The current military escalation between Israel and Hamas, sparked by the rocket fired from the Gaza Strip on March 25, 2019 that destroyed a home in central Israel and the March 14 firing of two rockets at Tel Aviv on March 14, 2019, is part of Hamas's efforts to distract public attention from the social and economic protests against it that have been taking place in the Gaza Strip over the past two weeks.
On March 14, 2019, Gaza activists launched the "Want to Live" campaign protesting the high cost of living, rising prices, and unemployment in the Gaza Strip. The protests, held under slogans such as "The Revolution of the Hungry," were triggered by new taxes imposed by Hamas, which is suffering from a lack of funds. The campaign included mass demonstrations, which were violently dispersed by the Hamas security apparatuses. According to reports in the Arab press, the security forces fired into the air, beat protesters, targeted journalists and seized their equipment, and carried out mass arrests of social activists, journalists, and Fatah members, and also raided homes and beat detainees. 
Hamas's official position is that most of the protests are not authentic, but are organized by Fatah's security apparatuses as part of their efforts to sow chaos in Gaza. In a statement, Hamas accused Fatah's General Intelligence Service, headed by Majed Faraj, of being behind the protests and of exploiting the plight of Gazans to achieve political goals. Despite this, apparently in response to the criticism over its violent suppression of the protests, Hamas also expressed sorrow over any harm caused to protesters and stressed its commitment to freedom of speech and freedom of nonviolent protest. Hamas Interior Ministry spokesman Iyad Al-Bozm also accused the Palestinian Authority (PA) of instigating the protests, and said that information indicates that "officers from Ramallah" incited Gazans to riot in return for renewing their salaries, which were cut by the PA as part of its sanctions on Hamas. He added that the PA and Fatah have been circulating on social media old videos from the Hamas-Fatah clashes of 2007, or from other Arab countries, presenting them as footage of Hamas's suppression of the current protests. Al-Bozm claimed that most of the detainees have already been released and that the reports on social media inflate the scope of the incidents. On March 18, Fatah's spokesman in Gaza, 'Atef Abu Saif, was severely beaten by masked men, and Fatah called this an attempt on his life by Hamas.
The violent suppression of the protests was harshly criticized by Hamas's political rivals, the PA and Fatah. PA media have been extensively covering the protests, presenting statements by its spokesmen and activists and publishing many articles on Hamas's suppression of them, depicting this as a desperate attempt by Hamas to preserve its separatist rule in Gaza at any cost. Facebook pages associated with Fatah have been posting videos and photographs of the protests and of protesters who have been beaten.
However, criticism of Hamas was also voiced by members of the movement itself and by its supporters. Hamas leaders, as well as mid-level and junior activists, in both Gaza and the West Bank, expressed solidarity with the goals of the protest, condemned Hamas's violent reaction to it, and called on the movement to have sympathy for the protesters and to change its policies. Criticism was also heard from journalists known for their support of Hamas. It should be noted that in recent years there have been precedents for such criticism from inside the movement.
Symbol of the "Want to Live" campaign protesting the high cost of living, rising prices and unemployment in the Gaza Strip (Source: Facebook.com/416655539140185, March 16, 2019)
Below are excerpts from statements by Hamas members and supporters criticizing the movement's reaction to the protests.
Former Advisor To Hamas Political Bureau Head: Hamas Must Acknowledge Its Mistakes, Apologize, And Make Amends
On Facebook, Hamas official Ahmad Yousuf, a former advisor to Hamas's political bureau head Isma'il Haniya, posted numerous times expressing solidarity with the protesters and urging Hamas to admit that mistakes were made and to make amends for them. At the same time, he claimed that the protests are not directed specifically against Hamas and that Fatah is behind them.
On March 16, he wrote: "I support this measure [of the Gaza protests] and oppose violence and destruction. These [protests] do not mean that the public is against Hamas, for [Hamas] is part of the public. The [protesters'] messages are directed at three elements: the occupation, the region, and the international community, and their gist is: 'we want to live.' We must admit that we have failing municipalities and certain leaders that are interested in nothing but taking [taxes] from the slaughtered people!..."
