Rare Gaza Strip protest against Hamas ends in familiar way: violence

Palestinians in the isolated enclave express frustration over ongoing divide with Abbas-ruled West Bank.

A Palestinian demonstrator holds a sign that reads "division is the reason for adversities" during a protest demanding President Mahmoud Abbas to lift the sanctions on Gaza Strip, in Bethlehem, June 20, 2018 (photo credit: MUSSA QAWASMA / REUTERS)
A Palestinian demonstrator holds a sign that reads "division is the reason for adversities" during a protest demanding President Mahmoud Abbas to lift the sanctions on Gaza Strip, in Bethlehem, June 20, 2018
(photo credit: MUSSA QAWASMA / REUTERS)
Undercover Hamas operatives attacked Palestinian protesters on Monday during a march held in Saraya Square in the center of Gaza City.
The demonstration was part of the Prisoners Movement’s initiative to end the division between Hamas, the armed Islamic group that rules the Gaza Strip, and Fatah, the political party that dominates the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.
More than a thousand participants, mainly from the families of Palestinian prisoners, took part in the peaceful march which aimed not only to end the divide but also to remove various sanctions—including the cutting of salaries and benefits of Gaza-based PA employees—imposed by PA President Mahmoud Abbas in April. One organizer of the march claimed that families from all of the Palestinian political parties had been invited. A protester further explained that organizers had spent one week trying to get an official permit for the event from Hamas authorities.
In a speech to the protesters, the Director General of the Internal Security Forces in the Gaza Strip, Tawfiq Abu Naim, maintained that there was no intention to prevent the proceedings and that no security forces were embedded among the participants.
“As soon as Abu Naim finished his speech, Hamas members with long beards showed up,” a protester claimed to The Media Line. She added that most of them, armed with weapons, started pushing the protesters, including the females, assaulting them with rocks, sticks, and shoes.
“They kept pushing until they destroyed the whole stage and equipment,” the protester revealed. She said that the situation deteriorated when the armed assailants stopped protesters from filming the developments by stealing their phones. “I filmed part of the clashes and escaped by a car,” the protester told The Media Line, however, she qualified, Hamas members stopped her vehicle and forced her to delete videos and pictures. They purportedly threatened her, saying, “we will get back to you, just wait for us.”
Another demonstrator, who asked not to be named and who was injured during the march, confirmed to The Media Line that the armed men were indeed members of Hamas that had come to ruin the protest.
“We all know each other in Gaza; they are from Hamas. They hit us with sticks and rocks,” he related, adding that security forces arrested protesters who resisted. “They came to take advantage of our march to achieve our rights to [instead] demand that Abbas leave his position as president of Palestine.”
When reached by The Media Line, a Hamas spokesperson refused to comment.
Eyad Al-Bazm, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Interior and National Security in Gaza, issued a press release stating that security personnel did not intervene during the march, nor had they arrested any of the participants.
“The ministry provided all the necessities to facilitate the protest activity called for by a number of released prisoners on Monday morning in Saraya Square in Gaza,” the statement read.
Fatah spokesperson Osama Qwasme condemned what he described as violations against Palestinian protesters in Gaza. He contended to The Media Line that Hamas was trying to shift additional attention onto Gaza and away from the West Bank.
"Hamas doesn’t want to end the division and achieve unity," Qwasme affirmed. "We call on Hamas to redirect its approach towards achieving Palestinian reconciliation, especially now that we are facing the [Trump administration's] 'deal-of-the-century.'"
Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, called for an immediate “independent and professional” investigation in order to hold accountable those who carried out the crackdown.
“The attack by these unidentified individuals on representatives of Palestinian prisoners and our civil society organizations—journalists, employees, and other demonstrators—is entirely unacceptable and unpatriotic,” she said. “It is a flagrant violation of the right to free assembly and freedom of expression.”
Moreover, Ashrawi stressed, the attack violated international conventions to which the Palestinian Authority is a party.
Eyad Safi, a political analyst in Gaza, stated that Hamas's response was unacceptable and that a probe must indeed be launched soon.
“Hamas is responsible since it rules the Strip now,” he told The Media Line, adding that what occurred during the march was a clear message to everyone that the intra-Palestinian divide was causing serious problems.
“Palestinians must unite, all Palestinians, everywhere,” Safi concluded.