x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

West Bank and Gaza in different time zones as Hamas and Fatah disagree on changing clocks

In the West Bank they have returned to standard time after setting clocks back an hour for Ramadan. In Gaza, however, they have not.

RAMALLAH // Politics rarely comes to mind when setting your watch … unless you are Palestinian.

In the West Bank they have returned to standard time after setting clocks back an hour for Ramadan. In Gaza, however, they have not.

It is the first instance of the territories being set apart in time, and for everyday Palestinians trapped between their feuding leaders, Hamas in Gaza, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, it can be as confusing as it is frustrating.

"It's 8.44 right now," said Ibrahim Abu Awad, 27, a nurse who was walking in central Ramallah. Then he hesitated: "Wait, I think it's 9.44." And finally: "Do you know what time it is?"

In winter, the two territories are two hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. The clocks are then put forward by an hour in the summer to make the most of the longer days.

The government in the West Bank decided to change the clocks back to winter time for Ramadan to help people with fasting, and Hamas in Gaza agreed. But Hamas is refusing join the West Bank in returning to summer time now the holy month is over, leaving the territories an hour apart.

That latest split between Hamas and the PA over something so seemingly trivial is disheartening for those whom the two leaderships represent.

"This is just silly," said Mohammed Youssef, a Gazan who rallied with thousands of others in March to bring Hamas and Fatah back together.

"We worked so hard for them to agree on politics, and now we have to go back and get them to agree on things like the time? Come on guys!"

Relations between Hamas and the rival faction that controls the West Bank, Fatah, were supposed to be on the mend. They signed a reconciliation accord in May. They made plans for national elections. They soaked in the media coverage of their agreement.

But then their rapprochement fell into a deep freeze, ostensibly over who would hold the premiership in an interim government before elections.

Mr Abu Awad, the nurse, has resigned himself to the deep division between the two factions.

"This is the politics here," he said, throwing his hands into the air. "What do you expect?"

However, he does not hesitate to place blame for the time-zone divide elsewhere.

"It's because of the occupation," he said. "All the political problems and these things would be over if the occupation was finished."

Historically, it has been days of the week rather than time that has caused problems for Palestinian society. Muslims traditionally took Friday and Thursday as their days of rest before opting for the Friday-Saturday model. Christians had Sunday for worship.

In religiously mixed Palestinian communities, the two have agreed on Fridays and Sundays as days off work.

About 1.3 million Palestinians hold Israeli citizenship and similar sharing arrangements were made in Israel's Palestinian communities.

But they too face having their own time disruption in the form of weekends possibly changed to fit the West's Saturday-Sunday model, as primarily Jewish Israeli politicians contemplate shifting from the current Friday-Saturday weekend.

"It just wouldn't work for the Palestinians," said Haneen Zoabi, a Palestinian member of the Knesset. She said the proposal was "about furthering Jewish commercial and national interests" at the expense "of the Palestinian way of life".

For Labib Hindaileh, whose 71 years have included multiple Arab-Israeli wars, military occupation and economic deprivation, all the wrangling over who controls time was futile. After all, he said, it was only a concept.

"What does it matter if Hamas has one time and we have a different one?" he said as he walked leisurely to his building-supply store in Ramallah.

"Whether I open my store at 8am or 9am, it'll still be open."