Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal
Rocket and mortar shell fire since the end of Operation Cast Lead
The Pope and Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas
Hamas rally in Gaza City to mark Nakba Day
Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal speaking at a refugee camp near Damascus on the occasion of Nakba Day. The inscription reads �The resistance is our way to liberate [�Palestine�] and return [the Palestinian refugees]� (Photo: Khaled al-Khariri for Reuters, May 14, 2009).
The trend toward calm in the western Negev continued this past week, and there were no mortar shell or rocket attacks. In Judea and Samaria as well there were no terrorist attacks worth mentioning.
Nakba Day (referring to the establishment of the State of Israel, which is called �the catastrophe� by the Palestinians) was marked in Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip with rallies, processions and protests. As it is every year, the central theme of the events was the demand to realize �the right to return,� that is, the return of the Palestinian refugees to what is now the State of Israel (and to change the nature of Israel as the Jewish state). Hamas again stressed its adherence to the path of �resistance� (i.e., terrorism) as the strategic means to �liberate all Palestine � and attain the �Palestinians’ rights.� Khaled Mashaal, Hamas leader based in Damascus, said in a speech at a refugee camp that Hamas would not recognize Israel, not abandon the resistance [i.e., terrorism] and would not honor previously signed agreements (Al-Jazeera TV, May 15, 2009).
The Gaza Strip
Rocket and mortar shell fire
This past week there was no rocket or mortar shell fire from the Gaza Strip into the western Negev .
Rocket and mortar shell fire since the end of Operation Cast Lead
IEDs explode south of the Erez crossing
Two IEDs exploded inside the Gaza Strip two kilometers southeast of the Erez crossing. There were no casualties. The Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, the military-terrorist wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Jerusalem Battalions, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s military-terrorist wing, claimed joint responsibility for the explosions, claiming they targeted IDF jeeps (Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades website, May 17, 2009).
Infiltrators detained along Israeli-Egyptian border
On May 17 IDF forces engaged in routine security activities along the Israeli-Egyptian border detained two infiltrators from the Gaza Strip. They were on their way from Gaza through Sinai to Israel (IDF Spokesman, May 17, 2009).
The Gaza Strip after Operation Cast Lead
The crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip
This past week deliveries of humanitarian assistance continued from Israel to the Gaza Strip. A daily average of more than 150 trucks entered the Strip through the Kerem Shalom and Karni crossings. Diesel fuel to run the Gaza power plant and cooking gas were delivered through the Nahal Oz fuel terminal.
On May 16 the Rafah crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip was opened allowing for the passage of 450 Palestinians. In addition, 15 trucks carrying medicines entered the Gaza Strip, 12 with dairy products, one with foodstuffs and seven ambulances (Al-Aqsa TV, May 16, 2009).
The tunnel industry
On May 15 the daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported that Egyptian security services had located 266 rockets and three anti-aircraft missiles in a cache near the Israeli-Egyptian border in the northern Sinai, apparently meant to be smuggled into the Gaza Strip. According to the report, there were also 43 anti-personnel mines, 51 mortar shells, 21 hand grenades and 176 machine gun bullets. It was also reported that the Egyptian security forces blew up a number of tunnels which had been exposed along the Egyptian-Gazan border ( Al-Yawm Al-Sabaa , May 17, 2009). On May 14, about 400 Egyptian troops were sent to reinforce the northern Sinai ( Al-Yawm Al-Sabaa , May 14, 2009).
Despite the Egyptian operations, smuggling into the Gaza Strip continues . On May 15 Al-Arabia TV broadcast a report on tunnel activity along the border. The main points were the following:
Wael Issam, an Al-Arabia TV correspondent, toured Egyptian Rafah, visiting the market where goods smuggled into the Gaza Strip through the tunnels are sold. According to the report, the market is the main source for fuel for the Gaza Strip.
An estimated 10,000 men work in the tunnel industry every day. The overall value of the goods smuggled into the Gaza Strip is more than $200 million a year.
An estimated 800 tunnels have been dug under the three-kilometer border. According to the report, most of the tunnels damaged during Operation Cast Lead have already been repaired.
