“Whispering in Gaza”: third part of the series on the life of Palestinians under the threat of Hamas

(Screenshot/courtesy CPC)

This article, the third in a series of three, features eight short, lively interviews with residents of the Gaza Strip.

Produced by the Center for Peace Communications, a New York nonprofit organization, the chapters of Whispering in Gaza they are published in INFOBAE because they represent a unique opportunity for ordinary and brave Gazans to tell the world what life is like under Hamas rule.

All interviews were conducted throughout 2022. All interviewees currently reside in Gaza.

During the first and second installments, men and women from Gaza shared their experience of repression, corruption, brutality, brainwashing and warmongering by Hamas. Several also described their involvement in an attempt to confront the Hamas government through street demonstrations in 2019, which Hamas put down with an iron fist.

The latest installment, released amid a new wave of Hamas terror attacks in Israel and Israeli military responses in Gaza, aims to enhance the new debate on the future of Gaza that this series has given rise to. As CPC President Joseph Braude writes on these pages, the first 17 clips have already been viewed several million times. Among its audience in the Middle East, Europe and the Americas, Arabs who have long perceived Hamas as a legitimate “resistance” movement are reacting with dismay at the group’s actual behavior, while Western policymakers have called for reflection. creative about a new approach to the coastal strip.

The first of today’s eight clips chronicles the darkest single tragedy in this series. Two others convey rarely heard Gazan perspectives on Israeli citizens and a standoff with the IDF. As for the remaining five, they offer a platform for Gazans who want to directly address an international audience. These voices answer questions about their hopes and dreams for the future of Gaza, as well as the possible role of outside powers in supporting their objectives.

In addition to the INFOBAE publication of these clips, Al Arabiya presents them in their original Arabic, the Times of Israel presents them in English and French, and the newspaper kayhan publishes an edition in Persian.

All names have been changedand CPC used animation and voice alteration technology to protect the identity of the speakers.

The participants consented to be interviewed in order to convey their ideas and experiences to an international audience, Braude said, adding: “They want these stories to be heard.”

they are called muslims

The late brother of “Samir”, who served in the Palestinian Authority security forces in Gaza, was among those seriously injured in the 2007 Hamas coup. His friends rushed him to the emergency room. Before they could treat him, Hamas militants cut off the electricity and prevented doctors from saving his life. Years of Hamas persecution of his family followed. “These people profess Islam and claim to be religious,” says Samir, “but they massacre people.”

Since Hamas consolidated its hold on Gaza, it has waged a campaign of violence and harassment against Palestinians affiliated with other parties, as well as their families. During the initial 2007 coup, Hamas killed dozens of non-combatants associated with Fatah. Some, like Muhammad Swairki, a cook employed by Fatah, were bound hand and foot and thrown from a 15-story building in Gaza City. As a Hamas commander said in 2014: “The Resistance will show no mercy to anyone who betrays the Resistance and its men to the enemy. They will be dealt with by executions on the ground.”

The Hamas authorities openly accuse its critics of collaborating with Israel. However, as various human rights groups have pointed out, the evidence in these cases is murky at best, and there are no due process guarantees. A 2014 Amnesty International report found that, on numerous occasions, the only evidence of the alleged crime was a confession obtained under torture, used in a “grossly unfair” trial. That year alone, Hamas executed at least 23 people accused of “collaboration.” In periods of heightened tension with Israel, as Philip Luther of Amnesty International noted, “Hamas forces seized the opportunity to ruthlessly settle scores, carrying out a series of unlawful killings and other serious abuses… [acciones] designed to take revenge and sow fear throughout the Gaza Strip.”

Not unlike an occupation

“Majed” recalls how the 2018-2019 Gaza border protests began. “It started with peaceful protest camps,” he says, “but Hamas decided to blow them up.” Gazans were told they would “break the blockade” if they marched across the border, he recalls, “but instead they broke the people.”

Although the March of Return protests were initially started by grassroots activists, Hamas soon turned them towards its own ends. As Gazan political analyst Reham Owda noted, “nothing happens here without Hamas’s approval and Hamas approves the demonstrations.” In an interview, Salah al-Bardawil, a member of the Hamas politburo, boasted that at least 50 of those killed during the protests were Hamas members. Another Hamas stalwart, Khalil Al-Haya, later claimed that Hamas was “at the heart” of the protests.

