I caught up with Samah Sabawi on August 1st, 26 days into the Israeli assault on Gaza. Samah is a Canadian Palestinian with family roots in Gaza. I wanted to ask her views on the current situation in Gaza and particularly on the role Hamas is playing. She is a playwright, a policy advisor to AlShabaka and is former public advocate for Australians for Palestine. She was for many years a media spokesperson for National Council for Canada Arab Relations (NCCAR) and moved in 2009 to Australia where her parents and many other members of her Palestinian family have found refuge.
My short interview with her follows.
Hey Samah, thanks for doing this. I have a couple of things that confuse me about Gaza and its politics. Here goes:
Question 1. For most Canadians Gaza is really a “black box”. The Israelis make it almost impossible to go in or out. And our media doesn’t seem to go there much, and seems to focus on the destruction but without doing much political analysis. How do you keep on top of what is happening there?
Samah: We try to visit whenever possible and we are connected on a daily basis by Skype, phones and social media to our family and friends there. I’m also an avid reader of all news related to Gaza in Arabic and in English.
Question 2. The only political party Canadians ever hear about in Gaza is Hamas. But are there any other (significant) political movements in Gaza? Does Hamas have any opposition?
Samah: Of course Hamas has opposition. There are many other factions in Gaza, the largest by far is the Fatah faction. When we were in Gaza January 2013 we saw the Fatah anniversary celebrated by more than a hundred thousand people who filled up the streets in the centre of Gaza and their yellow flags were seen everywhere. There are also many civil society groups in Gaza that function outside of political factions.
Question 3. How much support do you think Hamas has in Gaza today? It seems clear that the Israelis hope that by punishing Gazans they will abandon Hamas and any idea of resistance. Is support for Hamas increasing or decreasing?
Samah: Hamas’s support in Gaza was significantly reduced in April before this war on Gaza began. Back then Hamas had ran out of money, it was unable to pay its civil servants, it lost its allies in the region with the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the war in Syria. This was evident when Hamas accepted to enter into a unity government with the PA, accepting all of Mahmoud Abbas’s conditions including the conditions by the quartet.
But since the war on Gaza began, Hamas’s popularity began to rise again as they were seen as becoming the centre of Palestinian resistance. Today in Gaza there is unity amongst all the factions who are fighting against Israel in a unified front. There is great support for the resistance. There is one common demand the people of Gaza have insisted on, and that is lifting the Israeli siege.
After 26 days of total war on all the people of Gaza by Israel, there is fatigue amongst the people but they are still hoping that this is a fight for their freedom and their dignity. As for the future, Hamas’s popularity will depend on what they are able to provide their people. The one thing that is very clear is that support for Mahmoud Abbas and for the PA has never been lower.
Question 4. Specifically, about the use of civilians as a “human shield”. Israel claims that Hamas does it systematically. Is that true? If not systematic, do you think it ever happens?
Samah: I have not heard of one case where it has been proven or documented, neither have I heard from anyone on the ground in Gaza. None of my family and friends have heard of any such claim. What I have heard has been the opposite. It is important to remember that in 2008/2009, Israel made similar claims but no evidence at all was ever found to support such claims. In fact, the UN fact finding mission headed by Goldstone specifically investigated this claim and found there was no evidence to support it.
However, Israel has been found on several occasions guilty of using Palestinians as human shields. This came out in the Goldstone report, also Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have documented it. But even if such claims were true, under international humanitarian law even if civilians were used as “human shields” Israel would have an obligation to protect them.
Here are some references to what I am saying:
- Report by Amnesty – Israel uses Palestinians as human shields page 48
- Report by Human Rights Watch – Israel’s use of Palestinians as human shields
Thank you Samah, and best wishes to you and your family.