Khaled Meshaal Arrives in Gaza

Khaled Meshaal, chairman of the Hamas Political Bureau, has arrived in Gaza for the first time in his life. Shlomi Eldar reports that he avoided questions about his past and present policies.

al-monitor Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal gives a speech during a rally marking the 25th anniversary of the founding of Hamas, in Gaza City, Dec. 8, 2012. Photo by REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah.
Shlomi Eldar

Shlomi Eldar


Topics covered

hamas, gaza

Dec 10, 2012

For the first time in his life, Hamas leader, Chairman of the Hamas Political Bureau, Khaled Meshaal arrived in the Gaza Strip [on Dec. 7] to visit the million and a half residents of the Strip for whose fate he is responsible. For them too, it was the first time ever they found him  to be flesh  and blood — the up-till-then virtual figure that they had previously seen only on one of his occasional appearances on TV in between wars, military campaigns and air strikes, when he went on air to lift the spirits of the Gazans, encourage them, praise their fortitude and show them that no matter what, Gaza was always in his heart.

The man whose words and actions determined their past and are bound to shape their future knelt to kiss the ground of Gaza, once he passed the Egyptian border crossing into the Strip, as if he were a lost son returning home, as if Gaza were his land, the object of his longings and his native soil.

However, Gaza has never been Khaled Meshaal's homeland. He was born in the West Bank village of Silwad, in the environs of Ramallah, which was at the time [1956] under Jordanian control, far away from the Gaza Strip, which was then ruled by the Egyptians. Following the 1967 Six Day War and the occupation of his village by the Israelis, his father decided to move with his family to [Jordan’s capital] Amman and from there they emigrated to Kuwait, the promising paradise whose soil was saturated with oil and whose residents were enjoying the good life. The rich Emirate opened its gates to immigrants who were looking for livelihood and seeking rest from the never-ending wars over Palestine.

Conveniently ensconced in the relatively easy life that Kuwait offered him, Meshaal watched Gaza from afar, never venturing too close to the Strip and never saying his prayers facing towards Gaza, which evidently was not on his mind. His sole visit to the territories after moving out with his family took place in 1975. He went then to see his father’s home in the village of Silwad, his birthplace, and hurried back to the school bench at the University of Kuwait, where he studied computer sciences and physics.

He never saw in the Gaza Strip a home and its residents were like strangers to him, even more so than the residents of the Emirate where he had grown up, come of age and acquired his education. Indeed, Meshaal was much more of a Kuwaiti than a Gazan, until he had to flee the Emirate along with all other Palestinians who waved the flag of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq when the latter coveted the overflowing oil wells of Kuwait in the 1990–91 first Gulf War. Meshaal subsequently moved to Amman, where he set his seat for a while and from there he moved on to Damascus, where he settled under the auspices of the Assad family.

Meshaal has never experienced the economic crunch weighing on the inhabitants of the refugee camps in the Gaza Strip. He has never felt the hopelessness and despair the majority of Gazans have been feeling for years, and even more so since his movement, the Hamas movement, seized control over the Gaza Strip in June 2007, driving out Fatah. The Hamas enclave established in Gaza, which he commanded from Damascus, is responsible to a large extent for the madness and bloodshed and destruction that both sides, the Israeli and Palestinian, suffered.

The hundreds of millions of dollars that his political bureau raised ostensibly on behalf of the Gaza Strip residents, with the purported aim of easing their plight, he and his colleagues allocated to the purchase of weapons rather than using those funds to improve the quality of life of the refugee camp residents. The Hamas regime purchased or received free of charge from Iran rockets and missiles, but has not built even one single hospital in the Gaza Strip, much like Yasser Arafat, who had set up at the time numerous military arms for the sake of a far-fetched fantasy, while neglecting the welfare and well-being of the Gaza residents. 

The only pledge Meshaal made to the Strip residents was that one day, all of Palestine would be liberated and that with its redemption, they too would be redeemed. But when will that happen? How many generations ahead? He has never specified a date, never committing himself. “Inshallah,” God willing — an amorphous promise on account of which the Gaza residents slipped back a generation, rather than making progress and bettering their life.

