The Conditions of Palestinian Elections
The Conditions of Palestinian Elections
By Sonia Nettnin
On Sunday, U.S. media reported no major problems during the Palestinian Elections. Coverage showed people at voting centers, the former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and brief statements about problems with registration.
The Palestinian Central Elections Commission issued a press release which explains: “Some voters, particularly those on the civil registry, have not found their names on the register at the polling centres they have attended.”
The CEC extended the hours of polling centers in all of the electorate districts to 9 P.M. because they determine that “…limitations on the movement of Palestinians within and between Palestinian towns continue to be imposed by the Israeli Occupation Army. Obstacles such as checkpoints and military closures have remained in place despite previous Israeli statements that they would be lifted during the Palestinian Presidential Elections to allow for free, fair and transparent elections.”
In Jerusalem, there are approximately 120,000 Palestinians with Jerusalem ID holders eligible to vote, per the CEC. However, they had five post offices where they could vote, which have a total capacity for 5,400 people. People had to travel to one of the twelve voting centers in the suburbs of the city.
IslamOnline.net reports that in Beta, near Nablus “…a polling station was not opened because the ballot boxes could not be brought in by roads that the Israeli army blocked with large boulders weeks earlier.” The organization reported that the Israeli Army banned 5,000 people in Al-Mawasi from voting with checkpoint closures.
The physical and logistical obstacles Palestinians faced at the polls raises questions about the Israeli Authorities’ pledge for free and fair elections.
The Events Leading Up to the Elections
Prior to Sunday’s elections, the wave of violence against Palestinians and Palestinian presidential candidates did not create conditions for safe, fair and free elections.
According to the Palestine Monitor, Israeli forces dropped an anti-personnel shell on a group of Palestinian children in Beit Lahiya, Gaza last Wednesday. The source of the tank shell came from a military post in between the Israeli settlements of Elei Sinai and Nisanit.
While the children picked strawberries on their farmland, thousands of metal darts from the tank’s shell killed six of them, ages 10 through 17, and injured eleven of them. Two of the survivors had leg amputations at the Beit Lahiya Hospital. Three of the boys killed were brothers.
When their father arrived at the site, he went into shock.
Medical staff and the boy’s neighbors gathered body remains from the grass and clay.
The mass killing of these children sent a message to Palestinians prior to Sunday’s elections: people may not safe be at the polls. Groups of people could be potential targets for Israeli Forces. If people felt they were not safe at the voting centers, then Israel’s military force was an unpredictable variable for consideration in their decision.
The killing of this group of children is a link in a chain of violent events by the military occupation. On Friday, Israeli police took Palestinian presidential candidate, Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi to a car park in West Jerusalem where they held him for over two hours.
According to Barghouthi’s campaign web site, Barghouthi met with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter at the Seven Arches Hotel. Afterward he traveled to Al-Aqsa Mosque for Friday prayers. Israeli Police detained him at the Lion’s Gate. They stated his permit was not for travel throughout Jerusalem, but only to meet Carter. Barghouthi’s lawyers did not know his whereabouts. The police expelled Barghouthi at the Dahiyeh checkpoint to Ramallah.
Throughout the campaign trail, Barghouthi encountered violence and detention. On December 27th, police detained him for three hours at the Maskobiyyeh Police Headquarters (the Russian Compound) in West Jerusalem. On December 8th, Israeli forces beat him and his staff at the Sanour checkpoint. At gunpoint, the Palestinian men remained in one position on the ground over an hour.
While one of his volunteers hung posters on a wall in Rafah, someone shot him on the right side of his heart. According to a press release issued from Barghouthi’s campaign, the shot came from the direction of the Rafah Yam Israeli settlement; which contains an Israeli watchtower. The 17-year-old Palestinian high school student died at Abu Yusef Al-Najjar Hospital in Rafah, Gaza.
The tragic events question the freedom and fairness of these elections. If candidates could not canvas all of the potential electorate, then are the election results fair? The abuses directed toward Barghouthi and his campaign demonstrated that the Israeli government perceived him as a threat to their regime.
Since the death of the late Yasser Arafat two months ago, Israeli forces killed more than 75 Palestinian children, per the Palestine Monitor.
One of the organization’s press releases explains: “In the same period, no Israeli civilians have been killed by Palestinians.”
The violent conditions that surrounded the elections affected voter turnouts. When people saw the abuse of candidates and the killing of human life, it jaded anticipation for some of the people. Moreover, it questions the dedication to democracy in the region and the commitment to the peace process. Israelis and Palestinians cannot live normal lives until leadership exemplifies their best interests. Otherwise, the violence will continue its impact on their societal interactions.
International intervention is a viable solution to this conflict. While the world stands by and watches, the ramifications may spread beyond the Middle East. At that point, will it be too late?
If military forces conveyed they have no regard for Palestinians, then the people had the choice: vote and risk personal safety; or do not vote and endanger hope.
However, no force – military or political – can eliminate the power of hope, especially within a resilient people.