Mahmoud Abbas, the once-legitimate president of Palestine (the last election was in 2005), meets with U.S. President Donald Trump May 3. And as if to prove his “mettle,” he has declared a war on Gaza.
Abbas has literally thrown down the gauntlet to Hamas, demanding that it cede its control of the government in Gaza to the so-called “unity” government. In an attempt to force compliance, rather than reach an agreement through the negotiations he says he wants with Israel, he is taking a page from Benjamin Netanyahu’s playbook and imposing collective punishment on the 2 million people of Gaza—wrongly thinking, like so many others before him (including U.S. officials), that residents then will rise up and oust their recalcitrant leaders.
Abbas already has slashed by one-third the salaries of the more than 60,000 Palestinian Authority employees it long has paid to stay home rather than work for a Hamas government. Today, COGAT, Israel’s military liaison agency with the PA, revealed that the Abbas administration has informed the agency it will immediately stop paying for the electricity Israel supplies to Gaza—representing about 30 percent of the electrical needs in the Strip. With Gaza’s generating plant off-line and Egyptian supplies notoriously spotty, Israeli electricity has been vital—although power supplies to homes have been averaging just four hours a day in recent days. Hospitals, ministries and many wealthier apartment blocks have generators but fuel is costly.
The PA also has suggested it might slash health care funds for Gaza, along with plans to cut education monies once the current school year has ended. And it won’t stop there. The PA says it also plans to freeze infrastructure projects in Gaza and cut allowances to prisoners and their families. An even worse possibility that’s been hinted is suspension of the committee that coordinates traffic to and from the Strip.
At issue is the fact that no one outside of Fatah considers the “unity” government to be in compliance with its name. It is not impartial or balanced, say many within Gaza, and to be accepted, a new reconciliation government must be formed, including persons from all the parties in the Strip.
Abbas will fail “if he tries to make Gaza kneel or expects to win our loyalty by force,” Khalil al-Haya, the second-highest-ranking Hamas leader in Gaza, told The Associated Press.
That’s all political infighting, and one’s view of who is right and wrong depends on which party is favored. However, there is one fact that only the most delusional or dishonest can deny: It is the masses, not the Hamas ruling class, who will suffer. And as usual, the voices the media aren’t quoting are the ordinary residents—particularly the youth, who make up more than half of the population. To rectify that situation, I’ve given the “mic” to a few members of We Are Not Numbers, a youth storytelling project.
What is the impact of the Abbas’s actions?
Several of the writers described a pervasive, collective depression in Gaza that leads many to ignore politics altogether, mired in a deep sense of helplessness and apathy. But it also is erupting in alarming ways.
Tarneem Hammad: “A salary in Gaza is not just a check. It’s LIFE. It’s a house, food, clothes, university fees and everything else. We are being punished for living in Gaza.”
Khuloud Rabah Sulaiman: “There are reports of killings in Gaza now, as part of robberies. Such crimes are almost unheard of here. They are being committed by youths who are out of work or need to buy drugs to ease their frustration. If Abbas does what he is threatening, the desperation will deepen.”
Wesam Al-Naouq: “My people already have lost hope. Deep inside, they’ve lost faith in taking our land back. How do you expect the people to remember the Palestinian cause if they can’t have even a basic life? People here have started to steal and kill. We’re gonna end up killing each other.”
However, defiance still remains in the hearts of others.
Israa Suliman: “Since Abbas doesn’t support armed struggle, there is a growing fear among people here that he will make us demilitarize, to become subservient to Israel, like the West Bank. Abbas already has cut off financial support for the families of prisoners and martyrs from the last war. We hear this was to satisfy the United States, because supporting these families is viewed as supporting terrorism!”
Anas Jnena: “We’ve grown up living this reality for so long… now 10 years… For youth, that’s half our average age. It’s not surprising that some people embrace or like extreme beliefs. Do you understand? The other day while I was out with my friends, we talked about this and one of my friends suggested we conduct collective suicide operations so that we end this whole situation. Although we dismissed his comment as sarcastic, the anger at its core is real.”
