Hamas's brutal methods of suppression and torture have deterred a large number of Palestinians from speaking out. Recently, a Palestinian activist detained by Hamas in Gaza apparently tried to commit suicide while in Hamas detention. Palestinians who have spent time in Hamas detention say they were subjected to various types of physical and psychological torture. (Image source: iStock. Image is illustrative)
Hamas leaders are scared. Of what? That Palestinians will return to the streets of the Gaza Strip to demand that their leaders govern rather than tyrannize. The living conditions of Palestinians in Gaza have gone from abysmal to worse.
That is why the leaders of Hamas recently ordered their security forces to detain several Palestinian activists for allegedly planning another wave of protests similar to those that swept the Gaza Strip earlier this year.
Last March, Hamas security forces used excessive force to break up demonstrations held in various parts of the Gaza Strip under the banner "We Want to Live!"
The demonstrations were organized by Palestinians to protest the longstanding economic crisis, including soaring unemployment and increased taxes imposed by Hamas on the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Dozens of Palestinians were injured and arrested during the demonstrations, including human rights activists and journalists.
Hamas managed to crush the March protests, thereby drawing strong condemnations from many Palestinians who accused the rulers of the Gaza Strip of acting like ruthless dictators against peaceful demonstrators.
Palestinian journalist and political analyst Hamadeh Faraneh said that Hamas has shown that it is not capable of ruling its people. "By resorting to repression and brutal force, Hamas has emerged as the loser," he said.
Palestinian professor Abdel Sattar Qassam denounced the Hamas crackdown on the peaceful demonstrations as "disgraceful," while several commentators in the Arab world lashed out at Hamas's "policy of breaking the bones" of its critics.
Hamas's rivals in Fatah, the West Bank-based ruling faction headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, also joined the chorus of critics. Osama Qawassmeh, a senior Fatah official, described the protests in the Gaza Strip as a "revolution of the hungry" against Hamas's corrupt and failed administration.
Since then, the situation in the Gaza Strip has seen no improvement, mainly because Hamas cares a great deal more about investing millions of dollars in amassing weapons and preparing for war against Israel than about its own people.
Hamas's leaders have nothing to offer their people other than fiery anti-Israel rhetoric and empty promises, such as the pledge to "thwart" US President Donald Trump's upcoming Middle East peace plan, also known as the "Deal of the Century."
Aware of their embarrassing failure to alleviate the economic crisis or offer their people any kind of hope, Hamas leaders, once again, appear to be wary of the possibility that another wave of protests could erupt in the Gaza Strip.
As experience has shown, when the Hamas leaders are feeling unsettled, they issue instructions to their security forces and militiamen to act quickly against potential "troublemakers."
Several Palestinian political activists have been taken into custody by Hamas security officers in the past few days. They include: Amin al-Hajeen, Mohammed Kheir al-Din, Samed Abu al-Jidyan, Ghassan al-Arabeed, Mohammed Daher, and Shawkat Abu Safiyeh.
The detainees, known as outspoken critics of Hamas, are currently being interrogated by Hamas security forces on suspicion they were planning fresh protests against extreme economic hardship.
Abu Safiyeh, a representative of the PLO's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in the Gaza Strip, was arrested after he published a Facebook post criticizing Hamas's corruption. Here are some of the things he wrote that landed him in prison:
"Fifteen years ago, Hamas raised the slogan of 'Islam is the solution' -- the solution to liberate all Palestine and not give up an inch; the solution to eliminate cronyism and corruption; the solution to bring economic and social security; the solution to a happy and enjoyable life. Hamas came to power through deception and after having misled the people. Now, there is rampant corruption [under Hamas]. The corruption is in all institutions, including the judiciary and the police. Today, the corruption is organized and managed by Hamas. The corruption is at the top of the pyramid. It is the corruption of politics, the corruption in the administration, the corruption in employment, the corruption in relief aid.
"As for economic security, this is a major calamity that befell the Palestinian people in Gaza. Palestinians are lamenting their poverty. There are no businessmen left: they have either been arrested for unpaid debts or have fled the Gaza Strip or are standing in line to receive relief aid. As for Hamas officials and their affiliates, they have become owners of real estate, agencies and companies."
These are powerful words coming from a Palestinian living under Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip. In fact, after his critique of Hamas, Abu Safiyeh is lucky that he is still alive.
Last week, reports surfaced that a Palestinian activist detained by Hamas had been rushed to hospital in critical condition. He had apparently tried to commit suicide while in Hamas detention. Palestinians who have spent time in Hamas detention say they were subjected to various types of physical and psychological torture.
A human rights group in the Gaza Strip called for setting up a commission of inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the detainee's purported attempt to take his own life. The appeal, however, is unlikely to leave an impression on the rulers of Hamas, whose only concern seems to be to ensure that no Palestinian dares to raise his or her voice against the corruption and repressive measures.
Commenting on Hamas's growing predicament and paranoia, former Palestinian Authority minister Hassan Asfour concluded:
"Hamas is well aware that its isolation in the Gaza Strip is increasing, and that it has become a burden on the people there. Hamas has totally failed in ruling and administering the Gaza Strip. Were it not for its security force, Hamas would have been uprooted without mercy."
The voices emerging from the Gaza Strip are anguished and reflect the Palestinians' growing sense of disillusionment with Hamas. These voices, however, are still small in numbers. Hamas's brutal methods of suppression and torture have deterred a large number of Palestinians from speaking out.
These voices will grow only if the international community heeds them and calls out Hamas for its brutal crackdown on Palestinians. This opposition, though, would require a shift in perspective: from obsession with the faults of Israel – whether real or imagined – to an interest in the real and deadly world of Hamas.
Unless Hamas's violent repression of its own people sparks some concern among the international community, the prospects of Palestinians revolting against their Hamas leaders are slim. Hamas is carrying out its current crackdown against Palestinian activists because it knows full well that the world will probably not utter a word. Why would it? Bashing Israel is much more rewarding than identifying Palestinian leaders as the champion violators of human rights that they are.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem, is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at Gatestone Institute.