By Khalid Amayreh
Ellen Rosser, Professor of English and a veteran peace activist, maintained an office in downtown Gaza from September 2006 to June 2007. During that period she was an eyewitness to the events which eventually culminated in the violent clashes between Fatah and Hamas in the summer of 2007, ending with Hamas routing Fatah's American- armed militias and ousting them from the Gaza Strip.
In a recent testimony on her experience in Gaza, Rosser asked herself the following question: Did Hamas stage a coup, a planned overthrow of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the Gaza Strip? She gave a straightforward answer: "Definitely no."
Sister Ellen, as she is known, is neither pro-Hamas nor anti-Fatah so her "third party" testimony sheds light on the highly-contentious claims of guilt and innocence made by both groups, claims that continue to have a detrimental effect across Palestinian politics.
When I spoke to her, she didn't dwell much on the special relationship between Fatah's former Gaza strongman Muhammed Dahlan and the Bush administration, mainly via US General Keith Dayton. (A thorough expose of Dahlan's American connection was published in the American magazine Vanity Fair in April, 2008. However, she did point out that it was Dahlan's men who tried to assassinate Prime Minister Ismael Haniya on 14th December, 2006, as he was returning to the Gaza Strip via the Rafah border crossing. Sister Ellen spoke of bullets flying and people fleeing for their lives. Moreover, her testimony does suggest that certain elements resumed the shooting every time a truce was reached between the two factions. She also shed light on the killing of a PA soldier which Fatah blamed on Hamas.
Here are some excerpts from Sister Ellen's remarkable testimony:
"Some months later, the next events that I personally was aware of in the tragic series occurred when the Hamas Minister of the Interior, Said Siyam, wanted a video tape showing who had killed a Palestinian Authority soldier and wounded two others. It (the video tape) had been in the possession of Jad, who was killed, and then in the possession of Major Baha Balousha of Fatah, who refused to give it up.
"Subsequently, Major Balousha was threatened, and a few days later his two [actually three] young sons were killed when gunmen opened fire on the car with dark windows in which the children were being driven to school."
Rosser doesn't say who threatened Balousha and killed his children. However, it was obvious that whoever did it had an interest in silencing him and preventing him from disclosing the contents of the video. Other sources spoke of Balousha possessing information on CIA money transfer to Fatah leaders in Gaza.
Continuing her testimony, Rosser writes, "I went with a Fatah friend to offer condolences to Major Baha Balousha, and while we were there a man came from Prime Minister Haniyeh, who was waiting at the Rafah border to return from Egypt, and said that the Prime Minister wanted to come to offer his condolences and wanted to know if that would be alright. Major Baha said, 'Yes.'
"In other words, Prime Minister Haniyeh knew nothing about who killed the little boys and wished to express his sorrow at the tragedy. A few days later, however, he may have heard indications that Hamas members were involved, for on television he said that if 'we [i.e. Hamas] have done anything wrong, we will pay diyya' (blood money, a traditional Palestinian way of resolving such an issue).
"However, that night when Haniyeh was entering Gaza after being held at the border for eight hours while Egypt decided what to do about the millions of dollars he was bringing with him, there was an assassination attempt on his life by some men who guarded the border, Mohammed Dahlan's men.
"Haniya was not hit by the bullets shot from the roof of the border crossing terminal, but his son and Ahmed Yusuf , who were next to him, were wounded. Haniyeh did not dwell extensively on the attempt, saying merely on television that he was willing to be a martyr."
Rosser said she is sure that President Mahmoud Abbas was not aware of the attempted assassination of Haniyeh any more than Haniyeh was aware of who killed Major Balousha's boys.
Recollecting the nightmarish moments, Rosser said: "I had to wait in my office/apartment until the shooting moved away from my area, then hurry down to the street to go to the nearby bakery and vegetable stores to stock up on food for a few days. Usually an armed man on the corner I never knew whether he would be Hamas or Fatah would look up and down the street for me and then wave me across. Both sides were courteous and helpful to the old, American woman."
The Dayton connection
Rosser goes on to describe the role played by Gen. Dayton in the mini-civil war in Gaza and how he was pushing constantly for escalation, both by bullying the PA to attack Hamas and also by supplying Muhammed Dahlan's militia with truckloads of weapons.
"At one point, while the bullets were volleying back and forth down the main streets in Gaza City and elsewhere, the US or more precisely, I'm sure, Gen. Keith Dayton, tried to intervene on behalf of Fatah, by sending in a truckload or more of weapons. Hamas learned of the shipment, however, seized it and used it.
"One night I heard from my office window someone reciting through a very loud speaker what sounded like a poem. But in the middle of it I heard Mohammed Dahlan, Israelian, Americaniya. In other words, Dahlan because of his previous actions was considered to be an Israeli and an American (agent) not a Palestinian nationalist. One wonders what would have happened if Dahlan had not been the Head of Security for the P.A.; would the conflict in Gaza have happened?"
I asked Rosser if she thought Dayton consciously and deliberately pushed for the civil war in Gaza.
"Yes, Gen. Keith Dayton is still getting Fatah police to arrest Hamas affiliates in the West Bank because Hamas is wrongfully called 'terrorist' and the roadmap says the PA must root out the 'terrorist infrastructure'. Obviously Dayton wanted Fatah to eliminate the Hamas influence in Gaza since Hamas is a 'terrorist organization' according the lily-white United States."
Rosser argued that she didn't think that Hamas planned to overthrow the PA. "I think it was fighting Dahlan and then preventing his men from overthrowing Hamas with the help of Dayton."
Finally, I asked Rosser why she thought the western media continued to call Hamas's defensive action "a coup", thus ignoring the fact that the movement was democratically elected by a majority of Palestinians.
She said that the western media have been very biased against Hamas as they once were against the PLO before 1991. They presented Hamas negatively and unjustly as a "terrorist" organization instead of as the elected government of Palestine.
"If they had known the truth that Hamas has offered a two-state solution since 2004 and is excellent at observing ceasefires they probably would have protested against the bloodshed. The media have a great responsibility to tell the truth so that the people can act on correct information."
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.