By Abdel Bari Atwan
We know that the Islamic Resistance Movement is facing intensive Israeli and Arab efforts to bring about the downfall of the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip because it sticks to the option of resistance. This resistance includes the ever-present constants in the struggle: non-recognition of the Jewish state; the restoration of all occupied land from the sea to the River Jordan; and raising the flag of the Islamic faith as a form of governance.
We are also aware that the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah is colluding with the siege currently imposed on the Gaza Strip and is directly involved in Arab and American efforts to "criminalize" the rule of Hamas, to the extent that its representative went to the United Nations in New York to approve an Israeli draft for consideration by the Security Council that will label Hamas as an outlaw movement.
Whilst acknowledging and understanding all that and more, the Hamas government continues to make some disastrous mistakes that provide ammunition for its enemies to distort its image, incite the people of Gaza against it and make it more difficult to manage the situation.
For example, there are credible reports claiming that Hamas has demolished at least twenty houses in the Tel Sultan area of Rafah, displacing more than 150 citizens on the pretext that their houses were built illegally, without the necessary permits, on state land. A decision by the Supreme Court confirmed the demolitions.
There can be no objection to the just application of the law of the land but the timing of this particular example, and the manner in which the demolitions took place, with no compassion and no provision of alternative shelter, leave a lot to be desired. Demolishing the homes of destitute and hungry people at a time when the Egyptian and Israeli authorities won't allow even one bag of cement to go through the borders into Gaza, and while there are an estimated 65,000 displaced people living in the ruins of their homes destroyed by Israeli bombs, is a massive miscalculation by Hamas. This is a government that was elected by the people to serve them and is considered to be the most understanding of their suffering.
Another example occurred in Rafah itself, when Hamas security forces ended a siege of the Imam Ibn Taymiyyah Mosque by demolishing the mosque and killing two dozen people sheltering therein with the imam, a man recognised for his piety. This was an entirely avoidable tragedy if negotiations had only been given time to work.
What harm would have been inflicted on the Hamas government and its security forces to postpone the demolition of these homes until the wider situation had eased somewhat and alternatives were available? The Gaza Strip is not Sweden or Switzerland, and its people do not live in luxury; laws cannot always be applied literally. The law is there to protect and serve citizens, not to make them homeless.
Islamic history gives us an example to follow of compassion in the application of the law. Caliph Umar Ibn al-Khattab suspended the punishment for theft even though it is one of the fundamental laws; we do not believe that the head of the land authority of Hamas, or the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in Gaza who issued the demolition decision, is more just or understanding of the law than the Caliph Umar himself, may Allah be pleased with him.
The politicians in the Gaza Strip should have been much more aware of the concerns of the people and the effect of such a step on the credibility of Hamas and the people's view of it. Sadly, the decision was made to act in an irresponsible way, without any intervention to delay the implementation of the law. It is true that the land on which these houses were built at random and illegally is state land, but it is also true that these are the citizens of this state who only broke the law due to exceptional circumstances. The issue should therefore have been addressed in an exceptional manner as well, allowing the citizens to pay for the land in affordable instalments, for example.
In most major cities of the world there are slums built on state or legally ambiguous land which are becoming "realities" on the ground. Every Arab capital has its "tin city", as does elegant Paris. Why should Rafah be an exception?
It is entirely objectionable for some officials in the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah to compare the Hamas demolitions in Rafah with Israeli actions in the occupied West Bank. Hamas was, after all, applying the law, albeit at the wrong time and manner, whereas the Israeli authorities break the law and their acts are part of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their land. Those in the PA who collude with the Israeli occupation and torture their own citizens in the process, and support the siege of Gaza directly and indirectly, should be the last people to think that they have the moral authority to criticise the mistakes of others.
The Egyptian government faced a similar crisis a few years ago, when the Supreme Court decided to remove houses built on state land in a desert area. When the issue was put in front of the People's Assembly, it annulled the court decision and halted the demolition.
The total area of the Gaza Strip is less than 150 square miles and it is inhabited by one and a half million people, mostly poor refugees, with no water, no electricity, no minerals, not even fish. The siege makes their life a living hell while their own government has to tax everything in order to get the income necessary to provide security and feed the poor.
It is hoped that the government in the Gaza Strip will stop such actions which are likely to swing the people against it and give their enemies ammunition against Hamas. There are many issues that are priorities, but they do not include house demolitions, especially by a government claiming to rule by Islamic law.
Hamas has some significant achievements, notably its steadfastness in the face of aggression, a steadfastness that would not have been possible without the people rallying around it and resisting the occupation side by side with the fighters. We do not hear any complaints from the people; rather, we hear many say that they are willing to sacrifice even more for the resistance and their faith. Such citizens deserve more of their government; Hamas, its security services and the Supreme Court, please take note.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.