Despair in Gaza

Are Palestinian protests against Israel - or against Hamas?

What kind of news does the world’s media like to report from Gaza? It likes to report on Israeli “atrocities.” For example, that cruel Israeli “blockade.” (No need to explain that the “blockade” does not apply to medicine, food, fuel, electricity, water, or indeed to anything except items that can have military uses, such as the cement that can fortify rocket emplacements and the hideouts of Hamas fighters.) It likes to report on Israeli airstrikes that hit “inoffensive” tunnels (no need to explain that these are terror tunnels, designed to smuggle Hamas fighters into Israel to kidnap or kill both soldiers and civilians). It likes to show the aftermath of an Israeli airstrike on “civilian” buildings. A favorite video was of a building destroyed in an Israeli air strike that was described as a “media center” because the AP had its offices there (no need to explain that Hamas had its command-and-control center in the building). Oh, there’s so much to report on in Gaza, as long as it is all about Israel’s terrible treatment and deliberate immiseration of the Palestinians living there.

But what the media do not like to report on is how Hamas treats the people of Gaza. That would take attention away from the real villain of the piece, Israel, and we can’t have that. Here’s a news item – don’t expect to see it in the American media any time soon – on Palestinian protests in Gaza, not against the Jewish state, but against Hamas: “‘They hijacked Gaza’: Palestinians hold rare online events critical of Hamas,” by Aaron Boxerman, Times of Israel, February 7, 2022:

For the past week, Palestinians from Gaza have been participating in a series of social media events criticizing Hamas rule in the Strip, voicing concerns rarely expressed in the repressive enclave.

Under the hashtag “They Kidnapped Gaza,” hundreds of Palestinians have taken part in nightly Twitter conversations lamenting the suffering of ordinary Gazans. While also critical of Israeli restrictions, the speakers regularly attacked what they deemed Hamas’s poor governance and corruption.

These protests are all on social media, not in the flesh. The Hamas goons can’t come out, clubs swinging, to bash protesters in the streets. Hamas is faced with an impossible task: shutting down websites that they can’t possibly reach – Facebook, TikTok, and especially Twitter – where hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands of Palestinians, both in Gaza and among those who have left Gaza, express their fury with Gaza’s Hamas rulers, for their mismanagement and corruption, their nepotism and theft of funds that were intended for the people of Gaza, and not for their thieving Hamas rulers.

We see the buildings rising in the northern Gaza Strip, the investments, the high-rises. We all see it. You can’t close your eyes to it… We all know that you’re swimming in corruption,” said Jehad, a Palestinian from Gaza, during one of the events.

Jehad is describing the luxury apartments, the villas with pools, that the “600 Hamas millionaires” live in, in northern Gaza, away from the worst of the strife. And he can compare their comfortable lives with the wretched hardscrabble existences that he and two million other Gazans must endure. Meanwhile, in their gated communities, those favored with well-paid sinecures live, untroubled by the wretchedness without; they deserve their good fortune, because they are the relatives and friends of the Hamas leaders.

The conversations are held live in a function relatively new to the social media platform — the Twitter “space.” Any user can launch and administer one, and any user can join and ask to speak.

The freewheeling, often hours-long discussions have drawn young Palestinians from across the West Bank and Gaza, who have few public spaces in which to hold such talks.

Open criticism of Hamas is rare and risky for Palestinians living in Gaza. Hamas security forces are known to arrest those critical of their rule and human rights groups have accused the Islamist terror group of torturing political prisoners.

“In Gaza, you’re told to shut up. Don’t you dare give voice to your pain. Because the shadow of the Internal Security forces is always pursuing your thoughts,” said Suleiman, a resident of Deir al-Balah in Gaza.

Gaza is a police state, run by and for thieves. Just two Hamas leaders, Khaled Meshaal and Moussa Abu Marzouk, have each managed to amass a fortune of at least $2.5 billion. Anyone who dares to complain publicly against the terror group’s rule can be beaten by its enforcers, or carted off to jail, where a dissident will be beaten again, often tortured, and only released from this calvary when Hamas finally feels like letting him go, with a final warning about what terrible things will happen to him If he dares to voice such opinions again.

The Hamas terror group has ruled Gaza since 2007, when it took over the enclave following a bloody civil war with their Fatah rivals. Israel and Hamas have since fought four short wars, killing thousands of Palestinians and over 100 Israelis.

Egypt and Israel have imposed a strict 15-year blockade on the Gaza Strip in an attempt to contain Hamas, which both countries view as a serious threat. The movement of goods and people is tightly regulated in an attempt to prevent Hamas from amassing weapons and capital.

The blockade is not, as the writer says, “strict.” Israel puts no restrictions on food and medicine. It also supplies Gaza with electricity, fuel, and water. Only goods that are “dual-use” items – that is, have military as well as civilian uses — are kept out. This is not, as some would have you believe, akin to the German army’s siege, from 1941 to 1944, of Leningrad.

Human rights groups lament the blockade’s impact on ordinary Gazans. Around half of Gaza’s population is unemployed, according to the World Bank. Many who can choose to leave the Gaza Strip to study or work abroad eagerly take their chance.