In other posts, he wrote: "Yes, there are those who incite and direct these protests, and these people must be monitored and prosecuted. But don't the hungry have a right to cry out [in protest]? Popular activity is not always rebellion. It is a powerful message intended to draw the authorities' attention to actions and mistakes that must be corrected. Those who cannot read the tears of hunger and sorrow on the faces [of the Gazans] have no right to ask the masses to follow them. If poverty was [equally] shared [by all], people would have been more accepting."
One of Ahmad Yousuf's posts: "Popular activity is not always rebellion. It is a powerful message intended to draw the authorities' attention to actions and mistakes that must be corrected." (Source: Facebook.com/profile.php?id=100008293455786, March 16, 2019.)
Yousuf wrote further: "We must understand that our authorities [i.e. the PA] are corrupt and tyrannical, and that their encouragement of these [protests] is not motivated by concern for the nation but [by a desire] to cover up their failure and submission to the occupation... For the message of the popular [protest] to reach those in charge and the decision-makers, there is need to appoint a leadership that will speak for [the protesters] and [pose] definite demands that can form a basis for negotiations... Mistakes are being made in the handling of these [protests], and the [Hamas] Interior Ministry must apologize and stop being arrogant, for the public is our national support-base, of which we are proud. Hamas's political leadership must realize the mistakes that have been made and launch national negotiations, before we lose everything...
"The [Palestinian] Authority in Ramallah is in crisis, and is [indeed] involved in incitement and conspiracy against Gaza. But the 'Want to Live' [campaign] will not be its salvation; only reconciliation and an end to the schism [will help it]...
"I advise my brethren in Hamas to meet with the leaders of the factions and hold a press conference [to announce] a decision to suspend the [new] taxes and restrain [the greed of] the municipalities. Our strong movement [Hamas] has grown used to ignoring advice, because [it came from] political rivals, and that is understandable. Therefore, the advice must come from its loyal sons. 
Yousuf summed up his position on the protests in an article he posted on the Amad website, in which he wrote: "The security [apparatuses'] handling of the 'Want to Live' [protests] was unfortunate, in the full sense of the word... because the pictures [of the protests being suppressed] do not contribute to the positive image of the Palestinian struggle... I personally tried to form a considered opinion... [and eventually] took the side of the homeland and the people. I summarized my position in a series of [Facebook] posts, hoping that they would quickly reach the ears of the [Hamas] authorities... so they would take action before the situation gets out of control and something tragic happens...
"Hamas is not opposed to any peaceful activity. On the contrary, its members would come out in their thousands in solidarity [with such activity], but the security apparatuses in Ramallah incited their people in Gaza, infuriated Hamas and caused it to take action – by means of some members of its police and security apparatuses – in ways that evoked negative reactions and accusations that it used unjustified force against justified activity. Hamas has already clarified its position in a statement it issued after the events, in which it apologized for some of the mistakes... This is certainly commendable of the Hamas leadership and will help to ease the tension..."
Hamas Official In The West Bank: I Condemn The Use Of Force Against Any Palestinian For Expressing His Opinion
Hassan Yousuf, a Hamas official in the West Bank, also criticized the movement's handling of the protests, and later claimed that his position represented Hamas as a whole. In a statement to the press he said: "[I] condemn the use of violence and repressive [measures] against any Palestinian for exercising his legitimate right to express his opinion... The Palestinian arena is going through an unfortunate period of political strife and internal escalation [of tension], which has adversely affected the freedom of speech and opinion and the spirit of joint national action." He called to "respect the right of the Palestinian people to voice their opinions in every legitimate way, in the West Bank and Gaza... and stop the political arrests and the security [apparatuses'] persecution, throughout the homeland, [of people] for expressing their opinion or for their political affiliation." In an interview with the Watan news agency, Yousuf reiterated that citizens have a right to stage legal and nonviolent protests, as long as there is no incitement or interference by various interested parties, and added that the main reasons for the protest are the occupation's siege and the PA sanctions on Hamas. He also condemned the attack on Fatah spokesman 'Atef Abu Saif, and visited him in the hospital in Ramallah.
