The movement’s leaders seized the opportunity of the demonstration to reiterate their right to continue their resistance and their refusal to disarm.
About 30,000 Palestinians waving green Hamas flags rallied throughout Gaza City on Monday night in the largest celebration so far since the beginning of the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
The rally also marked the anniversary of the attempted burning of al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem in 1969 and the assassination of Hamas leader Ismail Abu-Shanab.
“We are here today to express our joy at the victory of the resistance in evicting the Zionist enemy from Gaza, and to mark the burning al-Aqsa mosque 35 years ago,” said 40-year-old Abd al-Rahim Hania, as he walked alongside thousands of other men.
The rally ended in front of the Palestinian Legislative Council, with the crowd singing ballads praising the role of the resistance in forcing Israel out of Gaza.
“Today it is your wedding Gaza, and tomorrow it will be yours, oh West Bank; Thank you Qassam rockets, tomorrow the West Bank towns await you,” sang an elderly man.
Ismail Hania, a Hamas leader, declared five main “priorities” of the movement after the withdrawal from Gaza: The right to retain arms, continue the resistance, preserve national unity, participate in politics and state-building, as well as defend and protect the Palestinian issue.
Ismail Hania vowed that Hamas
“We must defend the resistance and the weapons of the resistance, because that is what liberated the land and will continue to liberate the land and defend the Palestinian people. Our weapons are not up for discussion. They are non-negotiable,” said Hania.
Hamas’ words were a clear defiance to American and Israeli demands to disarm the Palestinian resistance groups, and in response to calls by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to “unify the weapons’ management”.
In a recent statement, Abbas declared that the only legitimate arms were those carried by the Palestinian Authority.
Land for all
Hania also expressed fears by many Palestinians that some corrupt government officials might try to claim some of the liberated land as their own.
“We want to emphasise that the liberated land is the property of all the Palestinians, not just Ziad or Amr (equivalent to Mr X or Z),” he said, sending a clear message to the Palestinian Authority.
“We have become accustomed to gathering here to lay our martyrs to rest; to speak about the crimes of the occupier; but today, today we come to speak about our victory, about the withdrawal of our enemy as the first step to the liberation of the West Bank and Jerusalem, God willing,” he said.
Hania also emphasised that the Israeli withdrawal could only be read as a victory for the armed resistance.
“Sharon cannot evade the truth: The Qassam [rockets] is what forced the enemy out. This is a victory for the resistance and for all of the Palestinian people,” he told the cheering crowd.
Palestinian factions have been jockeying for power and credit for the withdrawal in recent weeks, in the run-up to Palestinian parliamentary elections next January, in which Hania said Hamas would participate.
“Just as we have proven ourselves in the armed resistance, we will prove ourselves in rebuilding this land that the Israeli army destroyed,” he said.
Hamas won the majority of the seats in Gaza‘s municipal elections earlier this year, and its effectiveness at meeting the immediate needs of residents and getting the job done is seen as a challenge to the popularity of the Palestinian Authority.
“Many people are trying to evade the truth and downplay the efforts of the resistance in achieving this victory,” said Hania, in reference to the Palestinian Authority.
“This is our historic moment in our fight with the enemy, and the first step in the road to building a state with Jerusalem as its capital.
“This is the beginning of the end of the settlement enterprise for Israel.”
Earlier in the day, residents of the last Gaza settlement were evacuated from their homes in Netzarim, marking the end of the Israel settlement era in the impoverished territory.
The isolated and vulnerable settlement that Sharon once famously declared was as important to him as Tel Aviv, was considered a symbol of strength of the Israeli settlements in Gaza.
For Palestinians, it was one of the most hated and visible symbols of the occupation – a combat boot that stood on the neck of Gaza, tearing the Strip apart into two strategic halves.
It is also the site where 12-year-old Muhammad al-Dura, a key symbol of the Palestinian uprising, was killed by an Israeli sniper as he cowered in his father’s arms in front of a television camera at the beginning of the intifada.