The Magazine

Toward Democracy in Palestine?

Amir Taheri interviews Rawya Rashad Shawa, member from Gaza of the Palestinian National Council.

Nov 4, 2002, Vol. 8, No. 08 • By AMIR TAHERI
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Yes. You have not heard the half of it! We have seen people who came with just one shirt a few years ago and are now multi-millionaires. Billions of dollars of aid have poured into the Palestinian areas without anyone having a clear idea of where they went. The parliament never received any report on where the money went. Nor was the parliament allowed to exercise its right of oversight. Who knows how many secret bank accounts have grown fatter and fatter. You can see foodstuffs donated to us by the European Union sold in Tel Aviv! The Authority's obsession with controlling everything has weakened and in some cases destroyed our civil society. Many non-governmental organizations that were active before the Oslo accords have either disappeared or become empty shells. It is a shameful situation. While the Israelis are stealing our land, some of our own people are picking our pockets.

I must ask if you approve of the suicide bombings?

I cannot tackle the question in those terms. The view from the outside is one thing, and what we experience each day quite another. Let me tell you my own experience of the past few days. In order to come to Amman I had to start seeking the necessary Israeli permits two weeks ago. I then had to go to Khan Yunus, where I was held up by the Israelis for hours before I could go to Egypt. From Cairo I had to take a plane to Amman. And I am supposed to be a member of a parliament recognized by all parliaments throughout the world. At any time, an Israeli soldier could have stopped or even arrested me. No one is safe. There is no guarantee that a missile will not kill you in your car or that a demolition squad will not raze your home to the ground. There is no guarantee that your home will not be raided at night, or that your water and electricity supplies will not be cut off. Day in and day out. Year in and year out. It is a miracle that more people are not driven to the edge of desperation. Look at me. I am a normal woman, a mother, a politician, and a good-natured individual. But even I could go absolutely mad under the pressure of occupation. When a house is on fire, some people may jump out of the window. Some may push others aside to save themselves. Would any sane person approve? Of course not. But you cannot drive human beings beyond the context of human life and still hold them to the highest ethical standard. There is one way to understand the depths of our misery: Come and live among us for some time.

But who is responsible for suicide bombings?

I think one-third is organized by Hamas and another third by Islamic Jihad. The remaining one-third must be regarded as individual acts.

What is the source of Hamas's strength?

The main source of Hamas's strength is the weakness of the Palestinian Authority. Hamas has a clear strategy, where the Authority has none. Hamas speaks clearly, while the Authority has a forked tongue. You may disagree with Hamas, but at least you know what it is saying. Hamas does not have as much money as the Authority. But it still has loads of money. Thus it can provide many of the services that are normally provided by the state: schools, social security, health services, and so on. In the context of our present politics, there is plenty of room for Hamas. Change the context, and Hamas will shrink to its natural constituency, which is much smaller.

Will you run if there is a presidential election?

Believe me, this is not about personal ambition. I am calling for a parliamentary system, not a presidential one, for collective decision-making in constant consultation with the Palestinian people. I am calling for an end to one-man rule. The way to our future is democracy.