August 18, 2009:
Fatah leaders got themselves re-elected for another five years, on the promise that they will continue to try and destroy Israel, and establish a Palestinian state that occupies all the territory now illegally occupied by the state known as Israel. This is what Palestinian maps show, and what several generations of Palestinian children have been taught. This Fatah conference, the first in two decades, brought out the generational conflicts. Many Fatah leaders are in their 60s and 70s, and got their start when Fatah got organized in the 1960s. Until now, the old timers have monopolized leadership, but now have let some of the younger leaders into the inner circle.
There have been 700 rockets and mortar shells fired into Israel from Gaza so far this year. That is a big reduction, but only compared to recent activity. In 2005, over 400 locally made Kassam rockets were fired at Israeli targets. In first six months of 2006, another 600 rockets were fired. About a third of them were the short range Kassam Is, fired at Israeli settlements in Gaza. The rest were larger Kassams fired into southern Israel. About a thousand Kassams were fired into Israel during 2006. This doubled, to two thousand in 2007, and during the first four months of 2008, another 2,000 were fired, and this rate continued until the Israeli invasion in December, 2009.
To date, over 7,000 Kassams have been fired, plus a few dozen factory made rockets and nearly a thousand mortar shells. For every 30-40 Kassams fired, an Israeli is killed or wounded. Until last year, for every 2-3 Kassams fired, a Palestinian was killed or wounded by Israeli military operations against the firing sites and workshops that build the rockets. Since then, the Israelis have been more precise in their retaliation, trying to limit Palestinian civilian casualties. For the Palestinians, causing Israeli civilian casualties is their main goal.
A recent opinion survey shows that 53 percent of Israeli Jews believe Israel should encourage Arab-Israelis to leave the country. A third of Israeli Jews believe that Arab Israelis should not be able to vote, while 54 percent believed that only Israelis who are loyal to the state should have the rights of citizens. But few Arab Israelis are going to leave, for these Arabs have the highest levels of income and education in the Arab world. They are also among the few Middle Eastern Arabs that live in a real democracy. Even the Palestinian Arabs living in the West Bank are reluctant to leave, for they also have one of the highest incomes in the Arab world. Gaza is another matter, since it has always been a big refugee camp. Although before Hamas took over, Gaza residents were better off economically than most Egyptians. Gaza residents also have higher literacy rates and life expectancy than Egyptians. Many Palestinians can trace their ancestry back to Egypt. In the last century, the ancestors of most current Palestinians, migrated to what is now the West Bank and Israel. That was because the influx of European Jews had provided a big boost for the economy, and there was more prosperity, and jobs, there than elsewhere in the Middle East.
Hamas has declared that the recent battles between its security forces and radical ground Jund Ansar Allah was caused by an Israeli plot. Details to follow as soon as they can be put together.
August 14, 2009: Hamas gunmen surrounded a mosque used as a headquarters for al Qaeda ally Jund Ansar Allah (which accuses Hamas of not being radical enough). Jund particularly disagreed with Hamas deciding to obtain a ceasefire with Israel. This was done so that the Hamas arsenal could be built up (especially with long range Iranian rockets), along with defenses in Gaza. Hamas has a vague plan to make a large scale attack on Israel, and feels its chances would be much enhanced if they could only stockpile enough weapons. Thus Hamas feels compelled to pressure, even kill, other terrorists who will not cease attacking, or trying to attack, Israel. So far, Hamas has been able to avoid large scale bloodshed with fellow terrorists. But this is not expected to last. The battle with Jund Ansar Allah left about 30 dead (including six Hamas police), nearly 200 wounded and over 40 Jund Ansar Allah members arrested. Hamas blamed its rival Fatah for arming and encouraging Jund Ansar Allah. But groups like that have no problems finding arms, or encouragement to fight. Hamas will have a hard time clearing the Islamic radical competition out of Gaza, and many Hamas members do not like fighting other radicals. This incident also spotlights the position of Iran, as a sponsor of Hamas. While Hamas, and the Palestinians, are largely Sunni Moslem, Iran is Shia, and al Qaeda (basically a Sunni radical group), considers Shia as heretics, and Iran has a heretical state that has no right to exist. To al Qaeda, Shia are worse that Christians and Jews (who, according to the Koran, can be tolerated, as long as they pay a special tax and do not try to convert Moslems). But Shia cannot be tolerated, as they are Moslem heretics, and must be made to see the light, or be destroyed. Iran does not want Hamas to tolerate any of the many Islamic radical groups that agree with, or are allied with, al Qaeda. Hamas, on the other hand, is willing to tolerate other Islamic radical groups, even those who profess hatred for Shia, as long as they do not challenge Hamas. Several groups like Jund Ansar Allah do just that, and after noting what happened to Jund Ansar Allah, will no doubt continue to do so.
August 11, 2009: With Shia radical group Hezbollah in southern Lebanon threatening another rocket attack on Israel, the Israeli government made it clear that all of Lebanon would be held responsible if there were more Hezbollah rocket attacks. Israel is trying to force Lebanon to deal with Hezbollah (which controls most of southern Lebanon and has veto power over government decisions.) Hezbollah represents about a third of the Lebanese population, but has the most numerous and best armed fighting forces. Hezbollah is also backed by Iran and Syria (which is another client of Iran). Most Lebanese do not want a civil war, like the 1975-90 one, that wrecked the economy.
August 10, 2009: For the first time in six weeks, Israeli warplanes bombed smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Egypt. This was partly in response to Palestinians firing mortar shells at one of the crossings into Israel, while Palestinian patients were moving through, on their way to Israeli hospitals. Some Palestinian radical groups consider it treasonous for Palestinians to use Israeli medical facilities.
August 8, 2009: Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas was re-elected. Abbas, and his Fatah party, are generally regarded (among Palestinians in particular and Arabs in general) as corrupt and inept. But the only alternative is Hamas, which is less corrupt, more inept and much more radical and violent.