Alex Brummer
Alex Brummer

My dry cleaner’s insight into Palestinian disunity 

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. (AP Photo/Issam Rimawi, Pool via Jewish News)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. (AP Photo/Issam Rimawi, Pool via Jewish News)

The taxi journey from airport to trouble spot for most foreign correspondents can often provide the material for the first dispatch. Eyes are open for smouldering buildings, distinctive landscapes, queues of cars  and people fleeing a riot, earthquake or conflict. 

Then there is the driver. These warriors plying their trade are fonts of information and they can be only too willing to tell how they see the situation. The reporter’s trade consists of observing, listening and connecting the dots with background knowledge. 

For many years, I have been using a dry cleaners on a genteel street in Kensington, where the conversation in the Italian café is of multimillion pound apartments and local prep school events. Pleasantries have always been observed at the dry cleaner, who is often on his mobile speaking in Arabic.

When wandering into the shop last week, there was a lively conversation in Arabic taking place between an elderly customer and the proprietor. Waiting for the other person to leave, I heard voices rising and the name  Hamas being tossed backwards and forwards. 

When it was my turn to be served, I mentioned to the proprietor I had overheard the word Hamas and was curious about the conversation. We are Palestinians, he informed me, and were discussing the fate of our people. 

He was angry Palestinian Authority President Mohammed Abbas had postponed legislative elections scheduled for late May. Abbas had called them off on the grounds that a housing battle between Israel and the residents of East Jerusalem together with a dispute over voting eligibility made a poll impossible. 

As we now know, the housing flare-up escalated into open conflict leading to Hamas’ barrage of rocket fire from Gaza and Netanyahu’s last military operation as prime minister.

In the shopkeeper’s view, Abbas didn’t want to put the support of Fatah to the test in the first legislative elections since 2006 because his faction was fearful of losing power. Abbas and his Fatah faction are corrupt, my informant insisted. They want to hang onto power because of the money; the tax money collected by the Israelis and the cash from the World Bank and other donors to the region. 

Israel, he insisted, was keeping the only honest West Bank leader, Marwan Barghouti, locked-up in jail. (Barghouti is serving a sentence for murder and terrorism in the second Palestinian intifada.) He explained Israel fears his ability to rally the various Palestinian factions behind his leadership.

In the absence of Barghouti, the only alternative for the Palestinian people in the face of Israeli oppression was to support Hamas. Israel, America and Britain calls Hamas a terrorist organisation, but not in the view of my dry cleaner. 

“They are not terrorists,” he insisted. They are not out to occupy neighbouring countries, they are not blowing up planes in Lebanon or Egypt. they are freedom fighters seeking to end oppression. They are honest people looking after the welfare of the Gaza population.

My informant’s rose-tinted view of Hamas does not bear much scrutiny. In Gaza, power was seized from elected officials with brutality. The finance allowing tunnels to be built and rockets to be assembled comes via Iran backed terrorist networks. And the rockets and mortar shells fired at Israeli civilian targets including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in the recent 22-day-conflict were pure terror. Were it not for Israel’s Iron Dome, the barrage could have been catastrophic.

Nevertheless, the dry cleaner’s story, like the taxi ride from any airport, is a useful narrative. It was based on his reading and listening  to the Arab media and his almost daily WhatsApp phone conversations with his mother and friends in the Palestinian territories. As disagreeable as the views might be to Israel’s supporters, they were an insight into the Palestinian in exile viewpoint.

It was far removed from the ill-informed, knee-jerk views of Britain’s anti-Zionist and antisemitic left, fuelled by ignorant prejudices. There is no understanding of Palestinian factionalism  that contributes to making the peace process so hard.

About the Author
Alex Brummer is the Daily Mail's City Editor
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