When satirizing the current Palestinian split some have referred to it as ‘Gazastan’ after Hamas tightened its grip over Gaza, following its bloody and ferocious battles with Fatah.
One of the outcomes of the internal Palestinian turmoil was head of the Hamas Political Bureau, Khaled Meshaal’s, announcement in which he said that the new situation in the strip has brought about an atmosphere that allows for the release of BBC reporter Alan Johnston, who was kidnapped in Gaza City last March 12.
However, the so-called ‘Jaish al Islam’ (Army of Islam) group was quick to respond and issued a threat in the form of video footage that showed a pale Johnston strapped up with an explosive belt who said that his captors have threatened to turn the hideout into a death zone if any forceful attempts to free him were made. Two days later, more footage was released in which the kidnappers warned that Alan Johnston will be slaughtered like a sheep if Abu Mohammed al Maqdesi, who is imprisoned in Jordan, is not released. Al Maqdesi is known to be the spiritual guide of Abu Musab al Zarqawi.
This is the most complicated issue facing reporters in Gaza where previous cases of abductions, approximately 15, had never reached such critical heights. This portends a move towards an ‘Iraqization’, given the turn of events.
But the novel element in Johnston’s issue is how Hamas dealt with it. Having gained control over the strip, Hamas sought to take advantage of the issue indicating that it was capable of freeing the British reporter quickly, furthermore hinting that it had knowledge of the identity of his kidnappers and his whereabouts. This was what could be inferred in the aftermath of Meshaal’s confident rhetoric when he voiced his optimism over the man’s imminent release.
Johnston’s issue was one of the first that Hamas rushed to capitalize on, as the substitute de facto authority, moreover stating that it was going to control the security situation in a more efficient manner. And yet for unknown and obscure reasons, Hamas soon backed down from that claim.
The footage showed Johnston vehemently warning against using coercive means to free him, moreover obliquely warning that his kidnappers felt that their location and identities had become known and were thus warning against any targeting attempts.
Simultaneous but not necessarily linked is the release of an audio recording of al Qaeda’s second man, Ayman al Zawahiri, in which he expressed his endorsement of Hamas’s seizure of Gaza, thus reinforcing the ‘Gazastan’ theories.
What was remarkable, however, was that Hamas could not disclaim al Zawahiri’s support and thus made a confused response in which it thrust in the Johnston issue to distance itself away from al Qaeda, whilst still being associated with the culture that Zawahiri is a part of, in some form or another.
It was remarkable; however, that Hamas could not disavow al Zawahiri’s support, making a confused response as it thrust Johnston’s issue to develop a non-al Qaeda situation in Gaza. On the other hand, it was associated with the al Zawahiri culture in one way or another.
It does not make sense that Hamas is incapable of determining the location and fate of Alan Johnston, which is something it had previously expressed once it had assured its control over the Gaza Strip. It is unfortunate that competition on this issue can only confirm the fact that local considerations outweigh all other legal or humane considerations on the agenda of a movement such as Hamas.
It goes without saying that we will not debate the kidnapper’s agenda, as surely that surpasses the realms of discussion.