Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1145, 25 April - 1 May 2013
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1145, 25 April - 1 May 2013

Ahram Weekly

Bitterness in Gaza

The campaign against the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip by some elements in the Egyptian press has left Gazans feeling embittered and bewildered, writes Saleh Al-Naami

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Al-Ahram Weekly

 

Every day Youssef Talaya, 51, leaves his home in the Berket Al-Wez district west of the Al-Maghazi Refugee Camp in the centre of the Gaza Strip and heads to Salaheddin Street some 200 metres from his home. He waits for a taxi to take him to work in Gaza City, 13km away.

Talaya, a university lecturer, has a PhD in business administration and a family of five. He spent nearly 20 years in Philadelphia in the US where he worked at academic and research institutions, as well as in private companies. As a member of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood, he is upset at a campaign in the Egyptian media claiming that Palestinians in the Gaza Strip want to move into Sinai according to a plot hatched by Hamas and the Brotherhood.

“I represent the majority of Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip who believe that the only alternative to living in the Gaza Strip is to return to the land from which they were expelled, where the Zionist movement has created a political entity known as Israel,” Talaya told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“I left the excellent living conditions I had in the US and decided to return to live in the Gaza Strip. The only place I would leave Gaza for is Beir Sabea, the town where my family lived before 1948 on the eve of Israel’s occupation of Palestine.” Talaya feels pained and bitter, he says, when the Egyptian media “treats Palestinians in such an insulting manner and depicts them as searching for any place to go.”

Many Palestinians who previously had prosperous lives in Egypt have decided to return to live in the Gaza Strip. One such is Ahmed Sika, 58, who left the Strip 25 years ago and settled in Egypt where he worked in business. He was very successful at his job, but decided to return to Gaza. Sika is also upset by the “systematic campaign by the Egyptian media against the Palestinian people”.

“Although some elements in the Egyptian media want to malign the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, they are instead insulting the Palestinian people and denying their resistance to the occupation. If the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip wanted to find another homeland, they would have accepted Israel’s offers after 1967 of relocation to South America,” he said.

Last year, Israel’s National Archives revealed a secret document written in 1970 by the commander of the Israeli army’s southern command, Ariel Sharon, which he had submitted to the government headed by the then Israeli prime minister Golda Meir. The document admits the failure of Sharon’s plan to encourage Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to relocate to South American countries and Canada.

One of the accusations in the Egyptian media that has angered Palestinians in the Gaza Strip is the claim that Hamas has been carrying out military operations inside Egypt, including storming Egyptian jails to free imprisoned Hamas members during the 25 January Revolution and guarding Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.

Ayman Nofal, a leader of Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing, was detained in the Al-Marg prison in northern Cairo when the revolution began. However, he mocks claims that a military unit of his Brigades stormed the prison to free group members in Egyptian jails during the revolution.

“It doesn’t take much to refute these offensive fabrications,” he told the Weekly. “There is footage on YouTube documenting the raid on the Al-Marg prison that clearly shows those who stormed it and freed the prisoners there, most of whom were felons. These people were members of the families of the Egyptian prisoners. There were no non-Egyptian elements among them.” 

Nofal added that during his time in Egyptian prisons he had received seven release orders from the Egyptian courts because no one had accused him of jeopardising Egypt’s national security. However, State Security had ignored these court orders and had sent him back to jail. “The fabrication of reports and allegations just to distort what happened and damage reputations indicates the goals of these parties,” he said.

He laughed out loud when asked about claims that Hamas had sent military reinforcements into Egypt to protect Morsi. “That’s ridiculous,” he said. “How could anyone in his right mind think that the president of a country like Egypt, which has the largest army in the Arab world and specialised units to protect the president, needs Hamas to protect him? Where are the Hamas members who are protecting Morsi? Has anyone seen them? Or are they just ghosts?”

Nofal, who was targeted in seven assassination attempts by the Israeli army for his role in resistance operations against the occupation, said he was “certain that the Egyptian people will never believe these lies and fabrications.”

