so as to avoid any gross “over-reaction” or other form of escalation?
Or, that he might even–gasp!– have pulled the Israeli troops back out of the cities and allowed free circulation of candidates and politicians between the different Palestinian cities and towns?
You might have thought that. But no. It’s been extra-judicial executions just about as usual, far as I can see, in the two months since Arafat’s terminal illness, as before then.
B’tselem’s count of deliberate, targeted assassinations undertaken by the IDF between 9/29/2000 and 11/30/2004 is 181 people killed by its snuff teams. And during those targeted killings, an additional 106 Palestinians were killed, 29 of them minors. Collateral damage, that’s called.
It’s hard even for the seasoned pros at B’tselem and the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for HUman Rights to keep up their counting of the tsunami of killings– whether deliberate, collateral, or the result of excessive IDF violence– that has been striking the shores of Palestine in recent months.
Including during all of their so-called election “campaign”.
Just go to the PCHR’s well-organized website and see what they’ve been reporting in recent weeks.
Just today, five todays before the Palestinian election, an IDF tank near Beit Lahiya, in Gaza, fired a shell at a group of minors, killing seven of them. Here are their names:
- 1. Hani Mohammed Kamel Ghaben, 17;
2. Mohammed Hassan Mousa Ghaben, 17;
3. Rajeh Ghassan Kamel Ghaben, 10;
4. Jaber ‘Abdullah Ghaben, 16;
5. Bassam Kamel Mohammed Ghaben, 17;
6. Mahmoud Kamel Mohammed Ghaben, 12; and
7. Jibril ‘Abdul Fattah al-Kaseeh, 16.
How on earth is this not an excessive use of force?
How on earth do they expect Abu Mazen not to harden his rhetoric as he tries to wage a campaign under these circumstances?
In the last two days of 2004, Occupation Force tanks raided Khan Yunis, in Gaza, killing five Palestinians, including a child and a mentally disabled civilian man.
How on earth is this not an excessive use of force?
Then, there have been the continued and even stepped-up closures. According to a PCHR press release today, the Rafah international crossing point between Gaza and Egypt has been kept closed by the Israelis since December 12th.:
- Rafah crossing point is the only place which Palestinian civilians have access to the outside world. The closure of the crossing point has a serious and detrimental effect on the economic, social, cultural and political life in the Gaza Strip.
This in itself is a gross application of structural violence to stunt and stymie the lives of the Palestinians. But it will also affect the ability of the Palestinians to have a free and fair election even within the highly constrained system in which they are supposed to hold them. The PCHR press release says:
- PCHR is particularly concerned at the effect which the closure will have on the upcoming Palestinian elections. The vast majority of those civilians, who are denied passage into Gaza Strip, are of voting age, in accordance with Palestinian law. Preventing them from crossing into the Gaza strip also deprives them of their right, granted under the Universal Declaration for Human Rights, to participate in the government of their country through elections.
PCHR believes that the act of closing Rafah international crossing point will disenfranchise around 3% of the total Gaza electorate.
The PCHR, by the way, is an exemplary human-rights organization with a trained and professional staff. They record not only the abuses committed by Israel, but also those committed by the PA and its affiliates, and those committed by Palestinians militants. You can find all of that on their site.
But what concerns me most in this post is the behavior of these two internally democratic, allegedly democracy-seeking occupying powers— Israel and the US.
Looking at their behavior during the campaigns for this month’s elections in both Iraq and Palestine, you have to conclude that these occupying powers have missed numerous opportunities for de-escalation in connection with the campaigns. Instead they continued, or even increased, their own recourse to escalatory violence.
You have to conclude, further, that what they’re interested in in not so much the spread of true democracy, as the perpetuation of their own control.
It makes me want to weep. Such a fine ideal: “elections”. But elections held directly under the occupiers’ gun? I don’t think that’s acceptable, at all.