An authentic protest or a Gaza coup attempt?

By embracing the Gaza protests, Fatah is playing into the hands of Hamas

A woman and a wounded protester fall on the ground as members of Palestinian security forces disperse a Hamas demonstration in the Palestinian Authority controlled side of Hebron, December 14, 2018 (photo credit: MUSSA QAWASMA / REUTERS)
A woman and a wounded protester fall on the ground as members of Palestinian security forces disperse a Hamas demonstration in the Palestinian Authority controlled side of Hebron, December 14, 2018
(photo credit: MUSSA QAWASMA / REUTERS)
Are the current protests against economic hardship authentic, or are they part of a scheme by Hamas’s enemies to end the Islamist movement’s rule in the Gaza Strip?
Hamas leaders say the demonstrations launched last week by Palestinian youth movements began as a genuine protest against the bad economic situation in the Gaza Strip. The Hamas leaders say they first thought the protests would be directed against Israel and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas – the two parties Hamas holds responsible for the continued crisis in the coastal enclave.
In the past 48 hours, Hamas officials have adopted a different approach. Now they are claiming the protests are being orchestrated by their rivals in Fatah and the “Zionist enemy.”
Fatah has been trying to hijack the protests from day one, and use them as a tool to overthrow the Hamas regime, several Hamas representatives said over the weekend. Hamas, they emphasized, will not allow any Palestinian faction, especially Fatah, “to exploit the suffering of our people in the Gaza Strip for political gain.”
Thousands of Palestinians took to the streets in different parts of the Gaza Strip in the first days of the protests, which are now being held 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 its leaders, and holding them responsible for the high cost of living, new taxes and soaring unemployment in Gaza.
Videos of Hamas police officers using live ammunition and batons to disperse the protesters, as well as video footage of several Palestinians accusing Hamas leaders and their family members of financial corruption, prompted the Islamist movement to step up its effort to crush the growing protests.
On Saturday, Hamas decided to launch a counter-campaign as part of its attempt to end the demonstrations and discredit the protesters. Hamas dispatched thousands of its supporters to the streets in a number of areas in the Gaza Strip to condemn Abbas and hold him responsible for the crisis because of the sanctions he imposed on the Gaza Strip nearly two years ago.
Hamas also took to social media to portray the protests as part of a conspiracy by Fatah and Israel to end the rule of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Hamas-affiliated social media accounts drew the Palestinians’ attention to statements made by Fatah and Israeli officials with regard to the protests. The statements, according to Hamas, prove that Israel and Fatah are in collusion to “destroy the Palestinian resistance” in the Gaza Strip and force the Palestinians to accept US President Donald Trump’s unpublished plan for peace in the Middle East, known as the “deal of the century.”
Hamas even caught Fatah’s senior spokesman, Osama Qawassmeh, lying about a photo he posted on Facebook. Qawassmeh claimed that the photo of a wounded, bleeding man was from the Gaza Strip. According to Qawassmeh, the man in the photo had been arrested and beaten by Hamas militiamen. Hamas supporters and other Palestinians quickly noticed that Qawassmeh had posted an old photo from Iraq.

SINCE THE beginning of the protests, PA and Fatah officials have been doing their utmost to depict the demonstrations as the beginning of a Palestinian uprising against Hamas. The PA’s daily newspaper, Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda, on Saturday published an editorial titled “Go Away Hamas, Go Away!” The PA-controlled media, particularly Palestine TV in Ramallah, have devoted special lengthy programs to cover what they called the “anti-Hamas intifada” in the Gaza Strip.
Ironically, Fatah’s public effort to hijack the protests are playing into the hands of Hamas. Hamas is now using the statements of the PA and Fatah leaders in support of the protesters to show that the demonstrations are politically motivated.
At this stage, it remains unclear whether the protests will continue in the coming days despite Hamas’s severe measures against the demonstrators, journalists and human rights workers.
Hamas has arrested hundreds of Palestinians on suspicion of taking part in the demonstrations, some of which resulted in violent clashes with its security forces. Several senior Fatah officials and former PA security officers living in the Gaza Strip have been placed under house arrest. Dozens of Palestinian journalists have been warned not to report about the protests without receiving prior permission from Hamas.
What is clear, however, is that the protests have managed to seriously embarrass Hamas, making it look like the main party responsible for the deteriorating economic situation and miseries of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. The photos and videos of Hamas policemen using force against Palestinian protesters have served as a reminder that some two million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are ruled by a repressive regime that has no respect for public freedoms.
Hamas may be successful in crushing the current wave of protests. Sunday’s terrorist attack near Ariel in the northern West Bank has temporarily diverted attention from Hamas’s problems at home. During the day, Hamas sent many of its supporters to the streets to celebrate the attack, leaving almost no room for the protesters demanding an end to their economic hardship.
However, Hamas will find it hard to rid itself of the huge damage caused to its image as a result of the excessive force its men used against the protesters. The protests of the past few days have shown the world that in the Gaza Strip everything is possible, including an uprising against Hamas.
As a veteran Palestinian journalist from Gaza City summed it up: “The same Palestinians who forced Israel and the Palestinian Authority to flee the Gaza Strip are also capable of rising against Hamas. When will that happen? Only God knows, but we are certain that it will happen one day.”