Suad al-Najjar and Khitam al-Muqayyad are two grieving Palestinian mothers from the Gaza Strip.
In 2006 and 2007, following Hamas’ victory in January 2006 legislative elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which Fatah leaders and their international supporters were unwilling to accept, armed clashes led to the deaths of dozens of supporters of each group.
In June 2007, fearing a US-sponsored coup by forces loyal to Abbas, Hamas drove Fatah forces out of Gaza. Abbas, in turn, accused Hamas of carrying out a “coup.”
Both mothers want the rival parties to patch up their differences. “Years after Tariq’s death, my grief remains the same,” al-Najjar, a Fatah supporter, said.
“We are all doubtful that they will reach an agreement as this is not the first time they have claimed to be getting near to one,” she added. “Yet we are hopeful they will make it eventually.”
Indeed repeated announcements of reconciliation agreements by senior Hamas and Fatah leaders over several years have never been implemented, leaving the division as entrenched as ever.
Losing a son
Al-Najjar lives in the northern Gaza neighborhood of Saftawi. On the day she lost her son in November 2007, she was taking part in a Gaza City ceremony marking the third anniversary of the death of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat.
At around midday, she heard the sound of gunfire from al-Katiba Square, where Fatah was holding a rally in Arafat’s memory.
She immediately grew concerned as her son had insisted on traveling to Gaza City that day.
In the afternoon, she learned that he had been killed when police forces run by Hamas opened fire on participants in the event.
Tariq, only 20 years old, was the father of two children.
Willing to forgive
Wajih al-Najjar, Tariq’s uncle, recalled that he once addressed a public meeting on the need for unity between the leading Palestinian parties.
“I spoke out, saying that if my nephew’s blood would be the price for a genuine reconciliation, I would renounce that blood and forgive the one who killed Tariq so brutally.”
Khitam al-Muqayyad, who supports Hamas, lives in al-Shati — also known as Beach Camp — in the western part of Gaza City.
Her 24-year-old son Muhammad was shot in June 2007 during clashes in Gaza City.
His mother emphasized that she does not support the “peace” talks between the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and Israel.
Yet, she said, “I would accept and feel happy with a reconciliation that will be based on Palestinian legitimate rights, not the concession of those rights.”
Efforts aimed at reconciling the parties have involved contacts between Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of the Hamas government in Gaza, and Azzam al-Ahmad, a former minister who represents the Abbas-led government in Ramallah.
One factor that may make the current effort more credible in some eyes is that Hamas feels more isolated than ever in Gaza, as the Egyptian military regime which seized power last July has intensified its crackdown on the supply tunnels under its border with Gaza.
These tunnels have been critical to alleviate the worst effects of Israel’s years-long siege of Gaza.
An official in the Gaza government recently asserted that the Egyptian crackdown was costing the territory’s severely depressed economy $230 million per month.
At the same time, media sympathetic to Hamas have accused Fatah of siding with the Egyptian military regime, only heightening tensions in recent months.
Salem Salama, a Hamas member of the Palestinian Legislative Council elected in 2006, said that Haniyeh had made some goodwill gestures towards Fatah. These have included the release of Fatah prisoners.
Also, this week, two Fatah-affiliated members of the legislative council who fled to the West Bank amid the armed clashes in 2007, were permitted to return to Gaza, another sign of warming relations.
Asked if he would support holding elections, Salama said it was first necessary for the Abbas-led Palestinian Authority to cease arresting people affiliated with Hamas
“Recently, they have rounded up dozens of university students, supportive of Hamas,” he added.
Among the topics discussed are reform of the PLO and particularly its key decision-making body, the unelected Palestinian National Council, which has been dominated by Fatah.
Until now, Hamas has not been part of the PLO.
Salama argued that because Hamas won 65 percent of seats — though a lower share of the popular vote — in the 2006 election, it should enjoy a similar level of representation in the PLO.
Faisal Abu Shahla, a Fatah member of the Palestinian Legislative Council in Gaza, accused Hamas of being repressive.
“Hamas recently prevented a demonstration in Gaza, in solidarity with the Palestinian refugees in the Syrian refugee camp of Yarmouk, who are currently starving to death,” he said.
Such accusations are common, and groups including the Palestinian Center for Human Rights and Al-Mezan have over the years repeatedly condemned tit-for-tat arrests and harassment of Fatah and Hamas members by forces controlled by the rival party.
Abu Shahla was nonetheless upbeat about the prospects for reconciliation.
“I do not think that President Mahmoud Abbas will back down from the reconciliation drive, even though some key players like the United States, might pressure him [to do so].”
“Reconciliation is our own Palestinian internal affair and we are going ahead with it.”
Suad al-Najjar and Khitam al-Muqayyad, who like so many other mothers have paid the unbearable cost of the bitter, ongoing division, may support rival parties, but they still share the same hope.
Rami Almeghari is a journalist and university lecturer based in the Gaza Strip.