For the first time since 2007, tens of thousands of Palestinian Islamists held huge rallies in several parts of the occupied West Bank, marking the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas.
The rallies took place in Hebron, Nablus, Tulkarem and Ramallah as the Palestinian Authority (PA) sought to initiate ostensible reconciliation gestures toward Hamas, especially after the “exemplary steadfastness and resilience” displayed by the Islamist movement and other resistance groups in the face of the murderous Israeli aggression on Gaza in mid-November.
It is not certain though if the PA decision to allow Hamas to organize these big celebrations is a one-time gesture or if it signals a real transformation towards the Islamist movement.
The Ramallah regime on many occasions sought to underestimate Hamas’ strength in the West Bank, hence the possibility that the PA is mainly interested in gauging the real strength of Hamas.
It is unlikely though that Hamas’ rallies, despite the huge numbers, represent the group’s real strength and weight in the Palestinian street, as many supporters of Hamas didn’t show up because they didn’t want to reveal their identities to the Israeli security services or, indeed, to the vehemently anti-Hamas security agencies of the PA.
However, it is probably safe to say that the huge attendance at the rallies will be a source of anxiety for both Israel and the PA. Both sides thought that the sustained and systematic repression of Hamas in the West Bank during the past five years would make many erstwhile supporters shun the movement out of fear of arrest or discrimination and exclusion, especially in the job market.
The PA security agencies had fired hundreds of suspected Hamas supporters from their jobs in civil services, including education, health, police and other fields.
A few hundreds of the dismissed school teachers have been reinstated in their jobs, but the security agencies are still reluctant to fully carry out court orders in this regard.
10,000 in Hebron
In Hebron, probably the largest and most heavily populous town in the West Bank, thousands of Hamas’ supporters and sympathizers marched from the el-Haras Mosque to the Ibn Rushd school, about two kilometers away. The marchers held aloft Islamic banners as well as the Palestinian flags.
Hebron is still considered a stronghold for Hamas.
At the school yard, several speakers delivered moving speeches, stressing national unity and reasserting the continuity of the struggle against the Israeli occupation.
Speaking at the rally, Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council Prof. Aziz Dweik said Hamas was becoming a regional power in its own right and a hard number which no one can ignore.
“Israel is bidding on the losing horse. But we are becoming a power to be reckoned with. The future belongs to us because the truth is on our side”
He also urged the PA government to allow for more human rights and civil liberties.
Dweik said Israeli oppressors had no future in this region, adding that the Zionists were digging their own graves by their hands by indulging in all sorts of crimes against the Palestinian people.
He compared the ultimate fate of Israel with the Abyssinian invaders of Makkah who tried to demolish the Kaaba in the Year of the Elephant in which the Prophet Muhammed was born. The invaders were utterly destroyed by a miraculous divine intervention. The story is mentioned in the Quran in Sura al-Feel, no. 105.
Dweik saluted the martyrs of the Palestinian revolution as well as the political and resistance prisoners, including a dozen lawmakers still languishing in Israeli jails and dungeons without charge or trial.
“You are crowns of glory on our heads.”
During the rallies, Palestinian prime minister in Gaza, Ismael Haniya greeted the huge multitude, saying Gaza and the West Bank had one common destiny.
Dweik for his part thanked Haniya, saying he hoped and prayed that he would “lead us in prayers at the Aqsa Mosque after liberation.”
Nablus, Tulkarem and Ramallah
Numerous thousands of people of all ages, men and women, attended similar rallies in Nablus, Tulkarem and Ramallah despite the tension and apprehension stemming from a possible Israeli retaliation. Unmanned Israeli planes flew over some of the rallies, apparently to photograph them and communicate the message “that we are here.”
Raafat Nasif, an Islamist leader in the Tulkarem region, thanked the Palestinian people for rallying around Hamas despite all the harassment and persecution.
“This huge presence underscores the fact that the people are embracing Hamas and sympathizing with it. We thank the Palestinian people for their generosity, devotion and enduring vigor,” he said.
Nasif said the triumphal renewal of Hamas in the West Bank couldn’t have been possible without the preternatural resilience and steadfastness of the Islamic-national resistance in the Gaza Strip.
In Ramallah, a huge march took place outside the main mosque in al Bireh amid a jungle of Islamic banners and Palestinian flags. Sheikh Jamal Tawil addressed the huge multitude, saying “Hamas is witnessing a rebirth which should be heartening news for our people and our cause.”
He added that no power, local, regional or international can any longer ignore or overlook Hamas.
“With all thanks to the Almighty, we have become a hard number that can’t be ignored or overlooked whether in peace or in war,”
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Observers and commentators reacted to the re-launching of Hamas’ activities in the West Bank quite positively.
Israeli commentators expressed their apprehension that the “golden period of calm” in the West Bank was coming to an end, with the high-profile return of Hamas to the West Bank arena.
Lama Khater, a housewife and political commentator, said the triumphal resumption of Hamas activities in the West Bank communicated an unmistakable message to “whom it may concern.”
“The message is that Hamas is an indelible reality, an imposing and outstanding fact of life that no one can ignore.”
She added that the participation of tens of thousands of people exceeded all expectations.
Many Palestinians in the West Bank, including erstwhile Fatah activists, are now giving Hamas the benefit of the doubt as Israel continued to steal Palestinian land, build Jewish colonies and fly in the face of international law and the international community.
“Our people are finding out that the so-called peace process is taking us nowhere. Quite the contrary, it is destroying our cause and eliminating any genuine prospects for the establishment of a viable Palestinian state,” said Ammar Kawasmeh, a Fatah activist from Hebron.
“This is why many people are looking forward to Hamas to rectify the situation.”