The Hamas War On Palestinian Rivals
(Updated February 3, 2009)
When Israel began Operation Cast Lead on December 27, 2008, Hamas leaders launched a campaign to rid Gaza of any and all dissidents. Palestinian sources reported that Hamas has killed or seriously wounded dozens of Gazans, predominantly members of Fatah who were accused of “collaborating” with Israel. Hamas leaders have confirmed the executions of several dozen citizens, stating that the collaborators had admitted to giving intelligence information to Israel’s Shin Bet. Hamas was also enraged by Fatah’s supposed joy at the start of Israel's operation. Executions of collaborators were done in secret along the Egyptian border. After the killings, relatives of the victims were called to claim the bodies.
Palestinian sources report that during the three weeks of the Israeli operation in Gaza, Hamas forces were sent out to catch Fatah members breaking their house arrest. One Fatah man was shot and killed in front of his children for taking one step outside of his house. The Palestinian daily newspaper, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, reported on a Gazan girl whose father was killed by Hamas gunmen. Additionally, Hamas shot and wounded nine other members of her family including several children.
Those alleged Fatah “collaborators” who were not killed were shot in the legs, mafia style, so they could not run to Israeli forces. Hamas also confined rivals to their houses and beat Fatah members.
Hamas escalated its attacks on fellow Palestinians after Israel called a unilateral cease-fire on January 18, 2009. According to some Fatah sources, nearly 100 Fatah activists were killed after the cease-fire was declared. Other Fatah members have claimed that the number of dead is much lower.
Hamas leaders have also arrested hundreds of Fatah members and have set up makeshift interrogation and torture centers in hospitals and schools in Gaza. Detainees have reportedly been tortured and blinded. Other Palestinians have been shot in the streets and kidnapped.
Hamas leaders denied that these executions and torture methods took place but stated that they would be rounding up Israel “collaborators” in Gaza for prosecution. Hamas fears that Fatah will try and return to power in the Gaza Strip.
A spokesman for Hamas, Taher al-Nunu claimed that not one Fatah member had been killed but then remarked that perhaps lower level Hamasniks were “settling scores” with Fatah members or family members of other clans and that Hamas would be looking into any attacks.
On February 2, Fatah officials produced a public plea to international aid organizations which asked them to report truthfully on Hamas's violent attacks. Accompanying this plea was a published list of names of the 181 Fatah members and relatives who had been executed, badly beaten or shot in the legs by Hamas gangs. This was the first list of its kind regarding this intrafada as both Fatah and Hamas officials had been trying to keep the fighting of their members under wraps.
Arab news stations have also reported on the violence. Al Jazeera television interviewed PLO Executive Committee Secretary Yasser Abd Rabbo who accused Hamas members of patrolling Gaza like “packs of animals” in order to find and execute suspected collaborators. They also confirmed that Hamas has organized makeshift prisons and interrogation centers in hospitals and schools around Gaza and that Hamas operatives are indeed stealing food and medical supplies from humanitarian aid trucks and distributing them to fellow members.
According to Hamas sources, Fatah and the Palestinian Authority are mimicking Hamas tactics in the West Bank. The sources claim that hundreds of Hamas supporters have been beaten, abused and arrested in the West Bank, particularly in Hebron. Some claim that these alleged abuses are a retaliation to Hamas's mistreatment of Fatah members in Gaza. Another interpretation is that the Palestinian Authority is making arrests of any dissidents of the PA's practices.
Anger has swept over both Hamas and Fatah sympathizers as a result of Israel's operation in Gaza. Fatah maintains that Hamas is to blame for the damage caused by the Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip. Hamas, however, remains bitter towards Fatah because Fatah members did not help to fight off Israeli troops during the three-week operation.
On Thursday, January 22, both Hamas and Fatah called for political unity in an effort to promote peace for the sake of a future Palestinian state. While supposedly calling for “unity”, Hamas maintained that it wanted sole control in the Gaza Strip.
On January 26, a Palestinian Authority court sentenced another Palestinian “collaborator” to death - its eighth death sentence in the past two months. None of these sentences have been carried out because they are awaiting Mahmoud Abbas's approval which he has yet to give. Hamas leaders are threatening to carry out the executions with or without Abbas's okay.
One day before, however, an alleged collaborator was executed by Hamas. The man, Haidar Ghanem, was a Palestinian reporter who worked for the human rights organization, B'Ttselem. Ghanem was originally sentenced to death by a PA court in 2002 for leaking information to Israel, but his sentence was never carried out. After supposedly giving information to Israel again during Operation Cast Lead, Hamas leaders took it upon themselves to carry out Ghanem's execution, offering him no additional trial.
On January 29, Hamas was accused of killing a Palestinian teacher, Osama Atallah, who was a Fatah supporter. He was allegedly arrested by Hamas gunmen and was then tortured, strangled and shot with bullets. Hamas forces later denied that they had taken Atallah into custody at all.
A History of Intrafada
During the intrafada in 2007 - the battles between Hamas and Fatah to acquire power in Gaza - 163 Palestinians were killed. Of this number, 41 were civilians and two were children who found themselves in the line of fire.
This was also not the first case of Palestinian in-fighting. By the end of the first intifada, which began in December 1987, the number of Palestinians murdered by their fellow Palestinians exceeded the number of Palestinians who died in clashes with Israeli soldiers. Yasser Arafat's PLO officially executed 118 Palestinians who were thought to be collaborating with Israel. By the end of the first intifada, nearly 1,000 Palestinians had died by the hand of their own people.
Hamas’s official takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007 did not stop the internecine battles. In July of 2008, a senior leader of Hamas, Bilal Abu Takiyeh, killed his own brother because he belonged to Fatah. Hamas continued to prosecute and imprison or execute Fatah members on grounds of treason. Individual operatives often did not wait for a trial and carried out summary executions.
Fatah and Hamas have in the past set off bombs in each other’s cars and houses and made sweeping arrests in both Gaza and the Abbas-run West Bank. Armed forces have kidnapped members from both sides. They have accused each other of “colluding” with Israel to gain political power. They have shot each other in the streets of Gaza’s city center and pushed each other from rooftops of high rise buildings.
The Palestinian groups behave much like mafia families and engage in ruthless warfare for dominance. The recent bloodletting among the “families” in Gaza is likely only to escalate the mob war.
Sources: The Jerusalem Post, (January 20), (January 25), (January 26); Palestinian Media Watch, (January 18, 2009); Haaretz, (January 21, 2009); Video: Fatah and Hamas Destroy "Palestine" Without Israel's Help; “Fifteen Killed in Hamas-Fatah Gunfights”, (Reuters), Haaretz (January 23, 2009), The New York Times (January 22, 2009), San Francisco Chronicle (January 23, 2009) , MEMRI (January 28, 2009), Reuters (January 29, 2009), Ma'an News Agency (February 2, 2009)