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November 15, 2021 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1604

Economic, Social Protests Against Hamas Flare Up Again In Gaza: 'We Want To Live'; The Economic Hardship Has Become Intolerable; Hamas Officials Are Out Of Touch With The People

November 15, 2021 | By S. Schneidmann*
Palestine | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1604

In the last few days, economic and social protests against the Hamas authorities in Gaza have erupted again, led by the "We Want to Live" movement and online campaign. The campaign was first launched in March 2019 to protest the high cost of living and the unemployment in Gaza, and included mass demonstrations that were brutally suppressed by Hamas' security apparatuses.[1] So far, the renewed campaign is largely confined to social media, but some activists warn it may soon escalate into street protests against Hamas, like the ones in 2019.[2]

Two events in the recent weeks led to the resurgence of the protest.  One was the drowning of three Gazan migrants when their boat capsized between Turkey and Greece. The three were trying to flee Gaza due to the dire economic situation.[3] The second was a wave of outrage on social media about the extravagant lifestyles of Hamas officials and their families. The outrage was sparked by reports about the son of Hamas official Ghazi Hamad who had given his elder brother a luxurious honeymoon in Sinai as a wedding gift. Many Gazans saw this as insensitivity on the part of the Hamas leadership and as a reflection of its obliviousness to the reality of the Gazan people.[4]

In response to these events, the "We Want to Live" official Facebook page posted condolences to the families of the drowning victims, and voiced harsh criticism against Hamas. The page blamed Hamas for the  dire situation in the Gaza Strip, and accused it of subjecting Gazans to oppression, deprivation and political pressure of such magnitude that they prefer to risk their lives trying to migrate. It also condemned Hamas officials for driving fancy vehicles and living in mansions while the people of Gaza suffer. These messages were echoed by Gazans on social media, many of them posting under the hashtag #WeWantToLive and related hashtags.  

Fearing the spread of the protest, Hamas tried to contain it and appease the protesters, while also questioning the authenticity of the campaign and claiming that external elements, such as Israel or the Palestinian Authority (PA), are behind it in an attempt to destabilize Gaza. So far Hamas has alluded to the renewed protest only indirectly. While paying his respects to the families of the Gazan migrants who drowned, Hamas political bureau head Isma'il Haniya stressed that "the Zionist occupation is the main reason for the suffering of the Palestinians and the siege [on Gaza]," and that Hamas is doing everything it can to allow the Gazans to live in dignity and provide the young people with a better future. He stated that Hamas is well aware of the plans to harm Gaza, and that "it will not allow anyone to use the [Gazans'] hardship to sow division among the Palestinians."[5]  A November 10 article in Hamas' mouthpiece Filastin claimed that the "We Want to Live" Facebook page was created  by the Shin Bet (Israel's internal security service) in order "to incite the people of the Gaza Strip against the resistance [i.e., Hamas]."[6]

Figures close to Hamas, such as columnist Fayez Abu Shamala, rejected the claim about the dire economic situation in Gaza. He tweeted that "nobody is going to bed hungry in Gaza" and that the Gazan's economic and security situation "is better than that of most people in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Tunisia."[7]

At the same time, Hamas is preparing to suppress the protest. According to a report on the Palestinian Al-Ayyam daily, Hamas' security apparatuses summoned campaign activists for a warning talk, and also demanded that Palestinian Left-wing movements keep their members from participating in the protests.[8]


Logo of the "We Want to Live" campaign (Facebook.com/profile.php?id=100041747261199)

This report reviews the protest against the Hamas regime in Gaza that has resurfaced on social media as part of the "We Want to Live" campaign.

The Campaign: "The People Can No Longer Stand The Deprivation"; Hamas Officials Are Living In Luxury, Oblivious To The People's Plight

On November 6, 2021, amid reports about the drowning of the Gazan migrants off the Turkish coast, the official Facebook page of the "We Want to Live" campaign posted a message addressed to the Hamas "leaders in Gaza," demanding that they stop ignoring the people's suffering, and warning that, if the situation does not improve, protests will break out in the streets. The message said: "This is an announcement by the Palestinian 'We Want to Live' popular protest movement. Like all Palestinian citizens in Gaza, we have been following the anguished cries of our oppressed young people, who found themselves helpless at sea without a compass, clinging to a faint spark of hope that they could not find in their homeland… Only a stony-hearted person, whose flame of humanity has been extinguished… can ignore these cries. Who will condemn the heroic Gazan leaders… who [drive] SUVs, whose residences have become like palaces, and who, [like Ghazi Hamad's son,] give wedding presents such as airline tickets and invitations [to stay] at hotels in the most luxurious tourism resorts[?]  In the words of [Iraqi] poet [Ahmed Matar]:[9] 'Don't leave the people hungry. Protect them, for when people are hungry, they behave like ferocious beasts.'

