by Dr. Mordechai Kedar
The Gaza Strip's borders have been under an Israeli-imposed siege ever since Hamas – a terror organization by any definition of the term – overran Gaza and turned it into a terror state, hostile both to Israel and its southern neighbor, Egypt and also to the nearly two million residents of the Strip itself.
Very little has been written about the reign of terror Hamas has inflicted on the people of Gaza.
Much has been written about the terror Hamas aims at Israel by means of the rockets, explosive balloons and incendiary kites that have turned life in the Israeli communities in close proximity to Gaza, known as 'The Gaza Envelope," into hell on earth. It is important to realize that despite all the terror Hamas exports to Israel, the Jewish state continues to supply Gaza's population with food, drinking water, fuel, electricity, medicines, and more.
Much has also been written about the terror operations carried out by Hamas and the terrorist organizations under its wing in Egypt, including hundreds of tunnels used to export terror to Egypt and help to terrorist organizations in the Sinai and within Egypt. These include the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis and the remnants of ISIS, fleeing terrorists who took shelter among Sinai-based tribes.
For years, Egypt has accused Hamas of fanning the flames of terror in the Sinai and Egypt and this is the main reason for the fact that the Rafah crossing – the only legal way to go from Gaza to Egypt – is closed for most of the year. Egypt, in fact, has imposed a much more severe siege on Gaza than has Israel, since Egypt does not supply the Gazans with anything, but little has been written about that.
Similarly, very little has been written about the terror Hamas inflicts on the residents of Gaza. A reign of terror began in June 2007 when the Hamas movement seized control of the Strip and attacked the Palestinian Authority security forces with extreme brutality: Scores of PA police died when a tunnel dug by Hamas under one of the PA security installations was booby trapped and set off, others were shot down in front of their families, and some were thrown from the roofs of the residential buildings they escaped to for fear of Hamas only to be hurled to their deaths on the asphalt.
Hamas terrorists eliminated at least twenty members of Amarat Beyt al-Maqdis in Rafah when they shot them on the street in cold blood. Over the years, a good many of those who expressed opposition to Hamas died in the organization's torture chambers. Another horrible practice developed by Hamas was to swoop down on the homes of those opposed to it at night and rape their wives and daughters. These methods sealed the mouths of many of those opposed to Hamas who did not want to pay the steep price of opposition to the terrorist organization that has taken over the lives of Gaza's residents.
Recently, however, more and more complaints have been leveled at Hamas by Gazans, due to the disastrous economic situation in the Strip and the fact that it affects most of those living there. The only group whose lives continue as usual is that of the Hamas leadership, which has become wealthy by levying exorbitant taxes on food and merchandise imported to the Strip. For example, a box of tomatoes costs the consumer 200 shekels and one of cucumbers 150 shekels, many times more than the price charged by the Israeli supplier. Hamas, naturally, blames Israel and the PA for the miserable situation, but the Gazans are not stupid: They have begun pointing an accusing finger at those who appointed themselves to be responsible for Gaza's future, but who first take good care of themselves.
Dissatisfaction with Hamas has grown stronger over the past few months during which Qatar transferred – with Israeli permission - 15 million dollars each month to the Strip. At first the money came in suitcases stuffed with cash, later on by means of bank transfers. These funds were not used to rebuild the ruins of the last Israeli IDF air strikes in response to incessant shelling of Israeli civilian communities, to build schools, health facilities, support welfare or employment needs, nor were they used to subsidize foodstuffs. They went to pay the salaries of Hamas employees, as if there is no one else needy in the Strip.
On March 21 – in the midst of preparations for the "March of the Million" planned for March 30th, Land Day, protests with the mantra "We want to live" erupted in Gaza. Someone even created a logo for these anti-Hamas protests, aimed at the leadership's corruption and the terrible economic situation brought about by its policies. Other signs seen at the protests were "The Revolution of the Hungry," "Religion, homeland and legitimacy have left you." This last sign is the most damaging, because Hamas bases its legitimacy on its connection to Islam, love of homeland and the legitimacy it gained in the 2006 elections when it won most of the seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council.
