Local Palestinians reject talk of civil war

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When Hamas forces took control of the Gaza Strip on June 15, headlines in the Vancouver Sun read: “New Islamic State Looms” and “Palestinian Territories Expected to Fracture”. But what Palestinian community leaders had to say was very different.

“It is not a civil war,” Khaled Barakat told the Georgia Straight. Barakat, owner and editor of the Arabic Vancouver newspaper al-Shorouq, argued that headlines suggesting the breakup of Palestine were illustrative of a biased interpretation of the past week’s events.

Others in the Vancouver Palestinian community were equally displeased with the media’s depiction of the recent violence in Palestine. “Civil war? Hamas took over Gaza in two days!” said Hanna al-Kawaz, long-time host of the Vancouver-based Co-op Radio program Voice of Palestine. Al-Kawaz told the Straight that Gaza’s recent upheaval should be classified as “clashes” and laughed at headlines in this month’s newspapers that said Palestine would be politically divided in two.

Hamas, an Islamic political party, is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and Canada and refuses to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. Fatah, the party of Yasser Arafat—the former president of the Palestinian National Authority who died in 2004—is considered significantly more moderate than Hamas. In January 2006, Hamas won democratic elections in Palestine.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sacked the Hamas-led government immediately after Hamas’s takeover of Gaza. On June 19, the United States and Israel publicly declared their full support for Abbas and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority.

Reem al-Nuweiri, a Vancouver representative for the Palestine Right to Return Group, was also unhappy with the media’s coverage. “They are trying to portray Gaza as a place that completely deserves to be isolated, that deserves to be locked down,” she told the Straight, speaking by phone from Vancouver’s Palestine Community Centre. Al-Nuweiri painted a very different picture of Palestine from one of violence and chaos. “We speak to our families and organizations that we work with and they are saying the demonstrations you see, from regular people, are all calling for unity.”

Al-Nuweiri singled out the Vancouver Sun as a publication she claimed was so biased that many Palestinians in Vancouver actively boycott it. “Nobody is allowed in the newspaper to write anything from the Palestinians’ perspective,” she said.

The majority of those the Straight spoke with refrained from describing the conflict as one strictly between Fatah and Hamas. Barakat explained the recent violence as a result of U.S. and Israeli meddling in Palestinian internal affairs. Many in Gaza and the West Bank have come to view Fatah as too close an ally of the West, he said. “That’s why you have, for example, many Christians voting for Hamas.”

Al-Nuweiri boiled the conflict down even further. She described Hamas’s actions in Gaza as directed toward a security service related to Fatah that she claimed was running amok in the Gaza Strip. “I was in Gaza in 2002, and a lot of people were really intimidated by that security force,” she said. “A lot of people in Gaza are really happy to see them gone.” Al-Nuweiri later added that it was her opinion that Hamas’s methods of combating Fatah were, however, “unacceptable”.

Adam Carroll, director of the Canada-Israel Committee’s Pacific regional office, expressed his disappointment to the Straight for Fatah’s defeat. Hamas was able to secure large amounts of weapons and other military equipment left behind in Gaza by Fatah, which makes for a very troubling situation for Israel, Carroll argued. “The implications are very, very serious,” he said.

Although refusing to classify the recent violence in Gaza as anything close to a civil war, some Vancouver Palestinians are still concerned for its wider implications. “Right now, Hamas is pretty much with their back to the wall,” al-Nuweiri said. “But this is not about Hamas; this is about Palestinian national rights.”