Gaza youth demand better living conditions amid renewed protests

Thousands rally under the "We Want to Live" banner, highlighting long-standing grievances including high unemployment and energy shortages.

A Palestinian boy looks at sheep (not pictured) at a livestock market, ahead of the Eid al-Adha festival, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip June 21, 2023 (photo credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)
A Palestinian boy looks at sheep (not pictured) at a livestock market, ahead of the Eid al-Adha festival, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip June 21, 2023
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)

GAZA CITY - Thousands of outraged young demonstrators poured onto the streets in different areas of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip on Friday, as part of a popular movement calling itself “We Want to Live.” The movement rejects the ongoing economic deterioration and political plight in Gaza and demands the basic necessities of life, such as electricity. 

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The youth who protested on Friday and last Sunday are reviving the slogan “We Want to Live” from its original use in the 2019 popular demonstrations against the high cost of living, the Palestinian internal divisions, electricity shortages, unemployment, and food insecurity.

The desperate Gazan residents believe that they were abandoned by two authorities: the Palestinian Authority headed by Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, and the Hamas government ruling the Gaza Strip. They called for the same demands as in 2019 and insisted that they will continue to protest until receiving their full rights.

Gaza-based political analyst Mansour Abukrayyem told The Media Line that there are several political factors that led to the formation of this kind of popular movement.

“The continuous Palestinian division and the internal Palestinian crisis that reflects on every single part of our lives, are the main roots of the public anger,” he said.

 A Palestinian woman walks in front of a roundabout with a model of a Qassam rocket, in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip on June 7, 2023.  (credit: IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/REUTERS)
A Palestinian woman walks in front of a roundabout with a model of a Qassam rocket, in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip on June 7, 2023. (credit: IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/REUTERS)

These protests, Abukrayyem says, coincided with a meeting between the heads of the different Palestinian factions that took place in the Egyptian city of New Alamein last Sunday. The protesters aimed to send a message to their leaders that “the devastating situation in Gaza can no longer continue” and that Palestinian reconciliation is now indispensable more than ever.

“The harsh living conditions and the severe economic deterioration are also key players in the game,” added Gaza-based economist Mohammed Abu Jayyab.

High rates of unemployment among youth is 70%

“The high rates of unemployment exceeding 70% among youth — who are the primary [participants] in this movement, the extreme poverty, the economic paralysis for more than 17 years, and the suffocating shortage of electricity at a time the Strip has been witnessing a soaring heatwave with residents unable to afford energy alternatives, all have increased Gaza residents’ resentment and frustration,” he explained.

Gaza suffers from a real crisis around the availability of the energy resources needed to operate the only power plant in the Strip. Providing the population of the Gaza Strip with a 24/7 power supply requires about 600 megawatts of electricity, according to a 2020 report published by B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization in the Palestinian territories. However, the Gaza Strip receives only 180 megawatts—120 directly from Israel via 10 power lines, and 60 generated by Gaza’s power plant with Qatari-funded fuel provided by Israel. As a result, residents usually receive power in eight-hour rotations: eight hours on and eight hours off. In summer, the power can go off for up to 12 hours.

“This schedule is not the ultimate goal that the Gazan citizens seek, nor even the Electricity Distribution Company, but this is the best scenario in light of the limited capabilities currently available,” said Mohammed Thabit, spokesperson of Gaza Electricity Distribution Corporation. “We demand an international intervention to solve the electricity crisis by seriously searching for new sources of power to supply the Gaza Strip with its required needs.”

In rejection of this reality, organizers of the “We Want to Live” movement have called for more protests in the coming days. These activists are mainly Gazan expats who fled to Europe after their previous attempts to protest in Gaza failed and they met suppression by Hamas security forces.

Ramzi Herzallah, one of the movement’s organizers, currently lives in Belgium and posts on his Facebook page the details and directions to the “We Want to Live” protesters. His posts also include field documentation of the protests throughout the Strip, including violations of the Hamas security forces against demonstrators.

On Saturday, he posted an announcement on his page saying that “Our date is next Monday 7-8, 2023 at 5 pm.”

“Our demands are so basic. We have the right to live in dignity, the right to learn for everyone, the right to travel without paying for the costly intelligence coordination, the right to work, to have [enough] electricity, and the right to freedom of speech,” Herzallah told The Media Line.

According to Herzallah, the Hamas government crushed the previous movement in 2019 and is using the same tactics now of intimidating, arresting, and using excessive force against protesters under the pretext that they are “terrorists who belong to foreign agendas or support the Israeli occupation.”

Prior to the Friday protests, there was a state of alert among all Hamas security forces in the Gaza Strip at all crossroads and squares, as well as a full deployment of their security members everywhere to prepare for the suppression of the protesting youth and of journalists, Herzallah said.

Mohammed Alhaddad, a Gaza-based journalist for the Ia news agency, posted on his Facebook page on Friday: “I was walking near the Jaser area [in the southern area of Khan Younis] when someone from the security personnel came straight to me and directly threatened me not photograph or post anything…”

According to local reports and witnesses, many journalists have been detained and their equipment checked and confiscated by Hamas security members.

In a statement on Friday, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate condemned “the actions of the Hamas security forces in the Gaza Strip in detaining and threatening several fellow journalists, preventing them from coverage, and searching their phones and cameras.”

The statement continued: “The journalists Mohammad Al-Baba from the French Agency and Bashar Talib, were arrested for 40 minutes in Jabalia center. … Thus, we call on human rights organizations to quickly intervene and release the detained colleagues, return their equipment, stop threats against them, and allow all journalists to perform their work.”

Hamas is fully aware of the seriousness of this kind of popular movement because it believes that stability when it comes to security and popular support, guarantees the survival and continuity of its rule over the Strip, Abukrayyem says.

“Therefore, it faces any manifestation of objection or protest against this bitter reality with an iron fist, in an attempt to abort any future movement that may destabilize its rule, especially since it realizes that it can’t solve or overcome the current challenges through programs to reduce unemployment and poverty for example,” he continued. “Instead, it prefers the option of crushing these phenomena and tightening its grip on the coastal enclave.”

The youth in Gaza have lost any hope for change, and therefore they have nothing to lose, Abukrayyem believes.

“If the situation continues as it is, the popular explosion will inevitably come even as Hamas continues to suppress these attempts,” he said. “Historically, repressive and dictatorial methods have not succeeded in silencing an entire society in the long run.”