This is the account of a female activist on the recent wave of repression of unity protests in Gaza City.
Things are going wild here. Hamas has discredited itself by it's harsh clampdown on demonstrators, but mostly by it's unwillingness to work towards unity. On the 15th of March they took over the demo that they claimed to support. However, in the early morning they put up their stage and soon their green flags were waving all over Al Jundi Square. A group of female students arrived to the square and chanted pro unity slogans, to be hushed out in an aggressive manner by men with green flags. So the youth took the demo to Al Kattiba square to demonstrate for unity away from the banner of any party, be it Hamas or Fateh. At approximately 3 pm, Hamas supporters came with their flags, causing for disruption. They had a Palestinian flag to which they attached a long green part, the party's flag. A stone fight broke out but calmed down rather quickly, as soon as the flags disappeared. Later in the afternoon Hamas had officially declared that it would protect all demonstrators and that they would be allowed to continue as long as it would continue to be non-violent. At the same time, rumors were spreading though that they would clear the square by 5 pm. 5 pm turned into 6 pm. Nothing happened at 6 pm, but a bit after 7 pm a sudden mass hysteria broke out, hundreds of people were running away. I was sitting down, taking a break and was almost run over by them. I couldn't grasp it though. I kept on asking people what they were running from as I hadn’t heard any gunfire. "Run, it's the poliiiice!" was all I got out. I ran away with them not fully comprehending what was happening. A little later, it figured out that they [Hamas] had run into a crowd of people with their jeeps, had set tents on fire and were beating people harshly with clubs. About 20 people ended up in hospital, of whom the majority were girls, mostly with broken limbs. It was crazy. but still I wondered why people were that afraid of wooden sticks. "It's because we know how much they hate people", different people told me.
Twenty minutes later, I passed by the square in a taxi and the square was packed with police and men in civilian dress carrying guns or sticks. Internal security was everywhere and they probably instigated the mass hysteria by collectively running away. It worked, in less than 10 minutes the square was cleared. Later in the evening I heard a friend, who is a journalist, was arrested and threatened that she would better watch her steps if she cares about her life and that of her son.
The day after, the youth decided to go to Al Jundi again, leaving from Al-Azhar university. Once they were inside the university, the police locked them up and Hamas thugs started rioting from the inside. One guy was severely injured and was taken away by an ambulance. Hundreds were supporting from the outside, but after an hour or two the police chased people again with their clubs, indiscriminately of gender. They hit me as well on my leg. It’s a big bruise, which is harmless, but it bet such a hit could break your knee.
Since then all craziness has embarked on Gaza. Yesterday morning, Al Qassam shot 50 rockets into Israel within half an hour, a well coordinated attack, while Hamas was trying to maintain the calm in Gaza and was restricting armed resistance. It is clear to me now, Hamas does not want unity, many of their move or mere PR. Abbas' visit to the coastal enclave won't happen. I wonder: do they even care about Palestine? It looks like they just want power over Gaza. But do they care about the Gazans? This barrage of mortar shells is an ideal excuse for Israel to crack down with excessive violence on Gaza again.
Internal security is everywhere now, looking to arrest more demonstrators, which they have declared to be illegal now, chasing them around, kidnapping them from the street etc. Yesterday evening they raided AFP and Reuters, confiscating their material and ravaging the places. A befriended free lance journalist was picked up from the streets, they took his phone and laptop and all personal belongings and called him a Zionist collaborator in favor of the US because he had a couple of films on his laptop that they didn’t like so much. It’s gone mental here! Hamas is risking another Israeli massacre just to avoid unity. Check Ynet - Tizpi Levni is already hungry for another Cast Lead.
My feeling is that they are using the two martyrs of the other day as an excuse. They supposedly target the Israeli occupation, but create a far bigger internal destruction.
Not only armed resistance is suppressed, peaceful demos in the border area are also outlawed. The young people are angry and disappointed with the government. How they are dealing with freedom of speech and press and the right to demonstrate is outraging.
