Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 August 2019

Hamas violently suppresses Gazans as they begin ‘We Want To Live’ protests

The organisers behind the protests are mainly young people disillusioned with the group's failure to help the enclave

Members of the Islamist movement Hamas' military wing Al Qassam Brigades ride in vehicles in Deir Al Balah in the central Gaza strip on May 6, 2018. AFP
Members of the Islamist movement Hamas' military wing Al Qassam Brigades ride in vehicles in Deir Al Balah in the central Gaza strip on May 6, 2018. AFP

In recent days, masses of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip took to the streets to protest against Hamas’ rule.

The rallies, which took place in Deir Al Balah, Khan Younis, Jabalya, Rafah, Al Bureij and several refugee camps, were dubbed by its founders as the “We Want To Live” movement. Those who marched were demonstrating against the dire economic conditions in Gaza and Hamas’ over-taxation of products and services.

The organisers behind the protests were mainly young people disillusioned with what they say are Hamas’ mismanagement and failures in the enclave. The statement from the organisers said that the demonstrations are non-political, and that it only calls for an improvement to the quality of life of Gazans.

Since the protests started on Thursday, Hamas’ security forces shot heavy live fire and used excessive force to disperse the demonstrations. Protesters were viciously beaten, Hamas’ policemen methodically attacked protesters in the head with batons, and a lot of protesters’ limbs were broken in beatings by Hamas members.

Hundreds of activists, dissidents and protesters were arrested, many of whom are now in an unknown locations. Those who were injured and hospitalised were met by Hamas forces waiting outside medical facilities to arrest and imprison them straight after.

Also, in an Israeli-like fashion, Hamas put Deir Al Balah camp, which was the centre of the demonstrations, under lockdown on Friday evening, and raided homes of dissidents in that area.

Hamas’ security forces also prevented journalists and photographers from filming or taking pictures of the protests, and attacked journalists and individuals who used their cameras and phones to record the violent response to the protests.

Photographer Osama Kahlout, Ihab Fasfous, Amjad Hilles, and Osama Abu Sakran were among the journalists who were beaten and later, after their hospitalisation, arrested merely for taking pictures of protests. Female journalist Taif Buhaisi was beaten and had her hand broken by Hamas.

Gaza security forces also arrested the general director of Palestine TV Raafat Al-Qidra because Palestine TV reported the protests.

The Palestinian Journalists’ syndicate released a statement deploring Hamas’ continuing violations against journalists. According to the Syndicate, in the past days, 36 violations against journalists were documented.

Some members of Hamas’ security forces who defied orders and refused to attack the armless people taking part in the demonstrations were also punished and arrested by Hamas.

Every Palestinian party and movement condemned Hamas’ behaviour towards protesters, including the group’s closest ally, Islamic Jihad.

On Saturday, eleven Palestinians factions released a joint statement to expressed their support for the popular movement and its just demands and called on Hamas to fulfil the demands of the protesters as far as reducing taxes and fees on products and reducing the price of goods.

The statement also condemned Hamas’ violent suppression of the protests and called on Hamas to “withdraw its security forces and gunmen from the streets and public squares and to release all the detainees that were jailed as a result of the movement’s protests.”

The statement didn’t faze Hamas, however. Senior officials of Hamas instead attacked those Palestinians factions. Senior Hamas official Basem Naim said that the “statement exceeded political opportunism to national disgrace”. Yehia Mosa, another Hamas official, called the statement, “opportunist, non-objective, and prioritising factional interests over national interests”.

Two hours later, Hamas suppressed the protests more violently than the days before, demonstrating a disregard for the Palestinian factions’ demands.

The number of those injured and arrested remains unknown, but estimated to be around a couple of hundred injured and arrested. Gaza’s health ministry which is controlled by Hamas refuse to release the number of injured protesters.

Hamas forces have also beaten doctors from Al Shifa hospital for writing in medical reports that the cause of injury is the beating of the security forces.

Late Saturday, Hamas released a handful of arrested protesters after forcing them to sign documents pledging not to take part in the demonstration, many who say they were beaten and tortured while in captivity.

Since Hamas took the Gaza Strip by force in 2007, it consistently painted any protests against it as an “Israel-Abbas conspiracy to take down the resistance,” referring to Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, and used that as a pretext to crush any dissent protests.

The “We Want To Live” movement leaders, however, categorically denied Hamas’ accusations, and said that they are independent and said that the “engine and the financier of the movement is merely the people’s hunger and poverty”. Observers say that Hamas’ charges don’t hold since the movement’s leaders are known for their criticism of Abbas as well.

In the protests, many of the protesters lifted signs that reads “we want to live in dignity” and “we want to live the same life of luxury, money and cars as Hamas’ leaders’ sons”.

Another activist hiding from Hamas after taking part in the protests addressed Hamas on social media. “When you break into my house to arrest me, make sure to look at the nothingness in the refrigerator to recognise why I took part in the demonstrations,” the post on Facebook read.

To the protesters, Hamas’ negligence and mismanagement of the Gaza Strip are just as crucial to their poverty and suffering as the Israeli blockade. Hamas conduct in the past days was likened by critics to Israel’s crackdown on Palestinians: bone-breaking of peaceful protesters, a policy of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin during the first Intifada; raids on people’s homes in the middle of the night; and placing Palestinian areas under lockdown.

With the level and scale of violent suppression with which Hamas responded to the protests, observers say that it has become more difficult for protesters to continue.

Fatah condemned Hamas’ crackdown on the protesters and asked Egypt and other Arab states to intervene.

Hussein Al Sheikh, a member of Fatah’s Central Committee said that the Palestinian leadership had made several contacts with influential Arab states.

They have been called upon to “intervene immediately and pressure Hamas to stop its repressive measures against innocent citizens who only demand a decent life,” he said.

Updated: March 18, 2019 06:49 PM

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