June 3, 2007 No.

"We Are Facing a Second Nakba"- Reactions in the Palestinian Press to the Hamas-Fatah Clashes

By: C. Jacob*
"The situation in the Gaza Strip, and especially in the city of Gaza, is scary. Murders are committed by the dozen, using every [conceivable] weapon... The murder machine, fueled by every conceivable type of hatred, is hurtling in every direction, all the time, everywhere... in the mosques... in the schools... [There are] executions... Leaders are attacked, and their families humiliated... Children and innocent civilians are being murdered..." Talal Okal, columnist for the Palestinian Authority daily Al-Ayyam, May 17, 2007.


The current wave of violent Hamas-Fatah clashes is one of the most brutal the PA has known, especially considering that it broke out only a short while after the signing of the Mecca Agreement, which was supposed to put an end to the mutual fighting. The large number of casualties, and the fear that has taken hold of the Gaza streets, have sparked intense protest among Palestinians and Arabs, with harsh criticism directed towards both the PA and Hamas.

Some consequences of the clashes are public statements by residents calling on Israel to reenter the Gaza Strip, and concerns regarding the effect of the fighting on the international community's faith in the Palestinians' ability to establish a state, to honor agreements, and to maintain peace.

Among the solutions proposed in the Palestinian media were to launch a third intifada, this time against those responsible for the internal chaos, and to bring in Arab or international forces to keep the peace between the Fatah and Hamas.

Who is Responsible for the Clashes? - Mutual Accusations by Fatah and Hamas

Fatah and PLO spokesmen accused Hamas of staging a coup against the Palestinian Authority and of trying to renege on the Mecca Agreement. The PLO Executive Committee issued a statement saying: "What is happening in Gaza is an attempted coup against the legitimate security apparatuses, aimed at imposing by force the legitimacy of the armed militias, and especially the legitimacy of the Hamas militia [known as the] Executive Force." It should be noted that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas pronounced the Executive Force illegal immediately after its establishment." [1]

A statement issued by the Fatah Central Committee said: "Behind the mutual killing of Palestinian by Palestinian stand local leaders and field [commanders] from Hamas who are working to overthrow the national unity government and the Mecca Agreement." [2] In a similar vein, Fatah spokesman Tawfiq Abu Khoussa accused Hamas of losing control over its armed militias. [3]

Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister Azzam Al-Ahmad demanded that all armed gunmen from both sides be removed from the streets, saying: "PA President [Mahmoud Abbas] issued a presidential decree proclaiming the Executive Force illegitimate only two days after its establishment was announced." On another occasion, Azzam Al-Ahmad called to dismantle the Executive Force, accusing its men of carrying out executions that were pushing the Palestinians to the brink of civil war. [4]

Yousef Al-Qazzaz, a senior Palestinian Broadcasting Authority official and columnist for the PA daily Al-Ayyam, wrote: "A strong smell of Al-Qaeda is rising from what is being done in Gaza by the [forces] of chaos, which are murdering Palestinian security personnel and killing innocent women and children [right] in front of Prime Minister [Ismail Haniyya] from Hamas, who is unable to restrain them." [5]

Hamas spokesmen, on the other hand, accused Fatah of collaborating with the U.S. and with Israel, and claimed that the revolutionary faction within Fatah was rebelling against the Palestinian government. In response to Azzam Al-Ahmad's call to dismantle the Executive Force, Hamas demanded that his immunity be revoked and he stand trial. Hamas Spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said: "Al-Ahmad represents the Legislative Council and the Fatah party. How can he demand the dismantling of a legitimate police force?" [6] Hamas representative Ayman Tah asked: "Why doesn't Azzam Al-Ahmad speak of the Fatah's [own] executive force, about its illegitimacy and its massacre of residents? Why doesn't he speak of the presidential club, which has become an execution chamber for residents and which has made it licit to kill the [Palestinian] people?" [7] Another Hamas statement said: "Israel's jets did not hesitate to respond to Azzam Al-Ahmad's call to [come] and wipe out the interior ministry's Executive Force." [8]

