How the Gaza Freedom March managed Hamas

Haaretz journalist Amira Hass, who I saw in Cairo for the Gaza Freedom March, writes in her newspaper about the restrictions imposed on the brief visit by Hamas:

The march was not what the organizers had dreamed of during the nine months of preparation. The day before the trip to Gaza, they already knew that the non-governmental organizations had backed out. Some people said that Hamas government representatives had found the NGOs did not have a clear, organized plan for the guests and therefore had taken the initiative. One Palestinian activist insisted: “When we heard there would only be 100, we canceled everything.”

Another said, “From the outset, Hamas set conditions: No more than 5,000 marchers, no approaching the wall and the fence, how to make speeches, how long the speeches should be, who will make speeches. In short, Hamas hijacked the initiative from us and we gave in.”

Hamas, or its Popular Committee, brought 200 or 300 marchers. The march turned into nothing more than a ritual, an opportunity for Hamas cabinet ministers to get decent media coverage in the company of Western demonstrators. Especially photogenic were four Americans from the anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox Jewish group Neturei Karta, who joined the trip only at Al Arish. There were no Palestinian women among the marchers – a slap to the many feminist organizers and participants, both women and men.

After the march, the guests voiced protests to some of the official Palestinian organizers. “We came to demonstrate against the siege, and we found that we ourselves were under siege,” they said. Their variegation and the transparency of their behavior did not suit the military discipline the official hosts tried to impose. The officials listened, and after the reins were loosened a bit, I set out to visit the homes of friends.