Analysis

The Gaza Paradox: Palestinians Are Fed Up With Hamas, Israel Is Worried

At any other time, Gazan discontent with Hamas would be good news for Israel. But on election eve, Israel needs a stable enemy

Protests in Gaza, March 16, 2019.

The slogan, “We want to live” isn’t just a catchphrase yelled by the Gaza residents demonstrating in the Strip last week against Hamas, it’s also the name of a Facebook page that has thousands of followers and on which there are dozens of very harsh anti-Hamas posts.

“At a time when the [popular] movement went out to demonstrate, suddenly Qassam [Iz al-Din al-Qassam, Hamas’ military wing] comes out to march. By God, the ones giving them these damned ideas are the Jews,” wrote Mohammed al-Masri, who accused Hamas’ military wing of deliberately undermining the public’s right to demonstrate.

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“How can it be that the young people of Iz al-Din al-Qassam be satisfied with the poverty they’re in while their leaders are the greatest money launderers, collecting millions by begging all around the world?” asked Nael Khader.

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Amjad al-Arabid, a journalist who writes for several media outlets, has an especially active Facebook page, on which Ahmad Walid posted the following: 

“I was innocently driving to bring my wife and children home from my in-laws. Suddenly a police jeep appeared behind me and started to honk incessantly for me to clear the way. There was a car in front of me and I couldn’t move. Near the junction the road opened up a little and the jeep could have passed me. It indeed passed me then stopped in front of me, near the Al-Omda restaurant. Two masked men got out of the jeep and started beating and cursing me. They threw me to the ground, took my car keys and forced me into the jeep, which already had around 10 young men who had been beaten and cursed, and they brought all of us to the police station. Only then did soldiers [Hamas men] come in and reprimand the policemen for hitting civilians. Enough with these humiliations and mafia behavior.”

A short search on the Facebook page reveals a video clip in which a Gaza woman is incensed over the death of a young demonstrator shot by Hamas fire. “Why does the 20-year-old son of a senior Hamas figure have everything he wants, a house and a jeep and a car, and he can get married, while the ordinary people have nothing, not even a piece of bread?” The woman, from Dir al-Balah, is directing her anger at a Hamas commander, who asks her if she saw who fired, and if he wore a police or army uniform. “He wasn’t in uniform, but I can assure you that he was a member of Iz al-Din al-Qassam,” she said.

An hour earlier, Al-Arabid reported that Hamas had turned the Al-Hashimiya school in Gaza City’s Shujaiyeh neighborhood into a detention center. “They have inherited Israel’s policy of oppression,” he wrote. On another Facebook page, by Muhammad Firwana, he justifies the struggle of the "We Want to Live" movement. “Everyone has the right to stand up against anyone who punishes and tortures them. Every person has the right to say ‘we’re tired of this.’ But who is responsible? Who is refusing to allow an electric line into Gaza? Who is blocking the clerks’ salaries? Who has not allowed the transfer of medical aid into Gaza? Who is preventing the treatment of cancer patients? Whom are you fighting against? Against your brethren who are locked in the same closure as you are? The compass is off. The one who’s imposing a closure on us is [Palestinian Authority chairman] Mahmoud Abbas, the one denying us life is Mahmoud Abbas, not Hamas. We are all under siege, including Hamas.”

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The mass protests in Jabalya, Dir al-Balah and Khan Yunis are not the first time that Gaza residents have protested against the economic crisis in the Strip. It’s also not the first time that posts critical of Hamas have appeared on social networks. Two years ago there were videos that showed how associates of Ismail Haniyeh, the former Hamas prime minister, enjoyed luxuries and revealed how Hamas men brutally dispersed demonstrations. But it seems that this time the protests are more sweeping and intense, and the public response to how the demonstrations in Jabalya were broken up are pushing the envelope.
The nature of the protest is evidence that fear of the Hamas regime has deepening cracks, and that awe of its power is gradually fading. The cancellation of the demonstrations along the border this past weekend may have been attributed to Hamas’ response to Egyptian intervention and its insistence that the rockets fired at Tel Aviv last Thursday were a “mistake.” Hamas also issued warnings against any violations of its orders – and this time the orders were to maintain quiet. 

But it’s possible that Hamas itself isn’t totally certain that after the tough dispersal of the demonstrations, which included shooting, it will be able to once again enlist the masses to rush the border fence to protest Gaza’s closure. The website of Islamic Jihad, which sends its young people to the fence protests, issued an official condemnation on Thursday against the violence used against demonstrators and demanded the release of all those imprisoned. “This is a violation of the right to demonstrate, which is part of the right of every citizen to express his opinion,” wrote the organization, which is not usually known for its concern for civil rights.  

The paradox is that under other circumstances, Israel would be pleased with the public protest in Gaza and see it as proof of the success of the closure policy, which it believes could lead to Hamas’ downfall. But the turmoil Hamas is experiencing worries Israel too. It needs a partner to take responsibility for running the Strip, stop a disintegration that could lead to a large-scale armed conflict on the eve of the election, and serve as an address for mediation. Suddenly it turns out that the confrontations at the fence are a marginal threat, if at all, compared to the risk of instability of the Hamas government.