Gaza smoke 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
'I wonder what Farfur has to say about the latest fighting between Fatah and Hamas," a respected Palestinian journalist in the Gaza Strip said this week when asked to comment on the internecine violence.
Farfur, a squeaky-voiced Mickey Mouse look-alike, is the star of a weekly children's program called "Tomorrow's Pioneers," broadcast on the official Hamas station, Al-Aksa TV.
Farfur has thus far ignored the street fighting that has left more than 165 killed since the beginning of the year, choosing instead to attack the "oppressive invading Zionist occupation" that must be "resisted" at all costs.
"Hamas has turned Mickey Mouse into a monstrous figure," said the journalist, who describes himself as a secular and moderate Muslim. "When you spread such messages of hatred, especially among children, you then can't ask why young men grow up to become so violent and ruthless."
But, apart from the incitement, the story of Farfur is an indication of how the new Palestinian "unity" government has been functioning for the past three months.
After the story of Farfur was exposed by Palestinian Media Watch, PA Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti - an independent - announced that he had ordered the Hamas TV station to drop the show.
First, Hamas denied that it had received such an order.
Later, the station's staff admitted that "someone" from the Information Ministry had phoned them asking to stop showing the Farfur episode, "because it was being used to defame the Palestinians abroad."
Needless to say, the program continues to be broadcast every Friday afternoon. In fact, Farfur can now boast a larger audience, since most of the children in the Gaza Strip remain indoors due to the ongoing violent Hamas-Fatah clashes.
"The unity government is not a real government," said Muhammed Idris, member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine [PFLP], a Syria-based Marxist group that is strongly opposed to the Oslo Accords. "If the information minister has no control over the Palestinian media and the interior minister - who resigned earlier this week - has no authority over security, then what type of a government is this? This is a fake unity and a fake government. It's only a government on paper."
Instead of censuring Hamas for exploiting the character of Mickey Mouse to send negative messages to Palestinian children, Barghouti chose to lash out at the foreign media for paying too much attention to the story. Barghouti said he could not understand the outcry in the world over the Farfur show at a time when Israel is continuing to "commit daily atrocities" against the Palestinians.
Fortunately for Barghouti and Hamas, the renewed fighting on the streets of Gaza has diverted attention from the controversial program.
THE "UNITY" government was established with the declared goal of persuading the international community to resume financial aid to the Palestinians. Three months later, both Hamas and Fatah are very disappointed with the failure of the US and most EU countries to accept the new Hamas-led coalition. Leaders of the two parties have been openly talking about dissolving the government if the sanctions continue.
As many Palestinians had predicted, the unity government deal that was struck in Mecca in February did not ease tensions between Fatah and Hamas. On the contrary, the two sides continued to prepare for another round of violence on the ground. Moreover, their leaders and spokesmen continued the propaganda campaign against each other.
Tensions reached their peak late last week when Interior Minister Hani Kawassmeh, who was supposed to be in charge of security, announced his decision to quit the government.
Kawassmeh accused PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah warlords in Gaza of blocking his attempts to impose law and order.
"They wanted me to be a minister with no power," Kawassmeh explained. "They just wanted me to sit in my office and do nothing. They wanted to make a joke out of me."
Kawassmeh's allegations have been echoed by several Hamas leaders over the past few weeks. These leaders have been complaining that Abbas and his Fatah warlords have been behaving as if there is no Palestinian government. According to the Hamas leaders, Abbas, with the help of the US and Israel, was actually trying to remove Hamas from power.
Reports that the US has been supplying Abbas's forces with guns and millions of dollars with which to take on Hamas's supporters have only added fuel to the fire. This week's bloody clashes have shown that despite the money and weapons, Fatah is either unprepared or unwilling to engage in a major confrontation with Hamas. Fatah, it is worth noting, has more soldiers, weapons and money than Hamas.
But some Fatah leaders admitted this week that what the faction was lacking was the support of the Palestinian public. "Most Palestinians still don't trust us," said a veteran Fatah operative in the West Bank. "Most Palestinians still hold us responsible for the financial corruption in the Palestinian Authority. And what's worse is that many Palestinians don't like the fact that we are being supported by the US and Israel."
A SIGN of Fatah's dwindling popularity on the streets of Gaza was provided by the recurring Hamas attacks on the homes of senior Fatah leaders Rashid Abu Shabak, Samir Masharawi and Maher Miqdad. Some Fatah leaders and their families have since fled [with Israel's assistance] to the West Bank.
Even if the current wave of intra-fighting ends, it will only be a matter of time before the next explosion on the Palestinian street. The gap between Fatah and Hamas is so wide that the sarcastic comment sounded by many Palestinians these days is that it would be easier to make peace between Hamas and Israel than Hamas and Fatah. "Fatah and Hamas are worse than each other," said a former adviser to Yasser Arafat. "We need a new leadership that will save the people from these two monsters. While Hamas's Farfur is preaching hatred to the children, Fatah is recruiting kids aged 12-18 for military training."