Hamas also characterized the events in Gaza as a rebellion by commanders from the revolutionary faction within Fatah against the Palestinian government and against the agreements signed by Abbas and Haniyya. [9] Haniyya's political advisor Ahmad Yousef accused factions within Fatah and the security apparatuses of "following orders from the U.S. and Israel to escalate the violence. Both movements," he added," need a second Mecca Agreement in order to resolve the problems that still remain, such as the hierarchy within the security apparatuses and the appointment of an interior minister." Ahmad Yousef also accused the U.S. of strengthening Fatah at the expense of Hamas." [10]

In a communiqué, Hamas explained the reasons behind the movements' attack on the residence of Rashid Abu Shbak, head of the PA National Security Forces, in which several of his bodyguards were killed: "We have repeatedly warned against the aggression and organized murders carried out by members [of a certain faction], and their execution of people in the streets just because they wear a beard [i.e. look religious]... [Eventually,] we had no choice but to convey a message to those leading the civil war, [letting them know] that Hamas' patience is running out." [11]

Arab, Palestinian Media Discuss the Causes of the Fighting: The U.S. and Israel Are to Blame, But Other Causes Are Greed for Power, a Tribal and Factional Mentality, and Pursuit of Personal Interests

The Palestinian and Arab press posited several reasons for the fighting in Gaza. Former Al-Hayat editor Jihad Al-Khazen argued that one of the motivations was greed for power. "The [recent] wave of internal fighting in Gaza did not surprise me," he wrote. "I have already written that the Palestinians are facing civil war, and that the weapons being smuggled into the Gaza Strip by Hamas and Fatah are not intended for use against Israel, but for a civil war whose only motivation is a struggle for power and control, even at the expense of the residents' lives..."

At the same time, Al-Hazan also evoked a conspiracy theory blaming the U.S. and Israel for the situation in Gaza: "[When] the Bush administration pressured President Mahmoud Abbas into holding elections in the PA, they both knew that Hamas would win, not thanks to any achievements [of its own] but due to the corruption within Fatah. Hamas [indeed] won, but it is designated in the U.S. and Europe as a terrorist organization, and thus the Bush administration achieved its aim. It boycotted the Palestinians, lay siege to their government, and starved [them], using Hamas' [designation as] a terrorist organization as an excuse. Just as Fatah could not believe that it had lost its power, Hamas cannot believe that it had come into power, and both factions have thus played into the hands of the Palestinians' enemies in the U.S. and Israel... How can the Hamas and Fatah leaders ignore the fact that it was Bush's government, and the Sharon and Olmert governments, that pushed [Hamas and Fatah] to this situation, and that the [internal] Palestinian fighting is [actually] an Israeli aspiration?" [12]

Legislative Council member Rawiya Al-Shawa linked the situation in Gaza with the disengagement: "Everything that is happening today [in Gaza] is a result of Sharon's plan to sabotage the [resolving] of the Palestinian problem. There was a unilateral withdrawal that the Palestinians regarded as a clear victory [for them]. Sharon and his successors disconnected the Gaza Strip from the West Bank... Everything that is happening now [is the result of] our falling into the clever trap that Sharon devised... in order to disrupt the functioning of Palestinian society." [13]

Others evoked the factor of tribal and factional affiliation taking priority over national solidarity. Al-Ayyam columnist Ashraf Al-Ajrami wrote: "We are facing a new nakba, which actually began when the second intifada turned into a chaos of armed militiamen, shortly after it began. Palestinian society is eroding, and the values of national affiliation are disappearing, to be replaced by factional and tribal affiliation and by personal interests." [14]

Ibrahim Abrash, political science lecturer at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, argued that the Mecca Agreement failed to deal with the real problems: "The Mecca Agreement did not address the real reasons for the conflicts, [namely that] every [Palestinian] faction has its own strategy, outlook and foreign relations that clash with those of the other [factions]... The Mecca Agreement did not resolve the problems of rebuilding the security apparatuses and [reorganizing] the PLO." [15]

