Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The other Gaza you don't hear about

We all know the Gaza that is supposedly suffering under the "humanitarian crisis." The media, the UN and other NGOs as well as anti-Israel organizations that masquerade as "aid" agencies all make sure of that.

We are slowly starting to learn about the parts of Gaza that are not doing nearly as bad as we have been taught, as stories about the Gaza luxury malls, luxury hotels, gourmet restaurants and  swimming pools show.

But there is another Gaza story that is being hushed up in the media - the story of how Gazans are suffering under Hamas rule.

Lorenzo Cremonesi, writing in Corriere della Sera, discusses exactly that. Here is a translation:

He asks the foreign peace activists, who promise to return on the next flotillas, for a mixer for his band. But his request conflicts with the laws of the ruling regime in Gaza, the same regime the peace activists are helping to fight the Israeli embargo. "Our old mixer was confiscated by the Hamas police", he explains. "We are victims of a repressive religious government who, due to a distorted reading of the Quran, prohibits free music. We don't like their green Allah." The speaker is Basher Bseiso, the popular front man of rap group Fariq Salam ("The Band of Peace").

Jamal Abu Al Qumsan, 43, runs an art gallery in the "despair strip", as he calls it. "I thank all the democracy advocates around the world who are fighting the Israeli embargo on Gaza, but can you please equally denounce the repression of Hamas against intellectual freedom?"

These testimonies are but two of many such anecdotes one encounters in the area. The latest examples are attacks on youth organizations on the 23rd and 28th of June, when masked Hamas activists torched students' summer camps set up by the UN on the beach. At the end of May, on the exact same day Israeli commandos raided the Marmara's deck, the Hamas police stopped the activities of five local NGOs. "They want to force us to close down the mixed-sex camps", accuses Mohammad Aruki, a "Sharek" activist. "They are trying to exterminate secular culture".

This is another chapter in the cultural war that's been going on here for some time. Religious extremists are trying to prevent girls and women from going to the beach or smoking in public, they forbid unmarried couples from hanging out together in private and they view Western music and fashion as a danger to the "public's morals." Any request for explanations on these issues receives the same answer: "Our civil authority has nothing to do with it. Please contact the police". But the police's answer is "no comment". Yussef Ahmed, Deputy Foreign Minister and Chairman of the Committee Against the Siege concludes: "Israel has all the power. Hamas is just trying to govern the strip."

The problem is that the witnesses, the victims themselves, are afraid to talk. The Hamas has become the sole ruler, a kind of father/master to its people. Punishment doesn't only mean imprisonment or torture, but also ostracism, job loss and social isolation. Bseiso depicts Hamas' latest attack on him with anger: "I was riding my motorcycle when suddenly a group of armed men from the Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades clung to me, threw me to the ground and beat me with clubs. A few days earlier they broke into our studio and confiscated cameras and video cassettes. I'm working on an anti-Hamas song now." Ibrahim Ghonem, another of the band's members, remembers that under the PLO conditions were much better. "Back then there were at least five rap bands. Now we are told that we are agents of the American Satan, that we are corrupting the youth. The result is that whoever can, leaves. Members of other bands got offers to perform abroad and never returned."

Jamal Abu Al Qumsan wasn't so lucky. Until two weeks ago he couldn't even sit or lie on his back due to beatings he received off and on for a week, a strange and very common punishment in the strip.

They are summoned to police centers in prisons. There is not much choice. The infamous Saraya, in the heart of Gaza city, was razed by Israeli bombing during "Cast Lead" in January 2009. But still the there is the Mashtal, the five provincial prisons, and Ansar, where are the heads of security services. Here begins the interrogation. "From seven in the morning to late evening, sometimes past midnight. The most common punishment is to stay against a wall in the full sun all afternoon and forced to exercise for no reason.... Only an occasional glass of water is allowed. And you must be punctual in the morning in front of the door, "says Jamal. He still went wrong. "I've been accused of bribing the girls to let them smoke a water pipe in the premises of my gallery, even sexual abuse. So they used belts and sticks. "

Torture chambers - but it could be worse. In the seafront former villa of the President of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, Abu Mazen, prisoners would remain in isolation for months. You could say that the cellars are used as rooms for the torture for "enemies of Islam." Their techniques are refined. Some mechanisms are learned directly from Israeli jails. ... The psychological pressure is often more effective than physical.

