The Strange Arrest of Zaki al-Sakani

Much of the Palestinian-Israeli Oslo "peace process" mythology is grounded in the idea that if "the Palestinians" were treated as a single, responsible partner, they would behave like one.  If "the Palestinians" got enough foreign aid, they would spend it to alleviate the poverty of their people.  If "the Palestinians" had status, territory, taxation, and educational authority, they would govern.  If "the Palestinians" had elections, they would have a democracy.  If "the Palestinians" had a "security force," they would "dismantle the terrorist infrastructure." 

If only.  The Palestinians are not a single political unit, nor even a single government.  Hamas and Fatah, for all their recent talk of "unity" (including a meeting in Cairo today), remain no more reconciled to one another than they do to Israel.

Consider the odd tale of Zaki al-Sakani; the poor guy only wanted to blow up people.

It was without apparent irony that four years after his imprisonment, Hamas on Tuesday announced the sentencing of al-Sakani to 15 years in jail for "terrorism" and illegal possession of explosives and weapons.  Fatah protested.  "[The verdict] is unjust because it was issued by an illegitimate court, and because the motive behind the verdict was merely political. The man was a prominent leader of Fatah's al-Aqsa Brigades and one of its best fighters."

Al-Sakani was better than your typical bomb-maker in Gaza in the early days of the second "intifada."  Fatah credits him with designing the first homemade mortar shell and says he produced hundreds of shells that rained on southern Israel.  The Israelis actually wounded him once while he was mid-rocket-launch, according to the Palestinian news agency Ma'an.  A hero in the Palestinian pantheon.

But only half the pantheon.  During the Hamas-Fatah civil war, Fatah-affiliated al-Sakani became the enemy for Hamas, which tried to arrest him in July 2008, but he escaped.  According to Ma'an, "Hamas forces confiscated his handgun, a homemade projectile and several mortar shells and explosives, as well as a computer."  All perfectly normal household items for bomb-makers, but now that the bomb-maker was working for the other side -- no, not Israel, Fatah -- al-Sakani had become a "terrorist."  All the more so when Hamas claimed he was involved when a bomb on the beach in Gaza City killed 5 top Hamas military men and wounded some 40 civilians later that month.  Al-Sakani was arrested in August, taken from a hospital where he was recovering from an apparent assassination attempt -- or arrest attempt.

Al-Sakani is still wanted in Israel, but he will serve his time, apparently, in a Hamas prison.  Still, he is convicted only of "terrorism."  Had he been accused of "collaboration" with Israel, his fate might have been that of the six Gaza men summarily executed in front of a chanting mob in November.  The body of one was chained to a motorcycle and dragged through the streets.

Under the circumstances, it makes the November decision of the U.N. General Assembly to grant "non-member state" status to a split territory governed by warring terrorist factions, neither of which has created institutions of statehood, justice, or human rights, look less like a step forward for Palestinians and more like a step backward for the UNGA.

Even the comments on the Ma'an website express the bewilderment and disillusionment of Palestinians brave enough to write in.  "Sami" wrote, "Isn't this what the PA of Abbas says when arresting the fighters of Hamas in the West Bank?  The PA arrested more than 13,000 Palestinians between 2007-2011 almost 1.5 times of what the Zionists arrested of 9,700 Palestinians in the WB in the same period[.]"  "Nour" wrote, "What a sad joke the Palestinian state 'project' has become[.] ... We deserve each and every blow the enemy delivers to us -- EACH ONE. I challenge anyone to dispute this[.]... I'm beginning to think the 'Palestinian cause' is lost."

The "Palestinian cause" may not be lost, but it ill-serves the United States to presume that pressure on Israel or concessions by Israel will move it forward.

Shoshana Bryen is senior director of The Jewish Policy Center.

Much of the Palestinian-Israeli Oslo "peace process" mythology is grounded in the idea that if "the Palestinians" were treated as a single, responsible partner, they would behave like one.  If "the Palestinians" got enough foreign aid, they would spend it to alleviate the poverty of their people.  If "the Palestinians" had status, territory, taxation, and educational authority, they would govern.  If "the Palestinians" had elections, they would have a democracy.  If "the Palestinians" had a "security force," they would "dismantle the terrorist infrastructure." 

If only.  The Palestinians are not a single political unit, nor even a single government.  Hamas and Fatah, for all their recent talk of "unity" (including a meeting in Cairo today), remain no more reconciled to one another than they do to Israel.

Consider the odd tale of Zaki al-Sakani; the poor guy only wanted to blow up people.

It was without apparent irony that four years after his imprisonment, Hamas on Tuesday announced the sentencing of al-Sakani to 15 years in jail for "terrorism" and illegal possession of explosives and weapons.  Fatah protested.  "[The verdict] is unjust because it was issued by an illegitimate court, and because the motive behind the verdict was merely political. The man was a prominent leader of Fatah's al-Aqsa Brigades and one of its best fighters."

Al-Sakani was better than your typical bomb-maker in Gaza in the early days of the second "intifada."  Fatah credits him with designing the first homemade mortar shell and says he produced hundreds of shells that rained on southern Israel.  The Israelis actually wounded him once while he was mid-rocket-launch, according to the Palestinian news agency Ma'an.  A hero in the Palestinian pantheon.

But only half the pantheon.  During the Hamas-Fatah civil war, Fatah-affiliated al-Sakani became the enemy for Hamas, which tried to arrest him in July 2008, but he escaped.  According to Ma'an, "Hamas forces confiscated his handgun, a homemade projectile and several mortar shells and explosives, as well as a computer."  All perfectly normal household items for bomb-makers, but now that the bomb-maker was working for the other side -- no, not Israel, Fatah -- al-Sakani had become a "terrorist."  All the more so when Hamas claimed he was involved when a bomb on the beach in Gaza City killed 5 top Hamas military men and wounded some 40 civilians later that month.  Al-Sakani was arrested in August, taken from a hospital where he was recovering from an apparent assassination attempt -- or arrest attempt.

Al-Sakani is still wanted in Israel, but he will serve his time, apparently, in a Hamas prison.  Still, he is convicted only of "terrorism."  Had he been accused of "collaboration" with Israel, his fate might have been that of the six Gaza men summarily executed in front of a chanting mob in November.  The body of one was chained to a motorcycle and dragged through the streets.

Under the circumstances, it makes the November decision of the U.N. General Assembly to grant "non-member state" status to a split territory governed by warring terrorist factions, neither of which has created institutions of statehood, justice, or human rights, look less like a step forward for Palestinians and more like a step backward for the UNGA.

Even the comments on the Ma'an website express the bewilderment and disillusionment of Palestinians brave enough to write in.  "Sami" wrote, "Isn't this what the PA of Abbas says when arresting the fighters of Hamas in the West Bank?  The PA arrested more than 13,000 Palestinians between 2007-2011 almost 1.5 times of what the Zionists arrested of 9,700 Palestinians in the WB in the same period[.]"  "Nour" wrote, "What a sad joke the Palestinian state 'project' has become[.] ... We deserve each and every blow the enemy delivers to us -- EACH ONE. I challenge anyone to dispute this[.]... I'm beginning to think the 'Palestinian cause' is lost."

The "Palestinian cause" may not be lost, but it ill-serves the United States to presume that pressure on Israel or concessions by Israel will move it forward.

Shoshana Bryen is senior director of The Jewish Policy Center.

RECENT VIDEOS