Thursday, January 24, 2008

Reflections in Gaza: The Contagion of Violence and Lawlessness

President Bush wasn't wrong to see the Middle-East as the place where a world hungering for the rule of law and enthralled with suffering and violence would decide its fate. Sadly his misguided Iraq adventure has done little to spread the rule of law while unleashing even more suffering and violence.

But Iraq was always going to be a violent transition to democracy (at best). Had George Bush, the decider, decided to spend vast sums of American treasure and put our national prestige on the line, he might have focused on the impoverished and largely ungoverned but tiny swath of land called the Gaza strip. As its name might imply, this territory has suffered from a kind of anti-sovereignty as nations seek to abandon it in any way they can (Israel tried to give it back to Egypt along with Sinai in 1982 and eventually abandoned it altogether in 2005, even without a separation agreement). After the terrorist organization Hamas seized power their last year, the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abas, abandoned it as well.

As thousands of Gazans streamed across the border to Egypt yesterday (read Steve Erlanger's reporting in the NYTimes), after Hamas had its men knock a large opening in the Israeli built fence along the border with Egypt, it was hard not to cheer for the shear humanity of people who needed cooking oil, gasoline, sheep, and yes even cigarettes, streaming across a hole torn into the fabric of sovereignty and in defiance of the utter paralysis of all the functioning governments in the area.

At the same time, the chaotic stream of people (and the ugly scenes of a day earlier when Egyptian border police had turned back a crowd of women seeking to push their way through a far smaller breach in the fence) the hole is a very sorry substitute for the promise of law and enforceable respect for human rights.


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