The Consequences of the Fatah-Hamas Clashes

The Clashes "Are Murdering the Palestinian Cause"

Al-Ayyam columnist Abdallah Awwad attacked both Fatah and Hamas: "Between one murder and another, between one kidnapping and the next... our leaders continue to sit in their [meaningless] seats and to speak of 'resistance,' 'liberation,' 'unity,' and 'return'... They are all liars. The weapons they wish to retain, [ostensibly] as the weapons of resistance, are actually weapons of internecine terrorism and murder... You are murdering the [Palestinian] cause, [our] people and [our] future... Oh murderers, you have ruined our world, castrated our nationalism, prostituted our resistance... You have turned our lives into hell. [In fact,] hell is preferable... Take your government, your militias, and your gangs and go to hell." [16]

Palestinian columnist Abd Al-Nasser Al-Najjar wrote in a similar vein: "Oh murderers in the streets of Gaza, we renounce you. You cannot have emerged from the womb of the Holy Land. You are despicable. You are chasing after [what is left] of our shattered government, [pursuing your own] interests... You are neither Muslims nor believers... Today, we are ashamed to speak out loud of our Palestinian [identity], when in the past we took pride in our Palestinian self-sacrifice, revolution and martyrdom. Oh you mercenaries, you have betrayed our dreams and murdered our promised state. [Our] enemies have used you as a Trojan horse. Oh murderers, you are the Satan of Palestine... Know that a bullet you fire in the Gaza street, no matter what your affiliation, will turn into a curse that will pursue you to your own graves. Oh murderers of Gaza... you have no place [among us] now that you have killed everything that is beautiful within us." [17]

Palestinian Officials: The World Perceives Us as a People Incapable of Establishing a State

Columnists also expressed concern that the fighting would affect the Palestinians' image in the eyes of the international community. Bassam Abu Sharif, who was an advisor to Arafat, wrote: "The situation in Gaza has reached the explosion point, and the Israeli message to the West and to Washington is 'do you really want these people to establish an independent state? If they are shooting each other [now], what will they do when they have a state? If they violate the agreements they have signed with each other and with the Arabs, what will they do with the agreements [they sign] with Israel?" [18]

Columnist and Palestinian official Yousef Qazzaz wrote: "To this very day, I do not understand why most of our senior [officials] are afraid to declare in all honesty that we - [our] government, [our] security apparatuses and the [Palestinian] people - have [all] failed in implementing the law and in maintaining security. We are immersed in the worship of chaos, in the destruction of our national institutions and our home. Why are we angry with those who say that the Palestinians are incapable of managing their country's affairs?" [19]

Columnists: People in Gaza Long for the Return of the Israeli Occupation

Papers reported that some people in Gaza even want the Israelis to return to the Strip. Faiz Abbas and Muhammad Awwad, journalists for the Israeli-Arab weekly Al-Sinara, wrote: "People in Gaza are hoping that Israel will reenter the Gaza Strip, wipe out both Hamas and Fatah, and then withdraw again... They also say that, since the [start of the] massacres, they [have begun to] miss the Israelis, since Israel is more merciful than [the Palestinian gunmen] who do not even know why they are fighting and killing one another. It's like organized crime, [they said]. Once, we resisted Israel together, but now we call for the return of the Israeli army to Gaza." [20]

Al-Hayat Al-Jadida columnist Yahya Rabah wrote: "When the national unity government was formed, I thought, 'This will be a government of national salvation.' If a government that includes Fatah, Hamas, other factions and independents associated with [various] factions has not been able to save the day, it means that no one can, unless Israel decides that its army should intervene. Then it will invade [the Gaza Strip], kill and arrest [people] - but this time not as an occupying [force] but as an international peace-keeping force. Look what we have come to, how far we have deteriorated, and what we have done to ourselves." [21]