Hassan Yousuf (second from right) visiting 'Atef Abu Saif in the hospital (image: Palsawa.com, March 20, 2019)
Criticism By Other Hamas Activists
Other Hamas activists and supporters have taken to social media to criticize Hamas's suppression of the protests, stating that Hamas must not ignore the people's demands to improve the economic situation and standard of living.
Hamas activist Nader Abu Sharekh wrote on his Facebook page: "Before scattering accusations and doubts, why deny and look the other way? The people [of Gaza] are indeed hungry and exhausted!" In another post, he wrote: "I hope that Hamas will hold an official press conference to announce tax relief, price reductions, the creation of job opportunities, a government austerity program, implementation of the principle of justice, release of political prisoners, and a solution for [citizens'] complaints about injustices. In this way, [Hamas] will meet the needs of our people who are being crushed by poverty and repression, and will also pull the carpet out from under the feet of its political rivals..."
Nader Abu Sharekh on Facebook: "Why deny and look the other way? The people are indeed hungry and exhausted" (Source: Facebook.com/nader.abu.sharekh2019, March 15, 2019)
Raed Al-'Atal, another Hamas activist, announced on his Facebook page that he was quitting the movement. He wrote: "After a series of violations in the Gaza Strip, Hamas security apparatus' implementation of the law of the jungle against demonstrators and their ignoring of all the cries by all reasonable human beings, I hereby announce that I have completely quit the Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood movements..." In a subsequent post, he wrote: "I know that the main organization is not impacted by the absence of one individual, and will not become something else... [The] Hamas [we once knew], by whom we were educated, is not the Hamas of today, that chases children and young people in the streets with clubs, breaks into homes, shatters limbs, and abducts opponents, like any mercenary Arab ruler... Long live the seekers of peace and their positions. Shame on those whose hearts are enveloped in black, and who have been blinded by Allah."
Raed Al-'Atal on Facebook: "I hereby announce that I have completely quit the Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood movements." (Source: Facebook.com/raedelottol, March 18, 2018)
Journalist Fayez Abu Shamala, who writes a column for the Hamas-affiliated Felasteen daily, wrote on his Facebook page: "Oh Hamas, the young people's protests are over, and quiet has been completely restored. But the Gaza residents' problems in life are not over. Think seriously about solutions." He added, in a separate post: "I suggest to Hamas that it transfer the burden of administering the Gaza Strip to those in charge in all the Palestinian organizations, [under] the motto: 'Partners In Resistance, Partners In Responsibility.'"
Fayez Abu Shamala to Hamas: "Gaza residents' problems in life are not over. Think seriously about solutions" (Source: Facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003225133179, March 18, 2019)
'Abd Al-Bari 'Atwan's Al-Rai Al-Yawm Online Daily: Hamas Police's Barbaric Treatment Of The Protestors Is Unacceptable
An editorial in the London-based Al-Rai Al-Yawm online daily owned by journalist 'Abd Al-Bari 'Atwan, a Palestinian originally from Gaza who is known as a Hamas supporter, stated that Hamas's difficult circumstances do not justify its treatment of the protestors.
"It is inconceivable that we, who know the [Gaza] Strip so well, can accept the criminal, humiliating, and barbaric way in which the Hamas police are treating the protestors who are expressing their rage at the absence of a standard of living in the Strip. They are protesting nonviolently against the burdensome taxes on them, on the [high] cost [of living] that has made their lives nearly impossible, and, most importantly, about the unemployment among young people that tops 60% and has pushed many to sail off to sea and risk their lives trying to emigrate.
"Indeed, there is a plot by many far-reaching elements that do not want stability in the Strip [but want] the situation there to implode and the Hamas regime to fail. [PA] President Mahmoud Abbas and the handful of those around him are not hiding their attempt to attain this goal by tightening the noose around the Gazans' necks – even those who support Fatah, the ruling party – by no longer paying salaries, spending thousands on early pensions, and suspending payment of the bill for the fuel that is needed to run [Gaza's] only power plant. In addition, the Israeli occupation state... naturally leads the conspirators...
"We know that the Hamas government is bankrupt because of the strangulation of the economic blockade, and that it cannot now pay even a quarter of the salaries of its officials and security personnel, and that it [cannot meet] the most minimal of the needs of its military arm, that continues to wave the banner of the resistance and to develop rockets and drones. It is natural that this regrettable situation would have ramifications for the residents of the Strip, all of whom are now experiencing an equal degree of poverty, hunger, shortages, and suffering...
