GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Optimism is rising among Palestinians about the implementation of the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas, and preparations have begun for the formation of a unified Palestinian government that includes representatives from both the West Bank and Gaza Strip. However, at the same time, fears remain surrounding the agreement’s ability to restore social cohesion among Palestinians. The rivalry among the latter has deepened throughout seven years of division and mutual recriminations, public accusations, defamation and allegations of treason.
Restoring social peace with the victims of the division remains a major hurdle in the reconciliation process. The political split was not confined to the two rival governments in Gaza and Ramallah, but permeated all levels of Palestinian society.
The families of those killed and those who were arrested, tortured, abused or had their human rights flagrantly violated have diverging views about the Palestinian reconciliation agreement and the pardoning of the killers and torturers of their sons and relatives.
Al-Monitor spoke to Ibrahim Mansour, the brother of one of the victims of the clashes that occurred between Hamas and Fatah in June 2007. His brother was killed by security forces belonging to the Palestinian Authority because he was a member of Hamas’ military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. Mansour said that he would reject the political reconciliation agreement if the families’ rights were not restored by punishing the killers or at least banishing them from the Gaza Strip.
“We are not demanding much. If all seek reconciliation, then they must endeavor to keep those who killed Palestinians in 2007 out of the Gaza Strip, be they members of Fatah or Hamas. I cannot tolerate seeing my mother crying every morning for the loss of my brother Mohammed, who was 25 years old and killed one month after his marriage, and accept that his killer be allowed to live happily here in Gaza,” he said.
In contrast, Nidal al-Sarafity expressed willingness to relinquish his family’s personal right to seek revenge against the killers of his nephew Mohammed, who was killed by members of the al-Qassam Brigades, if it meant a return to Palestinian unity.
“If the Palestinian people’s higher interest requires that we relinquish our personal right, then we will not hesitate to support the reconciliation agreement and end the state of division that has caused us great anguish for many years. We do not want other families to suffer the way we suffered,” he told Al-Monitor.
The Al Mezan Center for Human Rights recorded 375 deaths in the clashes that erupted between Fatah and Hamas in the period from the latter’s legislative election victory in 2006 until it militarily took control of the Gaza Strip on June 14, 2007. Among the dead were 19 children and 18 women, in addition to more than 1,940 wounded.
Nafez Ghoneim, a member of the political bureau of the Palestinian People’s Party and secretary of the Social Reconciliation Committee that was formed of members of the various political parties pursuant to the Cairo Agreement in 2011, said that restoring civil peace to Palestinian society would be the most difficult task following the signing of the political agreement.
“There are many hurdles to overcome, including the establishment of a unified security apparatus able to uphold the law under the auspices of a unified Palestinian government, so that families seeking revenge against their children’s killers will not be allowed to undermine the reconciliation effort,” he told Al-Monitor.
He indicated that during previous meetings subsequent to the signing of the Cairo Agreement, the committee established other subcommittees and determined the framework for their work. They are now only waiting for the government formation to begin the implementation phase.
According to Ghoneim, the committee’s functions revolve around compensating the families of those killed or wounded during the bloody clashes and classifying the dead as martyrs, with their families receiving financial compensation commensurate with that classification by the future government. This process would come following a presidential decree granting general amnesty to all those who took part in the fighting.
Division in Gaza’s Palestinian society was deep, to the point at which political affiliation became a condition on which families accepted or rejected marriage proposals. Media reports also documented cases of divorce for the same reasons.
Political writer Mustafa Ibrahim said that turning over a new leaf must never mean foregoing punishing the perpetrators of violence and their appearance before Palestinian justice. Speaking to Al-Monitor, he said, “The first step in compensating the victims and ordering monetary and moral reparations must begin with both sides acknowledging their collective responsibility for damages inflicted upon the victims, as a result of them resorting to armed conflict. Palestinians can benefit from past experiences by countries such as South Africa in matters dealing with transitional justice. Yet, I must warn against ignoring transgressions or relinquishing the rights of the victims when compensating them in any shape or form.”
Palestinian reconciliation also faces the problem of finding the funds to compensate the victims of Palestinian infighting, which the Social Reconciliation Committee estimated would cost $35 million, according to Ghoneim. The latter downplayed the importance of the financial aspect, and indicated the willingness of Arab countries such as Morocco and Qatar to provide the required financial backing.
In this regard, Gaza’s Minister of Awqaf and Religious Affairs Ismail Radwan said May 4 that Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani had expressed willingness to support the Social Reconciliation Fund with a $5 million donation used to compensate families of victims from prior to the division.
Ghoneim said the road to social reconciliation will be longer than the one to political reconciliation. “We seek to involve family and clan elders in efforts to achieve social reconciliation, and exploit the influence that they have on the families of victims. The issue is complicated; long years of division cannot be overcome in one single day or month. At least two years are needed to reduce the painful effects that intra-Palestinian division has had on us all.”
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