Palestinian journalist Majed Azzam wrote: "We should have the courage to acknowledge the truth... The [only] thing that prevents the chaos and turmoil in Gaza from spreading to the West Bank is the presence of the Israeli occupation [in the West Bank]... [as opposed to] its absence from the Gaza Strip." [22]

Bassem Al-Nabris, a Palestinian poet from Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip, wrote: "If a there was a referendum in the Gaza Strip [on the question of] 'would you like the Israeli occupation to return?' half the population would vote 'yes'... But in practice, I believe that the number of those in favor is at least 70%, if not more - [a figure] much higher than is assumed by the political analysts and those who follow [events]. For the million and a half people living in this small region, things have [simply] gone too far - in practice, not just as a metaphor. [It did not begin] with the internal conflicts, but even earlier, in the days of the previous Palestinian administration, which was corrupt and did not give the people even the tiniest [ray of] hope. The fundamentalist forces which came into power [after it] also promised change and reform, but [instead, people] got a siege, with no security and no [chance of] making a living... If the occupation returns, at least there will be no civil war, and the occupier will have a moral and legal obligation to provide the occupied people with employment and food, which they now lack." [23]

Suggestions in the Palestinian Media for Resolving the Crisis

Columnists Call on Abbas to Resign and on the Arab Countries to Sever Ties With the PA

Former Al-Hayat editor Jihad Al-Khazen expressed his disgust with the Palestinians, saying: "I call on Abu Mazen to resign... I am withdrawing my recognition of the Palestinian national unity government, Hamas, Fatah, and all the factions of evil who serve as agents of Israel. I [also] call on all Arab countries, particularly Egypt and Saudi Arabia, to sever relations with the Palestinian government." [24]

Al-Ayyam columnist Omar Hilmi Al-Ghul wrote: "Let's say that President Mahmoud Abbas is a creative doctor. What is he to do? Should he wait forever until Hamas agrees to give up what it considers as its rightful share in the government and security apparatuses?... What are the limits of democracy? How can we talk of democratic principles when the factions are drawing weapons, killing the people, and destroying the government, the homeland and the PLO? When will [the surgeon finally] use his scalpel? Is the political leadership of the PA [so] helpless that it cannot take crucial decisions?... Is the surgeon [so] concerned about his personal record that he [prefers] to make a truce with those who have emerged from dark caves to set us back by decades?... Where is the responsibility of [our] charismatic leader? Where are the PLO factions?" [25]

In another article, Al-Ghul wrote: "Abu Mazen must announce a state of emergency... and impose a curfew for two days or more, so that the police and the national security forces can remove the armed gunmen from the streets, from the neighborhoods and from of the high-rise buildings, [and so they can] arrest the leaders who are undermining law and order, liberate all the foreign and Palestinian hostages, and dismantle the Executive Force...

"If the president is unable to do this, he has several options: [He can] resign... [Alternatively, he can] order the PLO factions and Islamic Jihad to take charge and confront the coup, or [he can] ask the U.N. and the Arab countries to take charge [of this task]." [26]

Al-Ayyam columnist Muhammad Yaghi called on Fatah "to resign from the false [national] unity government, since it gains nothing from the existence [of this government]. Fatah must build itself up and strengthen itself [in preparation] for the upcoming elections." [27]

Calls for a New Intifada - This Time Against the Warring Factions

The clashes between Fatah and Hamas prompted several figures and columnists to propose radical solutions, including foreign intervention and a popular uprising. Executive Committee Secretary Yasser Abd Rabbo called on the Palestinians "to launch a popular uprising and organize [popular] activities pressuring the two sides to stop the [mutual] clashes in Gaza." [28]

