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Is Fatah really persecuted by Hamas in Gaza?

Palestinians gather to mark the 55th foundation anniversary of Palestinian Fatah movement in Gaza City, Gaza on 1 January 2020 [Mohammed Asad-Middle East Monitor]
Palestinians gather to mark the 55th foundation anniversary of Palestinian Fatah movement in Gaza City, Gaza on 1 January 2020 [Mohammed Asad-Middle East Monitor]

During the celebration of Fatah's 57th anniversary in Gaza, senior official Ahmed Helis called for rival movement Hamas to be democratic and respect the rights of others in order to pave the way for an end to the internal Palestinian division. Fatah officials in Gaza and beyond have long been saying such things, with complaints that the secular group has faced "bitter persecution" by the Islamic Resistance Movement since 2007. That was when Hamas took full security control over the Gaza Strip following its election victory the previous year.

Neither Israel nor its allies in the West accepted the free and fair Hamas election win. They encouraged Fatah to oust Hamas from Palestinian Authority institutions. For more than a year, Fatah, backed by Israel, Egypt and others in the international community, created political and security chaos across the occupied Palestinian territories. Israel alone detained at least 40 Hamas MPs in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and vital PA institutions and public services were paralysed. Although Hamas could and did end the chaos in Gaza, it was unable to do so in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem due to Israeli support for Fatah. The latter ignored the election results and parliament, and removed all Hamas officials from municipal councils.

At the same time, Fatah withdrew from all PA institutions in Gaza, including the Ministries of Health and Education. Patients were left without doctors and pupils had no teachers because Fatah paid PA employees to stay at home. This scandal is ongoing. Many senior Fatah officials moved to the West Bank or Egypt, claiming that they had been persecuted by Hamas, which has controlled Gaza since its election win.

READ: Palestinian people should own their struggle, away from the politicians

Fatah and Hamas, along with other Palestinian factions, have since sat together on numerous occasions and reached dozens of agreements to end the division, hold new elections and respect the results. All, sadly, to no avail.

Fatah, PLO and PA leader Mahmoud Abbas always pulls back from such deals and accuses Hamas of not respecting their terms. Then Fatah and PA officials accuse Hamas of "bitter persecution" in Gaza with its alleged crackdowns on Fatah officials and institutions. Such allegations bear little relation to reality.

The national and Islamic forces and factions in Gaza, including Hamas and Fatah, reach an agreement on a unified national plan of action to confront the US' 'deal of the century' and Israel's annexation plans on June 28, 2020 [Mohammad Asad / Middle East Monitor]

The national and Islamic forces and factions in Gaza, including Hamas and Fatah, reach an agreement on a unified national plan of action to confront the US' 'deal of the century' and Israel's annexation plans on June 28, 2020 [Mohammad Asad / Middle East Monitor]

Almost all Fatah members who left Gaza for Egypt or the occupied West Bank have returned to the besieged enclave. None have been imprisoned or even investigated. The doctors and teachers who abandoned their patients and pupils have continued to enjoy affordable education and healthcare for themselves and their families without any notable discrimination. The hundreds of Fatah security and police officers, who are being paid by the Fatah-controlled PA to stay at home, are protected by Hamas police officers, who receive half of their salary and sometimes are not being paid at all because of the financial sanctions imposed on Gaza in which the PA and Fatah play a key role.

On several occasions, Fatah and PA officers have been discovered to be collaborating with the Israeli occupation against the Palestinian resistance movements. Allegations of collaboration are investigated by Hamas, and only those involved in assassinations are kept in prison. All Fatah and PA officials who passed damaging intelligence to Israel about the Palestinian resistance may have been imprisoned, but they were then pardoned on religious and other special occasions. Those who have tried several times since 2007 to create chaos in Gaza have been held by Hamas for a matter of days before being set free.

READ: Palestine is still torn between Israel's brutal occupation, a compliant PA and resistance

Whenever Fatah members or officials think of organising national events in Gaza, including the celebration of Fatah's anniversaries, for example, they have been able to do so, with full protection from the Hamas security agencies. This year, when Fatah members loyal to Abbas celebrated the movement's anniversary, Hamas police officers kept the celebrations well away from those organised by supporters of the former Fatah official Mohammad Dahlan to avoid the sort of clashes that have happened in the past. Dahlan is seen as a possible successor to Abbas, and is thus regarded as a threat by many within Fatah.

Thousands of Fatah members have gathered in the main squares in Gaza listening to speeches by their leaders inciting them against Hamas as if it is the occupying power in Palestine. Meanwhile, Hamas members are hounded by PA officials in the West Bank simply for celebrating the release of a prisoner from an Israeli prison or taking part in funerals.

Moreover, Israeli officials have acknowledged that the PA cracked down against Palestinian resistance in the West Bank city of Jenin in an operation that would have been carried out by the Israel Defence Forces if the Fatah-controlled PA security services were not collaborating with their Israeli counterparts. Such operations mean that PA prisons are full of Hamas members.

The evidence, therefore, suggests strongly that Fatah allegations about "bitter persecution" by Hamas do not reflect the reality on the groun. Indeed, it is very clear that it is Hamas and its members who are being persecuted by Fatah, rather than the other way round.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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