In Gaza, Hamas Cracks Down On Palestinians Protesting Newly Imposed Taxes
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Now to Gaza and a crackdown on Palestinians who'd been protesting new taxes imposed by Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza. Human rights groups say Hamas security forces detained hundreds of people and beat demonstrators to end the protests. NPR's Daniel Estrin reports from Jerusalem.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).
DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: The protests started on Thursday and continued for four days. Palestinians gathered in the poorest neighborhoods of Gaza. They chanted, we want to live. The response was harsh, according to witnesses.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST NOISE)
ESTRIN: Hamas forces shot their weapons in the air, beat demonstrators with batons and smashed windows, according to eyewitnesses and videos. A young father named Mohammed told us he saw women, children and elderly attacked. The 70-year-old leader, or mukhtar, of his extended family tried to reason with Hamas police.
MOHAMMED: (Through interpreter) The mukhtar was talking to the police. He was telling them these people are here because of the harsh living conditions, not now for political reasons, not to topple you. He was attacked, the mukhtar himself.
ESTRIN: Ever since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, Israel and Egypt have blockaded the territory, crippling its economy. The crisis got worse with economic sanctions by the Palestinian Authority. Now, Hamas is facing a cash crunch and it's imposed high taxes while most Gazans live under the poverty line. Human rights groups say Hamas detained hundreds, perhaps more than a thousand, Gazans, including local journalists and human rights activists. Mohammed says a dozen of his relatives are still being held. He didn't give his full name for fear of arrest. Hamas even yesterday detained a Palestinian researcher with Amnesty International for three hours after she posted on Facebook looking for testimonies of abuses. Her name is Hind Khoudary.
HIND KHOUDARY: They told me to remove all my Facebook posts. I removed them, like, the minute I went home because I don't want them to humiliate me.
ESTRIN: She says some human rights researchers aren't able to access the hospital to meet the wounded, and Gaza health officials are giving no details on injuries. Critics of Hamas say it's ruled Gaza with an iron fist, fighting three punishing wars with Israel. International efforts to restore Palestinian Authority rule in Gaza haven't succeeded. Gazans do blame Israel for many of their hardships. But over the last year, they've been speaking out more against Hamas. Khoudary from Amnesty International says there's now an atmosphere of fear.
KHOUDARY: Fear is back. The image we have about Hamas and how Hamas is a very strong, powerful, controlling government is back. No one is going to mess with Hamas again, I'm sure.
ESTRIN: In a statement, Hamas said it feels sorry for any harm that took place but denied it imposed any new taxes. And it's encouraging a large protest next week against Israel to mark the one-year anniversary of weekly protests on the Gaza border, which provoked a deadly response from Israel. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.