On Friday people in the Gaza Strip awoke to a new reality.
Over the previous few days, the Islamic party Hamas had routed the opposition secular-nationalist Fatah forces and taken full control of the Gaza Strip. What led to these sudden events?
In February 2006, Hamas was elected through a process that was largely imposed by the U.S. and its policy of democratic reform in the Middle East. Yet the unexpected outcome seems to have thrown a monkey wrench in the reform plans. By March of this year, the “international community” (largely a pseudonym for the U.S.), still had not recognized the Palestinian unity government containing representatives of both Fatah, which recognizes Israel’s right to exist, and Hamas, which does not. Sanctions stifled not only the government but collectively punished the entire people. This economic stranglehold was felt especially in the Gaza Strip, where Israel, in one form or another, controls all borders.
With U.S. funding strengthening Fatah, the election loser, Hamas got impatient and decided to take control of the territory that they had been elected to rule. The ensuing military takeover of Gaza took 80 lives in the five days before all opposition headquarters were fully in Hamas hands.
After the fighting ended, I made a trip to the Gaza Baptist Church building with my hosts, Elias and Isa Al-Najjar, and pastor Hanna Massad. Some damage had been done to the building structure and some equipment, including a laptop used for Sunday worship, had been stolen. They suspected it was the Fatah police across the street that had broken into the building.
The conversation at the lunch table with Elias, his wife Rana, and Isa and his wife May, was just about two things: emigrating, and a discussion of the most vital shopping items for their home.
News has spread through Gaza that in light of the economic embargo on the Gaza Strip we will run out of gasoline by tomorrow. This means electricity will also cut out, because the main power station in Gaza is run on petrol.
“People are thinking of how to spend the summer vacation,” said Elias’ wife Rana, as we made a trip to the shops to buy what was still available. “We are thinking of how to stockpile food.”
I also visited my friend Ghada’s brother, Sa’ed, who was shot in his right leg twice on Friday. When he first arrived at the hospital they had placed him on a wooden board waiting for space to be freed for him. His operation lasted many hours and ended with 33 stitches in his leg. Ghada told me that he had screamed a lot the previous night. When I saw him he was still writhing in pain. Sa’ed is 22 and had just started working for the Fatah secret police two months ago. He is unmarried and jumped at this opportunity to take a job in order to prepare for his future. The events of the past days were not what he had reckoned for. Whatever grudges Hamas held against the Fatah security apparatus, he was not one with blood on his hands.
Palestinian president and Fatah member Mahmoud Abbas has declined a meeting with Hamas leader Khaled Mashal, citing his unwillingness to meet with “murderers.” Furthermore, an internationally backed and recognized emergency government was sworn in on Sunday, June 17, after the president had officially dissolved the Hamas-dominated unity government.
Hamas may have been democratically elected, but their takeover does not bode well for the people here, with many fears of this turning into a social and humanitarian crisis. The statements of the Hamas leadership are at times double-faced—in Sa’ed’s case, Hamas announced they would not harm any Fatah security force members that handed themselves over. Sa’ed did and was shot at by a sniper, then tortured and shot in the legs. These actions, combined with a priority of their own members over the general public and their seeming lack of realpolitik are revealed in the few signs of a strategy or plan for the future. The consequences of this are felt by the people, not those in power.
Meanwhile, temporary Hamas policemen took to the streets today wearing brand new Hamas vests; traffic in the streets has never been so organized and disciplined. Finally, the Gaza Strip has just one government and just one police force governing it. A sense of order and security are the upsides that come along with the fear of a very uncertain future.
Yet because of a hypocritical promise of “freedom” through “democratic reform,” Sa’ed is suffering in an open air hospital bed in Gaza City, while Rana, Elias, Isa, and May are scrounging to stockpile food for an uncertain future. The entire Gaza Strip is punished on behalf of the duplicitous ideology and wishful thinking of a few powerful leaders.
Philip Rizk is an Egyptian-German Christian who has lived in Gaza since August 2004 where he works and writes. He blogs at: tabulagaza.com