Demonstrations have escalated in several areas in the Gaza Strip and sometimes have resulted in clashes between Hamas security forces and youth demonstrators.
Gazans are, in fact, denouncing high prices and economic decline amid a siege of Gaza since Hamas came to power in 2006, and ensuing inter-Palestinian divisions.
Palestinian activists in Gaza shared video footage showing security forces using force to clamp down on mass demonstrations, hitting protesters and arresting them.
Palestinian political analysts believe the protests are a natural outcome of the dire economic reality in Gaza, while others believe security forces loyal to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah are fomenting unrest to pressure Hamas.
One analyst, Reham Ouda, believes the Palestinian people have reached a breaking point due to unemployment and high prices.
“They took to the streets to express their anger, so perhaps their leaders and officials would reconsider their policies and living conditions of Gazans which are compounded by inter-Palestinian division and the Israel siege,” she said.
Ouda added that the Palestinians, like any other people, can be patient and endure, but lately prices skyrocketed, and even the price of bread has shot up.
“The people are now demonstrating to express their rejection of what is happening,” she said, adding that the Palestinian street has the right to express anger at current political and economic conditions.
“It is democratic to allow them to express their thoughts, there is nothing wrong with that,” she said.
Another Palestinian political analyst and writer, Walid Al-Qotati, said protesters are making legitimate demands, irrespective of who is responsible for Gaza’s miserable conditions.
Nonetheless, some are trying to hijack the protests and use them in the media for their own political purposes, Al-Qotati said.
“This legitimate right of expression of suffering and demanding rights cannot be resolved with security measures alone,” he argued. “Suppressing protesters and preventing them from expressing their suffering and hunger, muzzling their voices and cries, violates their human and legal rights.”
He noted this is one aspect of the truth. “The other, more important part, is how Gaza reached this critical point of extreme poverty, need and destitution through a diabolical plot which begins at the root of the scourge: the Zionist entity that occupies all of Palestine and has put the Gaza Strip under siege,” he said.
“The occupation caused the Nakba and the tragedy of the Palestinian people inside and outside Palestine. On top of this, Gazans suffer siege, wars and terrorism to force the resistance and its grassroots supporters to surrender to the will of the occupation. The tragedy continues after two Nakbas or two setbacks as the plan for liberation retreats, the interim period is abridged, and the national authority is reduced to an obscure entity that has abandoned the revolution before achieving statehood and is contingent on security cooperation and economic dependency on the occupation.”
Al-Qotati continued that the Palestinian Authority whitewashed the occupation and gave them spoils at no cost. It became a civilian administration without any real powers or sovereignty.
“Now, it stands as a barrier between the occupation and the resistance,” he added, “while settlement schemes and Judiacisation of the West Bank and Jerusalem pass under its nose. It paved the way for division when some thought we were actually fighting over real powers, and that opposition is tolerated. Instead, there were quarrels then fractures followed by partisan bickering and finally punitive steps that have afflicted the steadfast Palestinian people who are resisting in the Gaza Strip. Their goal was to create a resentful street that would explode in the face of Hamas rule, and perhaps deflate the resistance which galvanises and is championed in Gaza.”
Wessam Afifa, a writer, political analyst and director of Hamas’s affiliate Al-Aqsa Channel, agrees there are some protestors who are truly impacted by difficult living conditions and want their voices to reach officials. However, there is also “manipulation of security agencies” in the West Bank by Fatah, Hamas’s political rival.
Afifa argued that Fatah is using groups in Gaza to incite the street and wreak havoc to pressure Hamas to surrender to President Mahmoud Abbas’s terms regarding eliminating the group from the political scene.
“Hamas wants to maintain security in Gaza,” he explained. “Therefore, it will evaluate the current condition. If protesters are making genuine mass demands, then Hamas will support them, but if they become a tool for mayhem, then the response will be firm.”
Afifa believes that tensions could decrease if de-escalation talks between the Palestinians and Israel are successful after months of negotiations, because this would improve conditions in Gaza.
“If a truce fails, mass action will not be limited to marches and will expand towards the occupation,” he warned, in reference to growing “Right of Return” marches that began in March 2018 near the Gaza border. There could also be military escalation with Israel, he suggested.
Rassem Obeidat, a Palestinian journalist and analyst, said the timing of the protests is due to this “critical phase for the Palestinian people and their cause. It is clear that the US, the occupation and some Arab and regional powers are cooking up the ‘deal of the century’ which will be announced after Israeli elections.”
Meanwhile, pressure by the US, Israel and Europe is mounting on Arab players to finance the plan and force the Palestinian leadership to accept it, he continued.
The money earmarked by some Arab countries is very tempting considering current living conditions there. “The complex and fractured Palestinian situation could also enable the implementation of a regional solution that is forced on the Palestinians,” he said.
Obeidat continued that in light of these dangers, statements by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu assert that 22 Arab countries have relations with his country, so there is no need for a Palestinian state; only Jews have the right to self-determination; and Israel is the national homeland for Jews and the rights and demands of the Palestinian people are ignored.
The US State Department’s human rights report has removed the label “occupied” from the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights, which means the US is determined to continue its assault against the Palestinian people, void the Palestinian cause and dismantle the people’s national project.
“I am calling on Hamas and its leadership to revise their policies and positions regarding the mass protests. Responding to the needs of the street and grievances of the people, without accusations of treason and demonisation or suspicious political plots,” Obeidat said.
“Instead, they – along with active forces and factions in Gaza – must remain cautious of any hidden agendas or anyone trying to ride the wave of popular and peaceful dissent to serve their own political agendas and interests.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 March, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Breaking point in Gaza