By Daled Amos
Mahmoud Abbas is getting ready to celebrate the 18th year of his 4-year term as president, while polls periodically list all the people who would beat him if and when the Palestinian Arabs ever do hold elections again.
Meanwhile, in Gaza, the Teflon terrorists of Hamas appear to escape responsibility for the mess they have made of Gaza. According to a poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in 2018:
Almost all Palestinians view conditions in the Gaza Strip as dire, bad or very bad. Responsibility for this situation is placed first on Israel, then the PA, and finally Hamas. But for Gazans, the blame is placed first on the PA, with Israel and Hamas second and third respectively. [emphasis added]
According to the poll, things are so bad that 45% of Gazans surveyed indicated that they want to emigrate — compared to only 19% of those Arabs living under the Palestinian Authority.
Close to half of Gazan Arabs wanted to leave, yet they did not hold Hamas responsible.
And it was not as if there was no public criticism of Hamas.
In October 2017, just 5 months before the PCPSR survey was done, MEMRI reported on Hamas Gaza Officials Internal Criticism, referring to
o Senior Hamas official Ghazi Hamad, who called for a reassessment of Hamas relations with Fatah, and for a national strategy offering a chance for progress in the peace process with Israel.
o Hamas member Ahmad Yousuf, who protested the Hamas suppression of dissent and free speech.
o Zaher Kuhail and Khadar Mahjaz, former Hamas members who left Hamas and are known for their criticism of it.
Based on the results of the 2018 poll, those criticisms did not sink in.
Or did Gazans just decide to share their criticisms among themselves?
If so, all that changed in 2019.
And even the media noticed.
The BBC reported Gaza economic protests expose cracks in Hamas’s rule:
In Gaza, it is no surprise to hear complaints about the terrible living conditions – after all, the World Bank describes a local economy in “free fall” with 70% unemployment among young people.
However, what has been extraordinary in recent days is that large crowds of Palestinians have been turning out on the streets to voice their frustration and even criticise Hamas – the militant Islamist group which rules the strip with an iron fist. [emphasis added]
The BBC referred to this as “the 14th March Movement” and noted its slogan: “We want to Live.” It quoted Moumen al-Natour, one of the organizers, who made clear they were not political and their goal was not to change political systems:
We just want to get our rights. We want jobs, we want to live. We want equality, dignity and freedom. [emphasis added]
| Symbol of the “Want to Live” campaign
protesting the high cost of living, rising prices
and unemployment in the Gaza Strip
(Source: Facebook.com/416655539140185, March 16, 2019)
Some protestors were very explicit about whom they thought were responsible:
Palestinian woman criticizes Hamas:
“Hamas officials’ children drive in luxurious cars, but I have 4 unemployed sons. All of Gaza are unemployed because of Ismail Haniyeh & Yahya Sinwar. These officials care nothing about the poor people’s necessities. We have the right to live.” pic.twitter.com/caE84QcQKm
— Heshmat Alavi (@HeshmatAlavi) March 17, 2019
The description of the demonstration by The Arab Weekly illustrates that the protestors did more than just voice their frustration:
Gaza has never seen such large-scale protests directed at Hamas’s decision to increase prices and taxes on goods. Protesters burned tyres in the streets, shouted anti-Hamas slogans and threw stones at security forces.
(Apparently, protests against Israel served as good practice.)
Hamas responded about the way you would expect:
Hamas security forces fired shots into the air and at protesters, which injured some demonstrators. Houses in numerous locations throughout the tiny strip were stormed by security forces carrying guns and batons.
Dozens of people have been arrested and many members of the same family were taken to unknown detention centres for interrogation. Among those attacked, detained and beaten were journalists and staff members of the Independent Commission for Human Rights.
And just as the media unexpectedly covered the situation, the UN actually reacted to Hamas. Nickolay Mladenov, then the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, condemned Hamas:
I condemn the Hamas violence in #Gaza against protesters, women, #children; journalists & human rights activists. #Palestinian factions must engage with Egypt on the basis of the the Cairo Agreement. #UN is working to avoid escalation, lift the closures, & support reconciliation
— Nickolay E. MLADENOV (@nmladenov) March 17, 2019
Even Amnesty International took notice:
The crackdown on freedom of expression and the use of torture in Gaza has reached alarming new levels. Over the past few days, we have seen shocking human rights violations carried out by Hamas security forces against peaceful protesters, journalists and rights workers,” said Saleh Higazi, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Amnesty International.
All this was in 2019.
Has anything happened since?
2020 was quiet.
So was 2021.
In the last few days, economic and social protests against the Hamas authorities in Gaza have erupted again, led by the “We Want to Live” movement and online campaign. The campaign was first launched in March 2019 to protest the high cost of living and the unemployment in Gaza, and included mass demonstrations that were brutally suppressed by Hamas’ security apparatuses. So far, the renewed campaign is largely confined to social media, but some activists warn it may soon escalate into street protests against Hamas, like the ones in 2019.
This time, the protests were in reaction to 3 Gazans trying to emigrate because of the economic situation, but drowned when their boat capsized between Turkey and Greece. The protests were also a result of the outrage on social media to the extravagant lifestyles of Hamas officials and their families.
Addressing the ill-fated attempt to flee Gaza, Khaled Abu Toameh gives some numbers:
It is not clear how many Palestinians have fled the Gaza Strip in recent years. Some reports estimate that more than 40,000 Palestinians managed to leave between 2014 and 2020. Other reports put the figure at more than 70,000.
Palestinians in the poll expressed concern that many of the emigrants include university graduates and professionals, especially medical doctors who prefer to work and live in European countries, and not under Hamas.
Does all this point to a change in perception among Gazans that Hamas is responsible for their situation — and not Israel? We know that the fact that Palestinian Arabs want to get rid of Abbas does not make them fans of Israel. After all, one of those suggested as a replacement is the terrorist mastermind Marwan Barghouti.
But the economic situation in Gaza is worse.
And unlike Abbas, Hamas deliberately pursues policies that periodically build up to terror attacks and rocket barrages that result in retaliation from Israel.
Gazans have more at stake.
That is the reason that more Gazans want to emigrate than do Palestinians under the PA.
It may lead Gazans to one day see to it that it is their leaders who emigrate instead.
These protests give reason to hope.