Gazans lived in a police state with constant surveillance and harassment before October 7

New documents reveal extent of Hamas’ authoritarian surveillance in Gaza


Yahya Sinwar (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images)

Hamas keeps records of anyone who questions its authority and relies on a network of informants to assist its surveillance operation according to new internal documents.

According to Hamas files and intelligence officials, terror leader Yahya Sinwar led a secret police force in Gaza that stalked young people, journalists, and dissidents, and manipulated online discussions. The force surveilled and built files on Palestinians who questioned the Hamas government, according to new evidence seized by Israel’s military in Gaza.

The New York Times has seen a 62-slide presentation on the activities of the General Security Service, which was allegedly prepared for Sinwar and delivered weeks before October 7. The presentation reveals how the unit penetrated every aspect of the lives of ordinary Palestinians.

According to the files, a vast network of informants in Gaza reported dissidents to the secret force, some even reported their neighbours.

Public criticism of Hamas or conducting a romantic relationship outside marriage could land a Gazan in a security file, according to The New York Times.

Those suspected of immoral behaviour or political protest were followed by security officials. Agents had criticism of Hamas removed from social media and viewed political protest as a threat that must be defeated.

Comparable to the tactics of security services in Syria, the unit uses censorship, intimidation and surveillance to quell dissent.

“This General Security Service is just like the Stasi of East Germany,” Michael Milshtein, a former Israeli military intelligence officer specializing in Palestinian affairs, told The New York Times. “You always have an eye on the street.”

Israeli military intelligence said it was aware of files of around 10,000 Palestinian citizens in Gaza who had been surveilled by the secret force.

Palestinian reporter Ehab Fasfous is named by The New York Times as one of the journalists who appeared in the files. The General Security Service labelled him among “the major haters of the Hamas movement”.

Fasfous told The New York Times, “We’re facing bombardment by the occupation and thuggery by the local authorities.”

The journalist told The New York Times that Hamas officers from the unit hacked into his phone and sent “flirtatious messages” to a colleague: “They wanted to pin a moral violation on me,” he said.

The report details ways to “deal with” Fasfous and “defame him.”

“If you’re not with them, you become an atheist, an infidel and a sinner,” Fasfous said.

Formally part of the Hamas political party, the General Security Service functions as part of the Hamas government. Along with the Military Intelligence group, which focuses on Israel, and the Internal Security Service, it is one of three internal security bodies in Gaza.

The until includes 856 people, according to The New York Times, and has monthly expenses of $120,000. More than 160 of the unit's employees were paid to launch online attacks aimed at critics of Hamas at home and abroad and were tasked with disseminating Hamas propaganda.

Israeli intelligence believes that Sinwar oversaw the Gerneral Security Service, but the status of the unit today is unknown due to the IDF’s attack on Hamas’ forces.

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