Who do you blame the most?
Tarneem: “Gazans are now used to Hamas and they are not ready to be governed by Abbas. Abbas deals with Israel too much and forgets the Palestinian cause. We’re not ready to see any Zionists walking in Gaza.”
Khuloud: “Abbas doesn’t represent us. No one accepts Abbas as president. But Hamas is not without blame. We need a new election. Who would win? I don’t think Hamas will. Mohammed Dahlan (an Abbas rival within Fatah who lives in Gaza) is working to gain approval and he seems to be having some success. Who’d we’d really like is Marwan Barghouti (now leading a hunger strike in Israeli prisons). But Israel will never free him from jail because of that.”
Wesam: “During the Fatah reign, the economic situation was better. People want that back. We are under siege and the leaders are getting fatter. Yes, Abbas and his cronies aren’t good either, but if you are drowning in the middle of the sea, and you see a pirate ship sailing by, would you ask their help to survive? Of course, you would. But the way I feel now, I want them all to fu… off. They are playing with our future. When you seize power, you lose your morals and values. They are not thinking about us, the youth who lost their dreams. Meanwhile, the Israelis are watching and enjoying what is happening. We’ve been busy fighting each other and have forgotten our true enemy.”
Israa: “We need to stop the blame. There is a hashtag trending on Twitter: “#Hamas_does_not_represent_me. I don’t like the hashtag. We should make reconciliation our main interest. Instead, this gives Abbas more reasons to blame Hamas for our misery.”
Anas: “All mediations have consistently failed to end the division. It’s become like a game on both sides. But you know, when you’re deprived of identity and purpose and you don’t even have the opportunity to be involved in the decision-making process, you sort of wish for the worst. Then maybe we’ll finally get some attention and action.”
What needs to happen to de-escalate the situation?
Tarneem: “If a husband and a wife are getting divorce, the right thing to do is to keep the kids out of it and solve the problems with the least harm possible to the children. We, the people of Gaza, are the children, but the fighting couple, Hamas and Fatah, are not keeping us out of it. Instead, each is using us as a tool to pressure the other into giving up. Couples who behave this way usually end up destroying the future of their children, unless they get back together in time to save what is left. I don’t care anymore if they like each other. I only care about us, the people.”
Israa: “If Palestinian leaders have the right intentions, they can come together and unite. And they must. Then we won’t have to be solely dependent on negotiations with Israel. Palestinian factions must unite so we can all struggle together. Without a struggle, we have no ability to achieve anything!”
Wesam: “People nowadays say that they prefer to live a decent life and forget about the resistance. They want jobs, they want money, they want to build houses. That’s what people think about in Gaza. Stop playing games.”
What are the prospects for a change in Palestinian leadership for a new start? Could there be a popular uprising?
Tarneem: “No revolution has succeeded in the Arab world yet. Why risk lives? We are already losing many at the hands of Israel. It might turn into a war, and as usual, civilians will pay the price–not politicians. Of course, I also think it’s the practice of governments to keep people busy with their own problems, like lack of fuel, unemployment and closed borders, so they don’t pay attention to their leaders’ corruption and rise up against them. If I’m hungry and I can’t feed my children, if I don’t have a job, if I can’t afford education, then I’m too weak to rise up. But…If I really thought that something might change and my family or my kids could have a better future, I’d be the first one to rise up.
“One more thing, though: When Fatah was established, there was Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other parties. During the time of Hamas, however, no new party has been established. It would be hard now to establish a rebel party; it takes time to spread awareness and to convince people to support it, and by that time, Hamas would abolish it.
“Still, that doesn’t mean we should give up. We’re all under occupation, we’re all fighting for freedom and dignity, we all want and need peace. Palestine is not broken; it’s divided, and what’s divided must be put together again.”