Hamas-run ministry fails to report injuries connected to internal Gaza protests

Hamas security forces have beaten protesters, and rights group has reported injuries including bone fractures; official declines to explain why ministry has not published data

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Palestinians in Gaza protest against the high cost of living and taxes in the coastal enclave on March 15, 2019. (anonymous resident of Gaza)
Palestinians in Gaza protest against the high cost of living and taxes in the coastal enclave on March 15, 2019. (anonymous resident of Gaza)

Since Hamas security forces first violently cracked down earlier this month on protests against the high cost of living and taxes in the Gaza Strip, the Hamas-run health ministry has failed to report any injuries.

Footage of the protests posted on social media has shown Hamas security forces beating demonstrators with batons, firing bullets into the air and carrying out arrests. The Independent Commission for Human Rights, a Palestinian Authority-created rights group, has reported a number of injuries including bone fractures. The ICHR also has said that one demonstrator in Rafah was shot in the leg.

Meanwhile, social media users have posted photos on Twitter and Facebook of demonstrators they said Hamas security forces had injured. The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate has also said that security forces have mistreated reporters, in some cases physically harming them, and prevented them from documenting events.

The recent protests have been seen as a challenge to the Hamas terror group, which has ruled Gaza since taking it over in 2007 when it ousted the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority from the territory.

A Gaza health ministry official, who asked to remain nameless, declined to explain to The Times of Israel why the government body has not published any data on injuries.

The official referred questions to health ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra, who did not respond to calls or text messages.

In contrast, the ministry has consistently published data on injuries Palestinians have sustained at protests in the border region between Israel and the Gaza Strip, which have taken place almost every week since March 30, 2018.

In the past year, thousands of Palestinians have suffered injuries as a result of Israeli gunfire at the protests in the border area, according to the ministry.

The protests along the frontier, which have included acts of violence against Israeli security forces, have demanded Israel lift its restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza and called for the return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to lands that are now a part of the Jewish state.

Israeli officials say that the return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants would destroy Israel’s Jewish character. They also maintain that the restrictions on movement are in place to prevent Hamas and other terrorist groups from smuggling weapons into the Strip.

The ministry has also created multiple infographics to break down the types of injuries Palestinians have sustained at the border protests and held multiple press conferences to explain their extent.

Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director for Human Rights Watch, sharply criticized the ministry over its failure to publish data on injuries connected to the internal protests in Gaza.

Human Rights Watch’s Israel and Palestine director Omar Shakir at his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah on May 9, 2018. (AFP Photo/Abbas Momani)

“Hamas authorities frequently speak about their commitment to transparency and the human rights of Palestinians, yet its health ministry refuses to publish statistics about injuries stemming from protests against its policies while regularly doing so during the [border protests] — just the latest manifestation of how it has turned the government into an instrument to advance its narrow partisan interests,” he wrote in a text message.

While the most substantial protests against the high cost of living took place on March 14-17, organizers were continuing to call on Palestinians to take to the streets as of late last week.

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