The huge turnout in Gaza on Friday for a rally marking Fatah’s 48th anniversary surprised not only the Hamas authorities in Gaza, but also the Fatah leadership in the Strip and Ramallah.
The freewheeling confusion and congestion so typical of Fatah events in comparison to the military order of those organized by Hamas caused several speeches and performances to be canceled, including some planned by Hamas. The only speech actually delivered was that of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, broadcast live from Ramallah.
Neither the cancelation of speeches nor the injuries to some participants due to overcrowding marred the happy atmosphere and excitement at the rally. It was the first time in five years that Hamas had allowed a mass Fatah event in Gaza about a month after Fatah permitted Hamas to hold rallies in West Bank cities.
This mutual openness is one of the direct results of November’s Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza.
A Fatah delegation led by Jibril Rajoub and Nabil Sha’ath champions of the conciliation with Hamas came from the West Bank to Gaza for the rally. Rajoub and Sha’ath have fostered relations of trust with the Hamas leadership, Fadua Barghouti wife of jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti and Abu Ali Shahin (one of Fatah’s founders who also organized the Shabiba, the Fatah youth movement).
Shahin, a Gaza resident, fled the Strip after he was attacked and injured in 2007. Allowing him to enter is a significant symbolic gesture of reconciliation on Hamas’ part, observers said
The rally’s main message was a demand to end the internal Palestinian split. But the rally’s participants also sent a clear message to Hamas leaders to the effect that the years of political oppression and attempts to create “thought uniformity” will not prevail.
This is also the message, only in reverse, that Hamas’ rallies in the West Bank sent to the Palestinian Authority.
Some observers exaggerated, as usual, and said a million people took part in the rally. Others estimated the number of participants as less than half a million. But all agreed it was the largest rally to be seen in Gaza for many years, probably since the funeral of Yahya Ayash, which drew hundreds of thousands.
Ayash, an operative of Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades Hamas’ military wing was assassinated by Israel on January 5, 1996.
The rally’s success on Friday is all the more significant because the Fatah leadership in Gaza has crumbled its senior leaders have fled, some have been ousted from Fatah ranks, while the remaining junior officials have not provided the Hamas authorities with any real challenge in recent years.
Participants at the rally said they were struck by the large number of youngsters under 20 in the crowd. These youngsters have been raised and educated some of them entirely in Hamas’ education system. The number of women was very small but they were not segregated from the men, as is customary at Hamas rallies.
Some of the participants were not Fatah supporters, but wanted to enjoy the feeling of freedom, and join the demand to end the internal division, participants said.
According to various reports, Egypt intends to invite representatives of both movements to Cairo in the next two weeks, to discuss the implementation of the reconciliation plan made in May 2012.
The plan stipulates the establishment of a caretaker government headed by Mahmoud Abbas, which will call for general elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip within six months.
Fathi Sabah, a Gaza journalist and analyst, says each of the movements has come to the conclusion that it cannot rule alone. He predicts the plan has a good chance of being carried out and the reconciliation will be realized, not just with symbols and atmosphere.
The hundreds of thousands of people at the rally on Friday told Fatah in Ramallah and Hamas in Gaza that this must not remain merely a desire.