In Gaza, Hamas ministry bids a teary farewell

In Gaza, Hamas ministry bids a teary farewell

Qatar will pay the salaries of 50,000 civil servants employed by Hamas pending national elections

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Hamas policemen march at the opening ceremony of a new police station in the Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis, May 5, 2013 (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Hamas policemen march at the opening ceremony of a new police station in the Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis, May 5, 2013 (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Hamas’s interior ministry in Gaza may have been abolished with the swearing in of a new Palestinian unity government, but on Tuesday the ministry’s Twitter and Facebook accounts continued churning out statistics on its accomplishments over the past seven years.

Twenty-two thousand security personnel underwent training, “prevailing despite the halting of salaries, wars, and insecurity under the airplanes of the Zionist occupation.” Military headquarters, destroyed during Operation Cast Lead of 2008 (referred to by Hamas as al-Furqan, or the war of redemption), were rebuilt. One hundred and forty-two thousand Gazans were trained in civil defense. Twelve million phone calls were received by the police hotline. And the list goes on.

In a final message posted on its website before going offline Monday, the ministry presented a 12-minute video clip produced by its media department honoring minister Fathi Hamad. Through scenes of destruction and chaos, a proud Hamad is seen marching through Gaza wreckage, reassuring citizens. According to one slide, Hamad oversaw 76 construction projects costing $13 million since taking office, following the death of his predecessor Said Seyam in an Israeli airstrike during the last days of the Gaza war in January 2009.

Ihab Ghosein, a government spokesman who previously worked for the interior ministry, thanked his journalist colleagues in a Facebook message posted late Monday night.

“I pray to God that I have served you well throughout my tenure as spokesman for the previous Palestinian government headed by Ismail Haniyeh,” wrote Ghosein. “May God help the person who fills this job in the next stage, and may he be loyal in serving his nation and people.”

Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah has also been appointed to head the sensitive interior ministry, which oversees the activities of the Palestinian security agencies and their coordination with Israel. Hamas, which opposes security cooperation and had vociferously objected to the appointment of Riyad al-Malki as foreign minister, was mum on the issue of the interior ministry in the new joint government.

Fatah officials have insisted that the unity deal did not touch on contentious security issues, but as 3,000 PA policemen were preparing to resume their activity in Gaza, a Hamas official declared that a security clause in the agreement barred cooperation with Israel.

On Tuesday, Hamdallah called on Fatah civil servants in Gaza — unemployed since Hamas’s bloody takeover of the Strip in the summer of 2007 — to return to work. According to the Palestinian Ma’an news agency, he declared that new economic committees would be created to oversee the rebuilding of Gaza under his auspices.

Interior Ministry employees in Rafah, December 2011 [photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90]
Interior Ministry employees in Rafah, December 2011 [photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90]

Out of a total of some 110,000 civil servants employed in Gaza, approximately 50,000 were appointed by Hamas over the past seven years, said Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at Al-Azhar University in Gaza. Twenty thousand of those are security men and the rest are civilians, a third of whom are employed through temporary contracts and earn just $300 a month. The average civil servant salary in Gaza is double that sum.

During the first unity government meeting in Ramallah Tuesday, PM Hamdallah promised that PA employees would receive their salaries as usual the following day, but Gaza civil servants would be paid through a joint committee comprising members from Fatah and Hamas.

“The money will not come from the coffers of the PA. It seems as though Qatar will donate these salaries until Palestinian elections are held,” Abusada said. “America and the Europeans who pay the PA salaries consider these [Gaza] employees part of Hamas, which they classify as a terror organization.”

Funding for Hamas employees is not the only touchy subject on the Palestinian table post-unity. On Monday, a Fatah official told The Times of Israel that the PLO would soon turn to Arab countries in search of funding for the families of security prisoners jailed in Israel.

Meanwhile, on the ground in Gaza, business continued as usual on Tuesday. Samir Zaqout, a field work coordinator for Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza, told The Times of Israel that policemen have come to work not knowing who will pay this month’s salary.

“There is probably a tacit agreement that the PA will absorb some of the security personnel in Gaza,” Zaqout said. The two largest government ministries in Gaza, health and education, were mostly manned by PA employees even before the reconciliation agreement. For their passports, Gazans always had to apply to Ramallah.

“The [government] administration is unchanged; the only thing that has changed is the minister,” he concluded.

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