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Commentary Last Updated: Feb 1st, 2007 - 01:00:04

Have Arabs fallen into a divide-and-rule trap?
By Linda S. Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Feb 1, 2007, 00:57

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On Sunday five schoolgirls were killed in Baghdad when mortar shells hit their school. In Kirkuk, 11 civilians were blown up by car bombs, while 250 corpses were discovered in Najaf. The Americans say that they dispensed with 300 �insurgents� on the same day, which means Iraq�s morgues received at least 566 bodies of people who had died violent deaths. This is madness!

A similar sectarian sickness has also infected Lebanon. There, a quarrel in a university caf� last Thursday led to the worst outbreak of Sunni-Shiite fighting since the civil war.

Four were shot dead and over 150 wounded. Earlier there were clashes between rival Christian groups.

Gaza is suffering from the same disease. There, Fatah and Hamas supporters are facing off with gun battles, skirmishes, assassinations and kidnappings having become the norm.

What on earth is going on? Why are Arabs killing Arabs? There are surely enough enemies around without this.

In fact there is no simple answer. The three situations are very different although there are commonalities. The first is occupation.

Obviously, Iraq is occupied by the US and Britain. Gaza is occupied, too. Despite Israel�s physical withdrawal from Gaza, it feels free to come and go as it pleases while the Palestinians have no say over their airspace, coastline or borders.

Lebanon also has a foreign presence on its soil dressed in United Nations garb and is burdened with invasive foreign influences.

The second communality is a weak economy and high unemployment. In the case of Iraqis and Palestinians, they are struggling to survive financially and suffer a lack of basics such as electricity and clean water.

As for Lebanon, it has a $41 billion debt and faces a massive postwar reconstruction bill. Inflation is rising and the government is committed to raising taxes as part of a foreign aid deal.

Occupation, discomfort, insecurity and the inability to feed, clothe and educate one�s family would produce feelings of anger, frustration and hopelessness in anyone. Unfortunately, unscrupulous leaders often capitalize on those heightened emotions suffered by their followers by channeling them into the use of force to strengthen their own power base.

So in each case, there are varying combinations of foreign interference, hardship, deprivation and a lack of security. Add to that competing belief systems or ideologies and you get an explosive mix.

The last commonality is a government constrained from doing its job effectively.

Iraq�s government is fraught with internal divisions, cut off from the people and out of necessity has to operate from behind high walls. The army and the police force have been infiltrated by militias and death squads while insurgent groups are often allied with foreign fighters.

The pro-Western Lebanese government was undermined when the US and Britain took Israel�s side during the war and refused to call for a cease-fire. Its authority was further challenged when six of its Shiite cabinet members quit in protest against the government�s agreement to a UN tribunal related to the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. It now faces a challenge from Hezbollah-led opposition groups.

As for the democratically elected Hamas-led Palestinian authority, it was doomed from the get-go. After congratulating the Palestinians on holding fair and free elections, the West embarked on a systematic campaign to erode the new government�s credibility. It was starved of funds, vilified as a terrorist entity, isolated and excluded.

At the same time, Fatah chief Mahmoud Abbas received support.

In all three countries under discussion, the US and its allies have firmly allied themselves with one side to the detriment of the other. In Iraq, it�s the Shiites. In Lebanon, the Sunni-Christian alliance while, in the Palestinian territories, Fatah receives preferential treatment in the form of cash and weapons.

Now that I�ve set out a few of the facts I will leave you with the words of Oded Yinon, an Israeli journalist linked to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, written a quarter-of-a-century ago in 1982. I will also leave you to draw your own conclusions.

�The dissolution of Syria and Iraq later on into ethnically or religiously unique areas such as in Lebanon, is Israel�s primary target on the Eastern front in the long run, while the dissolution of the military power of those states serves as the primary short-term target.�

And this is what he has to say about the Palestinians.

�The solution of the problem of the indigenous Arabs will come only when they recognize the existence of Israel in secure borders up to the Jordan River and beyond it, as our existential need in this difficult epoch, the nuclear epoch which we shall soon enter.�

�Every kind of inter-Arab confrontation will assist us . . .� writes Yinon.

I don�t know where he is today but if he�s still alive, he must be rubbing his hands together with glee. Have Arabs fallen into the divide-and-rule trap? Was this the plan all along? A chilling thought, isn�t it?

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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