Palestinians hurl stones at Israeli troops during a protest at the Israel-Gaza border fence, in the southern Gaza Strip February 15, 2019..
(photo credit: IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA / REUTERS)
For the last two weeks, the nearly two million people of the Gaza Strip have been rising up against their totalitarian leaders from the Hamas terrorist organization. This is not yet a full-fledged revolution or anything close, but it is the beginning of something that needs to be properly evaluated by Israel and the entire world.
In the summer of 2007, Hamas seized the coastal enclave in a coup, grabbing control – two years after Israel’s unilateral withdrawal – from Fatah, the ruling party in the Palestinian Authority.
When the protests first broke out earlier this month, Hamas leaders said that they were part of a genuine protest against Gaza’s deteriorating economic situation. It first seemed that the protests would be directed against Israel and PA President Mahmoud Abbas. But it quickly became clear that Hamas was the target of the youths’ frustration, not someone else.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians took to the streets under the banner of “We Want to Live!” The large turnout caught Hamas leaders by surprise, especially after they noticed that protesters were chanting slogans denouncing Hamas and were holding them responsible for the high cost of living, new taxes and soaring unemployment in Gaza.
This is because while the people in Gaza are not friends of Israel, they recognize that Hamas is the true villain, responsible for their miserable living conditions.
Gazans have reason to be upset. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, unemployment reached 52% in 2018, an increase of almost eight% since 2017 and of more than 20% since Hamas took over Gaza in 2007. Women’s unemployment is particularly high – 74.5%. In addition to a lack of jobs, the people of Gaza face rolling blackouts, unreliable electricity and water, and a poor sewage system.
Hamas is clearly nervous about the protests. Its leaders are well aware of what happened to Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, and a slew of other leaders throughout the Middle East in recent years. In recent days, videos have leaked out of Gaza showing Hamas militiamen with batons going house to house searching for the demonstrators. These images serve as a reminder to the world what type of regime controls Gaza – one that is repressive, violent and ignorant when it comes to basic human rights.
On the one hand, Israel does not necessarily have a role in what is currently happening in Gaza. While it is reassuring to see that the people of Gaza recognize the fault of Hamas for their humanitarian conditions, it is not clear that Israel can do anything right now. If, for example, Israeli officials were to speak openly about the protests, this would give Hamas the opportunity to lie to the public that Israel is actually behind the demonstrations and that they are part of a Zionist plot to retake the Gaza Strip.
Countries which can potentially play a positive role, including Qatar and Egypt, already hold a great deal of sway and influence over Hamas and the Gaza Strip. For Israel it might be enough to simply declare that its fight is not with the people of Gaza, but rather with the ruthless and murderous Hamas rulers. This would be similar to the distinction that Israel makes between the Iranian people and the repressive ayatollahs who control the country.
Will this change anything? It is impossible to know. The protests that started in 2011 and morphed into what became known as the “Arab Spring” were also initially dismissed as nothing more than people letting off steam. As the last eight years have shown though, that was not the case.
And while Hamas might succeed in stomping out the current protests – either by diverting attention to rocket attacks or the uptick in violence in the West Bank – what has happened in Gaza over the last few weeks shows that there is a younger generation in the Strip that simply wants to live a higher-quality life. They deserve it.
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