As War Drags On, Gazans More Willing to Speak Out Against Hamas

Jun 15, 2024 | History, Trending

On Oct. 7, as the Hamas-led attack on Israel was unfolding, many Palestinians took to the streets of Gaza to celebrate what they likened to a prison break and saw as the sudden humiliation of an occupier.

But it was just a temporary boost for Hamas, whose support among Gazans has been low for some time. And as the Israeli onslaught has brought widespread devastation and tens of thousands of deaths, the group and its leaders have remained broadly unpopular in the enclave. More Gazans have even been willing to speak out against Hamas, risking retribution.

In interviews with nearly a dozen Gaza residents in recent months, a number of them said they held Hamas responsible for starting the war and helping to bring death and destruction upon them, even as they blame Israel first and foremost.

One Gazan, Raed al-Kelani, 47, said Hamas always acts in its own interests.

“It started Oct. 7, and it wants to end it on its own terms,” said Mr. al-Kelani, who worked as a civil servant for the former Palestinian Authority government in Gaza, which was run by a rival faction to Hamas before Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007.
“But time is ticking with no potential hope of ending this,” he added. Mr. al-Kelani now makes meals and distributes food aid in shelters for displaced Gazans. “Hamas is still seeking its slice of power,” he said. “Hamas does not know how to get down from the tree it climbed.”

[The New York Times Report continues]

Now, polling has become even more difficult, with most of the 2.2 million Gazans displaced multiple times by the war, constant breakdowns in communications and constant Israeli military offensives.
Still, some recent surveys reflect the weak or mixed support in Gaza for Hamas and its leaders. In some cases, contradictory results underline the complications in surveying a transient population during the fog of war.

In March, a survey by the West Bank-based Institute for Social and Economic Progress asked Gazans how they felt about Hamas leaders. About three-quarters opposed Yahya Sinwar, the group’s Gaza-based leader, and a similar share opposed Ismail Haniyeh, the movement’s political leader in exile.

“When you realize six months in or seven months in that Gaza is completely destroyed, your life as a Gazan is completely destroyed, that’s where people are coming from when they are not supportive of Sinwar or Haniyeh,” said Obada Shtaya, a Palestinian and a founder of the Institute for Social and Economic Progress.

Other polls painted a more mixed picture. A poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Gaza and published this past week showed that support in Gaza for Hamas leaders is slightly higher, and that the share who are satisfied with Hamas leadership in the territory has risen since December.
But it also showed that support for Hamas continuing to govern the territory had declined slightly in the past three months.
Basem Naim, a Hamas spokesman, said that public support for Hamas in Gaza was no less than 50 percent. That includes Hamas members in Gaza — which he said numbered more than 100,000 — and their families.

“Are there people in Gaza who blame Hamas? Of course,” he told The Times. “We aren’t saying that 100 percent of Gaza residents are Hamas supporters or are happy with what happened,” he added.

[The New York Times Report continues]

In 2021, Palestinian parliamentary elections were delayed indefinitely after Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, the president of the Palestinian Authority, raised concerns about possible Israeli government constraints on the voting. However, there were also suggestions at the time that Mr. Abbas may have delayed because he was worried about Fatah losing ground.

Mr. Naim blamed Israel and the United States for disrupting past Palestinian elections.

One Gaza resident who in recent months fled to Egypt with her family said that she hears regularly from friends and family that they do not want the war to end before Hamas is defeated in Gaza. She said Hamas had prioritized its own aims over the well-being of the Palestinians they purport to defend and represent.

“They could have surrendered a long time ago and saved us from all this suffering,” said the woman, who asked not to be named for fear of possible retribution if her criticism were made public.

Even for Palestinians who chafed under Hamas’s iron grip on Gaza for more than a decade, Oct. 7 gave them a feeling, at least initially, that this was a battle of liberation from Israeli occupation. Much of Gaza’s population are either refugees or descendants of refugees who fled their homes in present-day Israel after they were expelled or forced to flee during the war surrounding the establishment of the Israeli state. They have never been allowed to return.

When Hamas attacked Israel, most Gazans supported that “form of resistance,” said a 26-year-old lawyer from Gaza who also asked not to be named.
“But what we don’t support is them continuing with this war when they have not accomplished any of the goals they set out to accomplish,” the lawyer said. “This isn’t resistance. This is insanity.”

[The New York Times Report continues]

The more that Hamas pushed those objectives rather than ending the war quickly, Gazans said they felt other Palestinians were winning their freedom at their expense.
“I do not want to sacrifice my life, my home and house for anyone,” Ameen Abed, a resident of Jabaliya in northern Gaza, said at the time of one of the prisoner releases.

“Who are you to impose this kind of life on me? My home has gone because someone’s imprisonment will end after four months, why?” he said. “What did I benefit from?”

While Hamas and even the Israeli hostages were in the underground tunnels, he said, Gazans were above ground with no protection from Israeli and U.S.-made bombs dropped over their heads every day. That is an oft-heard complaint by Hamas’s critics in Gaza.

“There is uncontrolled anger against Hamas,” he said. “It threw the Palestinian people into the bottom of the well.”

View this New York Times Report from June 15th