I was waiting impatiently for them to come online. Menna and Maram are my friends from Gaza. I don’t remember the exact day I met them but I remember that instance in Gazan calendar terms. It was the time when Egyptian border with Gaza was blown up by Palestinians and thousands of them crossed the border to buy the very essential items that keep life up and running. Then, I was surprised to see the breach and people crossing the border in droves. But it was not their fault. I tried to imagine the fact what would I had done if I were in their shoes? The answer was not that hard to conclude.
Islamic University of Gaza before Israeli bombing. Photo – Jaffa48.
My friends were online soon. Both are students of the Al-Aqsa University in Gaza (not pictured above) and study English literature at undergraduate level. After the usual exchange of greetings, I dared to ask them a very basic but bitter question, how are you doing? A person living in a normal situation would never hesitate to answer. This answer, they say, is never easy for them to give. “What does the world expects us to say?” said a very upset but in control Menna. “We have been living in a hell for so many years…will someone ever recognise our problems and try to do something about it?” Maram did nothing but agreed univocally.
Islamic University of Gaza after the 22-day Israeli onslaught. Photo – AFP/Getty Images.
I was about to ask them the same question that most journalists from western media often ask the Gazans: “Why is Hamas doing all this for the people of Gaza? Why don’t they recognise Israel, make peace with them and live happily ever after?” There was a broad smile on their faces. And I could feel the irony in it. “Moign, do you really understand the situation in Gaza and know a bit about the background? Because if you knew even just a bit about the truth, you wouldn’t have asked me this question,” a sarcastic Maram replied. Taken aback by her response, I had no other choice but to ask her to ‘enlighten’ me.
Hamas won 43% of the vote in the 2006 elections termed ‘free’ and ‘fair’ by international observers. Photo – abcharlie
“We Palestinians, especially the people of Gaza were fed up with the extremely corrupt Fatah regime. Their corrupt practices and disregard for the rule of law left us disillusioned and dismayed. We really wanted a change. We voted for Hamas just like the Americans were fed up with Bush and voted for Obama,” Maram explained to me, adding Hamas had promised them a change the same way Obama has promised the Americans. Menna, sitting next to her agreed though underlining the fact that she believes in Palestinian unity rather than factional politics.
Hamas supremo Khaled Meshaal (L) walks with Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz (C) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (R) during a meeting in Mecca on 7 February 2007. Talks hosted by Arab countries to resolve differences between Hamas and Fatah have failed badly. Photo – crazymaq
“Menna! look I want the same but compare both Fatah and Hamas and the difference is clear,” Maram argued. She insisted that Hamas won the democratic elections due to their outstanding reputation boosted by their welfare activities in Gaza. “Hamas may come under criticism for its tough stance against its opponents including the Israelis but no one can accuse them of corruption. This is one of the strongest reason they enjoy deep rooted support in Gaza,” Maram underlined while labelling the party as a ‘resistance organisation’ determined to end Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands.
Fifty-nine-year-old Palestinian man Hisham Dawod smiles after collecting compensation money from Hamas. Hisham’s home was destroyed, one of his grandchildren killed and seven of his children and grandchildren injured following an Israeli airstrike on his house. Photo – Getty Images
I was told by Maram that people in Gaza have received aid money from Hamas. “It was very helpful specially to those who had nothing left with them. I know their loss can never ever be compensated but still they appreciate the fact that they have something to start their lives with,” she explained. “People making false accusations should force Israel to pay the damages because it is them who brought this ruin and destruction. Their bombs, missiles and soldiers caused wrecked havoc,” added an outrageous Maram.
Terrorists or Freedom Fighters
It was getting clear that Maram, unlike Menna, supports Hamas vehemently and has her own reasons behind it. “But what about the Israeli bombardment of Gaza that Tel Aviv says was provoked by Hamas? Will you not blame Hamas for your problems?” Soon after my question, I saw the colour of Maram’s face changing and her breath getting a bit heavy. But keeping her cool, she replied: “I don’t think that Hamas is guilty. Look at the Israelis, they were killing us long before Hamas even existed, they will not cease their attacks even if Hamas is finished. So I don’t think that people of Gaza are blaming Hamas for what is happening in Gaza or what has happened,” a resolute Maram said in a firm tone.
Despite signing a peace deal with late Palestinian resistance leader Yassir Arafat, Israel undermined his authority and frustrated his moves to create a viable Palestinian administration. Photo – Laszlo Balogh (Reuters).
Sensing that Maram’s support for Hamas has reached new heights after the Israeli aggression, I turned my attention towards Menna and asked her if she thinks peace will prevail in a situation where there is just Fatah and the Israeli government. “I’m not a political analyst but what I can say after looking at our history of 60 years of Israeli occupation, a single Palestinian resistance organisation has never been the problem. Before Hamas, it was the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) that was the ‘terrorist organisation’ and Israelis were hunting it down everywhere they could. Were things any different then? I don’t think so…” said a very skeptical Menna. The 21 year old university student added that though dismayed by internal divisions between the Palestinian groups she still thinks that elimination of the Israeli occupation will solve all their problems. “We all need to be united to fight the occupation,” were the words of Menna when interrupted by Maram.
While I was concentrating on Menna’s explanations of events, Maram interrupted us for a second. “I wish Menna’s desires come true but I don’t see any hope. Things have gone from bad to worse,” Maram said in a disappointed tone. She had a shock revelation to make. “You know during the war some of the Fatah people were very happy and they were waiting to come back and rule Gaza again. There were some people from Fatah, traitors, who spied for Israel against Hamas. May God curse them,” declared Maram with disgust clear on her face. She added: “You know when Israel killed Saeed Siam (top Hamas leader) Fateh people were very delighted and distributed sweets on the streets. Is this the Palestinian cause?”
