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Analysis: Malaysia’s pro-Palestinian stance and ties with Hamas — under the spotlight but not under pressure

KUALA LUMPUR: It has been more than a week since Palestinian national Abdalrahim Shehab, 46, has got a proper night’s rest.

He has been worried sick about the situation back home in Gaza since the latest flaring up of tensions last Saturday (Oct 7) that he is unable to shut his eyes for long.

His phone next to him is never switched off at night as he tries to get in touch with his family. 

“I am charging my phone four times a day and the phone is beeping every few minutes. I cannot sleep as images of kids dying keep on appearing. My father is 77 and has health issues while my mother is 72,” Mr Abdalrahim told CNA.

“I am just worried about my family back home. It is very hard when you are away from your beloved ones and it is very hard to reach them.”

The only consolation for Mr Abdalrahim, who has just completed his doctorate in architecture at a university in Malaysia, is the overwhelming warmth and support from the Malaysian community.

Mr Abdalrahim who has been living in Malaysia for 10 years with his wife and five children, said that a Malaysian even paid for his son’s haircut on Tuesday when he knew he was from Palestine.     

“I cannot put into words how all this means to me,” he said while sobbing on the phone with CNA.

Mr Abdalrahim said he is also thankful for Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s stance on the issue, to the extent of publicly defending Malaysia’s relationship with the Palestinian militant group Hamas that has governed Gaza since 2006.

“Anwar is the first Muslim leader to not only clearly state support for Palestine but for Hamas. Even the Arab countries have refused to do so,” he said.

At least 3,400 Palestinians have been killed while in Israel, the death toll has passed 1,400 people after Hamas’ cross-border assaults on Oct 7 which have been followed by Israel’s attacks in the Gaza strip.

Observers say that Malaysia’s position on the Palestinian cause is not unusual, reflecting the position of the majority of the people, where Muslims make up almost two-thirds of the population.

They, however, don’t expect Malaysia to face any pressure for its stance that has not wavered from day one of the issue, going back decades.

MALAYSIA’S OPEN RELATIONSHIP WITH HAMAS

Malaysia has never hidden its relationship with Hamas, welcoming its leaders openly here.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh met with Dr Mahathir back in Jan 2020 when the latter was in his second stint as prime minister.  

In Jan 2013, former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak visited Gaza on a humanitarian mission, where he was received by the Hamas leader Haniyeh.

There have also been allegations that the Palestine Cultural Organisation Malaysia (PCOM), a non-governmental organisation in Kuala Lumpur, is a front for Hamas.

According to its website, the organisation – which is located in a house close to the heart of Kuala Lumpur –  aims to develop a mutual understanding and cooperation between Palestine and Malaysia. 

Among the events it has organised include talk series’, annual grand Iftar or the breaking of fast during the Ramadan month, advocacy week, and outreach programmes. 

Those affiliated with the organisation, including some approached by CNA in recent days, have denied this linkage between PCOM and Hamas.

But in 2018, Palestinian lecturer Fadi al-Batsh who was also said to be a member of Hamas was gunned down in Kuala Lumpur by someone who was supposedly recruited by Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency.

In September of last year, local media reported that two Palestinian computer programmers were abducted on the instructions of Mossad by Malaysians, although both managed to get away.

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