How embarrassing. While solidarity activists are planning new protests against the blockade of the Gaza Strip, the Hamas government is adding to limitations on Palestinians’ freedom of movement. One might justifiably ask: What are a few high school students Hamas refuses to allow to travel to the United States to study as opposed to 1.5 million Palestinians imprisoned by Israel in Gaza?
Who cares about a few Fatah activists who have been banned from leaving the Gaza Strip? They have become a “price tag” – Hamas’ revenge for the persecution of its supporters (not linked to the use of arms) in the West Bank by the Abbas-Fayyad government. And who even pays attention to a few hundred people who might be traveling to participate in NGO projects in the West Bank and abroad? What does it matter that they are required to give at least two weeks notice and provide the authorities in Gaza with an abundance of details about the project?
The truth is, these strikes against freedom of movement can be explained away by political circumstances. The explanations would even suit Hamas’ respectable image abroad as a resistance government (as opposed to the PLO government’s image as collaborators). It’s almost certain that any rare Palestinian who Israel allows to leave Gaza via the Erez checkpoint is being shown some sort of favoritism by the Israeli authorities. This person can be close to the Palestinian Authority or a PA official himself, a favorite of the Americans or other Western entities, or of a well-connected Israeli organization.
By its very essence, freedom of movement for the few constitutes privilege, and privilege is a mutilated right, because rights are meant for everyone. Such mutilated rights foster envy and encourage the estrangement of the privileged from the rest of the public. That has been the basis for Israel’s 20-year closure policy.
Last Thursday, the Hamas authorities once again prevented six high school students, scholarship recipients, from leaving for their studies in the United States. A number of them had wanted to leave two weeks ago and were prevented from doing so on the orders of the Hamas education minister. This summer, children were prohibited from participating in a summer camp (! ) in the West Bank. The Gaza security forces interrogated a number of activists who had gone abroad; they were part of the movement against the separation of the West Bank from Gaza. Two had their laptops and cellphones confiscated, one was arrested for two days.
The prohibitions and Hamas’ deterrent tactics must not be taken lightly just because the number of people affected is small. The nature of prohibitions is that they increase in volume as they roll down the slope called “rule.” Hamas believes it has the right to intervene in parents’ choices for their children’s educational future. It believes it has the right to limit national and societal activity that is not based on its religious axioms.
These prohibitions are woven tightly into the Hamas regime’s logic. Hamas, which is not threatened by elections, builds its own separate political-religious entity. The closer the government in Ramallah gets to the UN vote on accepting “Palestine” as a member, the more Hamas stresses the independence of the Gaza Strip under its rule.
In this way the Hamas government provides an alibi for Israel to mendaciously claim that it is no longer an occupier. Hamas needs a blockade to regulate from within so that the subjects of “independent Gaza” will be exposed as little as possible to different realities and will not question its policies. Hamas needs the blockade and needs Gaza to be cut off from the rest of Palestinian society to ensure the continuation of its regime.