Jonathan Schanzer. Hamas vs. Fatah: The Struggle for Palestine. Palgrave Macmillan. London & New York. 2008. pp. 256.
During the early part of the Gaza war of 2009. Amira Hass. the Israeli journalist known for her incisive commentary on the Palestinian territories and often accused of pro-Palestinian sympathies. wrote that Hamas operatives had begun to execute Fatah members who had expressed “happiness” at the Israeli aerial attack.’ The Hamas Interior Minister, Said Siyain, later killed in the assault on Gaza. had ordered the house arrest of many Fatah members. Hass further named the former Israeli Gaza settlement of Rafiah Yam as Hamas’s killing fields. Virtually nothing else was written about this attempt to liquidate political rivals until the Palestinian Ma’an news agency in Ramallah published a long list of 181 names and locations of “patriotic people” who had been executed, shot in the feet or had their legs broken.2 This was the latest episode in the relatively unpublicised conflict between the nationalist Fatah and the Islamist Hamas to have taken place — all of which is documented in this book. It began essentially With the birth of Hamas at the beginning of 1988, but is actually a much older phenomenon, going right back to the emergence of modern Arab nationalism. Nasser’s suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1950s is a more recent example of this.
Arab and Palestinian nationalists, influenced by the European Enlightenment, have often ultimately taken a pragmatic decision to make a political compromise with their enemies. The Islamists’ blend of nationalism, religious zeal and acts of terror box them in and they find it almost theologically impossible to make this fateful leap. Hence a hudna, a limited ceasefire, if not a suhl, peace and reconciliation. It is simply a question of spiritual reinvigoration and gathering military strength until the next round.
Hamas opposed any rapprochement between Rabin’s Israel and Arafat’s PLO and thereby introduced suicide bombing into Israel proper in April 1994 to undermine the Oslo Accords. Despite Arafat’s attempts to corral Hamas, the bombings undermined the peace camp in Israel, effectively elected Netanyahu and banged a large nail into the coffin of the peace process. Hamas not only did not wish to recognise Israel, it did not wish to recognise Israelis. Unlike the PLO, it did not wish to engage in any dialogue with Israelis opposed to their government’s policies.
The first Intifada in the 1980s coincided with the end of the Iran—Iraq war. Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, the spiritual mentor and effective founder of llamas, embraced Iran despite previous objections, based on the Sunni—Shi’ ite schism. Arafat’s determination to allow the PLO to participate in the Jordanian delegation to the Madrid peace conference in 1991 persuaded Hamas to attend a conference in Teheran. This was the beginning of a long alliance whereby the Ayatollahs have provided funding, training and war materiel to the Palestinian Islamists.
During the Hainas takeover of Gaza in the summer of 2007, Israeli human rights advocates estimated that at least 330 Palestinians had been killed in the fighting between the nationalists and the Islamists.3 Fatah buildings including the organisation’s intelligence headquarters, private homes and hospitals were taken over. Clashes and killings continued throughout 2008.
Some Palestinian nationalists such as Hanan Ashrawi were also Christian Arabs. Islamist attacks on the Rosary Sisters school and the Latin Church in Gaza City therefore became another bone of contention. This was augmented by the seemingly forced conversion of Professor Sana al-Sayegh to Islam and the killing of Rutin Ayyad. the propri-eter of the Holy Bible Association in Gaza.4 Allied to this were comments from the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief that women were especially vulnerable in Gaza under Hamas rule.
Israel in the 1980s supported and indeed armed Sheikh Yassin’s followers as a counterbalance to Arafat’s PLO. Following the Camp David summit in 2000 and the outbreak of the al-Aqsa Intifada, Arafat’s encouragement of the fighting effectively opened the door to an Islamist takeover of the uprising and a consequential weakening of his own position. Indeed. Arafat released hundreds of Hamas detainees at the beginning of the Intifada. Despite protestations by the Palestinian Authority at the assault on Gaza in 2009, it has also dawned upon Fatah that their more dangerous enemy may be Hamas rather than the Israelis.
This book, therefore, provides a comprehensive overview of this deep, hidden, bitter and often lethal conflict within Palestinian society.
Asian Affairs July 2009