"Armed Hamas policemen who were stationed in the streets and watching the masses of people marching toward the square, gazed down at the ground. Out of shame. They saw themselves the way the marchers to the memorial rally for Yasser Arafat saw them - like Israeli policemen on the first Land Day in Israel. It was women whose votes had led to the defeat of Fatah in 2006, so it was significant now that many women came to the rally. I saw one woman go up to an armed policeman and dare him: Kill me, you Shi'ite."
This was related by a devout Muslim, a Hamas adherent who left the movement because of disagreements over matters of principle. The killing on Monday of six participants in the Gaza City rally by gunfire from Hamas police immediately raised questions concerning the strength and weakness of the Gaza Strip government and its rival - the Fatah movement in Gaza. The extent to which this is not a matter of absolutes can be learned from the viewpoints of two devout Muslims.
"The masses who came to the rally did not come for Abu Amar [Arafat] or for Mohammad Dahlan, or because they were promised NIS 200 or a phone card. They came out of hatred for Hamas," says the former movement activist. A friend of his, who has remained a Hamas activist, agrees: "There has been a consolidation among some of the Fatah activists, because of anger and hatred for Hamas, after mistakes of ours that are impossible to ignore." He himself approached policemen and asked them to conduct themselves with restraint and not to react to insults. He is convinced that what happened was caused by a loss of control by inexperienced young policemen - not part of a policy. He swears that the leadership's intention is to reduce repressive ruling measures by the government. And he is convinced that Ramallah told Fatah supporters to initiate provocations and that the Hamas police indeed fell into the trap.
It is all lies, says the former activist, like the claims that the first to have opened fire were Fatah supporters who had prepared for a confrontation. He supports his claim, inter alia, on the basis of a scrupulous examination of the direction in which the shots were fired. The Hamas police, he says, received a clear order to act with full force in response to any Fatah demonstration of strength.
The number of participants in the rally came as no surprise to Hamas, says the movement activist, nor is it worried by this: "We knew that there was a large public in the Gaza Strip that supports Fatah, which hasn't disappeared. But this is a public without a leadership. The leaders have fled. Hamas, as compared to Fatah, is a movement with a strong leadership that, contrary to the Israeli intelligence spokesmen, is not divided: It is more a question of style of speech than of disagreements between Ismail Haniyeh and Mahmoud al-Zahar. Both are interested in repairing the break between Gaza and the West Bank, both of them realize that it is necessary to return to dialogue with Fatah."
He is convinced that, taking the cruel conditions of siege into consideration, the Hamas government is functioning well and maintaining stability. The movement, he says, has young activists who see the siege as an opportunity for the Palestinian people to liberate themselves from an unfair dependence on Israel and the West.
The former Hamas activist thinks otherwise: "Hamas remains strong among the public. What happened on Monday does not testify to the strength or the weakness of the movement. It testifies to a lack of leadership." For quite some time he has been saying how dangerous it is that Hamas clings to rule over the Gaza enclave, while it is unable to satisfy basic social and economic needs (let alone its promises of independence). An Islamic leadership has redoubled responsibility if it wants to rule, he says. It must be committed not only to the people, but also to Islam. Therefore, in his assessment, the international Muslim Brotherhood movement will reconsider its position regarding the Hamas regime in Gaza. It will not allow that regime to sully so badly the reputation of either its mother movement, or worse, of Islam itself.
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