January 23, 2012

In News

Who will protect Gazans from their supposed defenders?

A Palestinian human rights activist was attacked and almost killed after he published an article criticizing militant groups and the Hamas government.

By Amira Hass

On December 9, 2011 – reads the silence-breaking article – “the occupiers’ planes targeted one of the muqawama [armed resistance] organizations’ training camps in Gaza’s Nasser neighborhood. In the attack, a father and his 11-year-old son were killed, and his wife and four of their children were wounded.”

That is part of a long, provocative article written by Gaza-based human-rights activist Mahmoud Abu Rahma, which was published on two Palestinian websites.

“One of the children is still being treated in an Israeli hospital,” the piece continues. “Two adjacent houses were also destroyed. The man had always felt endangered, and asked the members of the muqawama to have consideration for his family, who live near the training camp. But his request was dismissed, and he was asked to leave the area although he lacks the means to do so. In the end, he died in the way he had feared.”

The essence of the article: The ordinary citizen is promised that the armed resistance and the government are protecting him from the enemy, but when they undermine his rights, his freedom and his life – there is nobody to protect him. Abu Rahma writes, “There are many incidents when the citizen finds himself clashing with the muqawama and the government, far more often than people imagine. Who will protect the citizen from the harm caused to him by the government or the muqawama?”

Abu Rahma talks about arbitrary arrests (in the West Bank too ), groups involved in the smuggling tunnels and the harm they cause to ordinary citizens, even about teachers who beat their students. But mainly he talks about the muqawama, the armed Palestinian organizations that show no consideration for ordinary citizens, and about the government that does not investigate or take steps to prevent the harm caused to them. “There are many instances of citizens falling victim to the muqawama’s lack of consideration for them and their lives. And what’s more, there is nobody who is accountable for the muqawama’s intolerable activities.”

Abu Rahma, 38, the father of two daughters and a son, has been working at the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights for years, and today runs the organization’s communication and international relations unit. He was born in the Rafah refugee camp to a family that originally came from the destroyed village of Aqir (today Kiryat Ekron, near Rehovot ). His family is identified with the Palestinian left. In his article, he goes on to write about children who were wounded when they approached resistance training camps, about civilians who lost their eyes, and he makes special mention “of the training site in Beit Lahia, which still threatens the residents every day.”

Explosions that take place in crowded residential areas, homemade missiles that fall in Palestinian neighborhoods, including in schools, not to mention the “constant threat of danger from the occupation forces” because of the proximity of training camps to residential neighborhoods – all that is nothing new.

In private conversations people complain, but few dare to publicize in writing, and Abu Rahma’s article is even more direct than the few others. On December 31, the article was posted on the Sama news website in Gaza entitled “The Missing Protection.” Fifty-nine people clicked the “Like” button on the website and 14 shared the link with friends.

Stabbing attack

On January 3, unarmed and unidentified men attacked Abu Rahma as he entered the building where he lives. He managed to escape without being harmed, and preferred not to publicize the attack. His sick brother was receiving treatment in Egypt and he didn’t want to give the family another reason to worry. He spoke about the attack only to several close friends, who respected his wish not to tell others. He also started receiving threatening phone calls and text messages, including curses.

On January 13, Abu Rahma visited his brother who had returned from Egypt. They both live in Gaza’s Tel al-Hawa neighborhood. At about 11:15 P.M. he returned home. On the way, he was attacked by three armed, masked men with sharp instruments, who stabbed him in the back, leg and shoulders. They tried to stab him in the chest, but he protected it with his laptop. His hand was injured. Then the attackers retreated, shouting death threats and hurling curses like “traitor” at him.

With his remaining strength, Abu Rahma called a doctor friend who works for a veteran nonprofit medical association, the Health Work Committees of the Popular Front. The injuries in his right thigh and his left hand required stitches. The wound in his back was less severe. When he left treatment he traveled to Rafah – out of fear, of course, out of a desire to be in the protective surroundings of the refugee camp, out of a need to collect his thoughts.

Abu Rahma returned to Gaza on Tuesday, and only then did he decide to publicize the attacks against him. Since then he has been constantly receiving guests in his home. “Yes, write,” a report about it he told me over the phone, and he promised campaign group Amnesty International that the attack would not deter him from continuing to defend human rights in Palestine.

Palestinian and international human-rights organizations demanded that the Gaza authorities find the attackers. Some claim that senior officials in the armed organizations expressed shock and condemnation of the attacks in internal talks.

On Wednesday PNGO, the Palestinian Nongovernmental Organizations Network, called on all party representatives, members of the Palestinian Legislative Council and various nongovernmental groups in Gaza to participate in a meeting to demonstrate solidarity with Abu Rahma. Representatives of organizations that are members of PNGO came, as did representatives of the Palestinian left-wing parties. Who didn’t show up? Representatives of Islamic Jihad, Hamas and Fatah.

PNGO planned to hold a protest vigil on Saturday in the center of Gaza in the Square of the Unknown Soldier at the end of Omar al-Mukhtar Boulevard, near the Legislative Council. On Thursday it was announced that the protest vigil was being postponed – the Hamas police have not (yet ) given permission.