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.


Palestinians slam Pompeo over pro-settlement efforts

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, walks with U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman as he prepares to board a plane at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. Pompeo is en route to the United Arab Emirates. (AP)
Updated 24 November 2020

Palestinians slam Pompeo over pro-settlement efforts

  • US actions ‘will not change international consensus,’ says former UN envoy

AMMAN: Palestinian officials have downplayed the effectiveness of a statement by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during his recent visit to Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

The statement included a move to allow products made in the occupied territories to be labeled “Made in Israel,” a clear contradiction to recent UN Security Council resolutions and efforts by the EU to reject such labeling.

Nasser Al-Kiddwa, former Palestinian envoy to the UN, told Arab News that the US efforts are “dangerous,” despite being ineffective.

“This is a dangerous move even though it will not have much of an effect and is reversible,” he said.

In harsh comments, Al-Kiddwa said that, while President Donald Trump’s administration is keen to help Israelis and settlers, the country’s efforts constitute helping Israel “commit a war crime.”

“While the Trump team wants to support settlements and settlers, their action makes the US an accomplice in a war crime,” he said.

Al-Kiddwa said the Pompeo statement violates UN Council Resolution 2334, which calls for differentiating between the West Bank and Israel. He said it was also a clear violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Jamal Dajani, a lecturer at San Francisco State university, said the Trump administration is not “recognizing the reality on the ground,” but rather creating its own fictitious reality by implementing Benjamin Netanyahu’s settler-colonial vision.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement violates UN Council Resolution 2334, which calls for differentiating between the West Bank and Israel.

Nasser Al-Kiddwa, Former Palestinian envoy to UN

Dajani, who previously served as director of strategic communications and media in the Palestinian prime minister’s office, said the “true reality on the ground” is that Area C in the West Bank is an internationally recognized occupied territory. He added that the presence of Israeli colonial settlements in the region is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states: “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

Al-Kiddwa, who is a member of the Fatah Central Committee, told Arab News that the US action will not alter the international consensus. “This is a biased administration that does not care about international law or the future of the region.”

He called on the newly elected administration in the US to reverse the decision.

“As a world citizen, I believe that the new administration must reverse all the decisions that were carried out without coordination with the US Congress, which are in clear violation of the way things are carried out,” he said.

Wadie Abunassar, a Haifa-based political analyst and the director of the International Centre for Consultations, told Arab News that the Trump administration has ignored the more than 7 million Palestinians to the west of the Jordan River.

“This administration repeatedly damaged US chances to be perceived as an honest broker by the vast majority of Middle East residents. The US would do well by respecting international law and encouraging Israel to do so.”

Senior Palestinian officials contacted by Arab News said that the gifts being bestowed on the Netanyahu government will not change anything on the ground.

“Trump and Pompeo are playing in lost time and their actions will not change anything regarding the occupied territories.”