The New York Times reports: Lina Halsa certainly made a splash at the student rally for the Islamist Hamas movement here at Birzeit University last month. Wearing a sleeveless top, tight jeans, and with her hair in a ponytail, Ms. Halsa’s attire was revealing even by the standards of this liberal, secular campus. But it was downright scandalous according to Hamas norms.
Yet, Ms. Halsa was the very image of Hamas success on the campus, where the Islamist party beat out the more moderate Fatah faction in student elections. A photograph of her waving the faction’s signature green banner rocketed around social media, followed by a video in which she explained that she voted Hamas in part because her clothing “shows how much they are able to embrace other people.”
A headline in the Pan-Arab daily Al Hayat trumpeted: “A Blonde Turns Birzeit Green.”
The April 22 election was about far more than clothing, of course. Student elections are seen as an important benchmark of the Palestinian political mood, particularly since there has been no national balloting since Hamas won the legislative contests in 2006, and president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, is starting the 11th year of what was to be a five-year term. The nod to Hamas was broadly interpreted as another indication of just how unpopular President Abbas and his government have become. [Continue reading…]
Asmaa al-Ghoul writes: The confrontation between the Salafist jihadist movement and Hamas-led security services in the Gaza Strip has returned to the surface following a two-year truce between the two sides.
Strong tensions returned after security services arrested Salafist Sheikh Adnan Mayt, a prominent Salafist jihadist activist, April 6. This was followed by the arrest of other Salafists and raids of their homes, an April 29 statement by Ansar al-Dawla al-Islamiya (Arabic for “supporters of the Islamic State”) said.
The arrests increased following the two roadside bomb blasts that detonated in the Gaza Strip on April 18, which the Interior Ministry described as “primitive.” One of the blasts exploded near the outer wall of the UNRWA headquarters, and the other went off near the UNRWA general prosecutor’s office. A third explosion took place a day earlier near the Abu Mazen roundabout in western Gaza. [Continue reading…]
Matthew Duss writes: Two weeks ago saw the latest blow to the on-again-but-mostly-off-again reconciliation between the two leading Palestinian political factions, Hamas and Fatah. A Fatah delegation from the West Bank entered Gaza for what was planned as a weeklong visit to address the sticky issue of payment to some 40,000 Hamas government employees, which was one of the main drivers of Hamas’ decision to accept a reconciliation agreement in April 2014, largely on Fatah’s terms. Instead, the Fatah delegation stayed only one day, departing after claiming that Hamas had prohibited it from traveling from their beachfront hotel to their offices. Hamas, for its part, responded that the makeup of the delegation had not been appropriately cleared in advance.
A few days later, as Israelis celebrated their Independence Day, the first rocket was fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip in four months. An Israeli tank barrage into Gaza followed shortly after.
It was not the first rocket launched since the August cease-fire that ended Operation Protective Edge, the summer of 2014’s hugely destructive Israeli assault on Gaza that lasted 52 days. Back in February, Hamas lobbed two rockets into the Mediterranean, ostensibly to test their launch system and intimidate Israel. Omar Shaban, a Palestinian analyst who runs the small think tank, PalThink, in Gaza, had a different interpretation. “They’re sending you a message,” he told me. “You should be wise enough to hear it.”
The message is that Gaza is creeping toward another explosion. It’s a depressingly similar pattern. Just like after previous conflicts, Israel’s cease-fire demands have been met. Hamas has prevented rocket fire, while the group’s demand for an end to the blockade that has suffocated Gaza for nearly a decade has not. Last month I visited the coastal strip to view the damage from the summer’s war, assess the state of reconstruction, and explore the possibilities of reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.
I’d last been to Gaza in February 2012. There have been two wars since then, in addition to a number of smaller incursions and exchanges of fire. In February 2012, much of Gaza City remained in rubble from December 2008-January 2009’s Operation Cast Lead. This time, there was rubble lying atop the rubble.
Shaban pulled up next to a huge pile of broken cinder block and twisted metal. “Here’s the Finance Ministry.”
Despite Hamas’ role in the escalation that led to the war, however, polls have shown that the group retains a significant measure of public support. One poll taken immediately after Operation Protective Edge found, for the first time since 2006, Hamas would best its rival Fatah in both presidential and parliamentary elections. Part of this has to do with Hamas being seen, unlike Fatah, as a party willing to fight the status quo. Part of it has to do with Hamas’ strategic distribution of resources to activists and supporters. But it’s also related to the fact that their civil servants are actually respected for the work that they continue to do in hugely difficult circumstances. [Continue reading…]
The Times of Israel interviews Bruce Hoffman, author of Anonymous Soldiers: The Struggle For Israel 1917-1947: Former Downing Street Chief of Staff Jonathan Powell negotiated with the IRA for nearly a decade under Tony Blair’s New Labour Government to bring about the Good Friday Agreement and peace to Northern Ireland. Hoffman cites Powell’s book, “Talking To Terrorists,” three times in his new work.
In conversation a year ago, Powell admitted that powerful Western governments throughout the 20th century — particularly the British — operated with appalling hypocrisy by initially claiming that men like Nelson Mandela, Martin McGuinness, and Menachem Begin were terrorists, then, in the blink of an eye, portraying these men as honorable statesmen and forgetting about past atrocities.
