Hamas keen to show off power

By Jacey Herman, February 5, 2009

If 14-year-old Amira al-Qerem does not get specialist medical care soon, she will never be able to walk again.

She is one of four children in Gaza City’s Al Shifa hospital waiting for permission to be evacuated to France. Hamas in Gaza has agreed, but the Fatah government in Ramallah is refusing, arguing that Hamas is using the children to garner international sympathy. This war of words is just another sign of the ever-increasing rivalry between the Palestinian factions.

Now that Operation Cast Lead appears over, Hamas leaders are keen to show who is in charge. Their message is directed as much to Israel as it is to Fatah leaders. On nearly every street corner in Gaza City, Hamas policemen stand guard, rifles strapped to their bodies, directing traffic and monitoring the situation. Police vehicles parked on the side of the road serve as temporary police stations as all Hamas administrative buildings are in ruins following the recent war.

It is too soon to say just how support for Hamas changed as a result, but the movement does seem less popular now than it was before, although no-one will openly admit it. People are afraid to speak out.

Mohammed Abu Zaid used to work in the Palestinian Authority. Today he is unemployed with a wife and six children to support. He voted for Hamas three years ago but now feels betrayed and alienated by the organisation. He talks to us, but only after guarantees that his real name will not be used.

“Hamas gave us nothing,” he says. “Most people today are tired of their lies. I don’t believe them — and I don’t believe the Fatah criminals. I support nobody. But I’d never say that aloud because I’m not stupid. I don’t want to be shot in the legs. Publicly we say we support Hamas because then they give us food. If we didn’t, if I didn’t, how else would I support my family?”

Less than a month after Israel and Hamas declared a ceasefire, most of the border crossings in and out of Gaza remain closed. In Rafah, near the Egypt-Gaza border, tunnel diggers have been back at work. They estimate Israel destroyed as much as 80 per cent of their network but say most of it will be repaired within months.

Mustafa al-Quedra is the owner of one of the tunnels and employs his two sons and four nephews. He says that if it was not for the tunnels, people in Gaza would starve to death because there is no other way to bring food in. In the nearby Alnejma market, all the products are Egyptian-made — and all were brought in through the tunnels.

“We bring in everything from food and clothes to diesel and even washing machines,” al-Quedra says. “I pay my team $100 a day because the work is dangerous. In the last few months we lost four people. If Israel destroys the tunnels we will die because then we will have nothing.”

But Hamas still remains defiant.

“Hamas is stronger and more popular today — not only in Gaza, not only in the West Bank, not only in Palestine, but in the whole world,” says one local Hamas leader.

Last updated: 3:20pm, February 5 2009