Hamas marks 10 years in power
BEIT LAHIYA, GAZA STRIP | Grim records mark the 10th anniversary of Hamas rule in Gaza — the longest-ever daily electricity and water cuts, 60 percent youth unemployment, and a rising backlog of thousands waiting for a rare chance to exit the blockaded territory.
Unable to offer a remedy, the Islamic militant group has been doubling down on oppression. It has jailed the few who dare complain publicly, including the young organizers of a street protest against power cuts and an author who wrote on Facebook that “life is only pleasant for Hamas leaders.”
Polls show almost half the people would leave altogether if they could, but that support for the group, despite three short, devastating wars with Israel, is steady at around a third. With potential opponents crushed, there is no obvious path to regime change.
Meanwhile, for most of Gaza’s 2 million people, life is almost certain to get worse.
The international isolation of Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel, will likely continue — and with it the border blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt after the group seized Gaza in June 2007.
A new political program that Hamas hoped would mollify the West and Arab nations instead underscored its ideological rigidity; while softer in tone, the manifesto reaffirms a call to armed struggle and the creation of an Islamic state in historic Palestine, including what is now Israel.
There are also signs that one of Hamas’ remaining foreign backers, Qatar, is in trouble. On Monday, four Arab countries cut ties with the Gulf nation, in part over its support of Islamist groups, such as Hamas. Qatar reportedly asked several Hamas leaders-in-exile to leave.
Hamas also faces financial pressure by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose forces it drove from Gaza a decade ago. Fed up with failed reconciliation efforts, the West Bank-based Mr. Abbas has warned he would cut more Gaza subsidies, such as electricity payments.
Hamas spokesman Salah Bardaweel dismissed suggestions Hamas should step aside, but acknowledged a deal to improve Gaza’s lot is unlikely as long as the 82-year-old Mr. Abbas, who runs autonomous enclaves in the Israelioccupied West Bank, remains in power.
He said Hamas was never given a chance to govern. “How do you hold someone accountable for a failure he did not create?” he said, referring to the blockade. Mr. Bardaweel was recently skewered on social media after asserting Gaza will remain “steadfast.”
Local writer Abdullah Abu Sharekh landed in jail after writing on Facebook that “people are not steadfast.”
“They cannot do anything because [Hamas] rules Gaza with iron and fire. ... You brought Gaza back to the Middle Ages,” he wrote.
Activist Mohammed al-Taluli, 25, said pressure built again several weeks ago as daily rolling power cuts worsened, with four hours of electricity followed by outages of 14 to 18 hours. Mr. al-Taluli said he and his friends received death threats to deter them from protesting, and that it was effective because no one can protect them from Hamas.
“People are asking us every day if we are planning a new demonstration,” Mr. al-Taluli said, speaking in a room decorated with photos of revolutionary idols like Che Guevara. “But ... we are afraid.”
Palestinian rights groups say Hamas practices mirror those of its West Bank rivals. Both governments have carried out arbitrary arrests and mistreated detainees, and both monitor social media and civil society to silence dissent. Over the past decade, Hamas has also executed 28 people, most of them alleged informers, after trials widely condemned as a sham. This includes three men executed last month, after a field tribunal tried them in less than a week.
Grim records mark the 10th anniversary of Hamas rule in Gaza, including: the longestever daily electricity cuts. Thousands are waiting to leave the blockaded territory.