With less than two weeks left before Israel evacuates the Gaza Strip, Palestinian factions are gearing up for celebrations with publicity campaigns that are equally intended to win Palestinian votes. The Palestinian Authority (PA), which is spending an estimated $1.7 million on withdrawal celebrations, kicked-off its campaign on Thursday with an event it called a liberation and evacuation festival, held in front of Gaza city’s Legislative Council.
Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, also called Abu Alaa, addressed the crowd, calling upon the Palestinian people to preserve national unity and fight against “all acts which harm our people and cause dissipation”.
“The whole world will be looking to us to see how we will build upon this unprecedented event. After 38 years of occupation, Israel will finally leave Gaza, and we will begin to countdown to the liberation of the West Bank and Jerusalem,” he said.
Thousands of mainly young supporters donning Fatah memorabilia showed up to the event to hear Minister of Civil Affairs Mohammad Dahlan speak. He made only a momentary appearance, however, before being whisked away by throngs of security guards, who fired their rifles into the air to disperse the crowd.
In addition to the festival, the PA’s Withdrawal Committee, headed by Dahlan, launched a massive UNDP-funded publicity campaign this week under the slogan Gaza - Reclaiming Our Gem. “We plan to wave 20,000 Palestinian flags during the evacuation. This will be a time for Palestinians to join together under one banner - the Palestinian flag,” Dahlan commented in a press release issued by the committee.
The group has begun to hang banners throughout Gaza city, proclaiming: “Today Gaza, tomorrow the West Bank and Jerusalem”, and distributing thousands of stickers and posters in preparation for the event. Thousands of T-shirts, trousers and hats are also being made in factories throughout the Gaza Strip, creating much needed jobs for 1800 Palestinians at a time when unemployment has reached a staggering 40%.
The shirts read, “Our land has returned to us - let’s protect it” - a call for Palestinians to “rebuild the Gaza Strip following Israel’s 38-year colonisation of the area and depletion of natural resources,” said Diana Butto, legal adviser to Dahlan.
The PA’s publicity campaign is not without is critics, however. Hamas considers the victory preparations a propaganda show intended to boost the Palestinian Authority’s ruling Fatah party’s popularity prior to upcoming parliamentary elections in January of 2006, and regard them with contempt for claiming the Gaza “victory” as their own. “They want to show that negotiations and international pressure is what forced the Zionist enemy to withdraw from Gaza, not military resistance.
“We in Hamas - as well as, I would say, the Palestinian people - find this absolutely ridiculous. We proved that through resistance and sacrifice only was Gaza liberated,” said Mushir al-Masri, spokesperson for Hamas.
“Hamas has reiterated time and again the importance of forming a national committee that oversees the withdrawal process from Gaza. But the PA has insisted on dealing on its own with this issue without keeping informed with what is going on.” Al-Masri says the PA is giving its Fatah party the advantage during the celebration to make their presence more visible.
“They are permitting them to do things they have otherwise banned the rest of the parties from doing,” said al-Masri. “In the face of all this, Hamas is trying to make the withdrawal a successful event, all the while keeping in mind that it is the fruits of steadfastness and resistance of our Palestinian people that led the Israelis to withdraw.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has banned the public display of faction flags, except the Fatah flag, and the PA has reportedly threatened to freeze government contracts of factories who continue to sew them. But according to al-Masri, “no one can prevent Hamas from celebrating after its contributions to the Palestinian cause.
“Nevertheless, we will participate in the public celebrations, and we will hold our own celebrations that will present the bright and true picture to our Palestinian people about how the resistance forced the Israelis out of the Strip.” Thousands of the trademark Hamas green flags and headbands are being sewn in preparation for the festivities, in addition to 2000 military uniforms.
About 400 floats are also being designed to parade throughout the Gaza Strip, and Islamic groups are recording songs and acting out skits that glorify the Islamic resistance and their role in evicting Israel from Gaza. In the end, the battle over the hearts and minds of ordinary Palestinians may well be fought over the issues that matter most to them.
“I am the mother of a martyr, and of a Palestinian prisoner,” said 55-year-old Fatimah Draini, as she left the “liberation festival”, holding up framed pictures of her two sons. “I cast my vote for whoever can bring the Palestinian prisoners home for Israeli jails, for whoever can bring tangible improvement to our lives.”
Laila M. El-Haddad is a journalist based in the Gaza Strip. This article was originally published on August 5, 2005 by aljazeera.net and reprinted on EI permission.