Victims of Their Own Vote

In an ideal world, economic sanctions against a country culpable of having a malicious leader or government promote internal grassroots change. The short version scenario is those responsible for the existence of sanctions, such as Saddam Hussein during the 1990’s or Hamas currently in Palestine, will be ‘starved’ out of office by being unable to provide basic amenities to its constituency. The idea is that food, medicine, and jobs will be so uncertain that public desperation will facilitate regime change, either peaceful or violent.

However, idealism falls on its heels as the opposite often occurs: the Regime is not seen as the harbinger of poverty, but the victim of it. In the end, extreme poverty fosters a counter-productive extremist reaction in citizens: a disdain for those carrying out sanctions and sympathy for the government, consequently consolidating power instead of destabilizing it.

The current situation in Palestine reflects this reality. Hamas has existed as a militant Islamic organization since 1987 and recently won democratic elections in Palestine. The accepted but ill-perceived position in the West, perpetuated by pro-Israeli Think Tanks such as the Washington Institute (for evidence, read this report following the Palestinian elections), is that a terrorist organization was elected for being terrorist. In reality, Hamas was elected in a primarily two-party state (Fatah being the other legitimate party), not for it’s positions towards Israel, but for not being corrupt and hopefully being able to provide basic services Fatah failed to provide.

The situation has escalated since money from the United States, European Union, and the UN have dwindled to pay for government salaries and food and medical supplies. The New York Times covers the despair in Gaza in

Already, says Al Shifa’s general director, Dr. Ibrahim al-Habbash, the hospital can no longer provide chemotherapy for many forms of cancer, has only a few days’ supply of important surgical drugs like atropine, adrenaline, heparin and lidocaine, and has used up its strategic three-month cache normally kept for a health crisis.

…”We’ve suffered in the past, of course, but in the last month, the problems have really increased,” Dr. Habbash said. “There are shortages of medications and disposables in all departments, we’re trying to limit the operating list and people are suffering, even dying, because of these shortages.”

But his anger is a sign of the mounting frustration over the gaps in health care here, which are a result of a double crisis: the budget deficit in the Palestinian Authority — which has worsened significantly since Israel stopped transferring tax collections, and the United States and the European Union cut off aid after the Hamas government took over — and the inability to get goods into Gaza through the main crossing point at Karni, which the Israelis keep closing whenever there is a security alert.

But the victims of the sanctions that have denied them even the most simple health care do not reflect their anger at Hamas or the extremism that may be part author of these problems:

“I borrow from friends and have no more credit at the grocery store,” Mr. Siam said. “Unfortunately, the whole world has chosen to punish us for our vote for Hamas. And I also blame everyone who calls himself a Muslim and who does not help us.”

…In the dialysis ward of Shifa Hospital, Ahmed Shabat, 51, sits in fraying clothes. He must come every other day. “This is my work,” he says, then shows the swollen veins on his arms caused by a lack of mineral supplements normally provided. “What is the relationship between humanitarian and political aims here?” he asked. “The United States is the mother of democracy. What is political about salaries to teachers and nurses? Please,” he said, “please don’t mix humanitarian help with politics. Please separate the two.”

Further, by starving the constituency, sanctions against the Palestinian government have aggravated tensions between Fatah and Hamas.

“The fighting was the latest sign that the two sides could be sliding toward large-scale clashes. Each group has been training its gunmen for possible confrontation, and Hamas recently outbid Fatah in buying a black market shipment of 100,000 bullets.

… Hamas and the moderate Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, of Fatah, have been wrangling over power, particularly over control of the security forces, and the friction has been compounded by a growing financial crisis – a result of Western economic sanctions against the Hamas-led government.”

While in the comforts of the West, it may be easy for one to denounce Islam, terrorism, and a broad section of the world as perpetuating violence and extremism, the results of such saber rattling have facilitated the demise of the moderate voice in the Middle East. Emboldening those in power and demoralizing the constituency, economic sanctions in Palestine have facilitated conflict and destabilization in a region that the West cannot allow to descend further into anarchy and tyranny.


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