"O Haniyah, O Abbas, where is the electricity, where is the gas?" and "Shame, shame, to those comfortable in their home," were some of the chants that dozens of frustrated Gaza citizens yelled out during peaceful protests that took place this Sunday, July 30th, on the streets of the besieged strip.
Since Hamas rose to power in 2007, Israel has imposed a severe blockade on the Gaza Strip, home to nearly two million Palestinians, leading to a decline in social and economic conditions, as reported by various human rights organizations. However, the Hamas government has faced repeated criticism and accusations of corruption and/or mismanagement, with some blaming it for exacerbating the plight of Gaza's residents.
In recent days, frequent power outages coincided with soaring temperatures and water shortages in different parts of the Gaza Strip, fueling public anger against the Hamas government.
"The lives of our youth and our future have been squandered away due to the frail government ruling Gaza", and "We want to live"... How did #Hamas handle the peaceful popular demonstrations calling for a dignified life?
Peaceful demonstrations met with repression by Hamas
Earlier, social media in Gaza witnessed calls for demonstrations under the banner of "The 30/7 Revolution" in seven areas representing all parts of the besieged strip. Encouraging slogans like "Come down to the streets... Take part... Demand your rights... We want change...The lives of our youth and our future have been squandered away due to the frail government ruling Gaza" echoed online, with hashtags including #GazaUprising, #30JulyRevolution, #ElectricityRevolution, #WeWantToLive, and #EnoughInjustice.
In response to these calls, dozens went out in peaceful demonstrations, demanding freedom, dignity, access to water, electricity, and job opportunities. Chants of "Hamas, leave us be" were raised in opposition to increasing taxes. Political slogans such as "O Abbas, O Haniyah, we want national unity" and "The people demand an end to the division" reverberated among the protesters. Protesters also called to lift the blockade that has been in place for 16 years, with all these grievances seen as factors contributing to the deteriorating living conditions in the territory. These protests coincided with a meeting of representatives from various Palestinian factions in the Egyptian capital, Cairo.
Meanwhile, activists have accused Hamas of "suppressing" certain peaceful demonstrations and forcibly dispersing protesters. They cite evidence including images and video clips depicting individuals in civilian attire attacking the demonstrators with sticks and batons, and at times, brandishing firearms and making arrests. In response, the protesters engaged in physical confrontations or resorted to throwing rocks to protect themselves.
Amid warnings of an "impending famine" and facing frequent electricity and water cuts, dozens of Gazans hold peaceful protests against "poverty, hunger and division", only to be met with harsh suppression by Hamas security forces, with no local media coverage
Although some activists claim that live bullets were fired by Hamas members to disperse the crowds, Raseef22 was not able to independently verify these claims.
However, the Palestinian News and Information Agency (WAFA) confirmed injuries resulting from Hamas' security clampdown on these popular demonstrations. They reported that Waleed Abdel Rahman, a correspondent for Palestine TV stationed in Jabaliya camp in northern Gaza, suffered physical and verbal assault and was barred from covering or filming the protests.
Ramy Abdu, the founder and president of the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor, took to Twitter to implore authorities in Gaza to "respect individuals' right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, and refrain from resorting to any form of repression." He emphasized that the demonstrations held across various parts of Gaza, demanding improved living conditions, constitute "a fundamental human right firmly enshrined in international human rights law."
Despite constant complaints about the dire conditions in Gaza, protests against Hamas and its management of the besieged territory are a rare occurrence. This is primarily due to fears of repression, accusations of disloyalty, and concerns that such demonstrations could provide Israel with international ammunition to criticize Hamas. While peaceful protests under the banner "We Want to Live" took place in March 2019, they unfortunately did not result in any tangible improvement in the living conditions of the people.
Hamas' disregard for these popular outcries, and the local media's alignment with Hamas in ignoring their coverage, suggest that little will change as long as the official focus remains solely on blaming the Israeli blockade for the deteriorating living conditions without reassessing governmental policies. This was exemplified by "Hamas supporters" taking to the streets in demonstrations supporting the movement, raising their flags and chanting slogans through loudspeakers, including "We sacrifice our soul and blood for you, Al-Aqsa," and other chants against the Israeli blockade.
Gazan activists criticized journalists, media personalities, and influencers who failed to use the available tools to amplify the voices of their people, who took to the streets to protest ïn the name of hunger, poverty, injustice, and the blockade." Among these activists is Nour Al-Najjar, followed by over half a million people on Instagram.
Nour expressed in a video clip, "Go and see the youth on the streets demanding an end to poverty and injustice, the young man standing in the face of those who want to suppress him. As for the journalist who didn't cover the movement because he's afraid, it's shameful for him to be a journalist; this is a peaceful movement. Whoever is speaking out today, that is your brother and your cousin and your friend. Being a journalist means covering everything that happens, regardless of whether it's for or against your affiliations."
In Gaza, the unemployment rate hovers around 50%, and nearly 83% of the population lives below the poverty line, with 60% relying on food aid provided by UNRWA. What has Hamas done to improve the living conditions of its citizens?
Warnings of an "impending famine"
The furious protests erupted in Gaza just hours after a warning from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) about the dire situation in the besieged territory, which threatens thousands of residents with an "impending famine."
UNRWA's Commissioner-General, Philippe Lazzarini, stressed that the agency's operations are at risk of halting in September unless additional resources are secured from member states. He emphasized that $300 million is urgently needed to sustain their work until the end of this year.
UNRWA plays a crucial role by providing health, food, education, and development services to over 5.9 million Palestinian refugees scattered across 58 camps in Gaza, the West Bank, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon.
Within Gaza alone, approximately 1.14 million Palestinian refugees rely on the food basket distributed by UNRWA, constituting around 80% of the refugees in Gaza and roughly 60% of the total territory's 2.3 million inhabitants.
UNRWA reports highlight the complexities of living conditions in Gaza, with an alarming unemployment rate of around 50%, based on official Palestinian figures. Furthermore, about 83% of the population lives below the poverty line, a consequence of the deteriorating political and economic climate.
UNRWA spokesperson Adnan Abu Hasna aptly describes the agency as the "lifeline for Palestinian refugees in Gaza", raising an important question: Who else can shoulder the burden of the hundreds of thousands of students in UNRWA schools?
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