Despite Repression, Hamas Survives in Shadows of Palestinian-Run West Bank

Is Islamist Group's Main Fight With Israel — Or Rival Fatah?

One-Faction State: Palestinians protest the high cost of living in the West Bank. The ruling Fatah faction keeps a lid on any opposition, especially from its Islamist rival Hamas.
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One-Faction State: Palestinians protest the high cost of living in the West Bank. The ruling Fatah faction keeps a lid on any opposition, especially from its Islamist rival Hamas.

By Reuters

Published May 26, 2013.
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In his sparse village home adorned only with framed verses from the Quran, Mohammed Ghannam opens his shirt, pointing silently to his bruised chest.

Ghannam, 44, whose job was to deliver the call to prayer in Dura’s local mosque, said plainclothes security forces from the Palestinian Authority (PA) detained him last month for belonging to the Islamist movement Hamas and beat him mute.

“They didn’t ask me any questions, just punched me hard in the face and the chest,” he wrote limply on a notepad. “They hit my head again and again against a concrete wall.”

Led by the secular Fatah party, the Western-backed PA has pursued surveillance, firings, arrests and torture to bar its Islamist militant rivals Hamas from public life in the West Bank, since the Palestinian territories were split in 2007 when Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip coastal enclave.

Earlier this month, Fatah and Hamas pledged to bury their differences, form a unity government and find a common strategy toward Israel. But their harsh treatment of each other’s activists in the territory they each control makes such reconciliation a tough prospect.

Hamas is an Islamist organisation with ideological ties to the Muslim Brotherhood movement now in ascendancy in Egypt and other Arab states. It rejects peace with Israel and its crowded Gaza Strip territory has endured years of severe hardship under trade and travel restrictions enforced by Israel and Egypt.

Hamas has fired missiles from Gaza into Israel and fought two wars with Israel since 2008, most recently in November.

By contrast, Fatah, has been embraced by the outside world as the mainstream leadership of the Palestinian cause and accepts the principle of negotiating peace with Israel. Its West Bank territory is far more prosperous and open than Gaza under Hamas - but it is still a harsh place for its rivals.

Twenty-eight complaints of torture by the West Bank security forces were submitted in April to the PA’s official rights watchdog, the Independent Commission for Human Rights. There were 312 claims in 2012, up from 200 the year before.


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