Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Working from Home in Gaza

Today I visited Abu Hassan and his family, my friends in Jabalya refugee camp. Abu and Om Hassan have eight children of which two are employed. Randa, their oldest is a school teacher while Hassan, the eldest son, works for the Palestinian “navy” (they don’t have any ships or other seaworthy vehicles, but they are responsible for Gaza’s seashore).

Since Hamas’ election victory early last year Hassan has not received a full month’s salary, going many months without pay. Today, for the first time in 17 months he did received a full month’s wages, and this while remaining home, actually being ordered by his commanders now in the West Bank to stay home. Government employed policemen also are staying home obeying similar orders. Hamas has replaced these with, for the most part quite capable Hamas traffic controllers. These Hamas men, who are now doing the work, are not being paid, while the original government employees (mainly Fatah supporters) remain home, yet are paid.

My friend Ra’ed was at my place earlier this morning and was outraged at this imbalanced and unjust situation. Reacting with reservation I tried to calm him justifying the situation as being such as the forces that be desire them to be. Later, I was shocked at my complacency. I do believe there is truth in my reasoning, yet should we none the less not be appalled at injustice?

Hassan is one of the many Fatah men who participated in a US-funded training camp, along with 40 of Dahlan’s men in Egypt two months ago. 250 of them returned during the first round of fighting in May. His hatred for Hamas runs deep, of the 500 men who trained in Egypt with him, four were killed last month. Many more were shot in the legs. He spoke of the likelihood of one of his colleagues wheeling himself into a mosque (in the Gaza Strip these are almost entirely run by Hamas) and blowing himself up among men who are fellow Palestinians, yet, political foes.

How terribly deep this division has seeped into the psyche of so many Palestinians.


After 114 days of Alan's captivity, this is wonderful news from Gaza.

Last night I was visiting my friend Abu Joudat and his family, who live right next to the Doughmosh clan, some of their members were the ones holding Alan. I got to Abu Joudat’s house after 10pm and the street was full of checkpoints, and masked gunmen in some areas. These scenes are not new in Gaza and yet in the past three weeks there has been very little of this. There was much talk that Hamas had taken the spokesman of the Islamic Army hostage along with other clan members while the Islamic Army had taken some Hamas members and negotiations were under way.

Abu Joudat predicted to me he expected this to be the night Alan would be freed. At 6:30am he called and confirmed his prediction. Alan was amazingly calm in a press conference. After a nice homos breakfast with all the Hamas leadership he is now off to Jerusalem.

Here, a timeline of his time in captivity.

Alan's freeing is incredible proof of Hamas’ ability to ascertain law and order, Fatah and no one else was ever able to do the same. Sadly I doubt this will change international leaders relations with Hamas, who are calling for both negotiations with Fatah’s new emergency government as well as with Israel. Neither is replying. I am pleased that Hamas have made Gaza a much safer place to live in again. Radio stations in Gaza aired many callers who were relieved and overjoyed at Alan’s release. Today Gaza loses a true friend, who lived in Gaza for three years as the only international journalist to be stationed here full-time, telling of the plight of the Palestinians.

The fact that beaches have been packed over the past weeks is proof of Hamas’ ability to bring security. For many in Gaza the beach is really the only distraction, the only escape from the unemployment and poverty. While conflict continued between Fatah and Hamas in the past many months, beaches remained rather empty, few people had the nerve to seek such enjoyment under those circumstances. By 8pm most nights the streets were almost completely empty.

Now all that has changed. Yesterday, a regular workday, the beaches were full. Even by 9pm in the Northern Gaza Strip, just kilometers from Israel’s border and the very site where an entire family was
murdered when Israeli tanks shelled a beach one year ago families were still out enjoying the summer and the new found safety in the Gaza Strip.

Let us hope that this summer will bring some quiet for the people of Gaza.