Tuesday 12 July 2005

Hamas, Fatah face off over Gaza

With imminent Israeli pullout, Palestinian factions vying for future control over area to be evacuated

Friday, July 15, 2005


Special to The Globe and Mail

JERUSALEM -- With only six weeks left until Israel begins its unprecedented pullout from the Gaza Strip, Palestinian political factions are jockeying for position to see who can reap the most benefits.

They are also vying for physical control over the land to be evacuated -- more than 30 per cent of the Gaza Strip, including settlements, army outposts and access roads -- and, by extension, control of the entire area.

Yesterday, Hamas and soldiers of the Palestinian Authority waged fierce gun battles in northern Gaza, Reuters reported, after militants launched a rocket from the area that killed an Israeli woman.

The fighting was the worst in years among Palestinians in the occupied territory, underscoring the tough challenge Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas faces to consolidate his control in Gaza before the Israeli pullout.

Observers had already started questioning whether the security forces -- who are hand-picked for their loyalty to the mainstream Fatah grouping of Mr. Abbas -- are up to the job of controlling Gaza.

"I don't see that the Palestinian Authority has the intention or the capability to take control of the areas to be evacuated," said Martin Indyk, a former U.S. State Department official with special responsibility for Israeli-Palestinian affairs.

Politically and militarily, the main rival to Fatah is the Hamas Islamic Resistance Movement, which appears to be partly shedding its terrorist past in favour of a new-found political pragmatism.

Hamas is now poised to play a major role in the government of the Gaza Strip after the Israeli pullout, a period which many observers see as a test of whether the Palestinians can run their own affairs in an area free of Israeli occupation.

The Palestinian leadership and Hamas are locked in a complex political dance over whether and how to share power in post-occupation Gaza, and what implications such an arrangement might have for the future of Palestinian politics.

Hamas has proposed the establishment of a "national-Islamic committee" to run Gaza, while the Palestinian Authority has invited Hamas and other factions to join the existing administration. Each side has rejected the other's proposal, for fear of ending up as the junior partner.

For decades, Fatah has been the dominant force in Palestinian politics. Recent surveys by leading pollster Khalil Shikaki suggest they would still romp home with 44 per cent of the vote if parliamentary elections were held tomorrow.

But Hamas, which has boycotted previous elections because it rejects the recognition of Israel implicit in the Oslo accords, took a strategic decision this year to enter politics, emerging as a potent political opposition.

Mr. Shikaki predicts Hamas would win 33 per cent in parliamentary elections.

In recent municipal elections Hamas won about 50 per cent of the vote in Gaza, while Fatah remained dominant in the West Bank.

The growing popularity of Hamas poses a potential threat to the traditional hegemony of Fatah, and also presents Israel and the international community with the dilemma of how to talk to a group that remains committed to the destruction of Israel and the perpetration of suicide-bomb attacks against civilians.

"The call [for coalition] is a result of a crisis within Fatah and the Palestinian Authority," said Ghazi Hamad, head of the Islamic Salvation Party and editor of the pro-Hamas weekly Al-Risala.

"I think Hamas will be very wary about getting involved, as they have no interest in solving Fatah's problems. Hamas does not want to be pushed into a government which is facing a crisis and which has problems."

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Friday 1 July 2005

Jerusalem's gay pride marchers attacked

3 participants stabbed, 13 protesters arrested as ultra-Orthodox crowd tries to halt parade

Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service

San Francisco Chronicle Friday, July 1, 2005

Jerusalem - Violence marred the annual gay pride parade for the first time Thursday when an ultra-Orthodox man broke through heavy security and stabbed three of the participants, leaving them with light to moderate wounds.

Other protesters, most of them religious Jews, lined the mile-long route of the "Love Without Borders" march through central Jerusalem. Some held placards that read "You are corrupting our children" while others shouted insults. One placard read "Jerusalem is not San Francisco."

Thirteen protesters were arrested, including one man who threw a soiled diaper at the marchers then attacked a photographer trying to record the scene.

Outside the Great Synagogue, where about 100 protesters shouted anti-gay slogans behind a thick police cordon, two members of the Knesset (parliament) tried to stop the march by sitting in the middle of King George V Street, the city's main thoroughfare. They were eventually dragged away by police.

The violence -- in stark contrast to the peaceful events of previous years -- came after attempts by the ultra-Orthodox mayor of Jerusalem, Uri Lupolianski, to ban the march.

That decision was overturned by a Jerusalem court Sunday, when a judge ordered the municipality to provide the relevant permits, decorate the route with rainbow banners and pay $13,000 in damages to Jerusalem Open House, which organized the march. The mayor also was ordered to pay damages out of his own pocket.

Earlier, a rare coalition of Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders had urged the cancellation of a separate event called World Pride, originally scheduled to be held in Jerusalem in August. After consultations with police, the organizers delayed that celebration until next year because it coincided with the date of the planned Israeli pullout from Gaza.

The controversy seemed to increase support for Thursday's event, which attracted about 8,000 people, about twice as many as last year. The procession through the city center ended with a large open-air dance party in a city park.

Hundreds of police escorted the marchers under the personal command of Jerusalem City Police Chief Ilan Franco. In an unprecedented security operation, armed paramilitary border police standing every 5 yards cordoned off the streets surrounding Liberty Bell Park to allow revelers to dance undisturbed into the night.

Jerusalem Open House director Hagay Elad blamed the violence on the mayor.

"What we saw here today is a direct result of the incitement that took place during the past few weeks against the homo-lesbian community," Elad said. "This is not the first time we have seen how incitement in Israel leads to physical violence, which begins with Mayor Uri Lupolianski and his associates. "

David Bernstein, 23, a real estate broker wearing the black hat, frock coat and side-curls of the ultra-Orthodox, watched the parade in silence but did not hide his disapproval.

"I don't believe there is such a thing as homosexuality," said Bernstein. "It's simply not natural. I think the mayor was right to try and stop this march, particularly here in the holy city of Jerusalem."

Beneath a banner identifying his group as "Proud diplomats in the foreign service," Ziv Nevo-Kulman, 35, a former Israeli cultural attache in Tokyo, said it was important for gays and lesbians to be able to express their identity openly in the nation's capital.

"It's still easier to be gay in Tel Aviv, but things are improving," Nevo- Kulman said. "The Israeli civil service is very liberal when it comes to granting equal rights for gay couples. When I was posted to Tokyo, my partner was with me and he enjoyed full rights as if he were a spouse."

A 30-year-old Palestinian chef who declined to give his name said he had to come to predominantly Jewish West Jerusalem to express his sexuality. "It's not possible to be openly gay in Palestinian society," he said.

In stark contrast to other gay pride events around the world, even in Tel Aviv, only a handful of drag queens and very little exposed flesh were on view. Dafna Stromza, spokeswoman for Jerusalem Open House, said the gay and lesbian community in Jerusalem wanted to be accepted into the cultural mosaic of the city and so purposely toned down public expressions of their sexuality.

"The message is one of tolerance and acceptance and pluralism," she said. "Many of the participants are religious or conservative. We hold tolerance in Jerusalem to be of the utmost importance. What the marchers are expressing is not their sexual identity, but their belief in pluralism and diversity."

Annessa Kernberg, a 17-year-old high school student from San Francisco, cheered the parade from the window of the hostel where she was staying with a group of teenagers on a United Synagogue Youth tour.

"It's something that's been suppressed in the Jewish religion, and I think it's something we should embrace," she said. "It feels like home."