The Palestinian Hamas movement that rules the Gaza Strip has never tolerated any form of criticism. Hamas claims that Palestinian Authority and Fatah leaders who dare to speak out against it are "traitors" and "collaborators" working with the "Zionist enemy." Pictured: Masked Hamas gunmen in the Gaza Strip. (Image source: Abid Katib/Getty Images)
The Palestinian Hamas movement that rules the Gaza Strip has never tolerated any form of criticism. It does not accept any criticism from Palestinians living under its rule in the Gaza Strip. It does not accept any criticism from its rivals in the Palestinian Authority (PA) and its ruling Fatah faction. It certainly does not accept any criticism from Israel or the United States.
Now, Hamas is saying that it does not tolerate any criticism from Arabs. Hamas claims that Palestinian Authority and Fatah leaders who dare to speak out against it are "traitors" and "collaborators" working with the "Zionist enemy."
Arab media personalities who recently criticized Hamas and its allies in the Gaza Strip have now been placed on its list of "traitors" and "collaborators."
Recently, some Arabs, particularly in the Gulf states, Lebanon and Egypt, have spoken out publicly against Hamas and held it responsible for the continued suffering of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. These Arabs, in other words, have dared to speak the truth about Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the two major forces in the Gaza Strip.
One of those Arabs is Nadim Koteich, a prominent Lebanese journalist, who recently accused Islamic Jihad of starting the last round of fighting with Israel. In an interview with the Lebanese LDC TV channel, Koteich said that Hamas and Islamic Jihad, representing the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran respectively, should have turned the Gaza Strip after Israel's withdrawal in 2005 into an opportunity for a Palestinian national compromise. Instead, he said, the two groups have "thwarted all opportunities for peace and have ended up in a prison called Gaza."
This logical and constructive criticism of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, however, has sparked a wave of vicious condemnations against the Lebanese journalist on various Palestinian and Arab social media platforms. Koteich only spoke the truth, particularly his remark about a missed opportunity after the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Back then, some Palestinians were dreaming of turning the Gaza Strip into the "Singapore of the Middle East."
Instead, the situation in the Gaza Strip has since gone from bad to worse. The deterioration reached its peak when Hamas violently seized control of the Gaza Strip after overthrowing President Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority in the summer of 2007.
Hamas, nevertheless, refuses to acknowledge that its rule over the Gaza Strip is the main reason for the ongoing suffering of the Palestinians there. It also refuses to admit that its rocket attacks on Israel have brought disaster on the Palestinians living under its rule. Instead of listening to the voices of its critics, the Hamas leaders continue to blame everyone but themselves for the economic and humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.
One of the techniques Hamas uses to discredit its critics is accusing them of being Israeli and American agents and puppets.
Consider, for example, Hamas's response to the criticism of the Lebanese journalist. Raafat Morra, a senior Hamas official, lashed out at Koteich and other Arab media personalities who dared to speak out against the rulers of the Gaza Strip. "Any [Arab] media figure who attacks the resistance in Palestine or speaks out against our people in the Gaza Strip, needs to check his DNA," the Hamas official said. "Perhaps they will discover that their mothers breastfed them from the cow of the Children of Israel."
In other words, the Hamas official is implying that the Lebanese journalist and any Arab who dares to tell the truth about the situation in the Gaza Strip must be a Jew or somehow connected to Jews.
Morra and other Hamas officials have also strongly denounced Atef Abu Seif, the Palestinian Authority Minister of Culture, who recently said that the Gaza Strip "may be one of the filthiest and worst places in the world because its controlled by Muslim fundamentalists." Of course, Abu Seif was referring to Hamas's responsibility for the harsh conditions of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
No one knows how bad the situation in the Gaza Strip is better than Abu Seif. Last March, he was badly beaten by masked men in the Gaza Strip believed to be members of Hamas. He was transferred to a Palestinian hospital in the West Bank for medical treatment. A few weeks later, Abu Seif was appointed Minister of Culture in the new Palestinian government headed by Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh.
Hamas is now accusing Abu Seif of treason for speaking out against its bad policies and repressive measures against Palestinians. "The Palestinian Authority Minister of Culture is promoting treachery to appease the [Israeli] occupation," Morra, the senior Hamas official, said on Twitter. "Shame on you, and you should not hold any position related to culture. The culture of our people is one of dignity, patriotism, steadfastness and resistance. We call on all Palestinian academics to move quickly to seek the dismissal of Abu Seif from his job as Minister of Culture."
Another Hamas official, Hazem Qassem, accused the minister of "promoting Israeli propaganda" by criticizing the situation in the Gaza Strip. By criticizing Hamas, Qassem said, the minister was assisting Israel in its campaign to "demonize the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian resistance groups there." The Hamas official went on to make a more serious charge against Abu Seif: "Exonerating Israel from its responsibility for the blockade and covering up for the criminal sanctions imposed by the Palestinian Authority leadership on the residents of the Gaza Strip."
If the Palestinian minister ever returns to the Gaza Strip, he would probably be executed by Hamas on charges of "high treason."
Abu Seif is rather fortunate that Hamas allowed him to leave Gaza after he was physically assaulted there. Hamas possibly regrets that he survived the assault. Moreover, it is safe to assume that Hamas also regrets that it allowed him to leave the Gaza Strip for medical treatment in the West Bank.
Koteich, the Lebanese journalist, will also never set foot in the Gaza Strip after what he said about Hamas and Islamic Jihad -- nor will Abbas or any of his senior officials in the West Bank who have been condemning Hamas for the past decade. Hamas has already said that if and when Abbas ever returns to the Gaza Strip, he will be out on trial for "high treason" -- a crime, in the world of the Palestinians, punishable by death.
In an encouraging development, however, Hamas's bloody threats seem to hold little fear for some Arab media figures who continue publicly to state the truth about the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian "resistance" groups there. In recent months, a growing number of Arabs have begun speaking out against Hamas and Islamic Jihad, holding them responsible for destroying the lives of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
It is refreshing to see how these Arabs are not afraid to denounce Hamas and tell the truth about its responsibility for the violence with Israel. Take for example, what Saudi writer and journalist Abdullah al-Sharif recently said:
"Hamas is committing foolish acts against our people in the Gaza Strip. It fires primitive rockets [at Israel] and, in response, brings daily [Israeli] military strikes against the defenseless people. Then, Hamas cries over what has happened to the people. It is better for us to stop the farce of some Palestinian leaders that is killing our people because of the unprecedented stupidity of these leaders."
Such voices from some Palestinians and Arabs are a sign they may have finally woken up to realize that Palestinian leaders, particularly Hamas and Islamic Jihad, are leading their people towards the abyss. If the voices of the critics grow, then there will be hope that one day the extremist camp among the Palestinians will be weakened.
Meanwhile, it seems that only a handful of Arabs and Palestinians are prepared to take the risk of speaking the truth for fear of being labeled "traitors" and "Zionist collaborators" in the social media and mosques.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem, is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at Gatestone Institute.