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Hamas faces rising anger after bulldozing Gaza homes

By Joseph Krauss (AFP)


May 28, 2010

RAFAH, Gaza Strip Ś Huddled in a tent near the mound of rubble that used to be his home, Eissa al-Sidudi says out loud what many Gazans would only mutter in private: Hamas has gone too far.

On May 16 Hamas police dragged his wife and eight children out of their squat cement house and pummelled him with wooden batons as bulldozers razed the building along with nearly 20 other homes.

"They didn't come here as a government, they came as an enemy power," he said, surrounded by several nodding neighbours who are also camping out at the site, an outcrop of sand dunes on the edge of the town.

"Whoever destroys my house is my enemy," he said.

Hamas authorities said they demolished the homes under a court order because they were illegally built on government land.

But the image of Israeli bulldozers toppling homes in the occupied territories has been seared into the Palestinian conscience, and the move came amid rising discontent with Hamas's rule over the impoverished territory.

A tax hike imposed in recent weeks on a wide variety of goods, including cigarettes, has infuriated Gazans living under strict border closures imposed by Israel and Egypt following the Islamist group's June 2007 takeover.

And a poll last month by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre (JMCC) found that more than 40 percent of Gazans would back the secular Fatah movement if elections were held today, compared to just 16 percent for Hamas.

Khalil Shahin, of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), said the demolitions were part of a larger project targeting some 180 houses in the same area and came at an "extremely difficult" time for Gazans.

The territory is in the grip of a major housing shortage, with entire neighbourhoods flattened during the 2008-2009 Gaza war still in ruins.

Israel has recently started allowing in building materials for UN projects, and there are limited amounts smuggled through tunnels from Egypt, but they are beyond the means of most Gazans, 80 percent of whom rely on foreign aid.

"There is a severe housing crisis in Rafah, so it is not possible to find an apartment to rent or even a storage facility for people to live in," Shahin said.

Ibrahim Radwan, the head of the Hamas-run Land Authority, said the residents had been warned numerous times and that past governments led by the secular Fatah movement had approved similar evictions.

"If we remain silent we encourage the needy as well as those who are not needy, and those who are greedy," he said.

The PCHR said, however, that most of the estimated 150 individuals evicted from their homes were "impoverished refugees," many of whom had seen their homes destroyed by Israeli forces in past years.

Two of the houses that were destroyed were made of mud bricks and had been hailed by Hamas as a feat of Palestinian ingenuity in enduring the siege.

The residents deny they were ever given eviction notices and many display legal documents they say prove they had purchased the land.

"I paid 2,000 dollars for this land and they can't say that I took it," Mimi Abu Athira shouted as she brandished a deed of ownership in front of the pile of crushed cinder blocks that once housed her and her 20-year-old son.

Like many area residents, she used to live near the border with Egypt but had to move when the room she rented was destroyed during the Gaza war.

"At least when the Jews destroy your house they tell you first," she said, before describing how a special unit of Hamas policewomen dragged her out and beat her before the bulldozer moved in.

The government has set aside the land, a stretch of sand dunes that used to be part of an Israeli settlement, for the construction of an Islamic school, fuelling rumours of corruption that have circulated in Gaza in recent months.

"The people are beginning to talk, they are beginning to raise their voices," said Naji Sharrab, a professor of political science at Gaza's Al-Azhar University.

Many displaced residents, who refused to be identified for fear of retribution, said corrupt local officials were behind the demolitions.

Rampant corruption in the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority was a major factor in Hamas's landslide victory in 2006 elections.

"Before it came to power Hamas had a reputation for honesty and integrity. Now the people are talking about corruption, about those who have accumulated large amounts of money, who have gotten their hands on land," Sharrab says.

There is little hard evidence for such corruption, Shahin of the PCHR says, but that may be because of the lack of transparency in the land sector.

"There are at least some people who are close to the security services or even work in the militias who have taken over government lands for their own private interests," Shahin said. "The priority should be to address them."

:: Article nr. 66443 sent on 29-may-2010 05:41 ECT


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