In the prisons of Fatah in the West Bank, where the hunt for militants of Hamas remains open, the techniques are very similar. "The news from Gaza is the growing influence of the systems used by Iranian Basiji. The assault squads from a select group of the Ezzedin Al Qassam Brigades were directly trained by them. The aim is to impose a kind of complete and total political and cultural conformity. Anyone who does not follow the rules is at risk. And there are few heroes. Often enough some veiled threats get the desired effect, says a well-known local commentator, speaking under the promise of absolute anonymity. Asma Al Ghuol, a journalist committed to the defense of intellectual freedom, had his computer recently seized and personal threats for his public denunciation against the censorship of musicians and writers. A colleague who works with the al-Arabiya TV station was arrested a few days ago because agents saw he travelled by car in the company of a boy who was not a member of his family.

Abu Omar (a fictitious name), senior militant Liberation Front of Palestine, expressed his dissent in private: he produces wine hidden in Jabalia refugee camp and sells 100 liters per year. "It's my challenge against the ban imposed on alcohol by Muslims, against the interference in our private lives, as if we were under the Taliban," he said, showing a photo of Mohammad Hassan Hajazi, his friend and activist murdered by Hamas in January 2009 as they took advantage of the chaos generated from the Israeli attack.

The situation closely resembles that imposed against Saddam Hussein's Iraq in the nineties until the 2003 war. The economic blockade and isolation generated enormous difficulties on the international regime, but it strengthened the internal government and indirectly provided legitimacy for even more serious abuses against their people. Atef Abou Saief, brilliant professor of political science at the local university Al Azhar, says "Hamas controls Gaza much better than a couple of years ago, even though its popularity is declining. But we can not verify this. Free elections, as in 2006, are now impossible. At best, if you go back to the polls, we'll see a deal under the table for the division of votes with Fatah. The theocracy of Hamas marked the end of the democratic dream. "

A well-known journalist, employed by foreign news agencies who absolutely asked to remain anonymous, commented: "The difference between Gaza and Iraq is that in the Palestinian territories in January 2006 the elections were swept neatly by Hamas against Fatah. The West is right to point the finger at governments that are not democratic. You can not accept democracy with only results that you like and reject undesirable ones. But now you do not notice that the popularity of Hamas in Gaza is in freefall. It's a curious situation and reflects the ancient Palestinian willingness to stand against those who always wins. If you go to the polls today in the West Bank you could obtain a majority Hamas, but Fatah could win in Gaza."

"Hamas is like Hitler, or rather, as the Islamists in Algeria," said Saief. "That's why Yasser Arafat until his death in November 2004, always refused to hold elections with Hamas. He knew that a free vote with the Islamic government would never have been carried out for the very obvious fact that the doctrine of the Muslim Brotherhood does not give any value to democracy. " It says here lies the weakness of Abu Mazen: allowing Hamas to run for election in 2006. ...

Saief repeats the theory that is the most popular from Gaza in Cairo: Hamas has no interest in jeopardizing the status quo, it is not looking for a real agreement with Abu Mazen, it will not work with or even have contacts with Israel. "Hamas is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran. The project has a more pan-Islamic and less nationalist agenda. Do not look for compromise, because [Hamas] sees Gaza as the revival of global holy war. That is at the expense of independent intellectuals and any entity in areas under its control," he adds. It can not be denied that the persecuted are generally PLO militants, or otherwise bound to the old face of secular Palestinian Left.

...Aruki stresses: 'For Hamas the this is a great debacle. Young people no longer want to fight. The Israeli blockade is terrible, it prevents any movement, we are in a great open-air prison. But the spirit of the two intifadas is dead. Once there were students who refused the few scholarships to go abroad so they could fight the Zionist occupation collectively. Today everyone wants to emigrate and they are not only blocked by Israel. Egypt is severely limiting people going through the Rafah crossing. And Hamas grants permission to leave only to its activists. The others are just subjects to convert to their reading of Islam."

(h/t Islamo-nazism blog which also translated some parts via Hebrew)