Hamas in the city: invisible, but not goneWhat is remarkable is that Trouw does not exactly have a pro-Israel record.
Monique van Hoogstraten
GAZA CITY - Since the war started, one population group in Gaza has disappeared from the streets: people in uniform. Army green uniforms, blue-grey uniforms, black uniforms, they were all over the place. From one day to the next they are gone, the men and the few women (of the women police unit) with a weapon or a truncheon in their hands.
They work for Hamas and are targets of Israel, which knows reasonably well who is where via drones in the sky and spies on the ground. So they go into hiding. Only at the Shifa Hospital, the big hospital in Gaza City, are a few sitting in uniform. There, they feel protected from the Israeli bombings. In addition, that is where they monitor the international press to prevent it from doing ‘wrong’ things.
Local camera crews know this, but foreigners do not: Hamas does not want killed or wounded fighters to appear on camera footage. The reasons are twofold. Not giving the enemy Israel PR ammunition, and maintaining high morale among its own population. ‘We suffer no losses’, is the message, ‘we bring a severe blow to Israel’.
“The most casualties are civilians”, says Hamas spokesperson Ihab al Ghoessein, who speaks to the press at the hospital compound about the question how many fighters have died in the war. He is standing before a tall poster with the text ‘The targets of the Israeli bombings are the homes of civilians. Our children live in fear, horror and panic’, illustrated with photos of killed children.
Al Ghoessein: “We hide nothing, like the Israeli’s do [hide things]. As you can see most dead are children and women.” Whether that is true does not matter for Hamas. Yes, there are many civilian casualties and most of the inhabitants of Gaza live in fear, but Hamas likes to exploit this for its PR. Hamas does not present any factual information about numbers of killed fighters or developments at the front. As it also does not want to be criticized by its own population.
“He does not dare to talk to you”, says the wife of someone who has been placed under house arrest because he is known for criticizing Hamas. She too does not dare to tell his story, because ‘we are being watched’. This is the case for most people who are no friends with Hamas. When there was no war yet, they did dare to talk. Not anymore.
Over seventy members of Fatah, the party of President Abbas in the West Bank and very much hated by Hamas, supposedly have been placed under house arrest. This is what sources say in the West Bank. The Fatah supporters have been told that they ‘should stay at home for their own safety’ and that ‘every violation of this order makes you a target for punishment in the field’ - meaning: death penalty.
“The minority that criticizes Hamas that wonders whether it was wise to provoke this war with Israel”, says political analyst Mukhaimer Abu Saada, who now lives in Gaza City himself, “does not dare to say it now, because we are in the middle of the war.”
Although the uniforms might have disappeared from the streets, Hamas has not. High-ranking members monitor in civilian clothes. Whoever talks about Hamas critically on the streets is immediately spoken to. Whoever poses a critical question near security men of Hamas, but also far from them, receives the reply: “You cannot ask that question,” or “I do not want to answer that question.” In war no one is allowed to be a traitor.