Smugglers interviewed for the report claimed that today a tunnel can be built in 10-15 days. One of them said that entrances and exits were situated in buildings, groves, chicken coops and similar structures.
Hamas threatens to abduct additional IDF soldiers
On May 14 a reception was held in the Al-Tufah neighborhood of Gaza City for a prisoner who was released from Israel . Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said that the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority �bury the issues of the prisoners, Jerusalem and the refugees.� He said that �the resistance [i.e., terrorist organizations] will restore all the prisoners to their families by abducting more [Israeli] soldiers …� (Al-Qassam website, May 14, 2009).
Hamas increases its supervision of the humanitarian assistance
organizations operating in the Gaza Strip
Hamas has decided to increase its supervision of the foreign humanitarian assistance organizations operating in the Gaza Strip. Deputy minister of welfare for the Hamas de-facto administration, Subhi Radwan, said that the Hamas welfare ministry had to be responsible for emergency aid. He warned that the freedom of activity international institutions [had enjoyed to date] would not continue. He said that in every country in the world, it was the ministry of welfare that was responsible for providing aid, and therefore it was unacceptable that [the Hamas ministry] be ignored ( Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights website, May 13, 2009). The announcement came as a result of the tension between Hamas and UNRWA, and in our assessment reflects Hamas’s desire to control international assistance brought into the Gaza Strip and to exploit it for its own political purposes, primarily to increase its control over the local population.
The political Front
The Pope visits Bethlehem
Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority was seized upon by the Palestinians as an opportunity to make political and propaganda capital and to attack Israel on a variety of issues, especially the sensitive one of sovereignty over Jerusalem . 1
For example, on May 13, after a visit to Bethlehem , the Pope went to the Al-Aida refugee camp where he was received by the chairman of the Palestinian Authority and other senior figures on a stage deliberately set up in front of the border security fence . Mahmoud Abbas gave a speech in which he said that �there are those who erect separation fences at the expense of building bridges [to join people], and use the might of the occupation to force Christians and Muslims to emigrate from this country…� He claimed that Israel raised obstacles in the path of those trying to reach the holy sites and that it had appropriated land to build the fence (Palestinian Television, May 18, 2009).
The Pope and Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas
(Palestinian Television, May 13, 2009).
The Internal Palestinian Arena
The internal Palestinian dialogue
The fifth round of talks between Fatah and Hamas began in Cairo on May 16. On the sidelines, both sides engaged in mudslinging over the issue of the detention of Hamas activists in Judea and Samaria and Hamas harassment of Fatah activists in the Gaza Strip. Mahmoud Abbas’ announcement that he intended to establish a transitional government served to fan the flames. The Egyptians are pressuring both sides to reconcile their differences by the beginning of July, and Omar Suleiman, head of Egyptian general intelligence, even promised that if an agreement were reached, the Rafah crossing would be permanently opened (Al-Jazeera TV, May 17, 2009). The Arab and Palestinian media reported that the current round of talks achieved agreement on a number of issues but that most important ideological differences between Fatah and Hamas had yet to be resolved.
Mahmoud Abbas intends to establish a transitional government
On May 11 Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas gave a speech before the assembled Fatah leadership in Judea and Samaria . He spoke of the failure of the dialogue with Hamas and said that within 48 hours he would form a transitional government .
However, the government was not formed at that time because of differences of opinion within Fatah and the Palestinian Authority which postponed establishing the government. �Sources in Ramallah� reported that Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad and PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas had disagreed over the assignment of a number of government portfolios, especially those of the ministries of interior and foreign affairs ( Al-Hayat , Al-Jazeera TV, May 15, 2009). In addition, a second term of office for Salam Fayyad was opposed within Fatah (Ma’an News Agency, May 13), as was the idea of appointing a government before the results of the internal Palestinian dialogue were made clear.
