Awaking to a different Gaza

The home next to the Palestinian president’s is set on fire, 12 June 2007. (Philip Rizk)

In Gaza people awake today to a new reality. Last night, my host Isa told me military coups were the sort of thing he heard and read about, he never thought he would experience one. Yesterday Gazans did.

Although the final Fatah stronghold was still standing by the evening Hamas fighters were already making the rounds in the streets, three and four jeeps at a time, loaded with armed men wearing all black, their faces covered with masks, holding their guns in the air, a few, rather uncomfortably, waving to the people. On al-Aqsa, the only remaining radio station being aired from Gaza belonging to Hamas, these areas are being called “freed” from the traitors.

A former Fatah spokesman, now speaking on behalf of Hamas, was heard on the air denouncing his former leaders, calling them US spies and traitors.

A further shock came around 8pm when Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) announced Gaza a renegade entity and declared his presidency over the West Bank. Gazans reacted with disgust. During the fighting of the past few days Abu Mazan was largely silent, ordering his forces to stay in their bases. Many consider Abu Mazen to have sold out his own leadership in the Gaza Strip by not coming to their rescue; now he was throwing his people (Fatah supporters) away, like garbage, they said.

With the electricity cut and cell phones working only rarely people clung to the radio to hear as the latest news unfolded. With only one local station in Gaza and only one perspective to be heard rumors abounded. Supposedly fishermen had called in to the Hamas station reporting that some of the Fatah leadership taking final refuge in the president’s compound had escaped by sea — some heading south to Egypt, others north towards Israel. One report gave the name of a drug dealer and a Fatah spokesman supposedly escaping together on one boat.

Sitting on the street one could hear the news spread, often the same names of people who had been killed or thought to have escaped were mentioned among the people walking by. The coup d’etat was the only thought on their minds of young and old.

A friend who works with a Fatah security apparatus told me that the Hamas men who came to his door checking IDs had treated him well. As long as one did not have his weapons on him and stayed home Hamas considered these Fatah members “honorable” in contrast to the “traitors” who resisted what Hamas considers their justified military coup. “Traitors” were at times either shot in the legs or depending on their status brutally executed.

One of the Fatah military compounds freed on Friday was the location of prisons and torture halls where many Hamas members had been tortured over the years for their opposition to the Fatah government. The Hamas celebration at taking it over was only logical.

On Wednesday on Palestine TV, a Fatah station aired callers crying about the horrible scenes they had witnessed. An Islamic Jihad sheikh was interviewed condemning the events on the streets of Gaza. By Thursday all radio and TV stations belonging to Fatah in the Gaza Strip were closed down.

Generally people are very concerned about what the near future holds. The streets seem rather secure, but anyone that was at all in opposition to Hamas is scared, most are staying home or are in hiding somewhere. Cars are moving about, people are walking the streets, I am back at the Marna House, people are smoking shisha and laughing. Along the road outside old men are sitting in the shade playing backgammon. The combination of normalcy of life and fear of the unknown of the future makes for a strange atmosphere.

Philip Rizk is an Egyptian-German who has lived in Gaza since August 2005 where he works and writes. Philip runs a blog:

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