The Hamas leadership needed no time at all to realize the size of the threat posed by the street as well as its potential significance, because its members are fully aware of what the man in the street thinks of them. Before the demonstrations could gain more participants, widen their scope and begin to snowball, Hamas security forces attacked the demonstrators with clubs and kidnapped some of the organizers to unknown destinations, dispersing the protestors with severe cruelty and injuring many of them with heavy blows.
The public responded by posting videos showing Hamas security forces in their camouflage uniforms mercilessly beating peaceful demonstrators, by publicizing photographs of the injuries inflicted on the demonstrators and by posts on social media, the likes of which had never been seen before. Imad abu Neima wrote: "I am writing to you from Shifa Hospital, from amidst the ever growing number of injured, and out of their rock-splitting groans and I say: The condition of the injured is very bad and they are an albatross around your necks, o leaders, and need you to take a great interest in them. Don't lose them because that will mean losing your families. Care for them as you would if it were your sons who are injured."
The writer's words hint at the impossible situation known to all Gazans: Hamas gives preference to its own families in everything, and when all of Gaza is suffering, this rankles even more than usual. The discrimination will become even greater on April 6th, when Ramadan, during which it is the custom to consume more food at night because of the daily fast, begins.
One writer posted: "Go to the Jews to learn from them [how a political leader acts towards his citizens]. Imagine! A fellow resident of my city beat me in front of my parents!! Hamas oppresses, breaks the arms and legs of women, children and the elderly."
Hamas has internalized the problem but lifts an accusing finger at Israel. Salah Albardwil, a member of the political office of Hamas, claims that all the protests and activities using the mantra "We want to live" are organized by the Intelligence Corps of the PA which incited the masses against Hamas while, at the same time, its men eliminated a poor boy from Gaza who infiltrated the PA to bring some money to his mother and brothers.
Hamas leader Yihye Sinwar outdid them all when he declared on March 30: "'Land Day'…Our nation emphasizes its loyalty to our basic principles, it will never relinquish the right of return despite those who do (=PLO), despite the normalization of the normalizers (=Saudi, UAR, Egyptian and Jordanian officials), and in the face of the collaborators (=the PA)." He then added: "Our people go out today to say 'We want to live with honor' (=in the face of Israeli humiliation).." By saying this, Sinwar manages to outflank the protest movement, taking the phrase used by the protestors against Hamas and re-directing it against Israel.
On another occasion, Sinwar did the same, proclaiming: "Our people say strongly that they intend to continue on their present path and will break the siege with the power of the strong or the helplessness of the weak, because our nation goes out [to the border fence] today to say 'We want to live with honor.'"
The PA did not ignore the Gaza protests and Chairman Mahmoud Abbas told the cameras: "…A curse on the fathers [of Hamas]…Dogs…we have an exemplary people in Gaza…may Allah help them..their sacrifice will not be forgotten…they (Hamas) have to end up in the dustbin of history."
Hamas spokesmen did not take these insults lying down. They accused Mahmoud Abbas of spreading the culture of "we want to live" in the areas under his control, meaning that he prefers they seek a livelihood, support their families and give up the opposition to Israel. Hamas believes that Abbas turned the Palestinian nation into a passive, spineless people, whose only wish is to live in the present, abandoning the dream of destroying Israel, the struggle to free Falestin and the hope for "return."
This "we want to live" culture is the total opposite of Hamas, which bases all its activities on Palestinian Arab willingness – both individual and group – to be sacrificed on the altar of the homeland in order to eliminate the Zionist entity and return to the villages from which they claim their grandparents fled in the 1948 war.
Does the sacrifice expected of Gaza residents include the sons of Hamas operatives? Gazans know the answer to that, which is why they are going out to the streets chanting :"We want to live"
Is this the harbinger of an "Arab Spring" in the Hamas state of Gaza? Only time will tell.
Translated from Hebrew by Rochel Sylvetsky
Dr. Mordechai Kedar is a senior lecturer in the Department of Arabic at Bar-Ilan University. He served in IDF Military Intelligence for 25 years, specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. Thoroughly familiar with Arab media in real time, he is frequently interviewed on the various news programs in Israel.
Follow Middle East and Terrorism on Twitter