Personally, I feel more uncomfortable here in Gaza because of the authority's regime. What I hear from people who were arrested is that they are accused of being with the West. I know many of the young people here who are involved in these protests, and Hamas is wrongly trying to depict these protests as Fateh instigated, supported by Zionists and their Western allies. I think I personally don’t need to be that afraid, but it's all becoming worrisome, let's keep it at that. Since yesterday, I feel the desperation of Palestine as I had never felt it before. I don't feel the hope now, what is there to have faith in? As my friend across the table has been saying all day: "the atmosphere is dark outside".
ACCOUNT BY PALESTINIAN ACTIVIST
Last night March 14th, Hamas took over the Square, they brought their flags and their slogans and put a podium/stand with microphones.
Today, 15 March, morning, people started gathering in the Unknown Soldier Square, and in the same time, Hamas brought their supporters holding their "flags" and started singing for Hamas. They run people by cars, beat us with the sticks of their flags.
The "authorities" restricted all the private cab companies from picking people to the Unknown Soldier Square, all water vans from supplying us with water and banned anyone to supply us with microphones and sound systems.
We called out to them, come join us, hold the Palestinian flag and join us, we're here for all of us. Their response was calling us names, violence and mockery.
They had each of their flags made in half, half of it the Palestinian flag and the other half is Hamas' "flag", I said to one of the Hamas guys, "Take down your party's "Flag", hold up the Palestinian flag and come join us." He tore his flag in half, threw down the Palestinian flag to the road, and his exact words were, "Here's your flag, take it; my party's is enough for me."
We tried to go to another field, they blocked the way, and didn't allow us to go into the Soldier Square, so they pushed us into the Katyba Square, which we were fixed on not going to, because it is very dangerous- it is in an empty area, surrounded by police stations, many vacant buildings, but we had to go to secure safety for the people and maintain the peace.
Twice, Hamas supporters came to the Katyba Square and threw us with stones.
At night, they blocked all the ways to where we were, and Hamas thugs and internal security, and the OFFICIAL police attacked us with sticks at around 8.00-8.30 (i remember my sister told me i got home at 9+, so it's something round that).
They came out from everywhere, they burnt the tents. They've arrested people two women Asmaa' Al Ghoul and Samah Alrwag-who was stabbed in the back, many of the 15th of March organizers got into hospital and Hamas went and kidnapped them from there.
They came to where the women were standing right away, everybody ran for their lives, we ended up only 6 girls staying!!
They cornered the six of us and beat the life out of us with sticks, kicked us with their feet, spit on us, called us awful names and threatened us with the choice of firing guns!
Then someone came, and they told us to go home, I told the girls to come with me cause my place was the nearest "virtually", a number of thugs, policemen and internal security agents, walked around us, all the way calling us names and beating us. I walked holding my flag in front of me, and they were all mocking us and laughing saying, "You want to end the division, here's to the division!!" and that was accompanied with a stroke either on the back, maybe on the head, on the stomach or on the hips.
They took many photographer's cameras and broke many.
They're trying to suspend universities tomorrow, to make sure no body goes out, but we will be there. We're staying and like we said before, all what happened tonight will be forgiven; I will forgive, if only they'd come down with us and realize that we are peaceful, we are demonstrating because we're demanding a better future for all of us. I told one of the guys who was beating me, I'm here for you, I'm here for your future and your children's future, but he was deaf to my pleas!
In spite of everything that's happened, the demonstration, till they forced it apart with their sticks and flying chairs, remained faithful to its message, END THE DIVISION.
None of the slogans was biased to any political party, we all chanted and called for unity, for Palestine.
And we will go out tomorrow and they day after tomorrow and the day after that, calling for peace, security and unity.
Our message is, yes, we are willing to die for what we believe in, but that's not what we're trying to advocate.
Why die, when what we're doing is worth living for?
We're out because we want a better future for us and for our children. We're going out because we want to build our independent country. We're going out because we believe in life.
We had enough of death and violence, now we want peace, prosperity, love, LIFE.
We are the youth of Palestine, and we will NEVER cave in or give up, till we earn our right of having a choice in life.
We will not back down till we are free.
- 15th of March activist/protester.
ONE MORE (blog post by an activist)
with pictures: http://ranabaker.wordpress.com/2011/03/16/march-15-gaza-calls-for-end-to-the-palestinian-internal-division/
Friend arrested and threatened: http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=370192
Human Rights Watch report