 

NO THREAT FROM TUNNELS: Residents of the Gaza Strip have also criticised the way Egypt’s media has dealt with the issue of the border tunnels, claiming that they were dug to undermine Egypt’s security while ignoring the fact that they were built in response to the siege imposed on the Strip. The Palestinians cannot imagine their lives under the siege without these tunnels.

More than seven years ago, the home of Salah Ayed, 56, who lives in central Gaza Strip, was destroyed by the occupation army during the war mounted by Israel at the end of 2008. Ayed and his 11-member family lived in a tent for three years because there were no construction materials available to rebuild the house. Two years ago, he was able to rebuild his home once construction supplies had started arriving in the Gaza Strip via the tunnels.

“Without the tunnels, my family and I would have had to continue to suffer the bitter cold of winter and the sweltering heat of summer without proper shelter,” he told the Weekly. Ayed said that he would be among the first to demand that the tunnels were shut down if there was an alternative, but added that “it is not fair to put people under siege in a small patch of land and then ask them to submit to their fate without protesting against it.”

Responding to claims that the tunnels were being used by persons targeting Egypt’s security, the Gaza government’s Ministry of Interior said that it strictly regulated the movement of people through the tunnels. Passage is only allowed after inspection and oversight by the relevant security agencies. Individuals are not allowed to pass except after close security inspection and coordination with Egyptian security agencies.

Many Gazans also say that they have been paying a high price to work in the tunnels. More than 250 young men have been killed in accidents over recent years while working in the tunnels, either because of technical malfunctions, cave-ins, or in Israeli attacks. Deteriorating economic conditions inside the Gaza Strip have caused many Palestinian young men to seek such work, irrespective of the danger. The outcome has been that these young people have been forced to accept work in the tunnels despite the deplorable working conditions that are similar to hard labour.

Egyptian media coverage of Gaza has also upset the leaders of the Gaza government and has been the target of observers and political analysts. Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh has been surprised at the “smear campaign” against Hamas in the Egyptian media, and he has condemned the way in which the group has been portrayed as wanting to invade Sinai.

During a conference entitled “Youth and the Palestinian Cause in the Light of the Arab Spring” at the beginning of the week in Gaza, Haniyeh said that “anyone betraying Egypt, which to us and the nation represents history and the future and is a strategic asset, is also betraying religion. Anyone spilling the blood of Egyptian soldiers is like those who disparage Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque.”

“Hamas in Gaza is a protective shield for Egypt’s security and stability. We have troops on the border, and senior security committees periodically visit Cairo in order to meet with Egyptian security agencies to discuss security issues of joint interest.” Haniyeh added that post-revolutionary Egypt was a strategic asset for Palestine and Jerusalem and that it had changed from its pre-revolutionary role as an asset for the occupation, given the policies of collaboration promoted by ousted former president Hosni Mubarak.

The Arab revolutions today were facing three challenges, Haniyeh said, including eliminating remnants of the former corrupt regimes that were trying to circumvent the revolutions, acting against the media “that is trying to distract the public from their central cause, which is Palestine, and spending large sums on this goal,” and circumventing the “the foreign interference that has been trying to contain and curb the influence of the revolutions.”

“One of the challenges of the Arab revolutions is that the media has been reporting the opposite of the truth, fabricating events and confusing issues,” he said, but added that there was confidence “in the awareness of the Arab people that will destroy all such lies.”

Some countries were spending millions of dollars under international or regional auspices to distract the media from the issue of Jerusalem, he said. But it had been the Palestinian cause that had triggered the revolutions. “We monitored the Arab revolutions and saw Palestine’s strong presence in them,” Haniyeh said. “Palestine always unites the nation during historic phases.”

“While we have been concerned at elements within the counter-revolution attempting to reverse the original revolutions, we have seen the nation more forward in freedom. When people move on these issues, we will forge the way forward towards Palestine.”

