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‘They hijacked Gaza’: Palestinians hold rare online events critical of Hamas

Public dissent is unusual in the coastal enclave, where the terror group frequently cracks down on those who criticize it

Palestinians chant slogans during a protest against the ongoing electricity crisis in Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, January 12, 2017. (AFP/MOHAMMED ABED)
Palestinians chant slogans during a protest against the ongoing electricity crisis in Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, January 12, 2017. (AFP/MOHAMMED ABED)

For the past week, Palestinians from Gaza have been participating in a series of social media events criticizing Hamas rule in the Strip, voicing concerns rarely expressed in the repressive enclave.

Under the hashtag “They Kidnapped Gaza,” hundreds of Palestinians have taken part in nightly Twitter conversations lamenting the suffering of ordinary Gazans. While also critical of Israeli restrictions, the speakers regularly attacked what they deemed Hamas’s poor governance and corruption.

“We see the buildings rising in the northern Gaza Strip, the investments, the high-rises. We all see it. You can’t close your eyes to it… We all know that you’re swimming in corruption,” said Jehad, a Palestinian from Gaza, during one of the events.

The conversations are held live in a function relatively new to the social media platform — the Twitter “space.” Any user can launch and administer one, and any user can join and ask to speak.

The freewheeling, often hours-long discussions have drawn young Palestinians from across the West Bank and Gaza, who have few public spaces in which to hold such talks.

Open criticism of Hamas is rare and risky for Palestinians living in Gaza. Hamas security forces are known to arrest those critical of their rule and human rights groups have accused the Islamist terror group of torturing political prisoners.

The organizers of the Twitter spaces are mostly young Gazans who left the enclave following 2019 protests calling for better living conditions.

“In Gaza, you’re told to shut up. Don’t you dare give voice to your pain. Because the shadow of the Internal Security forces is always pursuing your thoughts,” said Suleiman, a resident of Deir al-Balah in Gaza.

The Hamas terror group has ruled Gaza since 2007, when it took over the enclave following a bloody civil war with their Fatah rivals. Israel and Hamas have since fought four short wars, killing thousands of Palestinians and over 100 Israelis.

Egypt and Israel have imposed a strict 15-year blockade on the Gaza Strip in an attempt to contain Hamas, which both countries view as a serious threat. The movement of goods and people is tightly regulated in an attempt to prevent Hamas from amassing weapons and capital.

Human rights groups lament the blockade’s impact on ordinary Gazans. Around half of Gaza’s population is unemployed, according to the World Bank. Many who can choose to leave the Gaza Strip to study or work abroad eagerly take their chance.

The repeated cycle of war with Israel has left its marks on the Strip. One participant mentioned young demonstrators who were crippled by Israeli gunfire after joining 2018 violent protests along the Gaza fence. According to the United Nations, around 6,000 suffered “life-changing wounds.”

“We go and see the young men in the refugee camps walking with canes. So many wounded. And for what?” said Karim, a Palestinian born in Gaza, but living abroad.

People participate in a rally in the Jabaliya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, marking the 34th anniversary of the founding of Hamas, which rules the coastal enclave, on December 10, 2021. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

But the participants in the Twitter spaces also insisted that Hamas’s poor governance had played a key role in Gaza’s misery. They also accused the terror group of handing jobs and privileges to its members, giving electricity and civil service positions to Hamas affiliated Gazans, rather than filling posts based on merit or need.

“You see situations where one person is unemployed and in his 30s and can’t get married, while a 22-year-old has a job and can afford a car and to get married — just because he’s a Hamas member,” Amjad, who left the Gaza Strip seven years ago, said during one of the Twitter discussions.

“Hamas rules over Gaza, and they’re responsible for the situation within it. Now, of course, they’re not the only ones responsible, and I always emphasize that. But since they govern, they have to acknowledge responsibility,” said Ahmad, a Palestinian born in Gaza, and currently living abroad.

In 2019, hundreds of Gazans took to the streets demanding better living conditions in what became known as the “We Want to Live” rallies. Hamas security forces brutally suppressed the marches, beating and detaining demonstrators, according to rights groups and international observers.

“They didn’t arrest us because we were spies or connected with the [Israeli] occupation in any way. They arrested us and beat us because we spoke our minds, because we wanted a dignified life,” said Amjad.

Many in the terror group’s top leadership also do not live in Gaza, instead residing with their families in Turkey and Qatar, two of Hamas’s key patrons.

“Our problem is with those people who live apart, in a totally different world from the millions in Gaza,” said Suleiman.

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