The Palestinian Parliament held its swearing-in ceremony Saturday morning, but due to the Israeli closure, lawmakers from the Gaza Strip were unable to travel to Ramallah (in the West Bank) to participate. Instead, the Palestinian legislature, in a time of financial crisis due to European and US funding withdrawal, was forced to utilize high-tech video-conferencing equipment and hold two separate sessions – one in the West Bank, and one in the Gaza Strip.
The Gaza session opened by reading the names of the 16 absent members — three of whom are on Israel’s "wanted" list and the others are in Israeli prisons.
Mahmoud Zahar, a newly-elected legislator representing the Hamas Party, said that the Parliamentary opening made Saturday a "historic day," and pledged that Hamas would serve the Palestinian people.
Israel steps up closure; prevents legislators from participating in Palestinian Parliament
As the Palestinian Parliament prepares to open its legislative session Saturday, the reality of the Israeli military occupation under which the session is taking place has rendered impossible the participation of a third of the elected legislators.
As London writer Kerim Balsi points out, "Now Israel has announced that it will prevent Hamas MPs and possibly the prime minister and other ministers from traveling between Gaza and West Bank. There is nothing Hamas can do about it…The electricity they are using comes from Israel. Palestine has water, but Israel controls all underground water sources and Israeli companies distribute them. Their mobile phones are produced by Israeli firms…There are some mobile operators with invented Arab names, but they are using Israeli satellites. They have hospitals, but they get medicines via Israeli territory and after Israeli control…Palestine is not only under military occupation. Palestine is under an all-encompassing occupation."
This "all-encompassing occupation" includes the complete closure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip by Israel since Hamas won the majority of the seats in the January 25th Palestinian elections. Last week, all but eleven checkpoints between Israel (including Jerusalem) and the Palestinian West Bank were closed, blocking many farmers from their land on the other side of the Israeli annexation Wall, and blocking workers from their jobs. This week, the closure became even more complete — all but one of the eleven open checkpoints became ‘Israeli-only’ checkpoints, and access to the Al-Aqsa mosque for prayer was closed to Palestinians. In essence, Israeli authorities have enclosed Palestinians into a de facto prison.
The fact that Palestine is not one, but two prisons – the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, under complete military and economic occupation by Israeli forces, does not bode well for the democratic process the Palestinians are currently attempting to implement.
After Israeli Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s Friday meeting with senior figures from the defense establishment, the Foreign Ministry, the National Security Agency and the intelligence community, he announced that no travel would be allowed between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank by any Palestinians, including elected leaders.
This move by Israel, in effect renders the democratic process impossible for the Palestinians, who already had to overcome tremendous obstacles to conduct elections at all while under Israeli military occupation.
Though none have argued the legitimacy of the elections — in fact, they have been deemed the most free and fair elections in the Middle East by international observers, the Israeli government’s response to the Palestinian people’s choice to elect Hamas leadership has been to term the new leadership a part of the ‘axis of evil’.
In addition to banning the movement of Palestinians between Gaza and the West Bank, Israeli authorities plan to prevent transfers of military equipment to the Palestinian Authority from foreign countries, such as donations of armored personnel carriers and communications gear; and the freezing of plans to upgrade the crossing points between the territories and Israel as well as plans to build a port and airport in Gaza.
Israeli forces have also stepped up their assassination campaign against members of Palestinian armed resistance groups, killing at least 26 since the elections, several of whom were unarmed children.