Crucially, Powell admitted, states use the word “terrorist” as a form of insult and to help hold the balance of power when certain dissident actors threaten their legitimacy. And if so-called terrorists are using violence for purposes governments like, well, they tend to skip over that, Powell said.
In recalling this conversation to Hoffman, he nods his head in agreement.
“Look, that is absolutely right,” he says. “Terrorism is resorted to for practical reasons because there is no other tool available. And those who use terrorism, and then subsequently become the targets of terrorism, understand its power and how difficult it is to counter it. Not just militarily. But especially in terms of international perception. And that’s where Begin really was a master strategist.”
Hoffman, like Powell, says he is not championing terrorism. But as a realist, he claims the point of his book is not to get bound up by moral judgments when speaking about the subject.
Given that Israeli politicians fundamentally understand how Jewish terrorism played such an effective role in helping bring about the State of Israel, is it naïve to think they might have more of a sympathetic understanding of why Palestinians currently use terrorism to try to achieve their political objectives?
“Well it’s far more simple than that,” Hoffman replies. “No country that is created where terrorism has played some role wants to admit it, for fear of that weapon being used against them. And that’s what is really at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” [Continue reading…]
Bel Trew reports: The fighters in Gaza are preparing for a new war every day. It could come at any time: In the past few weeks, Israeli planes and drones have been increasingly circling the 26-square-mile coastal enclave. The Israel Defense Forces have repositioned troops at the eastern borders, an area almost entirely flattened during last summer’s 51-day war.
“The war could start any minute,” says Abu Mujahid. “There is a lot of kinetic movement, so all the fighting groups evacuated the bases, we’ve postponed training sessions, and many of the men have moved underground.”
“There are people right now under your feet,” his wiry second-in-command, Abu Saif, 28, adds with a toothless grin.
Gaza today is a powder keg waiting to explode. The key aspects of the cease-fire agreement that ended the war last summer remain unfulfilled — both Israel and Hamas feel that only more violence can force their enemy to assent to their demands. Meanwhile, the reconstruction of Gaza has stagnated due to Israeli restrictions on letting material into the territory, as well as the rivalry between Hamas and Fatah, sapping Gaza residents’ hope for a better future and leading them to believe that there is no alternative but armed struggle. [Continue reading…]
Linah Alsaafin reports: Mohammad Farid Yousef’s family has been detained at Cairo airport for almost a month. They left the Gaza strip in the aftermath of Israel’s recent 51-day invasion this past summer, which killed over 2,000 Palestinians and injured 11,000 more, creating widespread destruction.
Since the uprising in Syria began in March 2011, an estimated 191,000 people have been killed, including over 2,000 Palestinian refugees. Three million have been displaced, with refugee camps sprouting in the neighbouring countries of Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. A further 6.5 million are internally displaced, meaning that half of the Syrian population in total have fled their homes.
Prior to the ouster of former Egyptian president Mohammad Al-Morsi, Syrians and Palestinian Syrians could obtain a visa from the airport in Egypt, which encouraged a number to set up life there, until Syria was safe enough to go back to. Yet the 30 June military coup, the rising xenophobia and hateful media incitement endangered the lives of Syrians and Palestinians living there, forcing many of them to flee elsewhere.
Mohammad and his family fled the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus in 2013. They arrived in Gaza through the Rafah border crossing in April of the same year after a brief stop in Egypt, deciding that they could at the very least lead a dignified life in the coastal enclave.
“We had nowhere to go,” Mohammad, 29, told the Middle East Monitor. “I came to Egypt during Morsi’s reign with relative ease, but the negative attitude of the Egyptian people towards us and their exploitation made my family rethink our options. We found we had nowhere to go except Gaza, especially since travelling by boats from Egypt to seek asylum in Europe had not started then. It began in May, a month after we had already left to Gaza.”
The Palestinian refugee population in Syria had numbered around 600,000. Now, almost half have escaped the fighting in search of security and stability, but face heavy restrictions by various Arab governments, such as Lebanon, which has announced it will not grant entry to Palestinian Syrians. [Continue reading…]
Adnan Abu Amer reports: As Cairo’s indirect negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians started on Sept. 23 toward a cease-fire agreement in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian negotiations between Fatah and Hamas also kicked off on files related to the reconciliation reached in April.
The Palestinian dialogue comes amid tensions between Fatah and Hamas that escalated immediately after the end of the Israeli war on Gaza Aug. 26, due to disputes regarding the reconstruction of Gaza and the unpaid wages of former government employees.
Speaking at a celebration organized by the International Union of Muslim Scholars on Sept. 21, before the Cairo talks, Khaled Meshaal, Hamas’ political bureau chief, said: “As soon as the Gaza war ended, the attack against Hamas started. This aims at stirring a hostile media campaign. Hamas has no time to waste on secondary battles. We have priorities, most important of which is the issue concerning the reconstruction of Gaza. We will not tolerate negligence in any issue and we will not accept the cancelation of any part stipulated in the reconciliation.” [Continue reading…]