Hamas violently cracks down on protests in Gaza, targeting activists and journalists. Plus, a terrorist kills an IDF soldier and Rabbi in West Bank attack, and the U.S. recognizes Israeli rule over Golan Heights
Hamas Cracks Down on Gazan Protests
Under the slogan “We want to live,” large crowds of Palestinians took to the streets of Gaza shouting against the Hamas leadership and the dire economic conditions in the Gaza Strip.
This rare act of opposition to the twelve-year Hamas rule was dealt with harshly by Hamas authorities who beat protestors, targeted journalists, and shot live ammunition on some occasions. Internal unrest of this level inside the Gaza Strip has not been seen since the 2007 Hamas battle against the Palestinian Authority faction.
Hamas has blamed the uprisings on Fatah, their main rival party, but protestors say it is in response to the leadership’s seeming disinterest in the everyday suffering of Palestinians inside the Gaza Strip.
In one video from the protests a woman expresses her anger that her husband and four sons have no jobs while "the sons of Hamas leaders have houses and jeeps and cars, and can get married while ordinary people have nothing, not even a piece of bread".
For years, Gaza’s economy has been in a free fall. According to the World Bank, the strip faces 70% unemployment among young people. Hamas has continually placed the blame on the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the Gaza Strip and used that to fuel anti-Israel action. The blockade of the strip has certainly delivered a heavy economic blow, but Israel and Egypt argue that Hamas rule over the strip and prioritization of military activity over civilian development prevents Palestinian advancement and threatens their neighbors.
As conditions have worsened, Hamas has fueled the frustration into the now year-long March of Return protests at the border fence where hundreds have now died as they violently clash with Israeli security forces and are met with violence in return. The protests have served as a tool to draw international attention to the conditions in the strip, at a high cost in human lives, but a year later nothing has improved and frustrations against Hamas leadership has spilled into the streets.
The public dissent, however, is not something Hamas tolerates. Videos and images from the strip show Hamas security forces raiding the homes of activists, beating students and protestors and shots can be heard. A young father told NPR that he saw women, children and elderly attacked.
Hamas has targeted more than seventy journalists according to the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate. Journalists have reportedly been beaten, arrested, and threatened for reporting on the uprising against Hamas, according to the Jerusalem Post.
Despite accusations that the Palestinian Authority orchestrated the unrest, PA presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh, took advantage of the situation to frame Hamas and Israel in the same light saying that the Palestinians were “facing a ruthless onslaught” by both factions.
The publicity of the protests and Hamas’ iron-fisted crackdown has highlighted the internal dissatisfaction with Hamas rule and the length they will go to keep control over the Gaza Strip. The Times of Israel reports that the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, which has meticulously reported the number of wounded or killed at the border protests, has been silent on the number of protesters wounded by Hamas security forces.
Failure to publish data on injuries connected to the internal protests in Gaza earned sharp criticism from Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director for Human Rights Watch and other international voices.
The protests died down after several days, but leaders and activists have called for Gazans to keep up the pressure on Hamas despite the threat of violence.
In the meantime the weekly Gaza border protests continue. Last weekend, two Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire and fifty-five others were wounded.
IDF Soldier and Rabbi Killed in West Bank Attack
Nineteen-year-old staff sergeant Gal Keidan was killed when a Palestinian attacker stabbed him and stole his weapon before shooting him and two other people on March 17.
The attack at the Ariel Junction in the West Bank triggered a massive manhunt for the assailant after he stole a car and shot and wounded another soldier and a rabbi, according to Ynet. The 47-year-old rabbi, Ahiad Ettinger, succumbed to his wounds a day after the attack. His family and thousands of Israelis are remembering him as a hero.
A father of twelve children, Ettinger was the dean of the Oz V’Emunah hesder yeshiva - which combines Torah study with military service for young men - in south Tel Aviv, according to the Jerusalem Post. On March 17, he witnessed the Palestinian attack and had stopped to shoot at the terrorist, but the terrorist returned fire and mortally wounded him shooting him in the head.
His daughter lauded him in a eulogy saying “My father, you are a hero, a true hero. Until death, you were there for everyone; you were strong in mind and body and you used this for everyone,” she said.
The IDF manhunt for the terrorist ended on March 19 near Ramallah, according to Times of Israel<https://www.timesofisrael.com/ariel-terrorist-killed-in-firefight-with-idf-troops-near-ramallah/>. As security forces surrounded a house where Omar Abu Laila, eighteen, was hiding, he opened fire and was killed in a gunfight. There were no Israeli injuries.
U.S. Recognizes Israeli Golan Sovereignty
President Trump’s announcement that the U.S. will recognize Israeli sovereignty over the contested Golan Heights region has drawn harsh international criticism for threatening to destabilize that border and praise from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The president announced this major shift in U.S. policy in a tweet, saying that “After fifty-two years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and regional stability!”
Israel has held the contested region since 1967 when it captured it from Syria. Since then, the United Nations has refused to legitimize Israeli rule over the region, referring to Israel as “the occupying power” and says Israel’s attempt to “impose its laws, jurisdiction, and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and without international legal effect” in U.N. Security Council resolution 497.
The U.N. has not commented on Trump’s announcement, saying only that U.N. policy on the region is very clear, but other regional states have harshly condemned the move. Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Iran and the Arab League have all blasted the U.S. for ignoring international policy. A spokesman for the Kremlin told reporters that Trump’s comments “can destabilize the already fragile situation in the Middle East,” according to the Associated Press.
It is not year clear how the new U.S. stance might affect the position of the U.N. peacekeeping force on the Israel-Syria border, or the Russian presence in the region.
Netanyahu is set to visit the U.S. this week to speak with Trump and AIPAC, and with an election looming large he is likely to capitalize on the Golan Heights announcement during those talks. Additionally, Romania and Honduras have both officially recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital following in the footsteps of the U.S. and adding their names to a growing number of mostly smaller states that have affirmed their stance. (Update: Due to the rocket attacks from Gaza, Netanyahu left the U.S. earlier than planned to return to Israel and oversee the response to the attack.)