Hundreds of thousands of Fatah supporters gathered in Gaza City on Friday to mark the political faction’s 48th anniversary. Years of back and forth political repression meant that Fatah supporters weren’t so outspoken in Gaza and, until recently, Hamas supporters kept low profiles in the West Bank. But the real surprise, which I think many people aren’t openly admitting, has to do with the sheer size of the Fatah rally. As one colleague asked me, “since when are there that many Fatah supporters in the Strip?”
When I traveled to the Gaza Strip in 2011, I arrived under the impression that anyone with allegiance to Fatah and the Palestinian Authority would have already left to the West Bank or even to Egypt. But little did I know, just months before my arrival, as part of what I suspect to be a package deal from a previous reconciliation attempt, Hamas eased up on its limitations and allowed Gaza residents to display support for Fatah where the yellow flags and Fatah shields had previously been banned.
One sweeping glance at Gaza’s rooftops gives a clear indication of the strength and diversity of Gaza’s factional support. City blocks lined with small yellow flags attached to the tops of street lamps and fluttery yellow parade banners crisscrossing from building to building indicate Fatah support. Green means Hamas. Before the limitations were eased, the yellow flags were a rare public sight. Photographs of the late Yasser Arafat were stuck on doors instead. Numerous personal sources have even reported crackdowns on groups wearing kuffiyehs, taken as a symbol of allegiance to the “old Fatah”. Although I cannot confirm these particular reports, the idea is that support for Fatah in Gaza has grown — maybe not in number but definitely in visibility.
Though Hamas is by a longshot still the top favorite in Gaza, one of the greatest misconceptions of our time is that Hamas is the only favorite in Gaza. The Fatah rally shows otherwise. What complicates matters is that many Fatah supporters in Gaza pledge allegiance to the Fatah of the pre-Abbas era, when Arafat dominated international headlines. Their disdain for PA President Mahmoud Abbas isn’t as great as their disdain for Hamas, so their participation in Fatah-related functions is basically to give Hamas the bird passive-aggressively. Plus, many joined the rally not as Fatah supporters but as supporters of reconciliation and unity between Hamas and Fatah.
There is one good thing about the rally: it offered a safe atmosphere for entire families to comfortably participate. This is a promising sign that the difference of political opinion will be respected and protected.
But personally, it’s a bit discomforting to see so much support for a political organization that openly collaborates with Israel, that negotiates rights and land ownership, and that chooses normalization and costly diplomacy as its form of resistance.