[Dehai-WN] Middle East Online: Masked in Gaza: The Untold History of Palestinian 'Militancy'

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Sat, 17 Dec 2011 23:51:32 +0100

Masked in Gaza: The Untold History of Palestinian 'Militancy'

The factions changed names. The fedayeen wore different colored kuffiyehs.
But in essence, little changed. Poverty persisted. Human rights continued to
be routinely violated. Not a single refugee returned home, writes Ramzy

Middle East Online

First Published: 2011-12-17

Essam Al-Batsh and his nephew, Sobhi Al-Batsh, are the latest in a long line
of reported Palestinian 'militants' killed by Israel. The civilians were
both targeted while driving in a car in downtown Gaza on December 8.
According to an Israeli army statement, "(They) were affiliated with a
terrorist squad that intended to attack Israeli civilians and soldiers via
the western border" (Reuters, December 8).

Another 'militant' had been killed two days earlier. Israeli military
aircraft "had targeted two militant squads that were preparing to fire
rockets into southern Israel," according to the Associated Press. AP quoted
Israeli official saying the army would "continue to take action against
those (who) use terror against the state of Israel."

It really doesn't take much to kill a 'militant' in Gaza. Israeli military
intelligence officers simply select a weapon and zoom in on their chosen
person on any given day. This is not a difficult task really since the
entire population of the Strip are besieged in Gaza's open air prison. The
same statement issued regarding the assassinated 'militant' can then be
easily rewritten, using the same predictable justifications.

Israel's excuses actually tell nothing of the history behind the phenomena
of 'militancy'. To know why some young men in Gaza decide to mask their
faces and carry arms, they need to abandon the media's reductionist
characterization of Gaza's armed struggle. This goes back much earlier than
Hamas and Fatah, the 2006 selections, the 2007 siege or the 2008-09 war.

The phenomenon began shortly after the Nakba - The Palestinian 'Catastrophe'
in 1948, which saw the destruction of Palestine and the erection of today's
Israel. During this time nearly a quarter a million were evicted or forced
to flee to Gaza. A displaced population then yearned to go home, and many
wished to recover the lifesavings they had buried under patches of earth in
their Palestinian villages. Some wanted to harvest their crops, and others
sought family members that had gone missing during the forced march out of

Once they crossed into newly established Israel, many refugees never
returned. But the boldness of the 'fedayeen' - freedom fighters - now began
to grow rapidly.

The refugees eventually began organizing themselves, with or without help
from the Egyptian army, which was still stationed at the outskirts of Gaza
and the southern borders of the Sinai desert. Groups quickly assumed names
and became factions, and their members acquired military fatigues. The
fighters used kuffiyehs - traditional headscarves - to cover their faces to
escape the watchful eyes of Israeli collaborators, who were also growing in

Over time, Palestinian guerrilla commandos began carrying out daring strikes
deep inside Israel. The fedayeen were mostly young Palestinian refugees, and
some Egyptian fighters. Their operations grew bolder by the day, as they
snuck into Israel, like ghosts in the night, with primitive weapons and
homemade bombs. They would target Israeli soldiers, steal their weapons and
return with the new weapons the second night. Some would sneak back into
their villages in Palestine; they would 'steal' blankets and whatever money
they had saved but failed to retrieve in the rush of war. Those who never
returned received the funerals of 'Martyrs'. Following every fedayeen
operation, the Israeli army would strike Gaza's refugees, inspiring yet more
support and recruits for the young, but growing commando movement.

The phenomenon quickly registered among Palestinian youth in Gaza - not due
to any inexplicable desire for violence, but because they saw in the
fedayeen a heroic escape from their own humiliating lives. Indeed, the
fedayeen movement was the antithesis of the perceived submissiveness
experienced by refugees. It was a manifestation of all the anger and
frustration they felt. They simply wanted to go home, and freedom-fighting
seemed the only practical way of fulfilling this wish.

As refugees stayed put in their tents, and as more Palestinians were killed
by Israeli military incursions and snipers, the numbers of fedayeen
multiplied. In a historic visit to Gaza in 1955, then Egyptian leader Gamal
Abdel Nasser promised to fight on until all of Palestine was liberated. Soon
after, amid angry demands for action, Egypt decided to establish ten
battalions of the National Guard, which were made up mostly of Palestinian
fedayeen and led by Egyptian officers. It signaled an Egyptian attempt to
take charge of the situation and control the scattered Palestinian
leaderships and its armed factions. Cross-border skirmishes culminated, at
times, into full-blown border battles. Israeli mortar attacks reached many
areas in Gaza. There was no safe place to hide.

The factions changed names. The fedayeen wore different colored kuffiyehs.
But in essence, little changed. Poverty persisted. Human rights continued to
be routinely violated. Not a single refugee returned home. And three, if not
four generations of Fedayeen, carried on with the fight.

In some way, the media perception of these masked men also remained largely
unchanged. The 'militant' has always been reported as an inexplicable
irritant. At best, he served as a reminder, not of a poignant history that
must be unearthed and understood, but of why Israel is, and will always
remain, threatened by masked Palestinians. When a so-called 'militant' is
brutally killed, little justification is offered. If any 'militants' respond
to the killing, such retorts could possibly serve as a casus belli for an
already planned Israeli military escalation.

It is important that we understand that 'militancy' in Gaza is not linked to
any Palestinian faction per se, nor is it incited by a specific ideology or
individual. The phenomenon had indeed preceded all the factions and
individuals that dot Gaza's political landscape. It was caused by the single
event of the Nakba, and all the tragedies that manifested as a result of it.

Chances are, the 'militants' - or fidayeen, or even 'terrorists' by the
standards of Israel and its supporters - will continue to exist as long as
the conflict remains unsolved per the necessary standards of justice and

As for the media, it behooves reporters to dig a bit deeper than an image of
the charred remains of an uncle and his nephew - and to see beyond the
predictably false accusations that underlie official Israeli statements.

Ramzy Baroud ( <http://www.ramzybaroud.net> www.ramzybaroud.net) is an
internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of
PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is
<http://www.amazon.co.uk/My-Father-Was-Freedom-Fighter/dp/0745328814> My
Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story (Pluto Press, London).


      ------------[ Sent via the dehai-wn mailing list by dehai.org]--------------
Received on Sat Dec 17 2011 - 17:52:06 EST
Dehai Admin
© Copyright DEHAI-Eritrea OnLine, 1993-2011
All rights reserved