Fatah simply doesn’t have the presence in Gaza it once did. Hamas has threatened, imprisoned, expelled, or killed, many Fatah members in Gaza over the last dozen years. Until these latest protests began, it appeared to have an iron grip over the territory.
In the dozen years since Hamas seized control of Gaza, it has become increasingly dictatorial, and its members ever more greedy for power and money. In the past, when there were attempts at small-sale protests over economic issues, Hamas simply smashed the protests, beat and detained protesters with sufficient brutality to persuade others not to join in. But in 2019, the economic misery of the Gaza Arabs has become so overwhelming that, driven by desperation, they no longer feared being beaten; people came out to denounce Hamas, knowing full well that they would be put down by brute force. They had a simple slogan: “We want to live.” They were prepared to be beaten and arrested, and more than a thousand of them were.
Seventeen journalists covering Gaza were also arrested since the protests began, and their equipment seized. Of the ten who were released as of this writing, four required hospitalization because of the severity of the beatings they had received. The U.N. envoy, Nickolay E. Mladenov, denounced Hamas for its use of violence against both protesters and journalists.
Hamas may now try to start a real war with Israel, in order to distract the Gazan Arabs from protesting their economic lot under Hamas rule. That might have worked in the past, but after Hamas suffered five defeats in five wars, some quite brief, fought between Gaza and Israel, in 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2014, a populace now enraged over a catastrophic economic situation might not be as willing as it once was to be distracted by a war with Israel. In fact, such a war would inevitably lead to a crushing defeat of Hamas, and provide more evidence of the terrorist group’s incompetence in every respect, except that of terrorizing and subjugating its own people, the “Palestinians” in Gaza. Worse still, another conflict with Israel would make the economic situation even more dire for the Gazans in two ways. First, the Gazan Arabs would have to pay for much of the expensive war materiel used up by Hamas in this new conflict; rockets and missiles are not cheap. Second, punishing attacks on Gaza by Israel would destroy infrastructure that the Gazans would have to expensively replace.
Hamas may with its wonted brutality break the back of this protest, but as long as the economic situation remains dismal, there will be other attacks. There are two ways to improve economic conditions in Gaza. One is to convince the rulers of Gaza that putting money into futile war-making against Israel needs to end: no more rockets and missiles to be stockpiled, which are then shot out of the sky by Israel’s defenses, no more expensive tunnels need be dug, only to be found and destroyed by Israeli sappers. Were the rulers of Gaza convinced of the pointlessness of their endless wars with the Jews, they could put the aid money given by donors, that is now being spent on preparing for war, instead on investing in small-scale manufacturing and farming in Gaza. Provided Gaza disarms, the Israelis would no doubt be willing to help with both undertakings.
The second way to improve the economy in Gaza is to stop the fantastic drain of corruption. The Gazans do not know the true magnitude of the problem. Mousa Abu Marzouk and Khaled Meshaal, two Hamas leaders, have each managed to make off with more than $2.5 billion. That’s at least $5 billion that has been stolen from the Gazan Arabs by just two men. There ought to be some way to claw back those billions, either by actions of the donor countries who first provided the money, or by the “Palestinians” in Gaza, bringing suit in their own courts to recover the funds stolen from them. Neither Marzouk nor Meshaal will voluntarily comply with any finding against them, but they can be threatened by those fellow members of Hamas who are not corrupt, resent terribly those who are, and are prepared to use Hamas methods on corrupt Hamas leaders, by making them offers they can’t refuse.