There must have been something in the London air last night. While the United Joint Israel Appeal, Union of Jewish Students and “Pro-Israel” Yachad hosted Israel boycotter Peter Beinart via Skype, further down the Northern Line SOAS’ Centre for Palestine Studies hosted Professor Jean-Pierre Filiu.
Beinart will have been trying his best to persuade his Jewish audience (the talk was restricted to Jewish students and members of Jewish youth groups only) to boycott the livelihoods of innocent Jewish families living in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).
Meanwhile, at SOAS’ usually anti-Israel Centre for Palestine Studies Professor Filiu gave an interesting talk on the history of Gaza. Not only did Filiu recognise Israel’s security needs but he attacked Hamas for its mistreatment of Palestinian women. There were no calls for boycotts.
Filiu’s main thesis was that peace in the Middle East would only come via Gaza as, historically, control of Gaza was pivotal to control of the Middle East. The most recent example was General Allenby who won control of Gaza a month before entering Jerusalem.
Filiu said the Muslim Brotherhood opened a branch in Gaza in 1946 and its founder, Hassan al-Banna, visited Nuseirat sometime before May 1948 to urge his followers to fight for Palestine.
Filiu described Gaza as a “Noah’s Ark” for 200,000 Palestinian refugees, but it was the Sinai Desert that kept the refugees in Gaza otherwise they would have journeyed on to Egypt. Gaza’s original population was 80,000.
Filiu splits Gaza’s recent history into three 20 year cycles:
“1947 – 1967 Obliteration of Palestine” - Filiu claimed that during the winter of 1948/1949 many children died of hunger and cold and that the Quakers and Turks were the first in to offer tents. The only two political parties were the Muslim Brotherhood and the Communists.
In 1955 Ariel Sharon’s Unit 101 launched a raid into Gaza to attack terrorists. An Intifada soon followed. The battle cry of the Brotherhood and the Communists was “Nasser dictator, traitor of the Palestinian cause.”
During Israel’s short occupation of Gaza to try to destroy Fedayeen nests 1,000 Palestinians died out of a population of 300,000. (NB. there are no proper archives on Gaza’s history so figures may well be inaccurate)
After the 1956 Suez Crisis Israel withdrew from Gaza. Egypt took over. The Fedayeen weren’t allowed to operate. Many left Gaza for the Gulf and founded Fatah. The Muslim Brotherhood went underground.
“1967 – 1987 Reoccupation” – This period was characterised by Palestinian civil resistance to Israel, the Muslim Brotherhood’s continued oppression by Nasser, infighting between Palestinian Nationalists and the Muslim Brotherhood and a boycott by President Sadat when the Palestinians condemned Egypt’s peace agreement with Israel.
Islamic Jihad was formed and they regarded Palestine as a priority, but not its Islamisation. The 1987 Intifada took both the PLO’s external leadership and the Muslim Brotherhood by surprise. The Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza turned itself into Hamas.
“1987 – 2007 Cycle of Intifadas” – Filiu said this was a time of collective sorrow, desolation and Palestinian infighting. Hamas’ Al Qassam Brigades executed many Palestinians for being collaborators.
The peace process brought hope but when Arafat divorced himself from Gaza Palestinians living there felt they had paid the price for bringing him back from Tunis, especially when Palestinian police opened fire on their own people and many were tortured to death. Gaza totally lost out in the peace process.
Israel again withdrew from Gaza in 2005 but it was Fatah’s change of rules for the 2006 Palestinian elections, hoping to prevent a Hamas victory, that actually allowed Hamas to win. Hamas immediately offered a national unity government but Fatah wasn’t interested in Gaza. After the 2007 coup Hamas fully controlled Gaza.
Filiu said that Palestinians in Gaza are fed up with Fatah and Hamas’ petty war. He acknowledged Israel’s security concerns but said Israel “should deal with the people, not bomb and kill them”. He said there is no other way but for Israel to lift the “blockade” of Gaza, which he viewed as helping Hamas to build a police state and control the population, especially the women.
During the Q&A Filiu was asked about the possibility of a one state solution. Filiu said a two state solution was the only way forward and that this is what the PLO had just asked for at the UN and that this had been celebrated even in Gaza.
Apart from Filiu’s wanting Israel to lift all restrictions on Gaza, which would lead to increased suicide bombings in Israel, it was as objective and interesting a talk about the conflict and Hamas as I have heard from any non pro-Israel organisation.