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Gaza-West Bank time difference irks Palestinians, deepens divisions

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Palestinian divisions have for the past years seemed endless, yet they were mostly political. Now, another problem has emerged: Gaza and the West Bank look like two officially separate countries, with a one-hour difference between them that confuses Palestinians and adds to their despair as far as unity in the Occupied Territories is concerned.

Until a few days ago, both the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank were within the same time zone, and both adjusted clocks backward before the start of the holy month of Ramadan so that sunset, when the fast is broken, would come one hour earlier.

After the end of Ramadan, the West Bank went back to its daylight saving time and advanced the clock one hour, while Gaza remained in wintertime so that, for example, when it’s midnight in Gaza, it is 1:00 am in Ramallah.

The time difference is all the more absurd now that two adjacent universities are using two different time zones. Al-Azhar University, located in Gaza yet affiliated to Fatah, announced working according to summertime, while the Islamic University right next to it is using wintertime. The two campuses are separated by a wall.

“This is ridiculous,” said student and blogger Khaled al-Sharkawi. “I live in Gaza but my university is following the West Bank time zone.”

The university case is repeated in several other examples. Private banks and international organizations in Gaza follow West Bank time, while schools, hospitals, and public institutions follow Gaza time. The website Date and Time, which tells you the time anywhere in the world, lists both times for Palestinian territories.

Gazan journalist Sami Abu Salem points out how the time difference between Gaza and the West Bank has become a joke for Palestinians.

“When it is 5:00 o’clock in Gaza and you ask someone in the street about the time, they tell you it’s 5:30, and when you ask why they added half an hour they answer that they don’t want to be biased towards Hamas or Fatah.”

Student Hamman Mubarak approaches the issue in a much more bitter way.

“There’s no problem with time difference. We are two republics and are divided about everything anyway,” he wrote in one of his tweets.

The tweet of IT specialist Ola Anan approached the issue politically and playfully imagined the confusion that might happen when Palestine asks for official recognition at the UN this month.

“I wonder if they will recognize the Palestinian state according to Gaza time or West Bank time.”

Anan created a slogan modeled after those chanted in Arab revolutions but replaced “ousting the regime” with unifying time. “The people demand the unification of the time,” she wrote.

Anan then sarcastically proposed a solution to the time-difference problem: the sundial, an ancient tool used since 3500 BC to measure time according to the position of the sun in the sky and was used by Muslims to determine prayer times.

For writer Samir Abu Shetat, the difference in time is just one more addition to the internal divisions between Palestinians.

“It is this bitter division that turned our lives into hell,” he said. “The division splits our backs like it split our nation and our people.”

Shetat concluded with a plea to God that reflects how hopeless the situation has become.

“I pray to God to unify our clocks.”

Dr. Mazen al-Sakka, lecturer at the Faculty of Pharmacy at al-Azhar University, pointed out that the wider the gap becomes between Gaza and the West Bank, the more difficult it is to bridge it, and said the time difference issue is only making things worse.

“Let us first unify the time, then think of unifying our ranks, then unifying our hearts and so on and so forth.”

Hanaa Abu Nakhla, manager of an international project in Gaza, said the time difference has a negative impact on her work.

“We have one office in Gaza that follows wintertime and another in the West Bank that follows summertime,” she said.

She added that the staff at the two offices has to bear the time difference in mind in conference calls, emails and reports.

“Anyway, one hour difference doesn’t matter for us whether in Gaza or the West Bank because our work revolves around dreams, not reality,” she concluded bitterly.

Activist Samar Abu Shamas expressed surprise that problems between Palestinian factions have become this trivial while more important matters that should be dealt with are being overlooked.

“We have a fight against the occupation and this should be the priority,” she said.

(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)