"O leaders of Gaza, the public can no longer stand the deprivation. The levels of poverty and unemployment, and the poor living conditions, are not [just] statistics that allow you to whimper at the doors of the donors, [begging for] support that does not [eventually] benefit the people or improve their lives. The ongoing conduct of the government in Gaza proves without a doubt that the leader in his ivory tower does not see the people, and that he is almost completely out of touch with their reality. Based on the above, we remind the leader of Gaza, Mr. Yahya Sinwar, of his past promises to respect the right of nonviolent protest  and free speech. The sincerity of that promise will be put to the test in the coming days…"[10] 

"Another announcement posted on the Facebook page the next day, headed "raise your head, brother, for the age of deprivation and tyranny is over," likewise called on Hamas to heed the dire situation of the Gazans, whose lives have become "hell." It said: "We, [activists of] the Palestinian 'We Want to Live' movement, convey our sincere condolences and sorrow to our steadfast fellow Palestinians throughout the homeland and the diaspora. We note in particular the families of the martyr Nasrallah Al-Fara, [known as] Abu Adham, who drowned after a painful journey in the Aegean sea between Turkey and Greece, while trying to migrate and find a dignified life after his suffering in Gaza had become more than he could bear.  O our steadfast people who defy the tyrants! We in the 'We Want to Live' movement stress that the martyr Nasrallah Al-Fara was a victim of the economic, political and social pressure and of the economic situation in the Gaza Strip, so much so that the homeland he loved became foreign soil for him… and for the coffin holding his body… This incident compels every official, whether in the [West] Bank or in the Gaza Strip, to pause and take heed… The death of the martyr Al-Fara should be a wake-up call, [urging the rulers] to protect the Gazan Palestinians before its too late, strengthen them in their homeland and put an end to what is causing the young people of Gaza to migrate and is turning their lives into an intolerable hell…"[11]


Photo posted on Facebook of Muhammad Ghazi Hamad's wedding gift to his brother(Source: Facebook.com/hanan.aljaroo, November 6, 2021)

Gazans On Social Media Slam Hamas, Call For Its Downfall

Many Gazans on social media expressed solidarity with the "We Want to Live" campaign, voicing  harsh criticism against Hamas and calling for its removal from power.

Instead Of "Change And Reform" We Got Poverty, Unemployment And Migration From Gaza

Many social media users held Hamas responsible for the drowning of the migrants and for the dire  economic and social situation in Gaza. User Yousef Atef wrote: "The slogan [of the Hamas candidates in the 2006 PA parliamentary elections] was 'Change and Reform,' [but in practice we got] suicides, poverty, unemployment, theft, killing, addiction, [high] living costs, and migration of young people…"[12] User Mahmoud Al-Faqa'awi wrote: "O divine [Hamas] leader, when you have fish for dinner, remember that those fish had our [drowned] sons for dinner."[13]

The Young People Of Gaza Drown While The Hamas Official's Son Stays In Fancy Hotels

Other posts accused Hamas of hypocrisy and corruption, saying it purports to be pious yet allows its officials to grow rich at the expense of the people. User Raed Mohsen wrote: "The young people of Gaza: one of them vacations in Sharm Al-Sheikh hotels, while the other dies in the Aegean sea."[14]

User Muhammad 'Abed wrote: "Anas Abu Rajila [one of the drowned migrants] was eaten by the fish of the sea, [while] the people of Gaza, two million souls, are being eaten by the whales of the land [i.e., Hamas leaders], who do not fear Allah, [but] trade in the religion and suck [our] blood. Allah have mercy upon you, Anas, upon Abu Adham [who also drowned] and upon [all] the martyrs [seeking] bread to eat. #WeWantToLiveYouSonsOfDogs"[15]


Thousands attend the funeral of Anas Abu Rajila, one of the young men who drowned while trying to migrate from Gaza (Souce: Safa.ps, November 14, 2021)

Calls To Protest Against Hamas And Overthrow It: "If You Want To Change Reality, Take To The Streets"

Other posts by the supporters of the campaign called to take the protest to the streets, while predicting that Hamas will act to suppress it, as it did in 2019. User Jihad Abu Muhammad wrote: "If you want to change reality – take to the streets. #WeWantToLive: These are the words that rock the seats of the usurping [tyrants]…"[16]

