Hamas embraces ‘non-violence’ — opportunism or shift?

Each Friday, thousands of people have gathered in five tent camps near the border, while smaller groups throw stones and burn tires closer to the border fence. (AFP)
Updated 27 April 2018

Hamas embraces ‘non-violence’ — opportunism or shift?

  • Israel and Egypt closed the borders after Hamas overran Gaza in 2007, and Israel blockades the sea and controls the skies, making it increasingly difficult for the group to govern
  • Since protests began in late March, 40 Palestinians were killed and more than 5,511 wounded by Israeli soldiers firing across the border

GAZA CITY: In a sit-in tent camp near the Gaza border with Israel, a lecturer answered questions from activists grappling with the concept of non-violent protest.

They asked what’s allowed, listing different actions. Throwing stones and holding rallies is permitted, he said. Throwing firebombs is a “maybe” and using knives a definite “no.”

Such workshops — held amid weekly mass marches on the border for the past month — are the latest sign of the Hamas militant group’s search for new tactics for breaking the debilitating blockade of Gaza. Israel and Egypt closed the borders after Hamas overran Gaza in 2007, and Israel blockades the sea and controls the skies, making it increasingly difficult for the group to govern.

The border protests were the idea of grassroots activists several months ago, and the project, envisioned as non-violent, was quickly embraced by Hamas. The militant group has led the organization and been careful to contain the protests by keeping its armed men far away and out of sight.

Hamas has been supportive, said workshop lecturer Issam Hammad, a self-described independent who runs a medical supplies company. “They encourage young people to take part.”

Any degree of non-violence would be a striking departure for Hamas, which over the years has attacked Israelis with suicide bombings, shootings and rockets. For more than a decade the group has tightly controlled Gaza, quashing dissent.

The large-scale protests are the only card the group has left, three high-ranking Hamas officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were discussing internal strategy. They said Hamas rules out other options — either disarming or fighting another cross-border war with Israel. The last one, in 2014, devastated Gaza, a coastal territory with 2 million people squeezed into 365 square kilometers.

Bassem Naim, another senior Hamas official, believes the new method has refocused world attention on Gaza’s misery. The territory suffers from grueling power cuts and a two-thirds unemployment rate among young men.

“The momentum of the marches is going strong and will continue,” he said. “People can no longer endure the siege and will not stop until the siege is stopped.”

Each Friday, thousands of people have gathered in five tent camps near the border, while smaller groups throw stones and burn tires closer to the border fence.

Since protests began in late March, 40 Palestinians were killed and more than 5,511 wounded by Israeli soldiers firing across the border. Rights groups say open-fire regulations are unlawful because they permit troops to use potentially lethal force against unarmed protesters.

The EU urged Israel to stop using deadly force against unarmed protesters, and a senior UN envoy to the region called Israel’s deadly shooting of a 14-year-old Gaza boy last week “outrageous.”

Hamas has kept the pressure on Israel by at least telegraphing an embrace of nonviolence. For example, top leader Ismail Haniyeh recently spoke against the backdrop of posters of icons such as Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr.

The senior Hamas officials said the movement has learned from mistakes, such as confronting Israel’s powerful military with crude rocket fire. They said Hamas is offering Israel an open-ended truce in exchange for lifting the blockade.

Hamas says it wants to keep its weapons for defensive purposes — a claim undercut by the group’s tunnel program. Hamas had built tunnels from Gaza into Israel in recent years, for attacks, before Israel began destroying them.

But Israel and Hamas’ main Palestinian rival, West Bank-based President Mahmoud Abbas, are skeptical because of the group’s refusal to disarm.

Hamas “is changing its tactics, but it’s not changing its nature and strategies,” said Palestinian analyst Abdel Majed Sweilem.

Abbas has told Egyptian mediators that he will only return to Gaza if Hamas hands over all powers, including control over weapons. Hamas drove out Abbas’ forces a year after it won 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections.

Organizers say that in addition to compelling an end to the blockade, the marches are meant to press for the “right of return” of refugees and their descendants to what is now Israel.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes in the 1948 war over Israel’s creation, and march organizers see May 15, the anniversary of Israel’s founding, as a key target day.

Some Hamas leaders have called for a mass border breach, while others are vague. Haniyeh told protesters that “we will return to Palestine,” without giving specifics.

Either way, Hamas faces a tough decision ahead of May 15.


El-Sisi says Egypt will not stand idle to threat to Egyptian and Libyan security

Updated 28 min 22 sec ago

El-Sisi says Egypt will not stand idle to threat to Egyptian and Libyan security

  • Libyan tribal leaders flew on Wednesday to Cairo from the eastern city of Benghazi for a meeting with El-Sisi
  • El-Sisi said at the meeting Egypt’s main goal in Libya was to “activate the free will of the Libyan people”

CAIRO: Egypt will not stand idle in the face of any moves that pose a direct threat to Egyptian and Libyan national security, President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said on Thursday, according to a presidency statement.
The statement also said tribal leaders meeting El-Sisi in Cairo had authorized the president and Egypt's army to intervene in their country "to protect Libyan sovereignty".
El-Sisi met mainly eastern Libyan tribesmen in a show of solidarity on Thursday, days after Libya’s eastern-based parliament urged Cairo to intervene in their country’s civil war.
The meeting reflects the growing regional stakes in Libya, divided since 2014 between areas held by the government in Tripoli, backed by Turkey, and a rival eastern administration, backed by the UAE, Russia and Egypt.
On Tuesday, the eastern-based parliament allied to commander Haftar Khalifa called for Egypt to help counter Turkish support for Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli.
Turkey has helped the Tripoli administration force Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) to abandon an offensive on Tripoli.


Any major escalation could risk igniting a direct conflict in Libya among the foreign powers that have already poured in weapons and fighters in violation of an arms embargo.
In response to Turkish actions, El-Sisi last month warned that Egypt’s army might enter Libya if the Tripoli government and its Turkish allies renewed an assault on Sirte, a central coastal city seen as the gateway to Libya’s main oil export terminals.
Libyan tribal leaders flew on Wednesday to Cairo from the eastern city of Benghazi, the main LNA base, for a meeting with El-Sisi entitled “Egypt and Libya, one people, one fate.” Haftar enjoys the backing of tribes mainly from east but also former LNA strongholds like Tarhouna in western Libya.
On the flight some tribesmen were chanting “El-Sisi” and “Haftar,” a video posted online showed.
El-Sisi said at the meeting Egypt’s main goal in Libya was to “activate the free will of the Libyan people,” a presidency statement said. It also published pictures showing El-Sisi sitting next to tribal leaders, all wearing masks against coronavirus.
In June El-Sisi said Egypt could act militarily in Egypt either if the House of Representatives requested this, or simply based on the UN charter of a right of self-defense.
Eastern tribes and other factions allied to Haftar have also been involved in closure of oil ports since January. The LNA says the tribes act on their own but analysts say their activity in Haftar-controlled territory is coordinated with the LNA.
Sirte is held by the LNA and the last major western city before the historic dividing line with the east, now controlled by Haftar, two regions that were united with the south at Libya’s independence in 1951.