Palestinians in Gaza Protest Against Hamas – 10 Insights
By Col. (res.) Udi Evental | January 30 - February 6, 2019
|Photo: From Twitter|
- An extraordinary phenomenon – the outburst of public protests against the repressive regime of Hamas in several locations simultaneously – from the northern end of the Gaza Strip to the south – focusing on the economic hardship (“we want to live”) is a rare event. Similar previous protests, with less media exposure, were limited to demonstrations targeting the shortage of electricity supply in Gaza.
- Surprise – Apparently, the protests took Israeli intelligence, experts, and Hamas itself by surprise. This surprise demonstrated once again – as did the “Arab Spring” events – the difficulty to assess, understand, and predict public opinion in the Middle East. The challenge has resurfaced the question whether technological advances in Big Data and AI could replace regional cultural and linguistic experts in an attempt to solve “mysteries” regarding deep public trends.
- The economic context – The demonstrations focused on the cost of living and demands from the Hamas regime to ease the burden of taxes. This focus shows that economic issues – quality of life, sources of livelihood, and the state of public utilities – head the priorities of the Palestinian public. Even in the West Bank, the broadest public demonstrations in recent years dealt with economic issues – protesting against the social security law. While, the second Intifada broke out at a time of economic growth, we are now facing a new reality requiring Israel to act accordingly to preserve stability and prevent deterioration.
- The regional dimension – One cannot disconnect the events in Gaza from the turbulent waves that have returned to the Middle East. In Sudan, public demonstration against the rule of Bashir continue for several months now; in Algeria, demonstration calling on Bouteflika to step down continue even after he announced that he would not seek a fifth term in office. “Contagion Effect” concerns lead the leaders of Egypt, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia to increase domestic repressive measures.
- The brutal repression of demonstrations by Hamas reflects its sense of threat – Like regional leaders, Hamas is concerned that the public’s “barrier of fear” will break leading the public to stand up against its rule. Therefore, Hamas swiftly and brutally dispersed the demonstrations using batons, live munition. In its massive crackdown, Hamas conducted many arrests (with reports of torture), set up roadblocks, beat-up human rights activists and journalists to prevent the documentation of events, and confiscated phone and footage of the events.
- Hamas remains committed to its “hybrid” identity – a regime and a terror organization. The aggressive and violent response to the demonstrations shows that Hamas wishes to hold on to its rule of Gaza. In the current situation, the most dangerous scenario would be a decision of Hamas to give up its rule that considerably restrains its terrorist operations, and resort to its original identity – a Jihadist terror organization. Within Hamas, some members have called for a return to its old path. Even during the recent events, a senior Hamas member, Yihya Musa, called on the organization to forfeit its civilian control of Gaza and resume its operation only as a “resistance movement”.
- The rift between Fatah and Hamas deepens – Hamas blames Fatah and the Palestinian Authority for organizing and inciting the protests in Gaza. The security apparatuses of Hamas broke into the homes of Fatah leaders in Gaza and conducted arrests. Reportedly, the spokesman of Fatah in Gaza, Atef Abu-Siff, was brutally beaten-up and suffers from fractions.
- Additional deterioration in the security condition in Gaza – in the case of a response from the Palestinian Authority (additional sanctions on Gaza) and in light of Hamas' call to escalate the protests along the border with Israel. Officially this call is an attempt to pressure Israel to comply with demands to improve civilian conditions in Gaza, but actually it is also aimed to deflect public attention away from the brutal repression of the protests. The scale of the demonstrations along the border will be a test to see if Hamas has succeeded in spinning the events. The response from the Israeli side – and its intensity – will have an effect on this.
- Israel’s dilemma – The public protests in Gaza revealed once again the deep tensions in Israel’s position. On one hand, Israel ought to support measures to weaken the rule of Hamas – a terror organization unwilling to recognize Israel, calls for its destruction, and increasing its military power to strike at Israel’s homeland. On the other hand, there is no viable government alternative that will prevent chaos. Considering the vast amount of weapons in the Gaza Strip, a governing vacuum will promise “Somalization” that will draw Israel back into the Gaza Strip.
- A future alternative for the rule of Hamas – apart from an Israeli occupation of Gaza, currently there is no alternative for the Hamas government in Gaza. Egypt will never return to the Gaza Strip, while the Palestinian Authority struggles to maintain its rule in the West Bank. No international force will take the risk of deploying to Gaza and if it did, it would not be effective and only serve to complicate Israeli counter-terror operations. Under these circumstances, Israel has to accept a bad option to avoid an even worse one. In the meanwhile, Israel has no alternative other than creating the conditions for strengthening the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank (instead of weakening it) until future conditions will permit its return to Gaza one day.
Authored by Col. (res.) Udi Evental
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