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Hamas says Gaza ‘not occupied;’ UN disagrees


Jan. 4, 2012

GENEVA – The UN continues to label the Gaza Strip “occupied” by Israel, despite a Hamas leader stating this week that that’s no longer a tenable position.

Hamas co-founder Mahmoud Zahar confirmed Tuesday there is no Israeli occupation of Gaza, according to areport published by Ma’an, a Bethlehem- based Palestinian news agency.

Zahar was casting doubt on whether Hamas would organize anti-Israel marches in Gaza in conjunction with similar protests that the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority would organize in the West Bank.

“Against whom could we demonstrate in the Gaza Strip? When Gaza was occupied, that model was applicable,” Zahar said.

The radical Islamist organization has merely recognized the obvious: that after Israel in 2005 dismantled its military administration in Gaza, forcibly evicted all Israeli residents and withdrew every last soldier, Israel no longer occupies the territory by any legal definition or other sense of the term.

Whatever external control Israel – and Egypt - may exercise, everyone in Gaza knows that Hamas rules the territory with an iron fist.

THE HAMAS statement follows growing recognition among international lawyers that the UN’s resistance to holding Palestinians responsible for territory they control is outdated.

Four-and-a-half years after seizing power in Gaza, Hamas runs its own police, courts, jails, schools, media and social services, noted Abraham Bell and Dov Shefi, two international legal experts, in a 2010 research paper for the University of San Diego law school.

Hamas regulates business activities, banks and land registries. It levies taxes, controls its own borders and even imposes a dress code. In sum, wrote Bell and Shefi, Hamas operates “a functioning and fully independent local civil government, buttressed by armed forces.”

Similarly, in an article published in the American University International Law Review, Elizabeth Samson concluded that under the Geneva Conventions and international judicial precedents, Gaza can no longer be considered occupied because Israel, despite its ability to exercise certain powers over the area, no longer exercises “effective control,” the litmus test for what qualifies as occupation.

Under Israel’s own law, the country’s Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that the Jewish state had disengaged from Gaza and no longer exercised “effective control over what occurred there.”

Now that Hamas itself has publicly recognized this reality, the UN’s refusal to do the same is less defensible than ever. The organization’s official policy has not changed since Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman, Farhan Haq, declared in 2008 that “the UN defines Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem as occupied Palestinian territory.”

In 2009, the UN’s Goldstone Report claimed that “the international community continues to regard [Israel] as the occupying Power” in Gaza, and cited to the UN Human Rights Council resolution that created their inquiry, which referred to “the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip.”

This terminology continues to appear:

• A September 22 report in the name of the secretary- general speaks of a UN mission’s visit to the “occupied Palestinian territory, specifically the Gaza Strip.”

• In May, Richard Falk, the UN Human Rights Council’s permanent investigator on alleged Israeli violations, referred to the “occupied Gaza Strip.”

• A UN fact sheet on “the Occupied Palestinian Territory” includes Gaza.

THERE IS a certain paradox in all of this. Even as a key UN agency, UNESCO, recently recognized “Palestine” – which includes Gaza – as a full and independent member of its organization, the UN continues to use the “occupied” terminology.

The inconsistency isn’t new. For decades, the UN’s policy toward the Palestinians has been marked by a fundamental contradiction: giving them maximum privileges within the organization, while demanding minimum responsibilities.

But absolving Palestinians of basic responsibility hasn’t helped them one iota. On the contrary, Palestinian citizens are the main losers when those that directly govern and police them are never seriously held accountable for their actions.

It’s time for the UN to drop its intransigent insistence on a legal position that has the effect, if not intent, of justifying Palestinian terrorism as “resistance to occupation,” undermining Israel’s ability to invoke its inherent right of self-defense against deadly rockets fired from Gaza, and, not least, dehumanizing Israelis as the demonic and faceless “occupier.”

And if the UN really wants to advance Palestinian self-rule and help Palestinians achieve sustainable independence, it must help, rather than hinder, the Palestinians develop a healthy culture of self-rule. The world body must stop patronizing them with a legal fiction designed to sustain a permanent state of grievance and absolve them of any responsibility.

Hillel C. Neuer, an international lawyer, is executive director of the Geneva-based UN Watch.


Hamas: Peaceful resistance not applicable to Gaza
Published Tuesday 03/01/2012 (updated) 04/01/2012 17:39
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Palestinian and left-wing Israeli demonstrators face tear gas fired by Israeli
forces during clashes at a protest against a nearby settlement, in Nabi Saleh
village, near Ramallah, on Dec. 16, 2011. (Reuters/Darren Whiteside)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahhar has cast doubt his party will take up peaceful resistance against Israel as advocated by former rivals Fatah.

Under a reconciliation deal between the factions signed in May, officials called for a unified "national strategy," and Fatah officials say that Hamas chief-in-exile Khalid Mashaal agreed to adopt non-violent popular action in favor of armed struggle.

But in comments to Ma'an late Monday, senior Hamas official in Gaza Zahhar stressed the situation in the Gaza Strip is different to the occupied West Bank.

"Against whom could we demonstrate in the Gaza Strip? When Gaza was occupied, that model was applicable," Zahhar said.

Israeli forces withdrew from the coastal strip in 2005, and imposed a crippling land and sea blockade after Hamas took power in 2007.

Zahhar said that no program of peaceful resistance had been agreed with Fatah. "We only discussed that as a slogan," he said, without elaborating.

The mass popular protests of the Arab Spring are not applicable to Palestinians' opposition to Israeli occupation, he added.

"We can't use the same means seen in Egypt, Syria, and Tunisia because they are inappropriate in the West Bank. Egypt got rid of the British occupation with arms, and since we are resisting occupation, we should use all means including armed resistance."

But Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmad told Ma'an that Fatah chief President Mahmoud Abbas and Mashaal agreed at their Nov. 24 meeting to adopt peaceful resistance and to increase its scale both in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank.

Suggesting that agreement was still pending, Zahhar said: "The most important thing is to have a united political agenda. We should agree on whether we want all kinds of resistance, or just limit it to rallies and waving flags?"

The May deal aimed to end four years of division between the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas-led Gaza administration, which split after fighting between the factions exploded in 2007.

Hamas will be ready to step down in the Gaza Strip if another party wins elections, Zahhar said, "however, elections must be honorable."

Differences between the parties' strategy was again highlighted on Monday, when Hamas slammed Fatah officials' participation in talks with Israeli and Quartet envoys in Jordan this week, saying such meetings were "reproducing a failed policy."