Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Gaza: Kidnappers Point the Way to Anarchy

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Gaza: Kidnappers Point the Way to Anarchy

Article excerpt

If you live in Gaza you put up with things others would find disconcerting. There are the thunderous sonic booms from Israeli fighter jets, the distant thuds of shells landing in Gaza's new "no-go zone", the nightly machine-gun banter of the Palestinian security forces. And though we are now spared the Israeli sniper fire, we have a novel hazard in the masked gunmen who shoot haphazardly in the streets.

It was these gunmen who kidnapped and later released the 24-year-old Briton Kate Burton and her parents, and their emergence and activities have prompted considerable dismay among the battered people of this little enclave.

The kidnappings are frequent (as I write, two Japanese journalists have just narrowly escaped abduction) and seem to follow a public ritual. Foreigners are lifted in the street; human rights groups express outrage; the Palestinian Authority says it will get tough; the security forces promise a happy conclusion--and the hostages are freed. The Burton case was unusual only in that it lasted three days.

Nor is there any mystery about who is responsible--disgruntled members of Fatah, the ruling party led by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, or members of one of its radical offshoots. Their demands can be banal: they want jobs, promotions in the security forces or the release of relatives from Palestinian or Israeli prisons.

It seems tame, especially when set against what goes on in Iraq, but in Gaza that is not how it is viewed. The feeling here is that the gunmen are in control, that anarchy is not far off and that Gaza looks like turning into a failed state even before it becomes a state.

The activities of the gunmen have their impact: they have scared off the UN, which ordered all non-essential personnel out of the Strip months ago, and prompted most western countries to warn their nationals against visiting Gaza. …

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