Monday, July 30, 2007

Foreign Journalists Tour of Gaza

• Stop One. Ismail Haniyeh's house.

"It's not a luxurious house," Hamas tour guide Ahmad Asmar said before the buses pulled up to the home of Haniyeh, whom Hamas still considers prime minister even though he was fired by Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah-affiliated president, after Hamas' takeover. Haniyeh lives among the people in the Shati refugee camp on the Gaza City beach. Dressed in a suit and tie on a hot summer day, Haniyeh suddenly appeared on his balcony and waved to the reporters.

• Stop Two. Yasser Arafat's house.

"It is our job to keep this house secure," said senior Haniyeh aide Ghazi Hamad, disputing Fatah and media claims that the home of the late Palestinian leader had been looted and vandalized. Hamas officials stressed that they respected Arafat and the Fatah movement he founded. Arafat's picture remains posted on the walls of many buildings controlled by Hamas.

• Stop Three. Presidential guest house.

The guest house, where Abbas used to entertain foreign dignitaries, remains just as it was when Fatah abandoned it in defeat. A photograph of Arafat and Nelson Madela adorns the wall of one room, and in the bedroom, a photo of Arafat and Bill Clinton. Even the ashtrays and water glasses have been left untouched. Hamad said it's Hamas' duty to preserve such places "until we reach a political compromise" with Fatah. At the moment, that's looks unlikely. Fatah, whose defeat in Gaza has left it in charge of the West Bank and eligible for fresh diplomacy with Israel and the West, says it has no interest in talking to Hamas.

• Stop Four. The Palestinian parliament.

Acting parliamentary speaker Ahmad Bahar offered journalists a long explanation of how the Hamas-controlled legislature favors human rights, Palestinian unity, press freedom and a swift end to Israeli occupation. The rub: Since Hamas' takeover, the Palestinian parliament has not been functioning, and no resumption is likely any time soon.

• Stop Five. National Security Headquarters.

The head of the Executive Force, Hamas' main security force in Gaza, was flanked by black-clad gunmen as he told the reporters that its job is "sacred" and that it has an obligation to tell the world the truth about Hamas. Abu Obeida said Hamas respects human rights and holds no political prisoners — denying claims by human rights workers that at least nine Fatah loyalists have been killed and more than 20 others arrested since Hamas' takeover.

"We are working according to the law," Abu Obeida said before taking journalists to a jail in the same compound. Prisoners prayed and cooked and answered journalists' questions, with many saying their conditions had improved since Hamas took power. "I can open the refrigerator" to show how nice the food is, said 46-year-old inmate Menahed Ehlayel. No one on the tour, in the jail or anywhere else, said anything negative about Hamas, which much of the world has branded a terrorist organization.

• Stop Six. A Roman Catholic church.

A Hamas minder tried to stop a reporter from asking Father Manuel Musallam, Gaza's only Catholic priest, about who was behind the ransacking of a Catholic convent and nearby school during June's Hamas-Fatah fighting. Musallam answered anyway, saying Haniyeh had offered his support in finding the perpetrators. "We suffer with them, but we haven't suffered from them," the priest said of Hamas and Gaza's other Muslim inhabitants. Still, a number of Gaza's 3,000 Christians have privately expressed concern about Hamas' intentions.

• Stop Seven. The Rafah border crossing.

Hamas gunmen guard the perimeter of Gaza's main gateway to the outside world, its border crossing with Egypt. Like all other Gaza crossings, the Rafah border has been shut since Hamas' takeover, leaving thousands of Gazans stranded on the other side. The reporters were taken within a few yards of the Egyptian side. Three truckloads of wheat flour passed by from another nearby crossing — part of the daily humanitarian aid flow that sustains the vast majority of Gaza's 1.4 million people. Hamad said Hamas would like to see Abbas' forces regain control of border crossings such as Rafah, aware that Israel would never permit Hamas to conduct security checks there. Fatah has ruled this out.

• Stop Eight. Haniyeh speaks.

The tour ended with a speech by Haniyeh at an upscale Gaza City hotel. To get there, the buses drove along the beach, where thousands of Gazans have been flocking since Hamas' takeover improved the internal security situation in Gaza. Veiled women sat waist-deep in the ocean with their children as Hamas security forces guarded the beach. Haniyeh described how Hamas' takeover had ended factional fighting and the murderous chaos that had taken over Gaza's streets. Father Musallam sat next to Haniyeh, who began his speech by saying Christians were "a very important part of our people."

"We do not want to establish an Islamic state in the Gaza Strip," Haniyeh said.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What do you think of this ? Shoher is arguably the most right Israeli today, but he argues Israel should talk to Hamas as Egypt will not maintain the blockade of Gaza.