In recent days, we have been witness to unprecedented demonstrations against the cost of living in the Gaza Strip. The demonstrators, mostly young people, initially took to the streets in the Jabalia refugee camp and Deir al-Balah in the north of the enclave, and later in Khan Younis in the south. This is a “popular movement” whose slogan, “We want to live,” quickly developed into a hashtag on social media.
Their goal is simple: to improve the economic situation. On social media, there have been calls and images of graffiti in Gaza blaming Hamas for the dire economic situation. The terrible state of affairs in Gaza is reflected in limited electricity, high unemployment, high living costs, poverty, overcrowding, lack of salaries and a terrorist regime, among other things.
Hamas officials tried with all their might to thwart the protests, even resorting to using live fire on demonstrators. Dozens of videos documenting Hamas violence against Gazans were posted online. In one such video, an 11-year-old boy with signs of violence on his back says he was badly beaten by Hamas officials. In another video that went viral, a female resident of the enclave accuses Hamas of shooting at young people. This brave woman wonders aloud if this is the regime promised to them by senior Hamas military leader Yahya Sinwar and Hamas political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh. “My husband is employed, as are my four children, while the 20-year-old son of a Hamas commander drives a private jeep and has an apartment,” she laments.
These statements indicate that the residents of Gaza have broken through the barrier of fear that has prevailed in Gaza since Hamas expelled the Palestinian Authority and took control there.
This popular movement is now in its infancy, and its demands are largely economic in nature: electricity, lower taxes, jobs for young people, and an end to the arrests and political persecution. Gaza’s bitter residents are well-aware the Hamas leadership is not acting for their benefit when it wastes the money that comes into the enclave on tunnels and military equipment.
While it is unclear whether Ramallah is behind the protests, it’s safe to say P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas is rubbing his hands together with glee. Gaza’s residents are between a rock and a hard place. Abbas has imposed an economic blockade on them and refuses to allow for the transfer of salary payments. Hamas, in the meantime, continues to oppress and take advantage of them.
Many believe that this is the spark that will trigger an all-out conflagration in Gaza against the terrorist organization, which rules with an iron fist. Even if Hamas succeeds in suppressing the protests this time around, they will surely face more violence and aggression the next time they break out. It is unclear if the current protests will grow in strength, but what is for certain is that they are a headache for the Hamas leadership, which has so far chosen to remain silent. The organization has not put out an official statement, and we have not heard any remarks from senior officials on the protests.
Hamas’s usual tactic in such a situation is to incite the population against Israel in order to direct the fire at us, rather than it. It is therefore likely that Hamas will try to bring about a deterioration in the situation on the border in order to deflect attention towards the border.
Israel would be wise not to intervene in Gaza’s internal affairs at this time, in order not to provide Hamas with an excuse. Gaza is now a powder keg, and no one knows exactly when things will explode. In this current situation, past desires to transform Gaza into Singapore—and establish a port and airport in the enclave—can only be described as preposterous. Proceed with caution.
Dr. Edy Cohen is a researcher at the BESA Center and author of the book “The Holocaust in the Eyes of Mahmoud Abbas” (Hebrew).
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