The Islamist group is accused of using heavy-handed tactics against residents who have been protesting against their living conditions
Hamas, the armed Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, is being accused of using excessive force against Palestinian protesters demonstrating since last Thursday against its tax policies. It apparently views the unrest as a potential attempt to end its rule.
Officials and political analysts in the West Bank say that high poverty levels and food insecurity, in addition to a high unemployment rate, are the real reasons behind the calls in the Gaza Strip for more people to come out and protest.
“Hamas is trying to turn an uprising by people who are suffering into a political issue,” Moner al-Zahub, head of the Fatah media office, told The Media Line. “Hamas has to rethink its behavior. It’s literally practicing persecution like authoritarian regimes.”
Last summer, undercover Hamas operatives attacked Palestinian protesters during a march in the center of Gaza City calling for an end to the split between Hamas and Fatah, the party that dominates the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank.
When reached by The Media Line, Hazem Qasem, a Hamas spokesperson in Gaza, refused to comment on the issue.
A PLO official based in the Gaza Strip told The Media Line under condition of anonymity for security reasons that Hamas was practicing violent repression against rank and file citizens.
“It includes beatings, arbitrary arrests and sometimes kidnapping in the most inhumane way,” the PLO official said. “Hamas forces have targeted the press as well as human-right activists and organizations.”
The official noted the dire economic situation in the Gaza Strip, saying that people can no longer tolerate it.
“For the past 11 years, there has been almost no drinking water or electricity in Gaza,” the official said. “The unemployment rate among recent graduates has passed 70 percent.”
In the past year, the PA has imposed sanctions on the Gaza Strip. The measures have included a cut in the salaries of Gaza-based PA employees, and in their social and health benefits.
Nickolay Mladenov, the United Nations peace coordinator for the Middle East, has publicly chastised Hamas for the way it has been handling the protests.
“I strongly condemn the campaign of arrests and violence used by Hamas security forces against demonstrators, including women and children…” Mladenov said. “I am particularly concerned about the beatings of journalists and the staff of the Independent Commission on Human Rights, as well as the raiding of houses in the strip.”
He pointed out that the people were merely demanding an improvement in the standard of living in the Gaza Strip.
Asad al-Owiwi, a Palestinian political analyst, told The Media Line that Hamas’s ruling style is what led to the current situation.
Residents of the Gaza Strip, he said, “are protesting spontaneously as they can no longer survive under the current circumstances.”
Owiwi said that instead of trying to hide the reality, Hamas should contain the situation and help the people, adding that the main issue, aside from high taxes, was “political chaos and a lack of hope.”