"All the above does not prevent us from condemning the Hamas police who barbarically beat protesting women and young people. They are the sons, brothers, and cousins of the members of [Hamas's military wing, the Izz Al-Din] Al-Qassam Brigades, and of its jihad fighters, who constitute the majority of those participating in the March of Return and of the thousands of them who were killed or wounded... We would expect the Hamas police to act like the police in Algeria, which respects the people's right to protest and did not clash with protesters at all...
"We are writing carefully and responsibly because we all are brothers, in the Hamas regime and outside it... Therefore, we expect reasonable people in the Strip and particularly in Hamas to punish all those who harmed the rights and honor of the demonstrators and to apologize to the victims. This is the only way to contain the crisis and block the way of all those who are conspiring. The Hamas leadership and activists must know that they are surrounded by enemies who do not want them to survive, [but want] them uprooted, that their popular bastion is the sole and final refuge for them, and if they [the Hamas leadership] lose this popular bastion, then they and the Palestinian issue will lose everything, at least for now."
Leftist Factions In Gaza: The Protestors Are Right; We Call On Hamas To Apologize For The Repression
Criticism of Hamas came also from the leftist Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip, which met at the office of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and released an announcement expressing support for the protestors' demands for their right to demonstrate, and calling on Hamas to stop the violent suppression and apologize for it. The announcement stated:
"Based on our national responsibility, we maintain that the catastrophic crisis in the Strip is complex and essentially political, caused by the occupation, the siege, and the schism. [However], the [PA's] punitive measures [against Gaza], the decision by top Gaza officials [i.e. the Hamas regime] to further tax [the people] and to invent new fees [for them to pay] have intensified it, as have the price increases and deterioration in the standard of living of our brothers in the Strip... We stress the following:
"1. We absolutely respect the rights and freedoms of the individual and of all, and the people's right to protest nonviolently, and we condemn all types of suppression. We call on Hamas and the Gaza officials to withdraw the security apparatuses and the gunmen from the streets and squares, and to liberate all those imprisoned in the recent activity.
"2. There must be an accounting with all those who were involved in attacking the protestors. In this context, we call on Hamas to apologize for its behavior and for these attacks.
"3. We announce to the young Palestinians in Gaza our support for the just demands [that they expressed] during [the protests] and of the need to defend them [the protests] from attempts to exploit and demonize them..."
The announcement went on to call on the Hamas regime to stop all forms of tax collection for goods, to control the prices of goods, and "not to leave this to manipulation by merchants."
Hamas officials such as Bassem Na'im, head of the Hamas council on international relations and its former minister of health, responded angrily to this announcement, calling it "opportunistic" because of its focus on criticism of the Hamas regime instead of the Israeli siege or the PA sanctions on the Gaza Strip, and stating that it had offered the factions a share of the responsibility for administering the Gaza Strip, but that they had refused the offer, saying that this would deepen the PA-Hamas schism. Also, Palestinian Legislative Council member from Hamas Yahia Moussa called on the Palestinian factions in charge of the Strip who are criticizing the situation to take some of the burden of the regime and help instead of complaining.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 15, 18, 2019.
 Hamas.ps, March 19, 2019.
 Moi.gov.ps, March 19, 2019.
 Al-Ayyam (PA), March 19, 2019.
 For example, Fatah spokesman Osama Al-Qawasmeh criticized Hamas in a statement he issued. Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), March 16, 2019.
 Facebook.com/profile.php?id=100008293455786, March 16, 2019.
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 Amad.ps, March 21, 2019.
 Wattan.tv, March 20, 2019.
 Alwatanvoice.com, March 19, 2019.
 Wattan.tv, March 20, 2019.
 Palsawa.com, March 20, 2019.
 Facebook.com/nader.abu.sharekh, March 15, 2019.
 Facebook.com/nader.abu.sharekh, March 16, 2019.
 Facebook.com/raedelottol, March 18, 2019.
 Facebook.com/raedelottol, March 19, 2019
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