On Sunday the 24th February, thousands of people gathered in Al-Sarya square in Gaza City calling for President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, to quit.
The protests were organised by the Gaza–based Popular Movement for National Salvation – a group comprised of a number of Palestinian factions, including Hamas and other opponents of Abbas. The group commented that it is “An historic moment where we are standing here against injustice and tyranny,” also stating that “We are here to stress that we are not the slaves of the ruler … We came here to call for general elections, including presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections.” This last statement is in reference to the fact that there have been no elections in the Palestinian territories since 2006.
The demonstrations represent legitimate concerns against Mahmoud Abbas. He has acted as a typical authoritarian ruler, centralising rule around himself and delaying elections. He himself rose to power as a revolutionary youth but has limited opportunities for young people today to follow in his footsteps. A recent report by Human Rights Watch details arbitrary arrests for peaceful protest against the government and the use of cruel and unusual punishments for detainees. These crimes are carried out by both Fatah and Hamas groups, showing how both parties are concentrated on gaining power and harming the other than on working together to solve the issues facing the Palestinian people.
The protests come amidst recent efforts by Abbas to apply pressure on Hamas by withholding the salaries and allowances to over 5000 public sector employees. The ongoing feud between Abbas’ party (Fatah) and Hamas began in 2007 with the near civil war between the two Palestinian groups. Hamas has been running the Gaza Strip ever since, prompting Israel and Egypt to enforce a blockade on the territory. Fatah has been trying to regain control of the enclave from Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organisation.
The humanitarian crisis in Gaza is rapidly deteriorating. As reported by the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHAOPT) more than half the population lives in poverty, amounting to approximately one million people – a 14% increase since 2011. With the US having now cut off all aid to Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza, this situation is only likely to worsen. Unemployment rates are some of the highest on earth, particularly amongst young people who are being robbed of their right to youth. Access to clean and safe drinking water is severely limited, with 90% of the water from the aquifers undrinkable and power shortages are common place.
Aid to the Palestinians must be continued immediately to alleviate the direct pressure on those suffering under desperate living circumstances in the Gaza enclave. Abbas should resume salaries to those in Gaza and free and fair elections should be organised imminently in all Palestinian territories with the appropriate international monitors. Most importantly, water and electricity should be repaired. A further step would be to lift the blockade in order to allow for a degree of movement for Gazans in Israel, to provide the same economic opportunities and stability which was common place in the 1990s.
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