Dozens of men with kaffiyehs and white baseball caps burst into a demonstration in the center of town on Monday. This sounds like the beginning of an article about another protest dispersed by the Palestinian Authority security forces dressed as civilians in Ramallah.
But in reality what happened on Monday happened in the city of Gaza. It was a demonstration by a few hundred people calling for an end to the political dispute between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and the repeal of the punitive measures that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas imposed on Gaza.
The protesters, as well as the journalists and human rights groups, are convinced that the entity behind the violence to break the demonstration was the de facto government of Gaza; in other words, Hamas. But Hamas and the Interior Ministry in Gaza, controlled by Hamas, deny any participation.
To really understand the Palestinians and the Middle East: subscribe to Haaretz
The initiative for the demonstration came from the Fatah prison commission, the news sites reported.
A superficial look makes it seem that these protesters wanted to "respond" to the demonstrations in the West Bank by opposing the political dispute: the situation of two parallel Palestinian governments. In Gaza, the call to close the gap is a slogan more identified with Fatah supporters and Hamas opponents because it implies the return of Palestinian Authority control over Gaza.
But ex-prisoners in Israel of all Palestinian political movements helped organize the protest in Gaza. In addition, a person present at the demonstration was none other than Tawfiq Abu Naim, the head of the security forces in the Strip.
Abu Naim survived an assassination attempt in October, which has been attributed to the Islamic State or Israel. In 1989, he was convicted in Israel for helping to found the military wing of Hamas and for murdering Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel. He received a life sentence and was released as part of the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange in 2011.
According to a Hamas press release, a few prisoners released from Hamas helped organize the demonstration, and Abu Naim was to speak at the protest, but his speech was suspended due to opposition from the protesters. Even so, the message was clear. After all, it does not make sense that former Hamas prisoners, who helped organize the demonstration, are behind its violent dispersal. They, and in particular those released in the Shalit agreement, were among the first to be harmed by the steps to punish Gaza by Abbas.
About a year ago, Abbas stopped his monthly allowances and, despite the protests and promises, these payments have not yet been resumed. In Palestinian society, monthly allowances are considered adequate compensation for the sacrifice of activists against the occupation and their families; especially when these activists did not receive an official job with a salary, after their release.
According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, located in Gaza City, shortly after the protest began, men wearing white baseball caps appeared. Some left a nearby mosque. They carried banners and shouted: "People want Abbas eliminated," an echo of the slogans in Cairo in January 2011, when Hosni Mubarak was president.
It seems a parody of the repression of the demonstration in Ramallah last Wednesday, where young people dressed in Fatah baseball caps attacked the demonstrators.
A very violent parody. The protesters rejected the organizers' request to "preserve the uniformity of the slogans." The fights broke out and then, as it is written in the report of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, plainclothes security agents and some men in white baseball caps. He destroyed the stage and attacked some of the participants.
Anyone who tried to photograph or film what was happening was attacked by security agents dressed in civilian and was forced to delete the photos. "When I filmed the attacks, about four men in plain clothes approached me and ordered me to give them my phone," said a human rights activist.
"I refused, and then two other guys came to me with the clubs in their hands, I dodged them and went to a group of civilians who turned out to be members of the security forces, that's how they introduced themselves to me" , he added.
"I introduced myself to them as a member of a human rights group that has the right to film, but that did not stop them from threatening me with arresting me, pushing me, handcuffing me and taking my phone."
The phone was returned after the images were erased.
Beards and pistols
A journalist from a Palestinian radio station also told how people in civilian clothes grabbed his phone while filming events. He told a field researcher at the Palestinian Center for Human Rights that most of the men who interfered with the protest had beards; it was clear to him that they were Hamas activists.
Identified the members of the security forces among the demonstrators with the guns they were hiding and their radios. Some of the protesters responded to those who interfered with the cries of "In spirit and blood, we will redeem you, Abbas."
The reporter said that a senior commander in the Hamas security forces – which resulted from images that survived was Abu Naim – took the stage and announced that no member of the security forces was among the attackers. But the protesters responded that this was not true; the place was full of people from the security force. The commander left and then the fights broke out, the journalist said.
The sentences came very quickly from the Palestinian organizations, the press association and the spokespersons of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. The Ministry of the Interior in Gaza repeatedly promised that not only was it not linked to the events, but that it had approved the demonstration. As Hamas said in a statement, fights erupted among the protesters due to the great tension in Gaza and the burden felt by the people.
Was the Ministry of the Interior and Hamas in Gaza overly sophisticated in dividing the demonstration without identifying themselves as those who left it? If the Ministry of the Interior was so in favor of the protest, how is it that it did not stop the people who interfered with the demonstration? Or was it in fact a private initiative of the simple exaltados that turned out to be members of Hamas?
According to some participants, the men in white baseball caps shouted while attacking the protesters: "Secularism outside, outside." Serious accusations against secularism (almost synonymous with "heresy") are launched against the Palestine Liberation Organization. in general, and particularly against the leftist groups, but also against Fatah, despite the fact that many of its main leaders are devotees.
The protesters on Wednesday in Bethlehem were mostly leftists; A week after the famous protest in Ramallah they challenged the Palestinian Authority and joined the call to lift sanctions on Gaza.
This time, the Palestinian police refrained from dissolving the protest, only kept the order, distributed cold water to the demonstrators and allowed them to shout their slogans. According to reports on Palestinian news sites, protesters praised Mohammed Def, the head of the Hamas military wing, called for an end to security cooperation with Israel and shouted slogans that disparaged nonviolent struggle and favored a return to fighting navy.
These slogans are usually heard in the protests of a handful of young people identified with the left, "secular people" in the language of the people who dissolved the demonstration in Gaza.