Row in Gaza over Arrests for Zoom Chat with Israelis

A man holds a Palestinian flag during clashes with Israeli forces near the border east of Gaza City on May 14, 2018. (AFP)
A man holds a Palestinian flag during clashes with Israeli forces near the border east of Gaza City on May 14, 2018. (AFP)
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Row in Gaza over Arrests for Zoom Chat with Israelis

A man holds a Palestinian flag during clashes with Israeli forces near the border east of Gaza City on May 14, 2018. (AFP)
A man holds a Palestinian flag during clashes with Israeli forces near the border east of Gaza City on May 14, 2018. (AFP)

A fierce dispute has divided the Palestinian community after Gaza's rulers, Hamas, arrested six local activists for chatting by video conference with left-leaning campaigners in Israel.

Hamas bans all communications with Israel and last week arrested the six members of the Gaza Youth Committee on charges of "treason" and "normalization" of relations with the Jewish state.

The arrests have sparked a fierce free-speech row that has drawn in a former Gaza-based contractor with human rights group Amnesty International who had criticized the activists online, reported AFP.

In the two-hour call via video conference service Zoom -- the latest in a format they have called "Skype with your enemy" -- the participants had discussed their daily lives and expressed hopes for better leadership for both Israelis and Palestinians.

Rami Aman, 36, the founder of the Gaza Youth Committee, and the five others were detained, accused of "treason", after speaking to the dozens of Israeli activists online.

Gaza's Hamas-run interior ministry said that "establishing any activity or communication with the Israeli occupation under any excuse is a crime punishable by law, and is treason against our people".

Hamas, which is considered a terrorist group by Israel and most Western states, seized control of Gaza in a 2007 clash with the rival Fatah faction, which is now based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Since then Israel has fought three devastating wars in Gaza while maintaining a crippling blockade on the coastal strip, arguing it must isolate Hamas.

'Not a mistake'

A key player in the row has been the former Amnesty activist Hind Khoudary, who on Facebook criticized Aman over the alleged act of "normalization" with Israel.

Khoudary tagged several Hamas officials in the online post, ensuring Aman's Zoom call would come to their attention.

Gaza's interior ministry has however denied that Khoudary's posts tipped them off to the video call.

"It is not true what was published, saying citizens or journalists publishing posts on Facebook and social media were responsible for the arrests," ministry spokesman Iyad al-Bozm said.

"Rami Aman and his group are under surveillance all the time by the security services.

"Unfortunately, Rami tried to carry out activities that violate the law and the culture and customs of our people."

Khoudary told AFP she did not regret her posts and did not oppose Aman's arrest, while stressing that she was not responsible for his detention.

"I didn't make a mistake," she said, criticizing him over what she described as his attempt to speak on behalf of all Palestinians.

"As a Palestinian, before I became a journalist, I am against normalization," said Khoudary.

Amnesty confirmed that Khoudary had been a "short-term freelance contract worker" who helped document protests in Gaza last year, but said she no longer works for the organization.

"We absolutely condemn arrests of individuals because of practicing their right to peaceful expression and assembly," said Saleh Hijazi, Amnesty's deputy director for the Middle East.

Former Human Rights Watch official Peter Bouckaert removed Khoudary from an online group and told her she should be "ashamed" of herself.

UN Watch, a Geneva-based organization originally set up to confront alleged anti-Semitism at the United Nations, however praised Aman as a "courageous Gaza peace activist".

Dialogue or not?

Khoudary herself was detained by Hamas last year for posts supporting Gaza street protests.

Aman was briefly detained two years ago on similar charges.

Debate has flared on social networks, with some Palestinians condemning the latest arrests and others congratulating Khoudary for working against normalization.

Collaborating or even communicating with Israelis is controversial among Palestinians, with many seeing such dialogue as a waste of time.

Others argue that shutting down dialogue makes a solution between the warring parties even more unlikely.

"Palestinian for the most part reject normalizing activities because they contribute to a narrative that all that is needed is dialogue," said Yara Hawari, senior policy fellow at the Al Shabaka Palestinian think-thank.

"In actuality what is needed before any kind of reconciliation process is an end to the continuous and structural violence -- which in this case is the violent Israeli military occupation."



Israel Pounds Central Gaza Camps, Deepens Invasion of Rafah

A view of a damaged building, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, at the Rafah Crossing, Gaza, in this screengrab obtained from a social media video released on June 19, 2024. Doron Kadosh, Glz/via REUTERS
A view of a damaged building, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, at the Rafah Crossing, Gaza, in this screengrab obtained from a social media video released on June 19, 2024. Doron Kadosh, Glz/via REUTERS
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Israel Pounds Central Gaza Camps, Deepens Invasion of Rafah

A view of a damaged building, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, at the Rafah Crossing, Gaza, in this screengrab obtained from a social media video released on June 19, 2024. Doron Kadosh, Glz/via REUTERS
A view of a damaged building, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, at the Rafah Crossing, Gaza, in this screengrab obtained from a social media video released on June 19, 2024. Doron Kadosh, Glz/via REUTERS

Israeli forces pounded areas in the central Gaza Strip overnight, killing three people and wounding dozens of others, according to medics, while tanks deepened their invasion into Rafah in the south, residents said.
Israeli planes struck a house in Al-Nuseirat camp, killing two people and wounding 12 others, while tanks shelled areas in Al-Maghazi and Al-Bureij camps, wounding many other people, health officials said, according to Reuters. Nuseirat, Maghazi, and Bureij are three of Gaza's eight historic refugee camps.
In Deir al-Balah, a city packed with displaced people in the central Gaza Strip, an Israeli airstrike killed one Palestinian and wounded several others on Thursday, medics said.
The Israeli military said on Wednesday forces were continuing their operations across the enclave targeting militants and military infrastructure in what it described as "precise, intelligence-based" activities.
More than eight months into the war in Gaza, Israel's advance is now focused on the two last areas its forces had yet to storm: Rafah on Gaza's southern edge and the area surrounding Deir al-Balah in the center. The operations have forced more than a million people to flee since May, the vast majority already displaced from other parts of the enclave.
In Rafah, near the border with Egypt, Israeli tanks stationed deep in the western and central areas of the city stepped up bombardment, forcing more families living in the far coastal areas to flee northward. Some residents said the pace of the raid has been accelerated in the past two days.
"The tanks took control of most of the areas in Rafah. People living by the beach have also started to leave toward Khan Younis and central areas in fear because of the continued bombardment," said Abu Wasim, a resident from Rafah's Al-Shaboura neighborhood, who quit his home over a week ago before tanks rolled in reaching the heart of the city.
Rafah housed over half of Gaza's 2.3 million people until May 7 when Israeli forces began the ground offensive into the city. Fewer than 100,000 are now believed to be left behind.
There has been no sign of let-up in the fighting as efforts by international mediators, backed by the United States, have failed to persuade Israel and Hamas to agree to a ceasefire.
The armed wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad said fighters battled Israeli forces with anti-tank rockets and mortar bombs, and have in some areas detonated pre-planted explosive devices against army units.
On Thursday, Israeli authorities freed 33 Palestinians who had been detained during the past months by Israeli forces in different areas of the enclave. The freed detainees were admitted into Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir Al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip after they complained of torture and mistreatment by Israeli jailers.