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.


Palestinian refugees benefit from revival of embroidery technique of tatreez

Updated 28 November 2020

Palestinian refugees benefit from revival of embroidery technique of tatreez

  • Nadine Maalouf and Nesrine El-Tibi set out to re-establish art form while making a humanitarian impact
  • Their social enterprise employs refugee artists and sells their artwork at fairs across the MENA region

DUBAI: When you think of the ancient embroidery technique of tatreez, what usually springs to mind is decorative clothing and elegant patterns on items like cushions. But for 81 Designs — a family-run social enterprise — it is an opportunity for a more comfortable and prosperous future for the female Palestinian refugee community in southern Lebanon.

Nadine Maalouf, alongside her mother Nesrine El-Tibi, is providing a group of refugee artists with a monthly salary by employing them and selling their artwork at fairs across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

“The work is quite detailed and it’s unconventional so it takes a lot of time,” Maalouf said. “Some pieces take four months for one item. We work towards the fair every year because it takes about six months to launch the project from its beginning to its end.”

Maalouf believes more social enterprises like hers could be created to help others. (Supplied)

Starting the company in 2015, then launching two years later at the annual UAE-based fair Art Dubai, Maalouf and El-Tibi set out to re-establish tatreez as an art form while making a positive humanitarian impact.

Three years later and the company employs 20 Palestinian refugee artists creating unique pieces that have preserved and modernized the ancient art of tatreez.

The inspiration for launching 81 Designs came to Maalouf following the birth of her first son. Having studied art direction and art history in her younger years, she worked at various jobs after graduation, but none incorporated the artistic elements she loved.

THENUMBER

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Palestinian artists employed by 81 Designs to create pieces that preserve and modernize tatreez.

“I developed this idea because I was doing a lot of research about traditional textiles and artistry,” she said. “I kept on asking myself, ‘Why are we only seeing a one-dimensional form of tatreez?’

“It is an art form, so I wanted to figure out a way to recreate or give a stronger platform to these ladies to be able to sustain what they do as individuals.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a blow to businesses throughout the Middle East and has caused social and economic problems for many. For 81 Designs, however, it provided an opportunity to work on a non-profit collaboration with Abu Dhabi Health Services on the project “I Am Committed” to help tackle the coronavirus.

“We created wristbands for people to receive at every testing site at the UAE and they were sponsored by different companies throughout the community,” said Maalouf. “The wristbands were encouraging people to get tested.”

Maalouf and El-Tibi set out to re-establish tatreez as an art form while making a positive humanitarian impact. (Supplied)

Maalouf believes more social enterprises like hers could be created to help others. “When you create a social enterprise where you use someone’s skill set to provide a job for them, I think that alone in itself inspires others to do the same,” she said.

“You see a lot of different social enterprises sprouting up from the region and that impact in itself is important to create a hub of opportunities for those who are less fortunate, but not treating them as a charity case because these people are amazing.”

However, 81 Designs was not always destined to be a success. Having contacted several NGOs around Lebanon for initial funding, some of them found the idea to be too abstract and something that would not work, while others were not able to visualize the end product. But none of these hurdles held back Maalouf’s eventual success.

“When you set up as a business, you do face challenges and you just need to keep on going. Believe in yourself. Believe that what you’re actually creating can impact others in a positive way.”

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This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.