Hamas versus Fatah

Palestine Drifting Further Apart

The rivalry between secular Fatah and fundamentalist Hamas, which came to a head in the violent Islamist coup in the Gaza Strip in early June, has been escalating again in recent weeks. Joseph Croitoru reports

Both sides are intensively involved in eliminating their rivals in the areas under their control. Hamas seems to be pursuing this goal in a more systematic and brutal manner. The secular West Bank press reports almost daily on kidnappings, torture and killings of Fatah activists in the Gaza Strip.

It has become almost impossible for Fatah functionaries to carry out political activities in Gaza. In protest, Ashraf Juma, one of the most prominent Fatah parliamentarians, has closed his office in the Strip.

There has been no question of a functioning Palestinian parliament for some time now, and Juma has stated that he cannot carry out his political work under the circumstances, even though the population of the Gaza Strip is in increasingly dire need.

Fatah rats and Hamas lions

A further signal that Hamas wants to bring the era of Fatah in the Gaza strip, the main Hamas area, to a final end came when Hamas police officers looted the offices of President Mahmud Abbas and the Fatah executive committee in Gaza a few days ago. The aim seems to be to remove their secular rivals from the public eye in Hamas' mini-state step by step.

The opponents are treating each another more and more harshly. There have been defamations such as a propaganda cartoon produced by Hamas, portraying the secular Fatah activists as rats that must be exterminated. The satellite TV station Al-Aqsa has been broadcasting the series, in which devout Palestinian women are attacked by vermin in mosques, for several weeks. And only the lion that symbolises Hamas can stop the unwanted rodents.

Fatah has launched a counter-offence in its own media, portraying Hamas as criminals. From their standpoint, the Islamists are the number-one enemy of the state after their putsch. Recently, even President Abbas expressed his strong dissatisfaction, publicly lamenting that an "era of darkness" had broken out in the Gaza Strip. Fatah now openly refers to the Islamists as enemies of the true Islam.

But the struggle for political power and positions is not merely rhetoric. For weeks, Abbas' police force has been arresting Hamas members in the West Bank, and raiding the Islamists' social institutions.

Two thirds against Hamas' violent takeover of power

The reasoning behind these activities, not yet backed up by fact, is that the fundamentalists intend to take over the West Bank by force as well. Certainly, Fatah has by no means given up its claims to influence in Gaza, even though its protest actions, such as the recent general strike that was only partially observed, have been rather symbolic in effect. In any case, they have not been able to prevent the advancing involuntary Islamization of Gaza.

It is hard to gauge how the local population has reacted to this development, partly because Hamas has been preventing critical journalism. A survey carried out by an independent Ramallah polling institute has at least found that 73 percent of the nearly 1300 respondents from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip reject Hamas' violent takeover of power.

However, approximately 40 percent of interviewees from Gaza also expressed their satisfaction that more was now being done for their personal safety. And over a third of respondents were satisfied with the work of Hamas.

A worrying factor for the future development of Palestinian politics is the 22 percent who regard both Palestinian regimes as equally legitimate. This shows that a shocking number of people have already come to terms with a divided Palestine.

Joseph Croitoru

© Qantara.de 2007

Translated from the German by Katy Derbyshire


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