By co-opting the March of Return, Hamas tried to turn it into a platform for violent cross-border attacks. Hamas’s takeover of the march worried its organizer, Gazan activist Ahmed Abu Artema, who later noted: “The idea was ours, but the actual situation is another story.” Hamas, more than ordinary Gazans, was the biggest beneficiary of the protests. In the words of Mkhaimar Abusada, a professor at Al-Azhar University: “They are the number one winners of this march: they did not have to conceive the idea, but they were able to appropriate it right away.” This left ordinary Gazans suffering the consequences. As Majed observes, “four hundred people were martyred, and no one knows why.”

we are all patriots

“Bassam” would like the world to know that in the 2019 street demonstrations, he and his fellow protesters wanted nothing more than “a government that knows how to run the country”. As proud Palestinian nationalists, they did not expect Hamas to brand them all as “traitors” and “Zionist collaborators.” Furthermore, while they took a truly independent stance for positive change, they were disappointed that they had not “found any international support”. If a new movement for change ever revives, he says, it must have “coordination” with the international community.

The “We Want to Live” Movement first emerged in 2019 as a protest against Hamas’s tax hikes, corruption, and economic mismanagement. As one activist put it, “Hamas has billions of dollars in investments in many countries, while the people [en Gaza] he starves and emigrates in search of work.” The thousands and thousands of Gazans who took to the streets raised non-ideological demands, such as the improvement of living conditions and the end of corruption and nepotism. As the movement grew, Hamas cracked down violently, beating protesters, storming homes and detaining more than a thousand people.

Even without the international support that Bassam calls for, some Gazans have continued to demonstrate, trying to revive the movement online or in exile. Frustration remains high: according to a recent survey, only 7% of Gazans would positively assess their conditions, while the demand for elections stood at 78%. As one organizer said in 2021: “The time is right to demand our right to live, like every other people in the world.” Amal al-Shamaly, another veteran of the protests, stressed that she would refuse to give up: “To reject this bitter reality… I will continue to write against corruption and illegal government decisions that are imposed on us.” Although little has changed for the Gazans, as another organizer of the movement declared: “The demonstrations broke the state of silence and inertia among the Gazans and showed the reality of Hamas.”

Bassam’s appeal for international support for a Gazan movement for change reflects a broader trend among Arab reformers subjected to extremist rule. While sympathetic foreigners shy away from aid for fear of smearing them with the so-called “kiss of death,” the reformists, who still face false charges of “collaboration” and treason, prefer not to be left alone to suffer. stigma without the benefit of real international support.

we used to celebrate together

“Khalil’s” grandparents raised him with stories of better times. In his generation, “we used to attend the celebrations [de los israelíes], and they came to ours”. Palestinians were free to travel from Gaza to Jaffa or Jerusalem, and to work alongside the Israelis. “When you work with Israelis and they trust you,” his grandparents told him, “you can live the life you’ve always wanted.”

Without romanticizing the largely forgotten period between 1967 and 1987 in Gaza, it is worth recalling the context of memories shared by Khalil’s grandparents. In those two decades there was a rapid material improvement in living conditions in the Gaza Strip. Relations between Gaza and Israel led to a steady increase in Gazan workers traveling to the Jewish state, peaking in 1987 at nearly 40% of the workforce. These guest workers enjoyed a daily wage premium roughly 20-40% higher than that of employees in Gaza itself, and represented a huge part of Palestinian GDP.

Gazans also enjoyed much greater freedom of movement. As B’Tselem points out, from 1967 to 1991, “Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip could travel almost freely…Gaza and Israel maintained family ties; students from Gaza studied at universities in the West Bank; and there was extensive trade between Palestinians, regardless of where they lived.” As Nahed al-Ghool, a water delivery man in Gaza, told Al Jazeera: “The best time of our lives was when we were working in Israel, 25 or 30 years ago. We were happy, we were going to Israel, Jordan or Egypt, the roads were open. We lived well, there was money. Today, there is no money.”

My fight goes through communication

“Zainab” would like the world to know that “there is a false stereotype that Palestinians in Gaza love rockets and war.” As the pro-Hamas media works to “instill bloodlust” in the youth, their fight is to tell Israelis and Palestinians alike “that I am a human being here in Gaza, not a beast, a terrorist or a lover of weapons, because in the end, weapons will get us nowhere.”

Hamas’s rhetoric essentially calls for the Gazans to serve as cannon fodder. Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar memorably told the Palestinians: “Everyone who has a gun should take it, and those who don’t have a gun should take a meat cleaver, an ax or whatever knife they can get… from satellites, the entire region should be engulfed in fire.”

Last month, the head of the Hamas Women’s Movement gave an interview in which she described the culture of “martyrdom seekers” promoted by Hamas, in which “a girl has only one goal: to meet her Lord through his blood.” and parts of his body. She added that “most day care centers [de Gaza] they belong to our sisters in Hamas. Children are educated from an early age in this culture… From childhood, they are educated to love Jihad, to want to meet Allah.”

The many Gazans who oppose this worldview are prohibited from saying so. Any attempt at civil pacification is met with harsh repression. In 2020, when a group of Gazan peace activists held a Zoom meeting with their Israeli counterparts, several were detained, beaten, and charged with “treason.” Unsurprisingly, a young Gazan told NPR, “Most Gazans have stopped believing in Hamas and in each other…they don’t feed us, they don’t provide us with anything. How can we build a future with these guys? Ali El-Jeredly, an unemployed 28-year-old Gazan, put it more bluntly: “I want more work than rockets.”

