I was right: Blame Hamas

Amira Hass wrote a very good and important column in Haaretz. She knows Gaza very well, is scrupulously honest, and is not keen to whitewash Hamas. (eg “But by and large, this variegated whole sounded a message of militant pacifism and feminism, liberation theories and a lot of faith in the cumulative, positive effect of popular, non-hierarchical action and its ability to bring about change.

It’s a pity, I thought to myself: The Egyptians are preventing us from seeing what happens when this direct, transparent democracy meets the Hamas regime.”)

The important bit is here:

At midnight, about 12 hours after leaving Cairo, we arrived at a hotel in Gaza. There the first surprise awaited us: A Hamas security official in civilian dress swooped down on a friend who had come to pick me up for a visit, announcing that guests could not stay in private homes.

The story gradually became clear. The international organizers of the march coordinated it with civil society, various non-governmental organizations, which were also supposed to involve the Popular Committee to Break the Siege, a semi-official organization affiliated with Hamas. Many European activists have long-standing connections with left-wing organizations in the Gaza Strip. Those organizations, especially the relatively large Popular Front, had organized lodging for several hundred guests in private homes. When the Hamas government heard this, it prohibited the move. “For security reasons.” What else?

Also “for security reasons,” apparently, on Thursday morning, the activists discovered a cordon of stern-faced, tough Hamas security men blocking them from leaving the hotel (which is owned by Hamas). The security officials accompanied the activists as they visited homes and organizations.

During the march itself, when Gazans watching from the sidelines tried to speak with the visitors, the stern-faced security men blocked them. “They didn’t want us to speak to ordinary people,” one woman concluded.

Hijacked or poorly organized?

The march was not what the organizers had dreamed of during the nine months of preparation. The day before the trip to Gaza, they already knew that the non-governmental organizations had backed out. Some people said that Hamas government representatives had found the NGOs did not have a clear, organized plan for the guests and therefore had taken the initiative. One Palestinian activist insisted: “When we heard there would only be 100, we canceled everything.”

Another said, “From the outset, Hamas set conditions: No more than 5,000 marchers, no approaching the wall and the fence, how to make speeches, how long the speeches should be, who will make speeches. In short, Hamas hijacked the initiative from us and we gave in.”

Hamas, or its Popular Committee, brought 200 or 300 marchers. The march turned into nothing more than a ritual, an opportunity for Hamas cabinet ministers to get decent media coverage in the company of Western demonstrators. Especially photogenic were four Americans from the anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox Jewish group Neturei Karta, who joined the trip only at Al Arish. There were no Palestinian women among the marchers – a slap to the many feminist organizers and participants, both women and men.

After the march, the guests voiced protests to some of the official Palestinian organizers. “We came to demonstrate against the siege, and we found that we ourselves were under siege,” they said. Their variegation and the transparency of their behavior did not suit the military discipline the official hosts tried to impose.

In meetings without the security men, several activists got the impression that non-Hamas residents live in fear, and are afraid to speak or identify themselves by name. “Now I understand that the call for ‘Freedom for Gaza’ has another meaning,” one young man told me.

We should be unequivocal about what this means. Hamas and Fatah are equally complicit in the blockade, they both sabotage attempts to resist it, except they do so differently. Hamas is so authoritarian and intolerant that they felt threatened by leftist, non-heirarchical organisers. And they presumably realise how sharply leftist (and secularist and feminist) activist values clash with their own.

I think the political ideology of Hamas is bad enough, but that’s for the Palestinians themselves to sort out. However, their failures to even live up to their unearned reputation as a party of resistance (committing atrocities really shouldn’t warrant this at all) means that they should be resisted the same as Egypt, Israel, the US and Fatah (etc).

Note also the atmosphere of fear Hamas is creating. Their authoritarianism is undoubtedly exacerbated by the siege and so on (even if this doesn’t justify it, it’s a universal response by governments), but this is when they aren’t even a real government. We should remember their Egyptian counterparts were called clerical fascists by Maxime Rodinson. Edward Said once said that nationalism could not be the answer. He was of course right, and this should be a reminder to activists for Palestine that national liberation is not liberation.

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