Haniyeh emphasised the need for the revolutions to continue until they had achieved their goals, including liberating Palestine, Jerusalem and lifting the siege on Gaza. He noted the prominence enjoyed by the Palestinian cause among the Arab Spring countries after the revolutions, and the fact that people had chanted “the people demand the liberation of Palestine” during them.

“We worry about the plots against the Arab revolutions, especially in Egypt, and we worry because these plots are also plots against Palestine,” Haniyeh said.

 

EGYPTIAN SUPPORT FOR GAZA: Other officials in the Gaza government also saw the cup as being half full and noted that the campaign by some in the Egyptian media had also been an opportunity to highlight the positions of Egyptian politicians and the Egyptian public in favour of Hamas.

Youssef Rizk, Haniyeh’s political adviser, said that Al-Sayed Al-Badawi, the president of the Egyptian Wafd Party, had apologised to Haniyeh in a telephone conversation about the media campaign against Hamas. Al-Badawi had said that the Egyptian people appreciated Hamas and its resistance to the occupation, he added.

“This is what we expect from the prominent Egyptian parties,” Rizk said. “The position of the Wafd Party is a significant step forwards. The resistance would like to see similar action from other nationalist and Islamist parties in Egypt, especially those in the National Salvation Front [NSF] since most of their leaders have visited Gaza and are familiar with the resistance. They know the principles governing the Palestinian resistance, among them working against the occupation and exclusively inside the occupied Palestinian territories.”

“We are waiting for a patriotic stand by Egypt’s NSF and the other Egyptian parties, and we believe that such a position would assist the resistance in silencing the lies that have been circulated against the resistance to serve Zionist goals. These lies will be exposed for what they are once the Wafd, the NSF and the Islamist parties refute them, and this is a national and patriotic Egyptian and Arab duty.”

Many Palestinians have noted how Hamdeen Sabahi, leader of Egypt’s Popular Current Party, has defended Hamas and criticised what he has described as “a smear campaign against Hamas in the Egyptian media.” This campaign serves “the Zionist enemy, undermines the Palestinian resistance, and aims to destroy the resistance,” he added.

Social networking sites have highlighted Sabahi’s statements that the people of Egypt “will never allow Hamas to pay the bill for Brotherhood mistakes. Egypt’s national security will be achieved by confronting the tyranny of the Muslim Brotherhood and not by punishing Hamas. We will continue to support Gaza and Palestine. We will always oppose the Muslim Brotherhood and support the Palestinian resistance and Hamas,” Sabahi has said.

Hassan Abu Hashish, the editor of a Palestinian newspaper published in Gaza, said that there was a need for Egypt’s elites to play a more active role in combating the campaign maligning the Palestinian resistance. This campaign wanted to make the Palestinian people pay a high political price, and it was using all the means at its disposal to hinder Palestinian ability to refute its fabrications. As a result, he said, there was a need for a strong Egyptian response.

Sabahi had visited Gaza and praised the resistance, he said, as had dozens of the representatives of Egyptian revolutionary parties and currents, both secularists and Islamists. He said that Al-Badawi’s initiative to apologise to Haniyeh was “an expression of genuine patriotism and national responsibility that has been highly appreciated by the Palestinian people. But it is also important that such statements are made by all categories of Egyptian society, because Egyptian officials and the Egyptian people will never allow Gaza to be sacrificed on the altar of Egypt’s political and partisan disputes.”

“We are making a friendly call on all Egyptian unions, universities, free media, parties, youth and revolutionary movements to stop those speaking against Gaza on behalf of Egypt, its history and its role. Egypt, which sacrificed much for Palestine in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973, and today continues to do so, is bigger than those who are trying to sabotage its image and claim that Egypt is a free-for-all and is too weak to protect itself.”

Abu Hashish said that the campaign against Gaza “not only sabotages Egypt, but is also an insult to 90 million Egyptians. We hope that the majority will act to end this corrosion of media values, and we will do our part to restore things to their proper order.”

 

REASONS BEHIND THE CAMPAIGN: According to Nehad Khalil, a Palestinian researcher and writer, some elements in the Egyptian media have been introducing Hamas, the Palestinian resistance and Al-Qassam Brigades into Egypt’s domestic disputes in order to serve their own goals.

