In his house located in the al-Junena neighborhood of Rafah city, in the southern region of the Gaza Strip, 20-year-old Ahmed Samir (a pseudonym) talks about his wish to leave Gaza for good,  because of Hamas.

Samir joined the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in 2018. He recalls “I didn’t finish high school. One day I went to the mosque to pray and there I met someone affiliated with ISIS”. He adds, “He brainwashed me completely from the first meeting. We were not just friends; we were close like family. I used to walk with them, read for them and listen carefully to what they believe…  I was unable to accept others outside of the group and I was living a state of total disconnection from my family.” 

When asked what were the reasons he joined ISIS, Samir explained “I had no job. I felt empty concerning my future. I thought the ISIS members were implementing justice and rights. I became disillusioned”.

The increasing rates of poverty and unemployment (which stand at 85%, according to the latest statistics from the PCBS [Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics]) are believed to be the reason behind the youth affiliation with ISIS. This has led to a revolution against the conditions caused by the Hamas regime.

We do not know exactly when ISIS began spreading in Gaza. However, politicians believe that it began in 2015, when a video was circulated in which ISIS threatened it would expand its influence within the Gaza Strip. The ISIS group in Gaza believes Hamas to be distanced from working according to al-Sharia (Islamic law). They accuse Hamas of being “infidels and apostates”.

Politicians from Gaza think that “ISIS aims to drag Hamas into the Sinai, away from Israel, thus embarrassing Hamas in Egypt”. 

Hamas has officially strengthened its ties with jihadists in Gaza, since they oppose a truce with Israel, as well as Palestinian reconciliation with Fatah, supported by the United States. It is worth noting that the present-day Gaza climate, in which there are high rates of poverty, unemployment and crime, has furthered these ties.  

Samir was arrested three times under the pretext of being affiliated with ISIS. He talks about the torture he underwent in Hamas jails, “I was arrested when an ISIS jihadist slandered me – about my having belonged to ISIS. I was tortured with the most vicious and cruel methods”. When he was arrested, Samir had several days of torture and interrogation. He adds, “The second time they arrested me for the same pretext. I had done nothing, and again I was accused of belonging to  ISIS”.

Samir spent four years believing in ISIS, but he has since then repented and reformed. Nonetheless, Hamas continues their surveillance of him. When he was arrested for the second time, he spent three months in jail, in inhumane conditions.

When speaking about 2019, Samir recalls, “When I was arrested and tortured, I told them that I no longer belong to the group. However, they continued beating me in harsh interrogations”. He adds, “This (third) time, I admitted to doing things I had not done, so they would stop torturing me. They prevented me from sleeping for a month and they kicked and beat me, and hung me from the ceiling. They used everything”.

According to his testimony, Samir said “we were banned from having a hunger strike, by beating. Our families were not given access to visit us in jail”.

Today, Samir is living in hell, as he is stuck between Hamas, which does not believe him, and the ISIS group, which is trying to convince him to rejoin.

He says, “I want Hamas to leave me alone. I no longer belong to ISIS. I want to live a normal life with no interrogations, no being chased, and no torture… sometimes I am kidnapped on the street and fiercely interrogated for no reason at all. They threaten me all the time.” He recalls, “After being harshly tortured, I begged the detective to stop kicking me, but instead, he put his shoe in my mouth”.

This is how Hamas deals with anyone who opposes its rule in Gaza. Anyone who opposes Hamas, is treated with suspicion. They are kept under tight observation, due to “security reasons”.

Today, Samir is thinking about emigrating and moving to Europe as a way of leaving  this suffering. He says, “I want to leave Gaza because it is the only way to end this. Otherwise, they will not leave me alone… They defamed my reputation, they destroyed my future. This is why I want to leave Gaza for good. I have no other real option.”

Hamas jails are filled with ISIS members of different ages. According to security sources, there are more than 300 people who have been arrested for being affiliated with ISIS. People are jailed under the pretext of ‘breaching the public security of Gaza’. People are also arrested for firing missiles against Israel and are jailed together with people who have been arrested for collaborating with Israel. Hamas also has military courts.

Samir concludes, “I want to leave Gaza, the place of agony, poverty, unemployment and crime. I am sick of it”. 

This article was first published here.

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Rami Aman is a Palestinian peace activist, journalist and engineer.

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