Palestinians across Gaza have taken to the streets over the past week to demonstrate under the slogan: “We want to live.” Protesters have told us that they were spurred by taxes imposed by Hamas authorities on goods like cigarettes and vegetables and the high cost of living amid Israel’s more than decade-long closure of Gaza.
Hamas security forces have responded by viciously beating demonstrators, as shown in footage we have reviewed; rights defenders, including two senior representatives of the Palestinian watchdog the Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR); and opponents, including the spokesman of Fatah, its political rival movement.
Authorities have also carried out scores of arbitrary arrests – more than 1000 according to ICHR. Among those arrested are at least 17 local journalists, according to the journalist syndicate in Gaza; and six human rights defenders, including representatives of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, Al Dameer Association for Human Rights in Gaza, and Amnesty International. The rights workers and most demonstrators and journalists were released after several hours in detention, though ICHR estimated on March 18 that about 300 remained in detention.
The crackdown isn’t an aberration. In October, we published “Two Authorities, One Way, Zero Dissent,” a report showing that Hamas authorities routinely arrest and torture peaceful critics and opponents with impunity. We found Hamas often holds detainees for short periods, sometimes just hours, but during that time taunts, threatens, beats, and tortures in order to punish critics and, apparently, to deter them from further activism. They’re following the same script in the latest crackdown. In fact, the response appears even more aggressive then the clampdown following protests over the electricity crisis in January 2017 that we highlighted in the report.
About a year ago, the General Director of the Hamas-led Internal Security Forces said in a letter to us that: “peaceful protests are permitted in accordance with law and order.” He wrote Hamas authorities respect all international treaties ratified by the state of Palestine, affirmed free speech is “a guaranteed right,” and proclaimed: “free press is among the key tools… to stand up against oppressors and tyrants.”
That principle apparently doesn’t apply when it’s Hamas doling out the repression.