Geopolitics

The Future Of Hamas And The Legacy Of An Unrepentant Terrorist

Abd al-Hadi Rafa Ghanim is one of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners exchanged for Israeli solider Gilad Shalit, who'd been held hostage for five years by Hamas. Ghanim makes no apologies for the 16 murders he committed, but has no interest in further v

A Hamas soldier holds a picture of Gilad Shalit on a Hamas poster.
A Hamas soldier holds a picture of Gilad Shalit on a Hamas poster.
Michael Borgstede

GAZA -- No, he feels no remorse, says Abd al-Hadi Rafa Ghanim sitting on his family‘s sofa in the Nusseirat refugee camp on the Gaza Strip. "I killed 17 enemy soldiers in a war. Why should I feel remorse?"

On July 6, 1989, after wresting the steering wheel from the driver of a bus on the Tel Aviv- Jerusalem line, Ghanim drove the vehicle into a ravine. He survived only by chance in what is considered the first attempted suicide attack in Israel. Sixteen people were killed, some of them burned alive. Ghanim, a member of the Islamic Jihad terrorist group, was treated in an Israeli hospital and condemned to 16 life sentences, which works out to at least 1,200 years.

But now, after 21 years in prison, he's free. Ghanim is one of the 1,027 prisoners exchanged for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was taken hostage by Hamas. He was one of the first 400 to be released, on Oct. 18, 2010.

No such thing as Israeli civilians

Ghanim, now grey-haired, does not like to speak about his past. He remains impassive when one reads him the list of names of his victims. Kinneret Cohen, a 14-year-old girl, for example – was she an enemy soldier? "She would have been an enemy soldier within a few years, and would have murdered Palestinian children," Ghanim counters calmly. What about 73-year-old Jaacov Schapira? "He would have done military service at some point."

For Ghanim, there's no such thing as an Israeli civilian. He appears to view himself as a hero, and indeed was treated as such by countless Palestinians who came by to congratulate him after he was freed.

The mass murderer is, however, moved as he introduces his son, Thar, who was born shortly after the attack and – until his father's release – only knew him from what he was told and the photographs in the living room.

Ghanim was not allowed visits from his family while he was in jail. His wife was overjoyed to see him after so long, and although she says that "national liberation is more important than the family happiness of one woman," one gets a sense of a deeper disappointment – a young woman, pregnant with her first child, left on her own. But it's Ghanim who is putting family happiness above the cause these days: he may not show remorse, but he has no desire to continue fighting either.

"I just want to live with my family. It's so different outside; I have so much to learn." His son is teaching him about the Internet. He's learning how to text on his mobile. During the day, he goes on walks and tries to remember how the streets used to look. He tires easily. After so much time in isolation, dealing with people is a strain.

One last question: Would he like it if his son followed in his footsteps? Tears come to Ghanim's eyes. "Times have changed," he says slowly. "Back then, there were settlers and soldiers here. They're not in Gaza anymore." Best to think through which tactics would bring the most results today, he concludes.

In a sense, Abd al-Hadi Rafa Ghanim's inner conflict is currently that of Hamas. The Islamists governing Gaza are still very far from renouncing terrorism and recognizing the state of Israel. But there are some more nuanced tones coming out of the leadership, particularly those abroad who were considered to be particularly radical.

Khaled Mashal, chairman of the Hamas Political Bureau in Damascus, has thrown all his political weight behind reconciliation with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas's Fatah Party. This was not met with much enthusiasm by Hamas leaders in Gaza – and when Mashal then began to talk about "non-violent resistance" and suggest that negotiations with Israel should be given a chance, the Islamists in Gaza made their displeasure known.

Most vocal is Hamas Foreign Minister Mahmud al-Sahar. "The holy war -- armed resistance against the occupier -- is our life and we will never abandon that path," is a message he has repeated over and over these past few weeks while denying that there are conflicting views within Hamas.

As he hammers the message home again, al-Sahar sits surrounded by bodyguards in his house in Gaza City. It's the same house where, in 2003, the Israelis tried to kill him. A bodyguard and a son perished in the air attack. But al-Sahar fights on. Mashal talks about mass protests, but rocket attacks on Israel could also be seen as mass protests, he says.

Arab spring has changed everything

For Mkheimar Abusada, a political scientist at Al-Ashar University in Gaza, all this is semantics. Mashal was unmistakably talking about non-violent popular resistance, referring to the successful revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia that showed that demonstrations could develop the "power of a tsunami," he says.

And while Hamas is isolated from the rest of the world because of its terror ideology, the West didn't hesitate to forge contacts with the Muslim Brotherhood. The way out for Hamas is renouncing terror. The organization hasn't come that far yet, but willingness to join the Palestinian authority and subordinate their ideology to its decisions would at least be a first step.

It is, however, unclear which wing of Hamas will prevail. Mashal has said he will not be a candidate, which could be an admission of failure or a tactical maneuver. A Hamas spokesperson in Gaza stated that it was up to the Shura Council to appoint the chairman of the Political Bureau and that it was possible that Mashal would be re-appointed.