Another user, Abu Anas Hamam, wrote: "As we retrieve the bodies of the young people who drowned in the sea, [the leaders] of Gaza hold meetings of fear and plotting, preparing to fight those who have drowned here, on Gazan soil. [Hamas'] security apparatuses are instructing their men and telling them to produce lists of the revolutionaries who are demanding their rights by force. They want the names of everyone who has written 'We Want to Live.' If you are serious [about protesting, write it]  a lot, in order to realize your dreams. #WeWantToLive."[17] User Faig Sabla wrote: "To live in dignity, Gaza must rid itself of the Islamists [i.e., the parties identified with the Muslim Brotherhood], like Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia have done. It's up to the people, who brought them to power [in the first place]..."[18]

Gazan Facebook User: This Is A Revolution; [Let's] Overthrow The Hamas Regime In Gaza, Return Power To The People

User Khamsat Baladi echoed all these messages in a long series of posts, and called explicitly to remove Hamas from power in Gaza, writing: "[Let's] overthrow the Hamas rule in Gaza and bring power back to the people… #WeWantToLive is a revolution, not [just] a movement… [A revolution] against deprivation, corruption and the [high] cost [of living], against the son of [Hamas] official [Ghazi Hamad] and against his father… O masked resistance fighters, you are either with me, or you will execute us in the [city] squares… Fifteen years of deprivation, poverty, oppression, torture, and executions, both physical and spiritual – and you are still afraid [of Hamas]?... When the train of protest against the deprivation, oppression, mismanagement and corruption sets forth, [Hamas'] guns will not stop it… [O Hamas official,] I did not elect you  to bring me donations from Qatar… I did not elect you so you will cause me to migrate from my country and drown in the sea… I did not elect you so that, if I say #WeWantToLive, you will torture me in your jails and set your dogs on me… I did not elect you so that my mother would sell her golden [jewelry] so I would finish university, only to find myself unemployed… I did not elect you so that you would deprive me of my freedom of speech… This is Gaza, not Tehran…"[19]


One of Khamsat Baladi's posts: "[Let's] overthrow the Hamas rule in Gaza and bring power back to the people… #WeWantToLive"

Former Hamas Activist Who Left The Movement: "Allah, Shatter The Homes And The Honor Of The Hypocrites Who Trade In The Religion And The Homeland"

Writer Khadar Mahjaz, a former Hamas activists who was arrested several times and even fired from the faculty of Gaza University for harshly criticizing the Hamas movement,[20] wrote on Facebook after the drowning of the migrants: "If they [the Hamas authorities] keep you from going to the mosques, pray alone in your homes for the souls of those who died [trying to] migrate, and ask Allah for wellbeing and grace… God, shatter the homes and the honor of the hypocrites who trade in the religion and the homeland. God, take in your hand and shatter with your power every official in the governments of the two Palestinian homelands [i.e., Gaza and the West Bank] who has brought [us] to this [state], and every cleric here [in Gaza] and there [in the West Bank] who kept silent and did not fight [this situation]…"[21]


Khadar Mahjaz's post

Hamas In Response To The Renewed Protest Campaign: "Outside Elements" Are Behind It; Security Measures Will Be Taken

Hamas has yet to respond officially and explicitly to the resurgence of the "We Want To Live" campaign, but it appears that its position has not changed since 2019, and that it does not intend to dialogue with the protesters or address their demands. Hamas is evidently treating the protest as a campaign or conspiracy by outside elements, chiefly Israel or the PA, trying to destabilize Gaza. This position was expressed by Hamas political bureau head Isma'il Haniya in his conversation with the families of the drowned Gazan migrants. He said that  "the Zionist occupation is the main reason for the suffering of the Palestinians and the siege [on Gaza]," and added that Hamas is well aware of the plans to harm Gaza and "will not allow anyone to use the [Gazans'] hardship to sow division among the Palestinians."[22]  A November 10 report in Hamas' mouthpiece Filastin claimed that the Israeli security apparatuses were behind the Facebook campaign.