Nakba Day (May 14)
Judea and Samaria
Nakba (�catastrophe�) Day, marking the 61 st anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel, was observed with rallies, processions and protests against the border security fence at traditional confrontation sites. Participation at the events, held on May 14 and 15, was poor, and a number of activities were canceled due to lack of public interest. The central events were the �Return March� procession and rally held in Ramallah and attended by 10,000 Palestinians who came from all over Judea and Samaria .
The main theme of Nakba Day, expressed in speeches and items in the media, was the demand for the realization of �the right of return,� i.e., the return of the Palestinian refugees to what is now the State of Israel (in fact a recipe for the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state). Mahmoud Abbas gave a speech in which he noted that the Palestinians adhered to the �basic principles� which would not be waived, the most central of which were the establishment of an independent [Palestinian] state with Jerusalem as its capital and �the realization of the refugees’ right to return in accordance with UN Resolution 194 (Wafa News Agency, May 14, 2009).
Various activities were held throughout Judea and Samaria with the objective of preserving the memory and linkage of the Palestinian refugees to the places they had lived in before 1948, for example naming 106 streets in Ramallah after villages �occupied� in 1948. In addition, movies were shown documenting places in Israel where refugees had previously lived and symbolic keys were made for buildings abandoned by the refugees in 1948 to show their intention to return (�the keys of the return�).
In preparation for Nakba Day, the central Palestinian statistics board issued a report claiming that the number of Palestinians in the future �historical Palestinian� would be equal to the number of Jews in 2016. It claimed that today there were 5.1 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, Judea, Samaria and Israel , as compared with 5.6 million Jews. It also claimed that today there were 10.6 Palestinians around the world, eight times the number there were in 1948.
The Gaza Strip
Processions and rallies were held in the Gaza Strip to mark Nakba Day. They were controlled by Hamas, which prevented Fatah from holding its own activities. 2 The main rally was held in Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip and attended by 1,000 Palestinians. Senior Hamas figure Ahmed Bahar gave a speech stating that the �right to return� was �sacred� and that anyone who waived that right was a traitor. Hamas issued a press release to the media repeating its stock phrases: �Palestine is an Arab-Muslim state,� Israel has no legitimate right to exist on Palestinian land, �Hamas adheres to jihad and �resistance’ [i.e., terrorism],� �the right of return cannot be waived,� and that Hamas recognizes no initiative or agreement involving the renouncement of �the right of return� (Hamas’s Palestine-Info website, May 14, 2009).
Hamas rally in Gaza City to mark Nakba Day (Al-Jazeera TV, May 15, 2009).
Syria and Lebanon
On May 14 a Nakba Day rally was held at a refugee camp near Damascus , where a speech was given by head of the Hamas political bureau, Khaled Mashaal. He said that �the Palestinian people adhered to the right of return� and that Hamas adhered to its basic priciples, namely that it would never recognize Israel, would never abandon the resistance [i.e., terrorism] and would not be committed by previously-signed agreements (Al-Jazeera TV, May 15, 2009).
The Syrian propaganda machine also exploited Nakba Day to profess its adherence to �the right of return,� which was represented as the root of the conflict and the objective of the Palestinian �struggle,� with the corollary that no one had the right to abandon it (Meisoun Yussuf in Al-Watan , May 14, 2009). The State of Israel was represented as �a racist entity,� �an artificial entity,� rootless and trying to justify its right to exist at any cost (Ahmed Hamada in Al-Thawra , May 14, 2009).
In Beirut , a local center for studies and information issued a �survey� (of doubtful reliability) dealing with the so-called �right of return.� It examined the degree faith in the �right of return� of Palestinians living in refugee camps in Lebanon . According to the results, 89% (of 500 individuals �surveyed�) reported they believed it was possible to realize the �right of return.� Sixty-one point eight percent said the �right� could be realized only through �resistance� [i.e., terrorism and violence,� while 28.6% said that it could be realized though a UN resolution and 9.6% through political arrangements made by the international community.
1 For further information see our May 12, 2009 bulletin �The Palestinian Authority has exploited Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority to make political and propaganda capital� at http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/English/eng_n/html/ipc_e030.htm .
2 Fatah spokesmen said that the Hamas security forces prevented them from holding their planned activities, which were therefore postponed.