Palestinian unity undermined by geographic divide (BBC) British Broadcasting Company) By Jon Donnison BBC News, Gaza City 24 February 2012 Last updated at 06:30 GMT)
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The two main Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, are still trying
to thrash out the details of a unity deal to end five years of bitter
Since 2007, Hamas has been in power in Gaza with Fatah left to govern
the West Bank. So, Palestinians face not only a political divide, but
also a geographical one.
"I just want to see my father. We only have photos and phone calls.
It´s hard to remember what he´s like," says 13-year-old, Uday al-
Sitting alongside his mother, Alya, and two younger brothers, Uday
shows me the family album.
"If my husband were dead, I´d know for certain I´d not see him," says
Alya. "But now I am in limbo. I don´t know whether I will see him or
Alya and her three boys live in Gaza. Her husband, Issa, was born in
the West Bank and is now back there. They have not seen each other
for more than two years.
Alya says Issa, who works in the Fatah Security Forces, had to leave
Gaza in 2009 after being arrested several times by Hamas. If he were
to return, she fears he could be arrested again.
Alya says she applied for Israeli permission to go with her children
to live with her husband in the West Bank, but this was refused.
Even if Palestinian leaders meeting in Cairo can resolve their
political differences, the Haddar family´s case illustrates how the
physical separation of the Palestinian people could prove harder to
Near yet far
At its narrowest point the distance between the West Bank and Gaza is
just 40km. But that short stretch of land is across Israel, and
Palestinians cannot pass without Israeli permission.
Since the outbreak of the second intifada in 2000, Israel has
severely restricted the movement of Palestinians between Gaza and the
The Palestinian population registry is controlled by Israel, which
has occupied the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem since 1967.
A Palestinian with an ID card that registers them as living in Gaza
cannot easily move to the West Bank.
"The separation between Gaza and the West Bank has only deepened over
the past many years as part of a policy by the Israeli government to
separate the two," says Sari Bashi from the Israeli human rights
group, Gisha, that campaigns for greater freedom of movement for
Palestinians to and from Gaza.
"The communities are divided, families are divided, and economic ties
are being dismantled," she adds.
According to Gisha, political reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas
would be a welcome step but would have little impact on Palestinians´
ability to move.
"Certainly it would be helpful but there´s a reality, Israel controls
the borders and only Israel can decide to allow people to travel back
and forth," Ms Bashi says.
The Israeli government says it allowed around 38,000 exits for
Palestinians to travel out of Gaza in 2011.
Many were for people seeking medical treatment and some will have
travelled several times over 12 months.
That compares to more than half a million exits a month before the
Israel says it is worried about Palestinians leaving Gaza to carry
out attacks against it, as has happened in the past.
Israeli officials also point to the fact that Egypt has now eased
restrictions at its border with Gaza allowing Palestinians to travel.
Egypt allows between 500 and 700 people to cross every day through
the Rafah crossing. But most Gazans are not particularly interested
in going to Egypt. They have far more reason to want to go to the
West Bank where they have relatives, friends and business contacts.
Even travelling to the West Bank via Egypt is not easy. It typically
involves a 6-hour drive to Cairo, a 500-km flight to the Jordanian
capital, Amman, and then an hour-long drive to the border with the
But Israel also controls that border and it is unlikely that a
Palestinian from Gaza would be given permission to cross.
Degrees of separation
Many Palestinians are sceptical about political reconciliation
between Fatah and Hamas despite President Mahmoud Abbas´s
announcement last month that he would head a unity government to
prepare for elections later this year.
There have been many false dawns leading to frustration and anger
among ordinary people.
By no means is everyone in Gaza, a Hamas supporter. While in the West
Bank, not everyone backs Fatah. Many people consider themselves
apolitical and are disillusioned with both factions.
But Palestinians also feel Israel´s forced separation of Gaza and the
West Bank has made reconciliation harder to achieve.
Israel, which regards Hamas as a terrorist organisation, is strongly
opposed to the Palestinian unity deal.
"There are divisions between Fatah and Hamas but Israel is not
innocent in this," says Andaleeb Adwan, a 45-year-old, mother of four
in Gaza. "Israel has created the hole between Gaza and the West Bank."
The separation has had a direct impact on Andaleeb.
In 1999, she started a Master´s Degree in Gender Studies at Birzeit
University in the West Bank. But since 2000, she says Israel has
refused her a permit to attend any classes.
"I wanted to use my degree to be a teacher but now who knows when I
will finish my studies? Maybe when I am 50," she says.
Andaleeb is not hopeful that Palestinian reconciliation can be
achieved nor whether it will change her daily life.
I ask her if one day she can imagine going to do her shopping in the
West Bank in the morning, before attending her classes in the
afternoon and then heading home to Gaza in the evening for dinner
with her family.
"It´s a dream," she smiles. "But I am not optimistic."
Palestinian unity timeline
2006 - Hamas wins parliamentary election; deadly clashes begin
2007 - Hamas takes over Gaza by force; Fatah resumes West Bank
2008 - Little progress after promise of dialogue in Yemen
2009 - Egypt takes over mediation; Fatah signs deal on unity
government but Hamas delays response
2010 - Talks stall over security; tit-for-tat arrests
2011 - Palestinian rallies for reconciliation; factions sign deal in
Feb 2012 - Deal in Qatar for Mahmoud Abbas to head unity government
ahead of elections (© BBC MMXII 02/24/12)
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