2 February 2006 Edition
Palestinian enthusiasm in face of obstructions
Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún was in Palestine last week as an election observer. Here she speaks to An Phoblacht about what she witnessed.
An Phoblacht: What were your perceptions of the elections and the mood of the Palestinian electorate?
Bairbre de Brún: The mood of the Palestinians was one of huge enthusiasm for the elections. I travelled around a number of polling stations and met with the electoral commission, groups contesting the election and voters. I was highly impressed by the strength of commitment toward participating in the electoral process. In spite of the hardships in the run up to the election there was a very high turnout including many young, capable women.
Were there many difficulties as a direct consequence of the Israeli occupation?
In terms of freedom of movement there was a marked improvement with observers present, yet it was still clear that many Palestinians could not move freely from one place to another.
In East Jerusalem, where the Palestinian Authority was prevented from organising elections to their own legislature, ballots were cast at a local post office. Palestinians had to queue up at an ordinary counter as if to buy stamps. Israeli post office officials monitored everything in an obvious denial of the right to a secret ballot.
We were also informed that prior to the elections the Israeli Interior Minister had closed the electoral registration offices enabling only a small amount to cast their ballot and disenfranchising thousands more. This stood in stark contrast to the Central Election Commission in Palestine through which the elections were well organised and managed. Both the EU election observers and the Carter Centre stated in their preliminary report that the elections were honest, fair and open.
Most striking however is the Wall that winds its way through the West Bank effectively annexing over 10% of the Palestinian land in defiance the International Court of Justice. Walls, checkpoints, curfews, Israeli-only bypass roads and specific travel restrictions on Palestinians all have a huge impact on the election campaigns. In spite of all of this the Palestinians organised an efficient election and showed full commitment to the democratic process. There exists a deep sense of pride at having organised free, fair, multi-party elections in these circumstances.
Which factors do you feel attributed most significantly to Hamas's victory in the new Legislative Council; the occupation, the divisions within Fatah or the political programme of Hamas?
It's difficult as an observer to say which of the three were particular but those Palestinians we spoke to mentioned all three, some giving greater weight to one over another. Most notably all wanted forward movement, an end to the occupation, basic services and freedom in their own country. The context may be different from one country to another but people's basic needs are the same. All want dignity and respect, a say in their own affairs and a respect for their rights. The electorate came out in Palestine in impressive numbers to cast their vote in a resoundingly peaceful manner.
As an MEP how do you view the International communities response to the election of a Hamas government?
Due to the occupation, Palestine is unable to fully function politically, socially and economically. It is estimated that the Palestinian Authority has only enough money for January and February. Cutting support for the PA will affect the provision of basic services to the Palestinian people dramatically. Calls to withdraw funding are unhelpful and will not advance the search for peace.
It is absolutely crucial that the EU and the wider international community respect the outcome of the election and the right of the Palestinian people to choose their own elected representatives. The focus should be in assisting both the Palestinian and Israeli people in moving the peace process forward and in seeing significant progress made in the time ahead toward the development of a viable Palestinian state.
If those making international statements could see the glowing pride in Palestinian villages, towns and refugee camps and their commitment to the electoral process they would want to enthusiastically encourage this rather than place a question mark over it. The EU and the wider international community must demonstrate their commitment to peace and the electoral process in the Middle East.