Most of the people I've interviewed thus far have been communist party or Fateh party members (although I recently arranged interviews with two high-ranking Hamas officials) and most of my research has focused on humanitarian issues seemingly unrelated to Palestinian internal conflicts. However, the enmity and distrust between some Fateh and Hamas members has frequently colored my interactions and taken my research in surprising directions.
For example, I've been working on an article about Gazans unable to get medical treatment abroad because they are waiting for Israeli security clearance. Ehab Al-Afifi, an employee at the Fateh-controlled Ministry of Health, joined my interview with the health minister and volunteered that it “wasn't just Israel that prevented people from receiving treatment.” Hamas, he said, also barred sick people from leaving Gaza. He claimed that Hamas security recently forbad a nine-year-old relative of his named Maysa Al-Afifi from getting eye surgery in Egypt because her father was a former Fateh intelligence officer.
Believing I’d stumbled upon an explosive and heartbreaking story, I raced down to Rafah to visit this adorable girl (pictured on the right) and discovered that Mr. Al-Afifi had exaggerated. Maysa requires cosmetic eye surgery and could have cleared Hamas security if she crossed the border with her mother, aunt, or grandfather— but not her father, who demanded to travel with her. After mediation from human rights organizations, Hamas recently gave Maryam and her father permission to enter Egypt. The two plan to travel to Egypt as soon as the Gaza-Egypt border reopens.
I encountered another unexpected flashpoint of Hamas-Fateh hostilities as I researched an article about Israel's policy of deporting West Bank residents who hold Gaza-issued IDs. Two days ago, I interviewed Ahmed Sabah (pictured on the right), a former Fateh soldier convicted of throwing grenades and planting bombs against Israeli troops. After serving nine years in an Israeli prison, Mr. Sabah was released last week.
Mr. Sabah's feeling of “happiness like no other happiness” changed to “deep sadness” when he learned that, instead of sending him to reside with his wife and son in the West Bank city of Tulkarem, Israel would send him to Gaza, where he has no immediate relatives. (Mr. Sabah's father is deceased, and his mother, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins are refugees in Jordan.) While his Palestinian ID was issued when he entered Gaza as a soldier in 1994, his place of residence had always been the West Bank. For the past week, Mr. Sabah has spent the daylight hours under a canopy tent next to the Hamas border checkpoint in an effort to draw media attention to his situation. He and his family in the West Bank have been widely interviewed on Arab television networks.
I expected that the issue of forced deportations would encourage unity between Hamas and Fateh, but disputes had apparently erupted over the location and precise purpose of Mr. Sabah's protest tent. Jamal Abaid, a Fateh leader in northern Gaza who has been repeatedly jailed by Hamas, told me that the Fateh party had originally requested to erect a much larger tent for Mr. Sabah in the Jabalia refugee camp. Mr. Abaid argued that the tent in Jabalia would have made it easy for Palestinians from all political parties to welcome Mr. Sabah to Gaza and protest his deportation. The request was rejected by the Hamas government, which has banned political party demonstrations for alleged security reasons.
Hamas instead allowed Mr. Sabah and his Fateh comrades to pitch their tent next to the Hamas border checkpoint, which is far away from a city center. Some posters beside the tent condemned Israeli deportations, but others contained slogans and pictures promoting Fateh. Still other posters promoted the communist party (the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine). But not a single poster promoted Hamas.