Writing by Patrick Keddie
Driving through the Sheikh Radwan area in Gaza City today we came across a road that had been taken over by Hamas marchers bristling with guns and flags. They were about to parade through the streets in a rehearsal for a huge demonstration planned on the 8th December 2012 – the 25th anniversary of the first intifada. It will be a double celebration as Hamas turns 25 on the 14th December.
The commander of the Sheikh Radwan Hamas marchers gave his name as ‘Abu Mohammed’ . “This demonstration proves that Hamas are stronger now than in the past” he told me, his brown eyes gazing steadily from behind a balaclava. “We are celebrating our victory over the Israeli army. We are ready to face anything from the enemy and our will is strong.”
The 150-strong group of marchers were divided into three columns. At the front was a group of Hamas scouts, not far from Baden Powell’s conception with their bright green berets and neckerchiefs. The leading scout was a teenager with a hint of a moustache He carried a large Palestinian flag.
The next column consisted of young recruits to Sheikh Radwan’s Al-Qassam Brigade, Hamas’s military wing. Their faces were obscured by keffiyehs and they carried bright green Hamas flags.
Behind them, in the final column of marchers, were senior members of the Al-Qassam Brigade. They were the most fearsome-looking, mostly clad in black, their faces covered. They carried weapons; some held bayonets, others had rifles with telescopic sights or semi-automatic guns.
I asked Abu Mohammed why they felt the need to cover their faces. “To protect against inside enemies – collaborators” he replied, “in the old days they were very dangerous, now there are not so many. We found many of them and killed them.”
When they were arranged in an orderly fashion, the marchers set down their weapons and flags and prayed in the road. After the prayers finished, a van arrived – rigged with a sound system blaring out military songs – and the march set off.
The senior Al-Qassam Brigade marchers generated the most excitement and their marching became the most ragged, as children and photographers darted around and amongst them. Abu Mohammed desperately tried to maintain a disciplined order but they were occasionally forced to break into a trot to keep up with the columns ahead, sometimes partially disintegrating and reforming back into a neat shoal of marchers. They paused periodically to pose with their weapons, crouching and pointing their guns at distant, imaginary enemies.
The rehearsal was slightly ramshackle but Hamas will be hoping it will be alright on the night when their members and supporters from across Gaza converge for the 8th December celebration. Hamas leaders will be giving speeches outlining future political plans and representatives from other political factions and countries will be in attendance.
Hamas celebrates its 25th birthday in reasonable health. It has bolstered its rule in the Gaza Strip after its widely perceived strong resistance during the recent 8 day Israeli bombardment, known as Pillar of Defence, although many of its buildings were damaged or destroyed.
The birthday celebrations also coincide with the 25th anniversary of the first Palestinian intifada against the Israeli occupation. Sheikh Radwan borders the Jabalia Camp where the uprising began in 1987, spreading across the Palestinian territories. It was characterised largely by non-violent resistance, including strikes, demonstrations and boycotts. It lasted until the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993.
The second intifada lasted from 2000 until 2005 and was a period of intense violence – over 3000 Palestinians and around 1000 Israelis were killed. A third intifada is widely predicted but many Palestinians I’ve spoken to think it will be unarmed.
The journalist Peter Beaumont has written that an explosion occurs when certain materials (petrol fumes or gas or dust) mix in the right proportion in the air, triggering a detonation – in chemistry it is called the “explosive limit”. Beaumont writes that “Societies in conflict have their own explosive limits. It occurs when the fuel of hatred, of fear of the other, victimization or a sense of hopelessness builds to its critical moment. Then the parts required for the reaction become perfect and dangerous.”
As life for ordinary Palestinians continues to deteriorate under Israeli occupation, the collective pool of hatred, fear, frustration, and damage rises. It may not be long before the next explosive limit is reached.
[Photography by David Shaw. See here for more of his work from Gaza]