Hamas security forces in the Gaza Strip violently suppressed demonstrations by hundreds of Palestinians who took to the streets across the Strip on Thursday and Friday, protesting the deteriorating economic situation under its rule. An independent Palestinian source estimates that some 500 people were held in detention on Saturday evening, after some detainees had been released.
Demonstrations were dispersed with live fire into the air, clubs, metal rods and pepper spray, Palestinian human rights organizations said. They reported journalists, some of whom were beaten and detained, were forbidden from documenting the demonstrations and had their phones confiscated, but some women watching the demonstrations from their homes documented the events.
Haaretz Weekly, Episode 19
Hamas policemen chased after some of the demonstrators and broke into homes on Thursday and Friday, conducting searches in order to find and destroy pictures and videos showing the violent means used to quell the demonstrations.
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On Saturday, Hamas forces spread out across the Strip, mainly in refugee camps and cities in which demonstrations had been violently broken up earlier. The use of force shocked Gazan public, which had expected understanding and empathy by Hamas towards the distress of young people, who united under slogans such as “The revolt of the hungry” and “Down with price hikes.”
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“In the past, poverty never reached the level of hunger,” Samir Zaqout, deputy director of the Gaza-based Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, told Haaretz. “I can’t say that anymore: today there is definitely hunger. The demonstrations are part of the response to this difficult situation, especially among young people. There is massive emigration, mainly to Turkey, and some are walking up to the border fence. Young people look for death there, saying they have nothing to live for.”
A Gaza resident in his 60s told Haaretz that poverty and hunger have increased the prevalence of prostitution, adding “No one goes to clinics in Gaza, not because there are no more illnesses, but because there is no money for transportation, doctors or medicines.”
Demonstrators, which took to the streets despite the detention of some of the organizers last Sunday, demand that the Hamas government reverses extra taxes recently imposed on basic products. Organizers, mainly young people from several refugee camps, called for people over social media to participate in the protest in the Jabalya, Dir al-Balah, Bureij and Nuseirat refugee camps, as well as the southern towns of Rafah and Khan Yunis.
According to Gazan sources, only some of the organizers, primarily those from the Jabalya refugee camp, have previous experience in leading social protests, mainly around shortages in electricity supply. In other locations the demonstrations were organized by new faces, Haaretz was told.
Gazans criticize Hamas
Recent demonstrations also provide rare direct criticism of Hamas’ rule, placing responsibility for the economic situation on it, rather than just Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinians Authority, who recently cut salaries and benefits to Gaza residents.
Hamas spokesmen accused the PA’s security forces and supporters of Abbas of orchestrating the demonstrations. Even though some of the organizers and protesters come from families affiliated with Abbas’s Fatah movement, independent observers in Gaza say this wave of protest reflects real distress, with no organization pushing people to take part in it.
Hamas also justified the violent measures used to disperse demonstrations, as it said they were aimed at harming the “resistance to the occupation,” which has become synonymous for Hamas with its raison d’être.
On Friday, despite Hamas’ reaction and arrests the day before, and even though that night Israel had bombed dozens of targets in the Strip after two rockets were fired toward the Tel Aviv area in Israel, the demonstrators returned, again to be met with violence.
Members of Hamas’ military wing, the Iz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, tried to disrupt protests and cause confusion, when they showed up to the Thursday demonstration in Jabalya and the Friday one in Dir al-Balah, some of them armed, carrying photos of Abbas with the caption “Leave.” Clashes with demonstrators ensued, and Hamas police forces then rushed to violently disperse the protesters.
Some protesters threw rocks at policemen in Dir al-Balah. A video shared on social media shows policemen hitting a demonstrator with clubs, and continuing to do so even after he falls to the ground. Other videos showed a woman being beaten.
After that demonstration in Dir al-Balah was dispersed, policemen broke into the home of a journalist, where two senior officials with the Ramallah-based Independent Commission for Human Rights were at the time. Their phones were confiscated and they were severely beaten, even though they identified themselves.
On Saturday, four researchers with prominent human rights groups in Gaza were detained after recording testimonies on the Hamas police’s conduct. They were questioned and later released.