Hamas leader Ghazi Hamad at his home in Rafah, Gaza Strip
One of the first Hamas leaders I ever met in the Gaza Strip was Ghazi Hamad, who was then working as editor of a pro-Hamas newspaper in Gaza City.
Among journalists, Hamad was a favored barometer. He was a Hamas confidante who steered clear of some of the standard revolutionary rhetoric you would get from the more stalwart Hamas leaders.
Within Hamas, Hamad is a relative pragmatist and realist who has tried, with some success, to nudge the movement towards political moderation.
Hamad was among those who urged Hamas to run in last year's legislative elections and ran as an unsuccessful candidate himself. When Hamas took power, Hamad became a spokesman for the new government and public face for PA PM Ismail Haniyeh.
But it now appears that Hamas moderates are being silenced as hard-liners re-assert their dominance.
The letter offers remarkable, pointed criticism of Hamas and it's worth reading, especially since it is rare to see this kind of internal critique.
In short, Hamad criticizes Hamas for being too stubborn to admit its mistakes, lacking a thoughtful political vision and failing to seize the opportunity created by its 2006 electoral victory to create a successful model for political Islam.
One of the more interesting things about the letter is that it doesn't heap blame on Israel for Hamas and its problems.
Pragmatists like Hamad have always struggled with the more fiery Hamas leaders like former PA Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar from Gaza and exiled Hamas political director Khaled Mashaal now based in Damascus.
Zahar and Mashaal have led the Hamas wing that opposes significant concessions and sees the militant wing as decisive players in the fight against both Israel and Fatah.
When Hamas took control of the PA, it looked like the political pragmatists were going to have a chance to lead the group towards concessions. While Hamas refused to recognize Israel or renounce its vow to destroy the Jewish nation, some pragmatists said privately that Hamas could take those steps if it was given a chance.
But that window of opportunity quickly closed as an international boycott of the new government put Hamas on the defensive from the start.
Now that the Hamas-led unity government has been dissolved and replaced by a pro-Western caretaker government based in Ramallah, it appears that the possibility of Hamas taking any significant step towards moderation has passed. At least for now.
Also worth a read is this op-ed that Hamad wrote in early October. It covers many of the same points as the open lette, but avoids the direct criticism of Hamas.
This is the era of wise men
By Ghazi Hamad
There is a consensus that the Palestinian situation is wounded, sad and divided. None of us feels comfortable, relaxed, and at ease... On the contrary, everyone is concerned for his future, afraid of what is to come. Wherever you go, people surprise you with an obvious question: "Where is it all heading?"
One certainly does not have a clear and frank response, in the shadow of the clouds that cover the skies of the homeland, and in the shadow of these roaring sharp noises that have exhausted our ears with expressions outside the framework of the national mode of politeness. Then one answers: "May God cover up our weakness and bring safe consequences!" This is an answer that only indicates helplessness, frailty, and inability. This ferocious and open war between the brothers of the homeland (who have fought alongside each other in the resistance trenches, held onto the curtains of Al-Ka'ba, and were brought together in one government and one parliament) has caused me and everyone much pain.
It is a war on the ground, a war in the media, a war whose end we do not know, nor where it will lead or bring about. Look at the point we have reached today: Unprecedented division and disintegration between the West Bank and Gaza.
The acuteness of hatred between Hamas and Fatah has escalated to a frightening degree, whereby even children in the streets have started to exchange insults bigger than their age. The security crisis has moved entirely to the West Bank where many sins and rejected practices were committed. Gaza has suffered a siege, mistakes, and obstacles. The salary crisis and the ordeal of the entry points have become prominent. The problems of the ministries between Gaza and Ramallah have surfaced.
We have become baffled in our homeland, dispersed, fragmented, and concerned for our future and fate. We have ended up under the sword of attrition, tension, and the cold war between Gaza and Ramallah at every moment. Newspapers now carry their main headlines about the battle of "finger biting" among the children of the one homeland. A decision is made here, a measure there; a dismissal here, and an appointment there; a charge is leveled here, and an accusation of treason is voiced there.
O God! Where have we reached and which road is leading us where? What disaster awaits us? Where are we going to arrive at in the end, following the cut off point, counter-action, stubbornness, and contention? Dialogue once again?! Dialogue for the fourth, fifth, or tenth time? Are we to return to Mecca, or meet in Cairo, Sanaa, or Damascus? Or should we search for another capital that can bandage our wounds and ease our pain? Is there a sure guarantee that after the solution life will return to being serene and undisturbed (a quality of life that we lost long ago), or is what lies under the ashes still there?
I am certain it is possible and feasible for us to solve all our issues here, yes here, in the alleyways of Gaza or Nablus or Ramallah, without the need to wait at the gates of the capitals that have grown tired of our frequent visits! There is no need to search for mediators of oriental or foreign skin. Yes we can succeed with distinction if all devote themselves to the national interest and give up all narrow calculations. We do not need to travel far. We do not need round or square "tables;" what we need are clean hearts and conscious minds.