We need a mature government

In recent years, Fadi observes, Gazans have discovered that “the Palestine that Hamas wants to liberate is not the same Palestine from which we, as Palestinians, were expelled. … Now there is a whole people there – in that, a people, and Israel as a whole, that the Palestinians really need.” Although Hamas makes it “extremely difficult to talk about peace,” Fadi believes that “if we could engage with the outside world, it might be possible for the Palestinians in Gaza to regain their humanity. … [y] by recognizing that life has value, they would also see the humanity in the Israelis.”

Hamas often claims that victory is imminent. Last year, Hamas politician Kanaan Abed declared: “The State of Israel will be history.” Palestinians out of Palestine: Prepare your papers. You will return to Palestine after liberation.” Many Gazans see a different reality. As a young Gazan struggling to support his family put it: “My life is like a television screen with no image.”

Instead of opening up new spaces for Gazans, Hamas is enclosing them further. As already noted, in 2021, after Gazan activists held a series of Zoom talks with Israelis to discuss the possibility of peace, Hamas detained a number of them. In a statement, his armed wing declared: “Normalization in all its forms and activities is treasonous, a crime, and is religiously, nationally, and morally unacceptable.” The group’s leader was imprisoned and tortured. Omar Shakir, Israel-Palestine director at Human Rights Watch, said the incident reflects Hamas’s “systematic practice of punishing those whose speech threatens its orthodoxy.”

My dream for Gaza

“Zainab” wants the world to know that he dreams of a Gaza without war and free from religious coercion, where “everyone can find an income and a livelihood.” In this new place, “women are free to remove the hijab or wear it.” It is a Gaza “open to the world”, with cinemas and bars like any other city. “I don’t want there to be wars or rockets,” she says. “We and the Israelis are one people…we should all live in peace.”

In stark contrast to Zainab’s dream of the future, Freedom House gives Gaza an overall score of 11/100, noting that “the political rights and civil liberties of the residents of the Gaza Strip are severely limited.” The Al-Nasser cinema in Gaza City, once one of the largest in the Middle East, was sealed with concrete after clerics denounced it as “pornographic”. Muhammad Aeraar, a Hamas Ministry of Culture official, called cinema “a violation of community traditions and corrosive to its values,” stating that “Gazans do not miss cinema, nor do they feel its absence.” .

Many do not think the same. On a rare occasion when Hamas allowed a film to be shown, hundreds of people attended. Members of the public told the foreign press: “We need to live like humans, with cinemas, public spaces and parks.”

The foundations of our dream are here

“Ibrahim” envisions a prosperous and developing Gaza, at peace with Israel and with itself. He wants the world to know that Palestinians freed from Hamas domination can build such a place for themselves, with a minimum of outside help. “Most of the Hamas leadership has left Gaza,” he observes, “living in Turkey or Qatar and building a better future for themselves and their children.” Let those who want to “break the blockade… come to Gaza and really liberate it,” he says, building a civil society.

The gulf in living standards between Hamas leaders and ordinary Gazans has become increasingly apparent in recent years. In 2019, Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh moved to Qatar with his family, while the group’s deputy leader, Khalil al-Hayya, moved to Turkey soon after. Since then, he has only visited Gaza twice. Fat’hi Hamad, another senior Hamas official, now also resides in Istanbul and often flies to Beirut for meetings in luxury hotels. More than a dozen other senior Hamas officials have followed his lead. This exodus has not gone unnoticed. As Azmi Keshawi, a Gaza analyst at the International Crisis Group, observed, “ordinary Palestinians see that Hamas… [está] living in these comfort zones where they no longer suffer and seem detached from the Palestinian cause and problems.”

Gazans have plenty of reasons for frustration. In the years since Hamas took power, Gaza’s average GDP growth has been 1% a year, one-sixth the growth rate of the West Bank. In periods of relative calm, such as 1997-1999 and 2003-2005, Gaza enjoyed growth rates of up to 17% per year. One study found that if Gaza’s rulers were to take a conciliatory stance toward their neighbors, the territory’s GDP would skyrocket by 40%; the purchasing power of households, 55%; and exports, 625%. In the current bleak conditions, by contrast, young Gazans see their best chance for a decent life in fleeing elsewhere. A woman whose son died trying to leave the coastal strip by sea said: “I blame the rulers here, the Gaza government… They live in luxury while our children eat dirt, emigrate and die abroad.”

Keep reading:

“Whispering in Gaza”, the series that shows the life of Palestinians under the threat of Hamas

“Whispering in Gaza”: second part of the series that shows the life of Palestinians under the threat of Hamas