For four days in a row, thousands of Gazans from the politically neutral, decentralized popular movement "We Want To Live" have taken to the streets, protesting the ever-worsening living conditions in the Strip, despite the unimaginable bone-breaking brutality inflicted on demonstrators by Hamas.
The movement’s activists officially emphasized that they're not targeting any party in particular, but are standing against the inhumane policies of all parties involved with Gaza. That long list includes the recent Hamas tax hikes on basic consumer goods, the Palestinian Authority’s economic sanctions on Gaza, Israel's the blockade, the intra-Palestinian divisions. Young people simply declared: We’ve had enough of it all.
Hamas, a significant player in sustaining Gaza’s unlivable status quo, deployed all its tricks to suppress this 'unlicensed,' guerilla popular movement.
Hamas leaders, officials and activists deliberately propagated the message that the protests were "pushed from the outside," "controlled by Israel and the PA intelligence" and want to bring down the "Palestinian armed resistance."
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That delegitimization campaign paved the way for Hamas security forces to repress the masses in every way possible. Protesters were demonized as suicidal, junkies, traitors and drug-addicts, and their "accomplices" - the media, and human rights organizations - were branded as paid shills of foreign, outsider actors and their agendas.
Even the moderates within Hamas – who acknowledged that the protests were a genuine expression of frustration and anger – eventually justified the brutal repression and abuse of protesters by saying that either they were "protesting the against wrong people."
They declared that if the demonstrators really wanted a better life, they should instead protest Israel’s blockade and Abbas’ sanctions, or, even more cynically, that the masses are docile, easy to infiltrate and manipulate against their own "best interests."
Every party to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is now trying to define the Palestinians' "best interests." Curiously, those interests always coincide with the party in question's own interests, whether contingent or longer-term.
When those protests turned against Hamas, Israel and the PA suddenly praised the heroism of Gazan protesters, condemned Hamas’ violence in dealing with the protests, and supported the protest’s demand of seeking freedom, dignity and basic rights. Suddenly, Netanyahu’s Arabic media spokesperson, Ofer Gendelman, stated his unprecedented belief that Gazans "deserve to live."
Gendelman, like Hamas, chose to ignore that many of those protesters were the same people who’ve been marchingagainst Israel’s blockade for almost a year at the separation fence, and incurred the death of 259 and injury of about 29,000 protesters.
Once the discourse shifts to the Great March of Return, then those in Netanyahu’s inner circle instantly forget the suffering of Gaza and brand the protests as a fake "Hamas-orchestrated movement."
Similarly, when Palestinians in Ramallah protested Abbas’ economic sanctions on the besieged enclave, they were violently dispersed by the PA security forces, and they, along with similar protests in Gaza, were branded as a "Hamas-orchestrated movement."
So, it should be no surprise when the same Hamas which was only too delighted to oversee the Great Return March suddenly pretends that there’s no genuine motive for Gazans to be angry and furious when the masses stood to it, while crying crocodile tears about Gaza’s misery when they want to attack Israel or the PA.
Just as Israel is now encouraging Gazans to exercise their right to protest their slow death (but only if it's against Hamas), while shooting at those who dare face IDF soldiers at the separation fence, Hamas’ mosques in Gaza were calling on people to engage in anti-Abbas protests and to participate in the weekly Great Return March, while simultaneously its security forces were crushing the bones of the anti-Hamas protesters.
This disgusting amnesia and selective demonization/praise of Gazan masses only shows that, when it comes to Gaza’s suffering, nobody wants to look into the mirror and see their contribution to this manmade disaster.
Israel’s blockade, the PA’s sanctions and Hamas’ ruthless totalitarian rule all create a uniquely insufferable abyss where two million Gazans, the majority of whom are children, have been subject to unparalleled brutalities over the last 12 years with no way to escape or end their nightmare. All three parties are dedicated to preventing Gazans from having a say in the course of their lives, or actualizing any sense of agency.
Similarly, Hamas’ latest news fabrications, its dehumanization of popular protests and its targeting and kidnapping of journalists, paramedics and human rights activists, is just the same as Israel’s and the PA’s entrenched practices, aimed at containing and controlling the occupied Palestinian population.
Over the last few days, the United Nations, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have condemned Hamas’ extreme use of violence against unarmed protesters. Similarly, with the single exception of Mohammed Dahlan, 12 Palestinian factions and political parties, including Hamas’ closest ally, Islamic Jihad, denounced Hamas’ tactics and called on the movement to respect popular demands.
Unsurprisingly, when those statements came out, Hamas leaders too, like Israel and the PA, slammed all critiques as biased, unfair, opportunist and hypocritical, and insisted that it’s the others, not us, who are causing Gaza’s suffering.
The three main players in perpetuating the uninhabitability of Gaza know countless solutions to end Gaza’s pain. Hamas could comply with the 2017 reconciliation agreement and hand Gaza’s management over to the PA, the PA could accept Hamas’ demand for partnership in leading the Palestinian struggle, Netanyahu could ease or lift Gaza’s blockade instead of handing cash to Hamas to keep Palestinians divided and to prevent the two-state solution.
Instead, those three partners in crime consistently hide behind the same single method: squeezing the masses until they explode in the other’s face. For that, they are all the enemies of the Palestinian people.
Muhammad Shehada is a writer and civil society activist from the Gaza Strip and a student of Development Studies at Lund University, Sweden. He was the PR officer for the Gaza office of the Euro-Med Monitor for Human Rights. Twitter: @muhammadshehad2