When Israeli commandos murdered nine activists trying to deliver supplies to Gaza just under a year ago, criticism from many quarters of the international community was unjustifiably slow and restrained. Yet even compared to that response, the silence following the death sentence passed by Hamas against a Palestinian civilian this week has been deafening. Notably, many of the individuals and organisations who quickly and admirably stand up for the rights of Palestinians when Israeli forces commit abuses, are now nowhere to be seen.
The man due to be killed was accused of collaborating with Israel- one of three capital crimes in the Gaza strip (the others being drug trafficking and murder). His co-defendant, also found guilty of collaboration was sentenced to fifteen years hard labour. As if the practice of hanging people or effectively torturing them for over a decade was not repulsive enough – the broader legislative and political context of these judgements underscores the brutality to which Hamas is subjecting its own people.
Since the group took over the Gaza strip in 2007, it has tried civilians in military courts –drawing significant criticism from human rights organisations. These authoritarian courts, where the odds are stacked against defendants and international fair trial standards are not even touched upon, have been passing death sentences with increasing frequency, last year moving Palestine from a position of carrying out no formal executions since 2006 to becoming the 12th largest user of capital punishment in the world.
There is also a distinct likelihood that these executions are aimed at quashing domestic discord. Over the past weeks Gaza has been rocked by numerous demonstrations calling for Palestinian unity and in some cases denouncing Hamas’ poor governing record. Palestinian civilians taking part and journalists covering the events have received vicious beatings at the hands of the Hamas police force, illustrating their scale of concern over rising dissent. Particularly worrying for the Hamas authorities, especially in light of the prominent role played by the internet in the Arab revolutions, is the continuing growth of the Gaza Youth Manifesto for Change support base– an online movement denouncing Hamas and Fatah as well as Israel. When considering this overall growth in dissent both on the web and on the streets, the attraction of using executions to take-out key opponents or spread fear amongst the population is immediately apparent.
On this basis there is a strong likelihood that this week’s ‘collaborators’ and those convicted before them are actually innocent victims – punished for standing up in support of Palestinian rights rather than aiding Israeli aggression. Of course, the closed and secretive military courts make this impossible to verify one way or another.
Such circumstances hugely undermine those who justify their lack of criticism directed towards Hamas on the basis that it is the ‘democratically elected ruling party of Gaza’. Whilst debate will continue to rage indefinitely about the fairness of the 2006 elections, it is undeniable that equally, if not more important, than a party’s means of coming power, is its behaviour when it gets there. Beating up protestors and using rigged legal systems to impose politically-driven death sentences is neither democratic nor in the interests of the Palestinian people. It only adds to the well documented and utterly appalling approach of Hamas leaders to women and homosexuals in highlighting how the group brings further misery to Gaza.
Now more than ever therefore, those who claim to support the Palestinian people should firmly align themselves with those protesting on the streets of Gaza by condemning Hamas loudly and clearly. Resolutely denouncing the Hamas administration is not at all incompatible with denouncing Israel’s abuses against the Palestinian people – in fact it is nothing short of essential, as there can never be justice FOR Gaza until there justice IN Gaza- and that currently seems a long way off. Silence now is unacceptable.