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The recent events in Gaza are a horrific example of democracy at work, according to Raouf Halaby. But the implementation of democracy in this case grates against the American ideal like fingernails on a chalkboard.

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series on the situation in Gaza from the perspective of Raouf Halaby, a Palestinian Christian who is a professor of English and art history at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark.

The recent events in Gaza are a horrific example of democracy at work, according to Raouf Halaby. But the implementation of democracy in this case grates against the American ideal like fingernails on a chalkboard.

The irony is Hamas is very justified in many of their political stances, said Halaby, a naturalized American citizen who was born to Palestinian Christian parents in Jerusalem and has taught at Ouachita Baptist University for 35 years. They got elected fairly and squarely. They won in a democratic election supervised by (former) President (Jimmy) Carter. But as soon as they got elected, Israeli officials and George Bush did not talk to them because they were branded as a terrorist organization.

He said the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinian government intensified because of the embargo that Israel placed on the Gaza Strip, where 90 percent of the population is Palestinian refugees. He said the embargo put the area under siege in an attempt to strangle the Hamas government through limiting supplies of food, fuel and medicine to Palestinians.

He said there is a 70 unemployment rate in Gaza, and psychological terror has been inflicted on the Palestinians through daily sonic booms caused by low-flying jet fighters that have caused insomnia, miscarriages and bed-wetting, even among teen-agers.

I’m not surprised at any of this; the Israelis have been preparing this for six months, said Halaby, who lived in Jerusalem 14 years and has been in the United States since 1965. It seems the opportune time to get rid of Hamas. We’re having a transition in Washington, D.C., and it was an excellent time to take advantage since George Bush has been so pro-Israel in everything he has done and has given only lip service to the peace process.

Halaby said many people misunderstand the situation because they have no concept about the density of population in the Gaza Strip, which has 1.5 million inhabitants.

“You have 1.5 million people in an area not much bigger than Little Rock (a metropolitan area of about 666,500), Halaby said. Even though the Hamas government is the elected government, every aspect of Palestinian life in Gaza has been controlled by the Israelis.

Halaby cited a report from U.N. officials who had been monitoring the year and a half of a cease fire. According to the report, Israel broke the cease fire 136 times to 37 by Hamas. He said that resulted in about 800 Palestinian deaths compared with one for the Israelis.

But Hamas miscalculated greatly, he said. As a reaction to the embargo, Hamas declared Sharia or Islamic law instead of secular (or civil law) and that split their support. They’re saying you want democracy, this is democracy. We were elected by the democratic process and therefore we can run the show however we want.

Halaby questions the Israeli position that Hamas placed its terrorist camps near civilian areas to ensure civilian casualties, or that the tunnels in Gaza are used primarily for weapons instead of food and medicine.

In the news, particularly in this country, I think truth is as much a victim as the people themselves, Halaby said. Muslims are portrayed as bad people, Israel has historically been the victim and has had world sympathy for what happened to the Jews during the Holocaust. The Palestinians have not learned how to get their message across and terrorist attacks do not have the Palestinian cause.

Halaby believes the current explosion of violence began when Israel used an Apache helicopter to blow up a home in a targeted assassination of a perceived terrorist group. Four people were killed, and Halaby said U.N. officials later found two children beside the bodies of their mothers.

Hamas responded with a missile, Halaby said, and it opened up the gates of hell.

David McCollum is a contributing editor to

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