Kidnapped in Gaza

Two Fox News journalists, Steve Cantani and Olas Wing were released by their Palestinian kidnappers in the Gaza Strip on Sunday, August 27. Just one day earlier, two Reuters’ cameramen were seriously wounded in an apparently deliberate Israeli strike on their clearly marked vehicle, according to news reports. The names of the two wounded cameramen, however, as well as their story went largely unreported. Their plight seemed inconsequential compared to that of the Fox News journalists.

Video recordings released earlier by the kidnappers of Cantani and Wing revealed undeniable similarities between their scandalous style – wrecking with ignorance and artlessness – and that of Iraqi groups, notorious for their gory beheadings and other acts of savagery. The Palestinian group expectedly has no clear past and no apparent affiliation with any other known Palestinian faction. They laid impossible demands and employed Islamic rhetoric. Both journalists were forced to convert to Islam, in a very disturbing, yet amateurish act. Any Islamic interpretation, no matter how fundamental, forbids such practice. Qoranic verses in this regard are any thing but disputable.

Did the Holy Jihad Brigades – a dodgy name by any Palestinian standards – know that forcing a person to recite that “There is No God but Allah” doesn’t qualify him/her as a Muslim? What business did the dubious ‘holly worriers’ of Gaza have demanding a release of “all Muslim prisoners” in American jails? Not enough Palestinians in Israeli prisons, perhaps?

How interesting that the Palestinian kidnappers wished to ‘twist American arms’ – which was of course met with US courage and defiance – the same way that the capturers of Israeli soldier (name) on (date) tried to extract concessions from Israel when rightfully demanded the release of Palestinian women and children held illegally in Israeli jails. Once again the American public are being introduced to the excessive ways of Islamic terror, and once again are forced to appreciate the ‘courage’ and defiance of the Israeli government in the face of extortion and intimidation.

While the kidnapping of the two Fox News journalists – the method, the demands and the dark-age presentation that lasted for two weeks – all exhibit the work of a largely disturbed and ignorant young men – their timing and the PR disaster they’ve caused is hardly above suspicion. It clearly shows that there was in fact a hidden agenda behind that apparent idiocy, one that had nothing to do with the spread of Islam or the release of Muslim prisoners in American jails. 

Though, it’s difficult, if not impossible to determine for sure who was exactly behind that charade, it’s important to fathom the context in which it took place.

Israel, on one hand, had desperately tried to link its fight against Palestinians – which evolved into a war against Palestinian democracy following the January 2006 legislative elections – with America’s ‘war on terror’. Palestinian factions, keeping wary of the dangerous Israeli scheme seemed least interesting in any involvement with al-Qaeda and its criminal affiliations. Desperate, yet canny Israeli attempts, reported sporadically in world media, miserably failed.

The advent of Hamas to the political scene in Palestine, and despite its utterly moderate position if compared to most Islamic political and/or militant movements dotting the Middle East and the Muslim world, enlivened Israel into once again alleging the existence of that link: ‘Hamas to Israel is as al-Qaeda to America,’ was the Israeli mantra.

That too has failed, even with the help of President Bush and his administration, who have never shied away from linking Hamas with al-Qaeda at every available opportunity. The Israeli redeployment around Gaza of (date) was hardly the end of the Israeli interest in the impoverished Gaza Strip. It left behind a legion of self-seeking, dare I say pro-Israeli crowd, incessant in its attempt to redeem the many privileges it had lost since the restructuring of the political landscape introduced with the democratic toppling of Fatah in the recent Palestinian elections. While many Palestinians wish not to admit the size and significance of such a group, all signs point to their unmatched influence, and ability to wreck havoc on Palestinian society, permeate chaos, and impeding genuine attempts of Hamas and a less corrupt Fatah faction to achieve a national unity government.

Though Palestinians are an occupied nation, a unity government could be quite useful; without it Palestinians have little chance to develop meaningful internal and external strategies to unify their ranks and to resist Israel’s colonial onslaught and unremitting land grabbing in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Every time officials from both sides promised that such a government will be declared very soon, sometimes within hours, an event so dramatic would spoil the arrangement, sending talks back to square one. The Israeli one-sided hostilities against Gaza, which killed hundreds in recent months, came at the heels of an inter-Palestinian agreement according to wish Hamas would accept international law as the most plausible resolution to the conflict with Israel, and also ensure the release of the captured Israeli soldier. The kidnapping of the two American journalists was also timed in such a way to embarrass the Palestinian government and provide Israel with enough leverage to carry on with its incessant violence. 

But how could the Palestinian kidnappers be so outdated in their rhetoric, yet so skilful in producing a faultless PR disaster, handing Israel the most convenient illustration as of yet, of al-Qaeda-like mindset of Palestinians?

The kidnapping episode will certainly be milked for all its worth – while the deliberate targeting of the two Reuters journalists by the Israeli army will hardly register for more than a day or two as a fleeting and extraneous piece of news. The Israelis and their friends will eloquently associate the journalist kidnapping with its most rational kin, the capturing of the Israeli soldier. A few will dare challenge that narrative, or point at the discrepancies between the Holy Jihad Brigades’ style and technique and other Palestinian militants fighting Israeli occupation.

The irony in all of this is that Israel, the United States and much of Europe behind them have collectively punished the Palestinian people for electing Hamas, imposing an effective siege, economic and diplomatic against Palestinians, which resulted in further chaos and instability.

Regardless of who is exactly behind the journalists’ kidnapping in Gaza, this episode highlights the volatility of a situation when an elected government is being forced to operate under ground (with many of its members already in Israeli jails), leaving the matter of security to be handled by same Fatah factions that caused most of the chaos and insecurity in Gaza.

Is it a surprise that the Fatah security forces always fail to carry out even one arrest once the release of foreign hostages is secured, perhaps with the hope that the kidnappers will strike once more whenever such distractions are convenient for both Israel and its beneficiaries? The mockery is most disturbing.
-Ramzy Baroud is a US author and journalist, currently based in London. His recent book, “The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle” (Pluto Press, London) is now available at Amazon.com. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of PalestineChronicle.com.

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