“The first of these goals,” Khalil told the Weekly, “is to accuse the Muslim Brotherhood of opening the door to foreign parties to interfere in and threaten Egyptian interests and stability. The second is to justify the siege on Gaza and demand that it be tightened, and the third is to sabotage the Palestinian resistance and cause it to lose the ground it gained after it blocked the last attack by the occupation in February 2012.”

“Some in the Egyptian media have not hesitated to make false accusations and publish lies that do not require much intelligence to refute. Nevertheless, this avalanche of lies has affected some people.” Khalil said that he believed that the campaign was intended to try to create “a negative image of all Islamists in power, which is the goal of some Arab countries, Israel and the US.”

He urged the Gaza government and the resistance movements to do their utmost “to transform the spontaneous popular support among the Egyptian people into continuous political support. This goes beyond visits by officials, meetings and waiting for the situation in Egypt to stabilise.”

He noted that the vast majority of Egyptians supported the Palestinian cause and Gaza was a focal point for Arab and Islamic interests. After the 25 January Revolution, he said, “a million-man march raised the Palestinian flag, and the people placed the Israeli embassy in Cairo under siege, bringing down its flag. Another million-man march, organised about one year ago, would have marched on Sinai on its way to Palestine had it not been for the interventions that prevented it. The reason it did not take place was because conditions were not propitious. It was not because of the idea itself.”

Khalil urged Palestinian leaders to seek out influential players on the Egyptian scene, starting with the key state institutions and going down to the smallest political parties and revolutionary movements. These should be connected with on a daily basis, he said. He added that appropriate information should be made available to Egypt’s elites, such that they could better understand the challenges facing the Palestinian people.

This information would also highlight the attempts that had been made to distort the issues and to sew confusion by those wanting to sabotage the relationship between Egypt and the Palestinian resistance. Egypt’s media should be “kept abreast of correct information around the clock, in order to prevent the spread of any rumours that may be generated. Trained young people should make the truth about Gaza, the Palestinians, and the resistance known on Egypt’s streets and in the different media,” he said.

“Visits should be made by the Egyptian media to Gaza, in order to keep journalists updated about what is happening on the West Bank, Jerusalem and occupied Palestine.”

In the same vein, Adnan Abu Amer, an expert on Islamist movements, argued that political common sense required Hamas to support stable domestic conditions in Egypt and not to rock the boat through any actions that could undermine the popularity of President Morsi.

Abu Amer told the Weekly that “if Hamas never thought of such acts [during the era of ousted former president Hosni Mubarak], it would certainly not do so when those in power in Egypt [the Muslim Brotherhood] are its legitimate forefathers.”

He said that the media campaign against Hamas in the Egyptian media distorted the group’s image. “Hamas is in a difficult position because under the previous hostile regime it was embraced by the Egyptian masses, while today the situation is reversed. When the Brotherhood came to power in Egypt, Hamas felt it had achieved its greatest goals. Now, it is seeing cracks in its image in Egyptian public opinion.”

Hamas had launched a multi-faceted media campaign, including newspaper articles and meetings with non-Islamist Egyptian forces and politicians, and it was planning to invite the latter to Gaza, he added.

Cairo’s decision to embrace Hamas’s political leadership and to host the recent elections to the group’s political bureau “had reassured the group that Egyptian decision-makers are not likely to abandon or sever ties with it. This is not necessarily because they are enamoured of its leadership, however. Instead, Egypt is not so naïve to allow any other regional power to control the Hamas card.”

 

While the residents of Gaza have been hurt by the smear campaign against them, this has not been because the campaign has targeted Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood. Instead, it has been because the campaign has tried to taint the image of the Palestinian resistance, questioning the loyalty of the Palestinians to their own land.

This campaign, they say, has been used as a tool in domestic Egyptian disputes. But they are convinced that Egyptian-Palestinian relations will overcome the hurdle that the campaign has represented.

 

 

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