One thing is certain: the Arab Spring has changed everything, also for Hamas. What had previously been cordial relations with Iran have cooled following Hamas' refusal to declare solidarity with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad at Palestinian refugee camps in Syria. By way of retaliation, Iran has apparently cut off virtually all financial support for Hamas, and of the hundreds of Hamas functionaries in Damascus only a dozen are said to remain.

In Gaza, meanwhile, other organizations have started to recruit Hamas members – such as Amin, who was approached in front of the mosque by two men after morning prayers. "Over a glass of tea we talked about the fight against the occupying forces," says the bearded young man, who builds Qassam rockets for Hamas's military wing. "They asked me if I wouldn't like to put my know-how at the service of Islamic Jihad."

Amin refused, and says he continues to build rockets for Hamas. They're stockpiled for now, but he's sure they'll be needed. It's dark when he takes his leave, wishing everyone a "peaceful night."

Things stay relatively quiet until about 12:40 a.m. when there are three loud explosions. Israeli fighter jets have apparently bombed a tunnel. Five minutes later, another big blast is followed by some smaller ones. Hamas weapons depots were the target this time.

Read the original story in German

Photo - Wikipedia

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Preparing a COVID-19 vaccine booster in Huzhou, China.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Ciao!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Brazil's senate backs "crimes against humanity" charges against Jair Bolsonaro, the UN has a grim new climate report and Dune gets a sequel. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt explores "Xi Jinping Thought," which is now being made part of Chinese schools' curriculum.

[*Italian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Senators back Bolsonaro criminal charges: A Brazilian Senate panel has backed a report that supports charging President Jair Bolsonaro with crimes against humanity, for his alleged responsibility in the country's 600,000-plus COVID-19 deaths.

• Gas crisis in Moldova following Russian retaliation: Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has for the first time challenged Russia's Gazprom following a price increase and failed contract negotiations, purchasing instead from Poland. In response, Russia has threatened to halt sales to the Eastern European country, which has previously acquired all of its gas from Gazprom.

• New UN climate report finds planned emission cuts fall short: The Emissions Gap Report 2021 concludes that country pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions aren't large enough to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 °C degrees this century. The UN Environment Program predicts a 2.7 °C increase, with significant environmental impacts, but there is still hope that longer term net-zero goals will curtail some temperature rise.

• COVID update: As part of its long-awaited reopening, Australia will officially allow its citizens to travel abroad without a government waiver for the first time in more than 18 months. Bulgaria, meanwhile, hits record daily high COVID-19 cases as the Eastern European's hotel and restaurant association is planning protests over the implementation of the vaccination "green pass." In the U.S., a panel of government medical advisors backed the use of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for five to 11-year-olds.

• U.S. appeals decision to block Julian Assange extradition: The United States said it was "extremely disappointed" in a UK judge's ruling that Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, would be a suicide risk of he traveled across the Atlantic. In the U.S., he faces 18 charges related to the 2010 release of 500,000 secret files related to U.S. military activity.

• Deposed Sudan prime minister released: Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has been released from custody, though remains under heavy guard after Sudan's military coup. Protests against the coup have continued in the capital Khartoum, as Hamdok has called for the release of other detained governmental officials.

Dune Part 2 confirmed: The world will get to see Timothée Chalamet ride a sandworm: The second installment of the sci-fi epic and global box office hit has officially been greenlit, set to hit the screens in 2023.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Front page of the National Post's October 27 front page

Canadian daily National Post reports on the nomination of Steven Guilbeault, a former Greenpeace activist, as the country's new Environment minister. He had been arrested in 2001 for scaling Toronto's CN Tower to unfurl a banner for Greenpeace, which he left in 2008.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Chinese students now required to learn to think like Xi Jinping

"Xi Jinping Thought" ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university, reports Maximilian Kalkhof in German daily Die Welt.

🇨🇳 It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education. The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader. Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself.

📚 Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

⚠️ But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation? The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I'm a footballer and I'm gay."

— Australian soccer player Josh Cavallo said in a video accompanying a tweet in which he revealed his homosexuality, becoming the first top-flight male professional player in the world to do so. The 21-year-old said he was tired of living "this double life" and hoped his decision to come out would help other "players living in silence."

🇸🇩💥  IN OTHER NEWS

Why this Sudan coup d'état is different

Three days since the military coup was set in motion in Sudan, the situation on the ground continues to be fluid. Reuters reports this morning that workers at the state petroleum company Sudapet are joining a nationwide civil disobedience movement called by trade unions in response to the generals' overthrow of the government. Doctors have also announced a strike.

Generals in suits At the same time, the military appears firmly in control, with deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok allowed to return home today after being held by the coup leaders. How did we get here? That's the question that David E. Kiwuwa, a professor of international relations at the University of Nottingham, takes on in The Conversation:

"Since the revolution that deposed Omar el-Bashir in 2019, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

Economy as alibi For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council. This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy.

True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse."

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

471 million euros

Rome's Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, better known as Villa Aurora, will be put up for auction in January for 471 million euros ($547 million). The over-the-top price tag is thanks to the villa having the only known ceiling painting by Renaissance master Caravaggio.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Who wants to start the bidding on the Caravaggio villa? Otherwise, let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com!

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