It’s not the blockade that has harmed “ordinary Gazans.” They still get their medicine, food, fuel, electricity and water from Israel. It’s the theft of billions of dollars in aid that Hamas leaders have stolen that has caused despair in Gaza. It’s the hundreds of millions of dollars that Hamas has chosen to spend on a network of tunnels – what the IDF calls “the Metro” – that was built under Gaza, to hide the movement of fighters and weapons. It’s the many millions spent, too, on weapons, including rockets, artillery, guns. All that money might have gone to building a viable economy in Gaza. Hamas had other ideas. Then there is all the time put into opposing the Zionists. Think of the sheer waste – the pointlessness — of the Great March of Return, where every Friday, for 18 months, from March 30, 2018 to December 27, 2019, some tens of thousands of Gazans would gather and march up to, with some trying to breach, Israel’s security fence. The marchers would throw Molotov cocktails, rocks, explosives of every type, including at times a grenade, and on several occasions, some marchers even fired guns at the IDF soldiers protecting the security fence. The IDF used live fire only on those Palestinians who were actually in the process of breaching the fence and, with their Molotov cocktails, posed a mortal threat to the Israeli soldiers. Over those 18 months, a total of 223 Palestinians were killed, and more than 8,000 wounded. What if all of that energy had instead been channelled into money-making enterprises, such as the greenhouse business that the Israelis built in Gaza, and then handed over to the Palestinians in 2005, hoping they would take over the turnkey operation and continue to grow fruit and flowers for export to Europe? Instead, the Palestinians trashed every one of the greenhouses. There is no hope, only despair, left in Gaza unless. of course. you are a member of the upper echelon of Hamas, or a relative or friend of such a person.

The organizers of the Twitter spaces are mostly young Gazans who left the enclave following the We Want to Live protests.

The repeated cycle of war with Israel has left its marks on the Strip. One participant mentioned young demonstrators who were crippled by Israeli gunfire after joining 2018 violent protests along the Gaza fence. According to the United Nations, around 6,000 suffered “life-changing wounds.”

We go and see the young men in the refugee camps walking with canes. So many wounded. And for what?” said Karim, a Palestinian born in Gaza, but living abroad.

For what, indeed? Those walking wounded should be blaming Hamas, that organized the Great March of Return and inveigled so many to take part, knowing that if those marchers were wounded or killed, this would constitute a propaganda victory over the Zionists. Hamas leaders, and their relatives, never went close to the security fence themselves; that was left to other people.

But the participants in the Twitter spaces also insisted that Hamas’s poor governance had played a key role in Gaza’s misery. They also accused the terror group of handing jobs and privileges to its members, giving electricity and civil service positions to Hamas affiliated Gazans, rather than filling posts based on merit or need.

In Gaza, Hamas hands out government jobs – secure and well-paid sinecures –to those who are relatives, friends, and loyalists of its upper echelon. Merit has nothing to do with gaining such employment. As a consequence, many incompetents are ensconced in jobs for which they are ill-prepared, but that they have been given because of. whom they know, or still better, whom they are related to. The talented technocrat loses out to the lazy or moronic brother-in-law of a Hamas captain. Thus the widespread nepotism inexorably leads to mismanagement, with misfits hired and promoted.

“You see situations where one person is unemployed and in his 30s and can’t get married, while a 22-year-old has a job and can afford a car and to get married — just because he’s a Hamas member,” Amjad, who left the Gaza Strip seven years ago, said during one of the Twitter discussions.

The unfairness of Hamas’ nepotism has consequences; it blights lives in ways that can neither be forgotten nor forgiven. A 30-year-old Gazan who is unemployed doesn’t just suffer in his pocketbook; he must delay getting married – in Arab societies the would-be husband must first be solvent before he can take a bride and start a family– until he is employed. With a 40% unemployment rate, many Gazans are forced to put off marriage. Meanwhile, the ne’er-do-well Hamas member, a decade younger, has a job in the government, arranged by his powerful relative, and can afford both a wife and a car.

In Gaza, goons smash all protests with extreme violence, arresting and beating those who dare to express their anger at the intolerable unfairness, and the general wretchedness, of life in the Strip under Hamas’ rule.

Of course life is so much more pleasant for Hamas’ top leaders to live outside of Gaza, far from the prying eyes of resentful Gazans. Khaled Meshaal, with his $2.5 billion, chooses to live in Doha, Qatar. So do another dozen high-ranking Hamas members. Moussa Abu Marzouk, with his $2.5 billion, has decided to retire to New Cairo, Egypt. There they need not worry about neighbors watching them, or putting photographs of their luxurious dwellings on social media. Other top-ranking Hamas members have been granted Turkish citizenship by Erdogan, and now live comfort and security in Istanbul. 

While the very richest (and most thieving) Hamas leaders choose to live abroad, some 600 members of the echelon just beneath the top are known to live in splendid isolation from “the people,” in million-dollar villas, behind high walls, in gated communities in northern Gaza. They too “live apart, in a totally different world from the millions in Gaza.”

Will anything change in Gaza? Can revolt from below begin with these expressions of despair on Facebook, TikTok, and Twitter, , that cannot easily be muffled, and now have spread throughout the Strip? Can Hamas’ rule be undermined and overturned by the popular anger now being widely disseminated on social media? We shall see if social media, that played such an important part in bringing about the Arab Spring, can now succeed in furthering political change to the Strip when protesters in the flesh – soon beaten and carted away – have failed.

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