Beginning on March 14, a series of sporadic protests against the quality of life under Hamas have erupted in the Gaza Strip, in the largest demonstration since Hamas initially assumed control over the strip in 2007. Thousands of protesters have taken part despite militaristic dispersion tactics employed by Hamas.
The protests have by and large been coordinated through social media and the hashtag #WeWanttoLive, an allusion to the obscene living conditions endured by Gazans under Hamas authority.
Entering into their sixth day, the protests have warranted a forceful response by al-Qassam, Hamas’ military wing, to precautionarily tamp down revolutionary sentiment.
Amnesty International–an organization notorious for their anti-Israel bias and regular bashing against the state–condemned the suppression of protest by Hamas as a violent attack on freedom of expression. Deputy MENA Director at Amnesty International Saleh Higazi said that “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.”
A research consultant with Amnesty International was detained for hours by Hamas forces and aggressively discouraged from pursuing “human rights research.” Reportedly, over 1,000 arrests have been made including 42 local journalists, as protests have broken out in around 25 locations. Images display the streets of Gaza ablaze and smoking while stories relayed by social media convey the widespread nature of the protests–defeating Hamas efforts to keep the protest under wraps.
Hamas governance has led to an unemployment rate of well over 50% for working-age citizens in one of the fastest-growing populations globally. Clean water is a scarcity–over 90% of the water is undrinkable–and most Gazans subsist on less than $2 a day. In spite of such staggering statistics, Hamas has garnered a robust military force to accomplish their avowed goal of the destruction of the State of Israel, spending an average of $100 million annually on warfare.
Yet despite Hamas’ unconscionable allocation of funds (including those received for humanitarian purposes), the group’s popularity among the populace has remained immense and even increased in both the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and Gaza, per the Palestine Centre for Policy and Survey Research. While Hamas has evidently squandered Gaza’s resources on a genocidal mission, shockingly, the consensus among Gazans is that an entity with no presence in their lives, Israel, is at fault for their economic, social, and political woes. And the grip which Hamas ideology has held Gaza by is best exemplified by the March for Return protests one year ago nearly to the date, where thousands of Palestinians stormed the Israeli border armed with incendiary balloons and rocks as well as with a false sense of entitlement to the entirety of the land of Israel as taught by Hamas propaganda.
However, given the current trajectory of the protests, it’s not far off to expect certain fundamental changes for both Hamas and societal beliefs of Gazans. Already, the protests have further alienated the Palestinian Authority and Hamas after the PA was alleged by to have played a part in coordinating the protests. While Fatah officials have condoned the protests as acts against the repression of Hamas, they categorically deny having facilitated them.
The role of the PA in the protests was complicated when Fatah spokesman Dr. Atef Abu Saif was critically wounded by masked assailants and rushed to al-Quds Hospital. It is unclear whether these attackers were Hamas operatives, but the lack of clarity only serves to heighten the strained tensions. Fatah has claimed that Hamas was behind the attack on Saif.
With the recent violence between Hamas and the PA not likely to blow over soon, continued infighting among the Palestinian leadership will only spur on protesters as Hamas resources are spread thin and under pressure to resolve the protests.
Consequently, the protests–but more so, the haphazard retaliation by Hamas–have the potential to induce a drastic shift in Gazans’ perception of Hamas as well as that of Israel. A violent Hamas response would certainly demonstrate the autocratic nature of the terrorist regime to citizens in an unprecedented fashion and disenfranchise the many Gazans aspiring for improved circumstances. This would subsequently lead to a larger opposition to Hamas rule–if not a more favorable view of Israeli democracy by Gazans.
In either case, Israel only stands to gain from the changing opinion of Palestinians politically and through mitigated terror threats.
This is a time like no other for residents of Gaza to recognize the reality of Hamas and to seize the opportunity to shape their future through sustained protest – a remarkable possibility for an area marred by poverty and instability.