Mohammed Dahlan has been labelled as Palestinian Ahmed Chalabi by his critics due to his close links with the Israeli government. Photo – Fadi Arouri (Maan Images)
Curious to find more about the authenticity of reports in sections of press about Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ close ally Mohammed Dahlan planning of staging a coup with Israeli backing, I asked Maram what she thought of Dahlan’s plans. “Dahlan is the head of the snake. He is responsible for what is happening and what has happened. All the Palestinians hate him for the very fact that he is on the CIA and Mossad payroll for years and furthers their agenda,” she said in a very bitter tone.
Hamas is not the solution but part of the solution
“If you look deeply to what they (Hamas) have faced from their creation in 1987 to their election victory in Gaza to establishing an authority, you will be sure that they (Hamas) can take our case forward,” Maram was quick to point out. I asked her what party will she vote if elections were to be held tomorrow, to which she replied: “I will be very happy if they (Hamas) win the election.”
A poster of Hamas leaders assassinated by the Israeli government over the years. Photo – Delayed Gratification
Maram was keen on insisting that Israel is engaged in a smear campaign against Hamas and has never let it operate in a normal capacity. “If they are given the chance they will do a lot. If there was no siege, no assassinations, things would have been very different,” Maram added while Menna nodded but made no addition to her claim. Maram explained how Hamas was born in 1987 and rose from the ashes of the first Intefada (1987-1993) to further the Palestinian cause which seemed bleak after the Oslo Accords in 1993.
“Hamas, in principle, advocates peace. The leaders of this party, time and again, have made it clear that they do not want to eliminate the State of Israel. Instead, Khaled Meshaal (Hamas exiled leader) made a statement in March 2006, in which he talked about peace with Israel if they withdrew from all Palestinian territories, including West Bank and East Jerusalem and recognize Palestinian rights that would include the ‘right of return’. Do we hear this in the media? Never!” said Maram while hitting out at what she dubs as ‘Zionist controlled media’ that maligns facts and distorts realities.
“People try to link Hamas with Al-Qaeda and compare them with the Taliban. We have never seen Bin Laden posters in Gaza or ever forced to wear burkas or stay at homes. We have nothing to do with any one. We are Palestinians and are fighting Israeli occupation. Its as simple as that!”
Stages of Israeli expansion.
Far from Maram’s highly charged eloquence, Menna had some other thoughts on her mind. I asked Maram to calm down and take a breather and turned my attention towards her. “Menna, what are you thinking about right now?” was my question. She replied: “You know I had a University exam yesterday which was about Palestinian history. From Ottoman Empire till 1984. The Ottomans, though Turks, wanted to save us from both British and Zionist control. The Arabs revolted against them to have their own country but it didn’t save us from the occupation. Very soon we were under the British occupation,” Menna stroked a tone from the past. “I’ve discovered that the history repeats itself. Arab governments support the occupation more than helping the Palestinians,” said Menna with disappointment rather than rage evident on her face.
Masses across the world have condemned Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s cooperation with the Israeli state and the sealing of Egypt’s borders with Gaza.
Maram, after having her moments of calm, wanted to jump into the conversation once again. She was very critical of the Egyptian government while calling Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak a very dishonest and corrupt person. “The Egyptian people are very kind and they’re very sad about our situation in Gaza. But (their leader) Mubarak is a very bad person. He hates Hamas the same way Israel hates Hamas. He is responsible for the siege as well. He is not different from any Israeli leader,” Maram lashed out at the Egyptian autocrat. She added jokingly that Gazans call him ‘the laughing cow’.
Maram confided: “They (Egyptian govt.) want to destroy Hamas as they perceive it as a threat to their authority due to its Islamic roots. They want to make Hamas accept the conditions of the cease fire with Israel despite the fact that it is against the rights of the people of Gaza.” She added that Mubarak’s regime is coming under increased pressure from Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt due to his poor democratic and human rights record. “He has stuck to power for decades due to his unwavering allegiance to the Americans and the Israelis,” added the politically aware 21-year-old.
While it was evident that both of the girls are bitter about the past and the present, I asked them if they had hopes for the future. And to my content both were optimistic. Menna compared occupations to bush fires. “They spread wildly, do a lot of damage but the forces of nature combined with human determination defeat them very soon. I always get inspiration from contemporary history. I’m always consoled by the fact that history has never written a different fate for occupation and tyranny than humiliation, shameful retreat and eventual collapse,” said Menna with a hopeful face.
Militants from different Palestinian resistance factions stand hand in hand to express solidarity and urge cooperation within ranks. Photo by crazymaq
Maram, on the other hand, was equally optimistic but cautious. “We definitely want peace. Who else deserves peace than Palestinians themselves? More than 60 years of occupation has destroyed our society and driven us into chaos and destruction. But on the other hand, we clearly know who our enemies are and who can be our friends. The lessons we have learned and the sacrifices we have made will enable us to lay the foundations of a viable, welfare state of Palestine and will shine as a beacon of steadfastness and liberty in the world,” Maram concluded her talk with words crusted with confidence and hope.
Despite losing hundreds of thousands of souls, thousands of acres of land, billions of dollars worth properties and belongings; Palestinians have not lost hopes for an independent homeland. Photo – WeinaikoTM
Finally it was time to express my gratitude to them for taking out their time and speaking to me on such thorny issues. I also asked them if they could later on give me a glimpse of their daily lives that are marred by crippling Israeli siege and soured by continuous Israeli aggression surrounding their existence, to which they agreed. “We definitely want the world to know how we strive to pursue a normal daily life despite enormous dangers and difficulties posed by the occupation. We have shown at every stage that Palestinians are a brave nation and will never surrender to occupation and tyranny,” both the friends vowed in a single voice.