The current military escalation between Israel and Hamas, sparked by the rocket fired from the Gaza Strip on March 25 that destroyed a home in central Israel and the firing of two rockets at Tel Aviv on March 14, is all part of Hamas’s efforts to distract public attention from the social and economic protests against it that have been taking place in the Gaza Strip over the past two weeks.

Also on March 14, Gaza activists launched the “Want to Live” campaign protesting the high cost of living, rising prices and unemployment in the Gaza Strip. The protests, held under slogans such as “The Revolution of the Hungry,” were triggered by new taxes imposed by Hamas, which is suffering from a lack of funds. The campaign included mass demonstrations, which were violently dispersed by the Hamas security apparatuses. According to reports in the Arab press, the security forces fired into the air, beat protesters, targeted journalists and seized their equipment, and carried out mass arrests of social activists, journalists and Fatah members, and also raided homes and beat detainees. [1]

Hamas’s official position is that most of the protests are not authentic, but are organized by Fatah’s security apparatuses as part of their efforts to sow chaos in Gaza.

In a statement, Hamas accused Fatah’s General Intelligence Service, headed by Majed Faraj, of being behind the protests and of exploiting the plight of Gazans to achieve political goals. Despite this, apparently in response to the criticism over its violent suppression of the protests, Hamas also expressed sorrow over any harm caused to protesters and stressed its commitment to freedom of speech and freedom of nonviolent protest.[2]

Hamas Interior Ministry spokesman Iyad Al-Bozm also accused the Palestinian Authority of instigating the protests, and said that information indicates that “officers from Ramallah” incited Gazans to riot in return for renewing their salaries, which were cut by the P.A. as part of its sanctions on Hamas. He added that the P.A. and Fatah have been circulating on social media old videos from the Hamas-Fatah clashes of 2007, or from other Arab countries, presenting them as footage of Hamas’s suppression of the current protests. Al-Bozm claimed that most of the detainees have already been released and that the reports on social media inflate the scope of the incidents.[3] On March 18, Fatah’s spokesman in Gaza, Atef Abu Saif, was severely beaten by masked men, and Fatah called this an attempt on his life by Hamas.[4]

The violent suppression of the protests was harshly criticized by Hamas’s political rivals, the Palestinian Authoritty and Fatah.[5] P.A. media have been extensively covering the protests, presenting statements by its spokesmen and activists and publishing many articles on Hamas’s suppression of them, depicting this as a desperate attempt by Hamas to preserve its separatist rule in Gaza at any cost. Facebook pages associated with Fatah have been posting videos and photographs of the protests and of protesters who have been beaten.

However, criticism of Hamas was also voiced by members of the movement itself and by its supporters.Hamas leaders, as well as mid-level and junior activists, in both Gaza and the West Bank, expressed solidarity with the goals of the protest, condemned Hamas’s violent reaction to it, and called on the movement to have sympathy for the protesters and to change its policies. Criticism was also heard from journalists known for their support of Hamas.

It should be noted that in recent years, there have been precedents for such criticism from inside the movement.

Read full report at MEMRI.