Hamas Columnist: Gazans' Economic Situation Is Better Than Most Arabs'

Hamas' dismissive position vis-a-vis the protest was echoed by Fayez Abu Shamala, the former mayor of Khan Younis and a columnist for Filastin. In a series of tweets in response to the resurgence of the protest campaign, he wrote: "The people of Gaza suffer from the siege and violence of the occupation, and conduct military campaigns against the invaders, but their economic situation is better than that of most people in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Tunisia. Don't believe the defeatists. Nobody is going to bed hungry in Gaza, and nobody fears for his life, honor or money…"[23]


Fayez Abu Shamala's post

Abu Shamala's tweets evoked furious responses on social media. User saleh el-segaly wrote: "You are a mouthpiece [for Hamas], and your statements are false. The economic situation is catastrophic, and you are spreading propaganda for the rulers of Gaza. Have some respect for yourself before anything else, and stop it. Don't beautify the ugly picture. Our economic situation is dire, and there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people who go to bed hungry because of this situation.[24] User Abu Jasser addressed Abu Shamala, saying: "I swear to Allah, I don't know what  to answer you. Are sure you live [here] with us?"[25]

User Ashraf Jamal wrote: "Stop falsifying facts to please your superiors. You are describing the living standards of the rulers and their children, but the [ordinary] people have never lived like this."[26] User Amal Alshafie tweeted: "Stop lying to people. I can't get any food, I live on coupons. Young people are penniless. They work from morning to evening for 20 shekels that only cover the cost of their cigarettes… Many of them die at sea trying to [to flee] the violence of the rulers. Don't falsify the facts!"[27]

User Wael Al-Halabi wrote: "Fayez, step out of your car and walk a few steps to Al-Mu'askar market. Go see the people lying in the street because they have no income. You don’t have to go far. Pass by Nasser hospital and hear the cries and the stories of the staff and the patients. Then go the outskirts of the Al-Namsawi and Al-Qatatwa neighborhoods. I don’t want to weary you by telling you to go to Rafah, Beit Hanoun or even eastern Khan Younis."[28] 

Despite these harsh responses, Abu Shamala continued to tweet in the same vein, blaming Israel and the PA for the dire poverty in Gaza (thus essentially contradicting his previous claim that there is no hunger there). He also reiterated the claims in the Filastin report, that the "We Want to Live" campaign is managed by the Israeli security apparatuses.[29]  

 

*S. Schneidmann is a research fellow at MEMRI.

 

[2] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), November 8, 2021.

[3] Wafa.ps, November 7, 9, 2021.

[4] Responding to the anger, Ghazi Hamad's son published a clarification, stating that the gift was not extravagant and had not been paid for with public funds, and asking not to link his personal life to "the political situation." Facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003892993088, October 28, 2021; Facebook.com/MohammeGhazi, November 6, 2021.

[5] Hamas.ps, November 12, 2021.

[6] Felesteen.news, November 10, 2021. In 2019 Hamas claimed that the campaign was being run by the PA's General Intelligence Service in Ramallah.

[7] Twitter.com//fayez2013851, November 6, 2021.

[8] Al-Ayyam (PA), November 14, 2021.

[9] This poet wrote frequently about the political situation in Arab countries, criticizing the regimes' treatment of the people and demanding freedom and rights. His poems angered the regimes, and he was imprisoned several times and also expelled from Kuwait, where he resided and worked for a while.

[10] Facebook.com/we.wanna.live1, November 6, 2021.

[11] Facebook.com/we.wanna.live1, November 7, 2021.

[12] Facebook.com/profile.php?id=100042210424925, November 6, 2021.

[13] Facebook.com/profile.php?id=100006768662671, November 6, 2021.

[14] Facebook.com/raed.mohsen.509, November 6, 2021.

[15] Facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003773345466, November 6, 2021.

[16] Facebook.com/profile.php?id=100072026508783, November 6, 2021.

[17] Facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003804735451, November 7, 2021.

[18] Facebook.com/profile.php?id=100032833370367, November 6, 2021.

[19] Facebook.com/KHAMSA22, November 6, 2021.

[21] Facebook.com/profile.php?id=100057020160919, November 8, 2021.

[22] Hamas.ps, November 12, 2021.

[23] Twitter.com/fayez2013851, November 6, 2021. It should be mentioned that in 2019 Abu Shamala was among those who called on Hamas not to ignore the demands of the protesters but to address the urgent needs of the Gazans.

[24] Twitter.com/salooh198, November 7, 2021.

[25] Twitter.com/abo90jasser88, November 6, 2021.

[26] Twitter.com/shevoo_95, November 6, 2021.

[27] Twitter.com/amalalshafie4, November 6, 2021.

[28]Twitter.com/waelalhalapi, November 6, 2021.

[29] Twitter.com/fayez2013851, November 9-10, 2021.

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