Senior PA official and Al-Ayyam columnist Ali Al-Khalili wrote: "We are not insane. There are nine million Palestinians, and we will not be swept up in the madness of several hundred suicidal extremists among us, who are [heading] for a great nakba, after which there will be no rehabilitation, no [Palestinian] people, no Palestinian cause, and not a single inch of Palestine left. Our only option is to [go out] on the streets and announce that we refuse to take leave of our senses, of our reason and of our determination to deal with the mother of all nakbas before it is too late, and before history sweeps us all into the void of oblivion and death." [29]

Al-Hayat Al-Jadida columnist Mounir Abu Rizek wrote: "Why shouldn't all the pens and all the media platforms be used to rally the people and call them [to launch] a new intifada that will overthrow those who are attempting to steal their dream, their blood, and the future of their children - sometimes in the name of Allah and sometimes in the name of the homeland?" [30]

Calls to Deploy an Arab or International Force in Gaza

Dr. Riad Malki, director of the Panorama Center in Jerusalem, wrote: "Ceasefire agreements between political leaders will not end the internal fighting among the Palestinians; nor will [the conflict] be decided on the battlefield... The only option is not the return of the Israeli occupation, as some people who have lost their faith in nationalism are hoping... Nor do we have the option of letting the internal conflict continue... [The only option] is the intervention of an Arab rescue force." [31]

Al-Hayat columnist Maher Othman recommended "accepting the suggestion of Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema to send [international] peace-keeping forces to Gaza, should the Palestinian government ask for help in ending the internal fighting." [32]

Columnist: Divide Palestinian Territories Between Fatah and Hamas

Saleh Al-Qallab, a former Jordanian minister and a columnist for Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, suggested what he called a "crazy idea": The PA should limit its control to the West Bank, and leave the Gaza Strip to Hamas. He wrote: "Top-ranking Palestinian officials are calling for a divorce not only between Fatah and Hamas, which cannot keep any of their mutual agreements, but between the West Bank and Gaza as well... Some who have reached the pinnacle of despair and frustration have proposed a crazy idea: that the PA should leave the Gaza Strip and retire to the West Bank, leaving Hamas to establish its duchy in Gaza in its own way and according to its own aspirations... Fatah will have to make do with the West Bank... and leave Hamas to deal alone with the crisis in Gaza. Eventually, [Hamas] will find itself in conflict with the entire Palestinian people." [33]

*C. Jacob is a research fellow at MEMRI.

[1] Al-Ayyam (Palestinian Authority), May 17, 2007.

[2] Al-Quds (Jerusalem), May 19, 2007.

[3] Al-Ayyam (PA), May 18, 2007.

[4] Al-Ayyam (PA), May 18, 2007; Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), May 20, 2007.

[5] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), May 19, 2007.

[6] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), May 19, 2007.

[7] Al-Risala (Gaza), May 17, 2007.

[8] Al-Risala (Gaza), May 17, 2007.

[9] Al-Risala (Gaza), May 17, 2007.

[10] Al-Ayyam (PA), May 18, 2007.

[11] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), May 17, 2007.

[12] Al-Hayat (London), May 18, 2007.

[13] Al-Quds (Jerusalem), May 18, 2007.

[14] Al-Ayyam (PA), May 14, 2007.

[15] Al-Ayyam (PA), May 18, 2007.

[16] Al-Ayyam (PA), May 17, 2007.

[17] Al-Ayyam (PA), May 19, 2007.

[18] Al-Quds (Jerusalem), May 19, 2007.

[19] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), May 14, 2007.

[20] Al-Sinara (Nazareth), May 18, 2007.

[21] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), May 15, 2007.

[22] Al-Risala (Gaza), May 14, 2007.


[24] Al-Hayat English online edition, May 18, 2007,

[25] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), May 20, 2007.

[26] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), May 21, 2007.

[27] Al-Ayyam (PA), May 18, 2007.

[28] Al-Quds (Jerusalem), May 21, 2007.

[29] Al-Ayyam (PA), May 17, 2007.

[30] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), May 20, 2007.

[31] Al-Ayyam (PA), May 20, 2007.

[32] Al-Quds (Jerusalem), May 19, 2007.

[33] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 24, 2007.