As there are those who are concerned for and enthusiastic about the homeland in Hamas, there are also the same in Fatah, the two fronts [the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine], Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and all other forces. All these hands can join together and bring us out of the cycles of misery and wretchedness. I say to you that our people are fed up with the strife, fed up with the dialogues, fed up with the multiplicity of governments and authorities, and with waiting for the unknown. They are fed up of blocked horizons and lost hopes. Do not torture them further. Show mercy on them. Show mercy on their elderly and youths who are unable to find work or breathing space. Show mercy on their students who are not allowed to travel, on their merchants who have gone bankrupt. Be a gentle hand to this people rather than a whip scalding their backs. Be a smile of hope to them, instead of these frowning expressions that appear from time to time to menacingly threatening!
Each side can say what it wants to say and claim what it wants to claim, but the voice of the homeland (the cleaner and clearer) is the voice that must be heard now. All must be silent to hear the voice of the wounded exhausted homeland, which says that we are walking in the wrong direction, the direction going against our liberation and independence march, the march of our unity and dignity. The homeland says: "No to the direction of war and estrangement. No to the direction of hate." The voice of the homeland says that Gaza is not for Hamas and the West Bank is not for Fatah, but the homeland is one and the people are one.
The voice of the homeland is the one that dictates on all sides to offer a compromise for its sake and for the sake of its unity and dignity. The voice of the homeland is the one that says contention and stubbornness lead to utter destruction, ruination, and loss of the people and the land. The voice of the homeland says that it is now time for the wise men, and it is not time for adolescence and suspicious emotions. It is not time for contention, stubbornness, and finger-biting, because these are battles doomed to failure (the wound is in the palm) [Arabic saying meaning to only harm oneself]...
This is time for the wise men who are the salt of the earth, who are the cure, medicine, and balsam of the people when the latter are bewildered and their means grow narrower. It is the time for wise men that are not driven by prejudices and not diverted by a moment of anger from saying what is right. Wise men are those who are not clad by the tight-fitting robes of their parties, but the more merciful, large, and spacious gown of the homeland. Wise men are those who understand that compromise for the sake of the homeland and the people is not a shameful act, but a source of honor and pride.
I call upon you wise men: We need you desperately. We are drowning in a bottomless sea, if you do not extend your helping hand to this ship it will sink and all of us will drown! Remember that the religious obligation of reconciliation with kinship is a duty that takes precedence over praying and fasting, because the disintegration of the relationship of kinship is like a shaved woman [a woman used to shave her head when mourning the death of her children; therefore, a cursed person is the one whose mother has shaved her head]!
Yes I swear to God it is the woman with the shaved head that has spoiled our relations with our kinship and has saddened our hearts, as did the loss of our brothers. This is why relations between a husband and wife are ruined; this is how a brother has come to hate his own brother merely because of political affiliation! This is not the time for a mobilized media that incite hatred, estrangement, and the disintegration of national ranks; it is time for a national sincere media that bring together hearts and bring points of view closer, a media that do not tell lies and fabrications. It is time for a media that are not based on leveling accusations, defamation, and slander.
Unfortunately our media reached an unprecedented stage of decline, exchange of accusations, and hunting for slips, exposing pitfalls, exaggerating minor sins, and "opening old notebooks." I wish that all media spokesmen would stop for a moment of truth and revision. I wish that they would fast one day and refrain from impermissible talk, and then follow up with a day of festivities whereby they transmit to people nice sweet talk instead of the bitterness we swallow every day. I wish that they would not open the dictionaries of harsh, negative expressions for the dictionary of the homeland is full of beautiful wonderful words.
A solution to the crisis
No doubt that we are all in the crisis! No one can claim otherwise. What should a patient do when he feels ill, besides rushing to the doctor and not waiting for the disease to get worse and turn into a chronic incurable one. The patient who does not feel his illness dies slowly. When we talk about a solution to the crisis, we should not place in front of it one thousand obstacles; instead we should extend bridges, prepare the atmosphere, and open horizons. We should not complicate matters too much! Easing and facilitating matters is required for the sake of the homeland...
It is not time for a contest of who will score a point against the other, since all goals are entering the net of the homeland! Who will take the first step? Our religion and shari'ah say that "the best amongst them is the one who initiates the greeting [of peace be upon you]." Today we are talking about peace of the homeland not peace between two parties. He who initiates this brave step is the one who has the precedence and grace, and this will go down in his national record as a sign of success not failure or retreat.
It is not shameful to step back for the sake of the homeland; the retreat is in itself progress. It is no shame for he who commits a mistake to retreat from it; and there is no harm in going back for someone who oversteps. But he who insists and contends stubbornly is not belittled to stop at what is right, and these are the characteristics of the gracious.
Today the issue of the homeland's unity is bigger than any other side issue. Small side issues should not divert us from big issues. We must not forget in the thickest of contention and stubbornness that our enemy is overwhelmed with great happiness for the turn of events...
Our enemy is happy with this division and disintegration, whereas the ones who love us among the Arabs and Muslims and our friends in the world are feeling sad and hurt. Let us shake off this hesitation and the many obsessions...
Let us shake from our eyes and minds the impossibility of the solution. Let us abandon the illusions of the fall and winter conferences (let our reconciliation be a spring conference). There are foundations that have become clear and no one can dispute them: A government with a national agreement, a professional security establishment, reforming the PLO; except that this and the rest are procedures and formalities that are belittled in front of the great goals. You the leaders of the people show God and your people the goodness within yourselves. We are approaching the Id...[feast marking the end of Ramadan] Make our Id a true joy.