Palestinians: Fighting against Coronavirus, for Freedom of Speech

March 25, 2020

by: Khaled Abu Toameh~Gatestone Institute

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The Health Ministry in Gaza has announced the suspension of Friday prayers in all mosques throughout the Gaza Strip. (illustrative)

Wednesday, 25 March 2020 | Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement that has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007, says it has taken drastic steps to prevent the spread of the coronavirus among the two million Palestinians living under its rule.

On March 22, the Hamas-controlled Ministry of Health announced the first confirmed cases of coronavirus in the Gaza Strip: two Palestinians who returned from a visit to Pakistan. The ministry said the two patients were placed in quarantine in a field hospital near Gaza’s border with Egypt.

The ministry also announced the suspension of Friday prayers in all mosques throughout the Gaza Strip and the closure of wedding halls, restaurants and coffee shops.

The Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers, however, still seem to have time to continue their repressive measures against Palestinians, despite increased fears that more cases of coronavirus might be detected there.

On March 13, Hamas security forces arrested Palestinian writer Abdullah Abu Sharekh for Facebook posts in which he criticized Hamas’s handling of a fire that broke out in the Nuseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. In the fire, which was caused by an explosion of natural gas tanks in the camp’s central market, 22 Palestinians were killed and more than 80 injured.

On March 18, Hamas ordered Abu Sharekh remain in custody for an additional 15 days on charges of “spreading rumors and harming the social fabric” of Palestinian society.

The arrest, which came as Palestinians in the Gaza Strip were taking precautionary measures to stem the spread of the coronavirus, triggered a wave of protests by several Palestinian political activists and factions, as well as human rights organizations.

Hamas’s rivals in the [leading secular] Palestinian ruling faction, Fatah, condemned the arrest of Abu Sharekh and said some of its members in the Gaza Strip have also been detained by Hamas in the past few days. Fatah noted that the Hamas security crackdown came “during critical and complicated circumstances in which the coronavirus is posing a threat to all human beings.”

Instead of heeding the calls to release the writer and refrain from human rights violations, Hamas, on March 21, arrested the Palestinian cartoonist Ismail el-Bozom for protesting the arrest of Abu Sharekh.

The crackdown on writers and political opponents in the Gaza Strip came as Hamas’s military wing, Izaddin al-Qassam, issued a warning to Israel to release Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons. “The life and safety of the Palestinian prisoners is a red line and we hold the Zionist occupation fully responsible for their wellbeing,” said Abu Obeida, a spokesman for Izaddin al-Qassam.

Hamas is claiming that it is worried about the safety of the Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, often for multiple murders, while its own prisons in the Gaza Strip are full of Palestinians whose only crime is that they dared to criticize the Hamas leadership or its policies.

Since its violent takeover of the Gaza Strip thirteen years ago, Hamas has done nothing to improve the living conditions of its people. Instead of directing millions of dollars to building hospitals or improving healthcare, Hamas has for the past few years invested approximately [US] $150 million in rebuilding its tunnel infrastructure, and has diverted dual-use construction materials such as concrete, steel and wood, which could have gone to rebuilding Gaza’s civilian infrastructure.

The Palestinian Authority (PA), on Israel’s east, is also continuing to arrest its political opponents in the West Bank (of the Jordan River) [Judea and Samaria], despite the growing number of confirmed coronavirus cases there.

Hours after PA President Mahmoud Abbas announced a 30-day state of emergency to prevent the spread of the virus, his security forces arrested Hussam Khader, a senior Fatah official and outspoken critic of the Palestinian leadership.

The PA security forces have also continued their crackdown on university students and political activists. According to Palestinian sources, 50 Palestinians are being held in PA prisons in the West Bank because of their affiliation with Hamas and other opposition groups.

The PA has, in addition, joined Hamas in demanding that Israel release Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. As for prisoners held in Palestinian prisons, the PA, like Hamas, seems to have no worries about their safety.

Both the PA and Hamas, even during the difficult time of a pandemic, as they have made abundantly clear, do not hesitate to pursue their repressive measures against anyone who dares to speak out against financial and administrative corruption, or expresses views that annoy any Palestinian leaders.

Posted on March 25, 2020

Source: (Excerpt from an article originally published in Gatestone Institute on March 23, 2020. Time related language has been modified to reflect our republication today. See the original article at this link.)

Photo Credit: Marius Arnesen/wikimedia.org

Photo License: wikimedia.org