When Meshaal knelt to kiss the ground of Gaza in front of the TV cameras, he said, apologizing to his listeners: “I have never been to Gaza before, but you have always been deep in my heart.” Really? One may wonder.

Although he realized how dangerous the way his movement followed was, he persisted in it, even when Israel threatened to pound the Strip if the barrage of rockets Hamas was firing at Israel did not stop. Deputy Foreign Minister for Hamas in Gaza Dr. Ghazi Hamad, who formerly served as the spokesman of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, was cited as having said to Meshaal and his deputy Moussa Abu Marzouk when visiting them in Damascus following Operation Cast Lead, the 2008-2009 Gaza War: “You have brought disaster on Gaza with your policy.”

More than 1,400 Palestinians were killed in the course of that operation, which began in late December 2008, and more than 200 were killed a month ago, in Operation Pillar of Defense. These operations were all launched in response to rocket firing into Israel, motivated by the Hamas’ blind faith that Israel can be overpowered, if not militarily, than at least by undermining its morale.

Now, all of a sudden, Meshaal appears on the scene, coming to celebrate together with the victims of his policy. Gaza is beaten and battered and weary of wars. Yet, Meshaal and the Hamas seniors around him are leading the festivities commemorating the 25th anniversary of the movement's founding, never stopping to at least take stock of their past actions and — what’s even more important — reevaluate their future policy.

Only once in the past did Meshaal truly contemplate a change of policy. It was when he indirectly proposed in 2006 to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to embark on a long-term strategic dialogue on an enduring, peaceful coexistence. His proposed outline called for the establishment of a Palestinian state within the pre-1967 borders and for a 25-year deferment of the discussion of the refugees problem and the issue of Jerusalem. Behind the scenes, off the record, Meshaal raised pragmatic, rational and conciliatory proposals as far back as six years ago — this, with the view of safeguarding and preserving the newly elected Hamas regime. However, in public, he kept up the belligerent rhetoric, offering the Gazans an unrealistic vision.

The very same Hamas leader who came up at the time with the proposal for a strategic arrangement with the Israelis is now kissing the blood drenched soil of Gaza and declares: “Today it is Gaza and tomorrow, all of Palestine." And the exhilarated crowds hail him as their savior, cheering him on, calling "Hamas, Hamas!" It may well be that many of them really believe in what he himself most likely does not believe himself, that is, that the dream of wiping Israel away may yet come true.

A few months following the assassination of former Israeli Premier Yitzhak Rabin, a meeting took place in the Gaza Strip between Yasser Arafat and then-Acting Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who was appointed to the office after the murder. At a press conference convened in Arafat’s bureau in Gaza, the two declared that the peace process would be carried on notwithstanding the events.

Stepping over the battery of journalists and array of cameras surrounding the two, I stood on my toes so as to catch Arafat’s eyes, and openly asked him whether the issue of sovereignty over Jerusalem, the Holy City, could at all be resolved.

Yasser Arafat straightened up and frowning, said in a solemn tone: “Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine and the flag of Palestine will yet wave over the Temple Mount.”

Shimon Peres, then-Acting Prime Minister of Israel, was listening uneasily.

“One may dream,” he said in response. “Nobody is keeping you from dreaming and, at the same time, understanding reality.” Arafat’s sullen countenance changed all of a sudden and a smile broke on his face, but he said nothing more. Dreams apart and reality apart.

It should be noted to Khaled Meshaal’s credit that he was quick to understand reality long before everyone else. After all, he was granted safe haven in Kuwait and grew up there and he could thus appreciate the meaning of quality of life. Alas, while covertly, behind the scenes, he took a realistic step forward in an attempt to reach an arrangement with the Israelis, talking publicly on stage this week [the week of Dec. 2] he used the same worn-out slogans, reciting the all too familiar text that consecrates the land rather than sanctifying life, and once more promised them [in Gaza] the same dream that probably will be the same nightmare all over again.

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