Analysis

With Gaza-Israel Border Incidents, Hamas Trapped Between Push for Calm and Public Thirst for Resistance

Gaza group struggling to balance civil rule of the Strip, which includes agreements with Israel, and its commitment to military actions against the occupation

Mourners carry the body of Palestinian gunman Mohammedd Al-Tramsi during his funeral in the northern Gaza Strip, August 18, 2019.
\ MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS

A series of attempts by Palestinians to enter Israel from the Gaza Strip over the past two weeks have trapped Hamas between its desire to preserve the calm with Israel and the public support, and in some cases internal Hamas support, for such attacks.

On Monday, Hamas called on Gazans to come out en masse for the Friday demonstration along the border fence with Israel, a call intended to enable Palestinians to let off some steam – and also a clear message to Israel that without an improvement in the Strip’s humanitarian conditions and a commitment to the ceasefire agreement reached in May, another blowup is imminent.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 35Haaretz

Indeed, Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar reported on Tuesday that Palestinian factions in Gaza have informed Israel via intermediaries that if it does meet its commitments, including allowing Qatar to bring in more money into Gaza, they intend to initiate a violent escalation. They did not provide details of the nature of the escalation and how it would be carried out.

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Public pressure in Gaza has grown in light of the border infiltration attempts, the latest of which occurred on Saturday and ended in the death of three armed Palestinian militants. Hamas has found itself in a trap: It cannot allow such attempts, which are a threat to its control and rule of Strip – but the organization also cannot publically condemn the attacks and those who carried them out, who in most cases were themselves members of Hamas.

Recent escalation on the Israel-Gaza border.
AFP

The solution, as has been shown in past days, is to describe those who carried out the attempted border attacks as “angry young men” who oppose the Israeli blockade and transgression of the status quo in Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. At the same time, senior Hamas officials are not hiding their concerns, and a number of Palestinian and Arab media outlets have reported that Hamas has initiated internal inquiries into the organizing of attacks.

Hamas activists confirmed to Haaretz that pressure on the organization has mounted in recent days. Wide public support for the attacks was shown at the mass funeral of the three young men killed on Saturday. Their bodies were wrapped in the flags of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah, a sight that is quite rare in the Gaza Strip. The message from the funerals is that their actions united the ranks of the different groups.

Pressure on the organization is growing from within as well. High level Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders explained that the young men in the military wings are not satisfied with the current state of affairs. They object to the organization’s strategy of preserving temporary calm in exchange for easing of the blockade, as in practice, these agreements have not contributed to improving the humanitarian situation in the Strip.

Hamas officials explained that most of the young people who join the group’s military wing are ideologically opposed to recognizing Israel and believe in fighting for the liberation of all Palestinian territory. Hamas is therefore being perceived as trying to have the cake and eat it too: Preserve its status as the ruler of the Gaza Strip in civil affairs via understandings reached with Israel, while also being viewed as an organization of military resistance.

Soon, Hamas will need to clarify to its own people and the Palestinian public in Gaza – mostly to the younger generation – in which direction it is heading.