Two more Palestinians were killed this morning. But the two men, Majdi Mikkawi and Alam Bani Odeh, both in their twenties, were not shot dead by Israeli occupation forces. They were executed, blindfolded and tied to a stake by Palestinian Authority firing squads armed with Kalashnikovs.
These scenes so reminiscent of a World War II B movie occurred after the men were accused of collaboration with the Israeli occupation forces.
Odeh was said to have provided information which led to the assassination by Israel of his cousin, Ibrahim Bani Odeh, a member of Hamas. Mikkawi is accused of providing information which led to the killing of Fatah activist Jamal Abdel Razzak.
“I was hoping to have the honor to shoot him [Mikkawi],” one of Abdel Razzak’s cousins said as he waited for the Gaza firing squad to carry out a tribal revenge on his behalf in a dusty police courtyard. In Nablus, Alam Odeh’s three year old daughter was seen clinging to her father’s hand as his wife and mother cried nearby, while the firing squad readied itself in a public square with hundreds of onlookers.
There is no doubt that if the two men were guilty of collaboration, as accused, they would deserve the severest punishment, and the widest condemnation.
The problem is that in the manner so typical of the Palestinian Authority, and Arafat’s “revolutionary justice” of previous decades, the men did not receive anything resembling a fair trial. On the contrary, they received speedy trials which took a matter of hours in the nefarious “State Security Court.” They had no right to appoint their own defence lawyers, no time to prepare a defence or call witnesses and no right of appeal.
The “State Security Court”, was highly praised by U.S. Vice President Al Gore when he became the highest ranking American official to visit the occupied territories in 1994, but has been universally condemned by Palestinian and international human rights organizations as a travesty. Its name epitomizes the deadly fantasy world of the Oslo regime: where is the ‘state’? Whose ‘security’ does it protect’? And what kind of ‘court’ holds secret trials at midnight and executes its victims at dawn?
The death penalty is a particularly barbaric punishment, abolished in every civilized nation, and increasingly discredited in the avidly pro-death United States, as almost every week there are new revelations of how the most advanced and expensive legal system has been unable to stop this penalty being used against the innocent and mentally diabled (especially if those people are poor and non-white).
But these are minor details. Arafat quickly affixed his signature to the death warrants sealing the fate of the two accused men almost before you could say ‘ready, aim, fire’ — the same signature Arafat has so firmly refused to place on the laws passed by the Palestinian Legislative Council which would have provided some protections for human rights and legal procedure. There can be no clearer indication that Arafat believes that he alone is the law — while he lives no other law or authority is needed.
Under the Oslo regime, Arafat has only signed off on three previous executions, in 1994, which were carried out with such indecent haste, following show trials by the “State Security Court” that they drew universal condemnation from human rights monitors. The absence of executions since that time was an encouraging sign that Arafat was ready to mitigate the worst of his human rights abuses in response to criticism. This morning’s events shatter that illusion.
Accusations, trials, legal procedures and punishments are one issue, the other is the nature of the charges. Collaboration is the most serious crime it is possible to commit under military occupation. Accused collaborators have often been dealt with harshly, for example in Nazi-occupied Europe. But I cannot suppress the question in this case: who are the Palestinian Authority, who have institutionalized collaboration with the occupation, and whose senior members have enriched themselves from collaboration to accuse or judge anyone?
In the past few days Palestinian Authority officials agreed to resume security “cooperation” with the occupation forces in a “process” brokered by none other than the American CIA. Can there be a more nefarious form of collaboration? Is this not a form of collaboration potentially far more lethal than anything of which the two executed individuals were accused?
What about Palestinian Authority “ministers” who have enriched themselves through war profiteering from shadowy trade monopolies with the Israelis? Are they not engaged in collaboration? When the Palestinian Authority arrests activists, and tortures them, in several dozen cases to death, to protect Israel’s “security,” is this not collaboration? What about “joint operations” between Palestinian Authority police and Israeli occupation forces which have resulted in arrests and sometimes killings of Palestinian activists?
Perhaps I am asking the wrong questions. The executions in Gaza and Nablus did not have the mark of a search for justice, but were political in the worst sense of the word. Arafat, his popularity temporarily shored up by the sacrifices of others, perhaps wants to cast himself as the leader of the intifada rather than the bedraggled follower he is, and sacrificed these two men to the critics who believe he has not been tough enough. Usually, whenever Arafat takes these sorts of measures, they are followed by the most breathtaking and shocking concessions and climbdowns.
The latest report is that Arafat and former Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres are to meet on Saturday evening to try once more to reach a “framework agreement.” Perhaps it is there that we will find out the price of Arafat’s “toughness.”
As a Palestinian, I am proud that our demands for justice, the rights of refugees and self-determination are based on international law, and on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Our criticisms of Israel’s human rights violations cite the same standards, the Geneva Conventions and the reports of human rights organizations. So it is as a Palestinian that I cannot have any identification with an “Authority” that adopts these standards as slogans when it wants to score points against the Israelis, but so quickly discards them when it is expected to apply them in its own conduct.