A few days ago, my grandma passed away in our home in the Northern Gaza Strip. She died of old age and surely, she will be missed. Speaking to my grieving family in Gaza about the burial and funeral service arrangements, I came to learn why Hamas bests any political Palestinian group at public relations and building trust and good faith with the people of Gaza.
It's no secret that Hamas controls the great majority of mosques in Gaza, and prayer services for the dead are often held inside those mosques. The Imam will offer to lead the prayer if no family member volunteers. During the time of death, people seek comfort in religion and religious figures who can help put one at peace while coping with such tragedy.
The mosque next door to where my grandma lives is a major Hamas hub; the moment of her passing, tens of volunteers from the mosque emerged from nowhere and started to set up a tent where well wishers and those wanting to share their condolences could rest. This tent serves as a place for serving coffee and dates to visitors. If the deceased is a male, the local Imam would step up and offer to wash the body and prepare it for burial. If the deceased is a female as in our case, the older women in the family handle that assignment.
Funerals are one of the few places in Gaza where politics is off limits, and everyone puts their differences aside to take care of the business at hand -- the funeral. Enemies and rivals become one as they work together to help the family of the deceased during those times. It's refreshing to see that in light of the political deadlock and ideological animosity, people stand as one and the same.
Local Hamas leaders are often the first to the site of the service. Since most of them are bearded and knowing of religious matters, people welcome them and listen to their soothing sermons. The governor of the Northern Gaza District, who is a Hamas loyalist, came to offer his condolences. They come in groups to make a statement, gain visibility, and form new bonds. Funeral services last for three days, giving everyone in town an opportunity to stop by.
Most of the young in my family are not warm toward Hamas and their politics, but they cannot send anyone away under those circumstances. When the Prime Minister Ismail Haniya showed up with his scores of guards, people received him -- even though they resented him. The Prime Minister was not alone; he brought a dozen of his cabinet members including Dr. Mahmud Al Zahar, the Foreign Minster in that government. Even his enemies in our family had to receive him and some even appreciated his gesture. What Hamas did is made peace with their enemies and possibly earned them a few friends from their appearance.
Now grandma was never a fan of theirs as she loved her nephew, Habbar, who was blown to pieces by Hamas militants; two months later, Hamas militants brutally assassinated a grandson of hers. But that was more than three years ago and Hamas in Gaza knows how to win over friends and extend an olive branch. I spoke to my aunt whose son was killed by Hamas militants, and she seemed not to mind their visit as she was still grieving for her mother.
Growing up as a kid Gaza, I used to see Fatah members were often the first to come dance at the local wedding parties and share the joy with the families in those happy occasions. Fatah members would even shoot in the air in celebration as they danced to Debka songs. Hamas members disapprove of parties and stay away from festivities. But they are often the first at your funeral, setting up a tent and making posters of condolences and mentioning the deeds of the deceased.
I find that I remember those who showed up when the times where tough and I needed support, not those who come when the times are good. This is not about politics, it is about public relations and people's willingness to forgive.