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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Sept/Oct 2010, Pages 20-21

Gaza on the Ground

Angry Gazan Accuses Hamas of "Protecting the Borders With Israel"

By Mohammed Omer

A wounded young girl is carried into Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, July 30, 2010. She was one of three children injured, along with 14 adults, in a nighttime Israeli strike on a police college in Gaza City. In two pre-dawn raids Aug. 1, Israeli warplanes also attacked tunnels in the southern Gaza Strip. (AFP photo/STR)

The anger prompting a controversial e-mail from a Gazan calling himself "Mr. Joker" was unmistakable. After all, it was sent at the very time Israel was coming under heavy international criticism for its deadly May 31, 2010 attack on the humanitarian Gaza Freedom Flotilla. Despite requests from the U.N., Turkey and other countries and international organizations for an independent investigation of the assault, Netanyahu's right-wing government was showing little intention of cooperating with, much less undertaking, such an investigation.

As the furious e-mail was circulated, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was declaring ad nauseam that, no matter what Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton or anyone else says, the ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem will continue—this despite the fact that, according to the Fourth Geneva Convention and numerous U.N resolutions, settlement-building in the occupied West Bank and the forced dispossession of non-Jewish East Jerusalemites are illegal. Many Palestinian Muslims and Christians consider Israel's actions akin to a declaration of war and a clear indication that it does not want peace.

Nevertheless, as a demonstration of their willingness to re-enter peace talks with Israel, leaders of Gaza's ruling Hamas movement were aggressively cracking down on militia groups launching homemade rockets into Israel—creating controversy among Gaza's various factions. As Fatah-affiliated parties in the West Bank continue to attempt to challenge Hamas' authority in Gaza, and Israel continues to flout international law, some Gazans have begun to view Hamas as complacent—and, even worse, as furthering the Jewish state's agenda.

"Mr. Joker"

Like many Palestinians, Mr. Joker sees Israel's actions against Jerusalem, along with its Muslim and Christian holy sites and residents, as justification for attacks on Israel. He also considers the efforts by Hamas to prevent the launching of rudimentary rockets from Gaza as akin to treason.

While most Palestinians today do not agree with his assessment, the minority supporting Mr. Joker's indignation grows with each day of Israel's four-year siege, each attack on Gaza, each home demolition, and each new settlement for Jews only. They see Hamas making concessions—and Israel thumbing its nose in disrespect.

As a result, Gaza's Hamas leadership finds itself in a conundrum, wedged between extremists determined to continue their resistance and its own desire to remain in power and, by adhering to Quartet demands to halt the rocket attacks, seek an end to the siege, and work toward a long-term truce with the Israeli occupation. At the same time, Hamas must contend with competing Palestinian factions seeking its overthrow, and an occupying power that has yet to show good faith or an inclination toward peace, and which continues to inflame the situation through its actions.

The latest virtual shouting match began with Mr. Joker's widely distributed e-mailhammering Hamas for not allowing Palestinian militia groups to launch home-made rockets from Gaza into Israel. The incident which enraged him took place on a night in the last week of July.

According to the e-mail, at 11 p.m. that night, a group of Palestinian militants transported two rockets to the border between Gaza and Israel with the purpose of launching them into Israel. Members of the Al Qassam Brigade (AQB), Hamas' military wing, then arrived on the scene escorted by Hamas police, arrested the militants and confiscated the rockets, and transported the militants to an undisclosed location for interrogation, Mr. Joker reported, claiming that the police escort attacked the militants.

The AQB members stayed behind to guard the border, the e-mail continued, and at 1:20 a.m., militants who claimed to be part of rival Islamic Jihad's Al Quds Brigade and "who were in clashes against the Israeli armed forces who were attempting to attack East Gaza City" came under attack by the AQB, Mr. Joker charged.

In truth, his e-mail reads more like a complaint to God about the squelching of retaliation and resistance by "those who are protecting the borders with Israel, while Al Aqsa mosque is bleeding." Mr. Joker accuses both Hamas and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority of protecting Israel's borders rather than the Al-Aqsa mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam.

Politically Motivated?

A Google search revealed that the majority of sites and forums displaying the Mr. Joker's e-mail are affiliated with Hamas' rival, Fatah—raising the question of possible political motivation. According to Israeli media reports, Hamas leader Dr. Mahmoud Al Zahar has expressed dissatisfaction with recently renewed rocket fire, hinting it is aimed at undermining Hamas rule in Gaza.

In response to the Israeli reports, Hamas issued a press release criticizing "the media for the use of erroneous and misleading interpretation of [Dr. Al Zahar's] statements." Appearing on Al Alam TV, Al Zahar reiterated that "The enemy wants to respond to rockets from the Gaza Strip, with the justification of self-defense, at a time when it's under fire by the Quartet."

Meanwhile, though he did not comment on Mr. Joker's e-mail or similar criticisms, Dr. Ahmed Yousef, deputy minister of foreign affairs in Gaza's de facto Hamas government, accused Israel of abusing Internet technologies to recruit collaborators in Gaza, whom he has dubbed "electronic collaborators."

Dr. Yousef disclosed that the security establishment in Gaza has discovered that some groups planning to launch rockets on Jewish-only settlements are not actually "coming from Palestinian resistance groups, some are suspicious groups" which he described as providing "justification for Israeli aggression."

"These rockets...did not hurt anyone on the other side," he pointed out, as they are usually "fired into empty spaces."

Dr. Yousef also stated that his government's current priority is to reconstruct the Gaza Strip following Israel's December 2008-January 2009 "Operation Cast Lead" massacre.

"There is a total national consensus from all Palestinian factions to reinstall a period of quietness and [not contribute to] Israel's policies of attempting to demonize Hamas, in order to justify Israeli aggression on Gaza," he stated.

Whether the rocket attacks represent grass roots resistance or collaborators' provocation, however, political partisanship doesn't seem to be a factor in Mr. Joker's fury—which he bestows equally upon Hamas and the Palestinian Authority's Fatah leaders. As he summed it up in his e-mail: "All of you can go to hell!"

Award-winning journalist Mohammed Omer reports on the Gaza Strip, and maintains the Web site. He can be reached at <[email protected]>.