Thursday, April 29, 2010
Growing Instability in Gaza
While most civilians I meet in Gaza remain focused on their family lives and daily struggles, tensions are rising between disparate political factions. At the same time, the non-violent protesters in the buffer zones have suffered their first fatality—Israeli troops shot a protester named Ahmad Salem Deeb in his femoral artery on Wednesday and he died of blood loss in the hospital. (See the picture above, from Ma’an News.) Mr. Deeb and a handful of others had reportedly separated from the larger group and thrown stones at Israeli troops.
Despite this tragedy, demonstrators once again marched into the buffer zone on Thursday in Khan Younis; no one was killed, but an ISM activist told me that Israeli troops shot a live bullet through the banner held by the protesters. Based on my observations and conversations, these protests are primarily attracting members of the Communist party (PFLP) and Fateh, the more moderate political party that controls the West Bank.
Meanwhile, internal Palestinian tensions seem to be mounting. On an almost daily basis, random taxi drivers who I meet for the first time volunteer their dislike or disappointment in the Hamas government, which many used to view as a party that represented change and an end to corruption. Many civilians are angry about new taxes, including a 3 shekel (80 cents) tax on cigarettes and new license fees for small businesses such as falafel stands. Others are angry about repressive measures taken against members of Fateh. This includes the seizing of IDs of Fateh leaders seeking to travel through Israel for meetings in the West Bank.
Hamas leaders insist that Fateh members enjoy relative freedom in Gaza and that their allegedly minor actions against Fateh leaders have been in response to Fateh’s allegedly brutal repression of Hamas members in the West Bank. Hamas leaders also say that they are attempting to ensure internal security. Over the past months, Hamas has honored and enforced its ceasefire with Israel and has jailed members of more radical groups like the Salafis and Islamic Jihad.
Some Palestinian analysts suspect that popular demonstrations against Hamas could soon erupt in Gaza. Earlier this week, the minority Communist party (PFLP) distributed leaflets calling for an uprising against the new taxes, which they say impose unfair burdens on an already impoverished population. PFLP leaders say they are attempting to organize a Friday demonstration against the taxes, but Hamas will likely prevent this from happening.
On top of all these problems, the Hamas-Fateh “reconciliation talks” in Egypt aimed at planning a new national election seem to have stalled indefinitely, as have the prisoner swap negotiations between Hamas and Israel. A few months ago, Gilad Shalit, the 23-year-old Israeli soldier held captive by Hamas since 2006, was reportedly set to be exchanged for as many as 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, but the negotiations broke down. Hamas’s military wing released a controversial cartoon video this week (see below) that many westerners interpreted as a direct threat to kill Shalit. However, top Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar said the video did not reflect the position of the Hamas movement, which would not kill a captive soldier because this is “against Islam.”