Arab Autumn, Palestinian Winter

August 12, 2013

In Blog

Gaza: Hamas Internet Police Play Dirty

A Palestinian youth climbs the steps inside the Hamam al-Sammara Public Baths during preparations for the Eid Al-Fitr feast in Gaza city on 07 Aug 2013. (Photo: AFP – Mahmud Hams)

By: Uruba Othman

Published Thursday, August 8, 2013

Internet censorship and spying on the activities of Palestinians is strongly embraced by security-obsessed authorities. But the Hamas government in Gaza has gone off the deep end. Young men accuse it of using prostitutes to entrap them for ethical charges.

Gaza – Palestinian authorities in Ramallah and Gaza aggressively target dissidents. It seems there’s no limit to the intrusive policies implemented to suppress freedoms.

In Ramallah, a young man was thrown in jail simply for “liking” an article on Facebook critical of resuming Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and sharing a picture calling for the overturn of the Oslo Accords.

The behavior of the government in Gaza is worse, not because its repression is more brutal than the Palestinian Authority’s in Ramallah, but because its leader pays lip service to freedom and curses its political adversary, even though he plays the same role faithfully.

Since the Muslim Brotherhood stronghold in Egypt fell, the Gaza government has been anxious about its fate. It fears Palestinian public questioning of its future, and it clings to the idea that its role as a resistance movement will provide it with immunity against potential collapse.

In an attempt to preempt any public doubts of its rule, the Gaza government plays the role of thought police. Hamas security forces use social networking sites to track down writings by opponents who reject campaigns to “Islamicize” Palestinian society.

Gaza’s youth complain of a security specter that haunts them wherever they go. They have no means to put an end to all the illegal spying carried out by what is known as the “Internet police.”

Ayman, a 32-year-old Palestinian living in Gaza, received a call from a private number after publishing an article on Facebook in which he criticized Hamas’ reception of Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi in the Gaza Strip. “The caller told me, we know you well and we have all your information. You have 10 minutes to either delete the article on your Facebook page and your blog or face dire consequences.”

Ayman challenged the caller. “I don’t recognize the legitimacy of any security apparatus, let alone a man who calls from a private number. Not only will I not delete the article, I will republish it, now put that in your pipe and smoke it.”

The security man threatened him before abruptly hanging up the phone, saying, “This is not good for you, it appears your words are final … we’ll see.”

Mohammed was summoned by the internal security force last week for two consecutive days because of his online writings. His Facebook and Twitter accounts were hacked, and one of his cellphones was confiscated.

“A conversation I had with Al-Akhbar’s reporter in Gaza about my opinion of Hassan Nasrallah and why I prefer Hezbollah to Hamas grabbed the attention of security personnel. I told them that the correspondent asked me about my opinion so she could include it in a report she is preparing, which is a basic right guaranteed by the law,” he said.

Afterward, Mohammed had to sign a pledge promising not to participate in any political activity or “incitement” against the government.

Khaled, 24, had a completely different experience with the internal security force. He told Al-Akhbar they pushed a girl on him on Facebook. He said the girl, using a fake name, expressed admiration for his writings on his Facebook page. “A few days after we met, she tried to entrap me, asking me about my political leanings. When I lied to her and said that I support Hamas, she pretended that she hated them while I defended them.”

This girl kept on pressing for Khaled to reveal his secrets and opinions, always refusing to give her real name. Finally, she asked Khaled to set up a date so he would be caught red-handed in an ethical case. But he was smarter and decided to stand her up, he said.

Khaled’s story about Hamas using girls to entrap young men was confirmed by more than one guy to Al-Akhbar.

Suheil, 24, told a story about “a girl who works for the internal security force who rents a house each month as one guy after another falls prey to her advances.”

One man, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that during investigations, the internal security interrogator asked him for his email password and snooped into his private life in an attempt to frame him in a moral case. He mentioned the closing of a youth forum under the pretext that there were pornographic films on the staff’s computers.

Although Al-Akhbar could not verify these stories, one thing is certain, security forces excel at coming up with ways to trick young men critical of Hamas’ policies.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.