Meanwhile, in Gaza…

Now that the Irish ship Rachel Corrie has been boarded by the IDF and steered to Ashdod peacefully (probably to the disappointment of some), it might be a good time to look at what’s been happening on the ground in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

AFP reported from Gaza a few days before the the recent furor:

Huddled in a tent near the mound of rubble that used to be his home, Eissa al-Sidudi says out loud what many Gazans would only mutter in private: Hamas has gone too far.

On May 16 Hamas police dragged his wife and eight children out of their squat cement house and pummelled him with wooden batons as bulldozers razed the building along with nearly 20 other homes.

“They didn’t come here as a government, they came as an enemy power,” he said, surrounded by several nodding neighbours who are also camping out at the site, an outcrop of sand dunes on the edge of the town.

“Whoever destroys my house is my enemy,” he said.

Hamas authorities said they demolished the homes under a court order because they were illegally built on government land.

But the image of Israeli bulldozers toppling homes in the occupied territories has been seared into the Palestinian conscience, and the move came amid rising discontent with Hamas’s rule over the impoverished territory.

As someone who believes Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem and the West Bank is sometimes cruel, unfair and needlessly provocative, I would have expected the usual worldwide condemnation of this outrage too.

A tax hike imposed in recent weeks on a wide variety of goods, including cigarettes, has infuriated Gazans living under strict border closures imposed by Israel and Egypt following the Islamist group’s June 2007 takeover.

And a poll last month by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre (JMCC) found that more than 40 percent of Gazans would back the secular Fatah movement if elections were held today, compared to just 16 percent for Hamas.

Now I think polls like this are best taken with a gulp of salt, but they do provide some counterweight to the oft-repeated claims that the “democratically-elected” Hamas enjoys widespread support in Gaza despite all the hardships. If Hamas is so popular in Gaza, why doesn’t it call a free and fair election?

Then on June 3, in the midst of the “Freedom Flotilla” uproar, Reuters reported:

A top United Nations official voiced concern on Thursday over the closure by the Hamas Islamist rulers of the Gaza Strip of several non-governmental organisations in the Palestinian enclave.

“This targeting of NGOs, including U.N. partner organisations, is unacceptable, violating accepted norms of a free society and harming the Palestinian people,” Robert Serry, the U.N.’s special co-ordinator for the Middle East peace process, said in a statement.

The Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) said the offices of six organisations, including care centres for women and children, were raided by members of Hamas’s security forces between May 31 and June 1.

“The de facto authorities must cease such repressive steps and allow the re-opening of these civil society institutions without delay,” Serry said.

Hamas officials were not available for comment.

Youssef Abu Amr of the Sharek Youth Forum in the southern city of Rafah said Hamas security men gave them no reason for closing the office of his organisation.

“They just told us the office would be closed and employees should stop all activities,” Abu Amra said.