Nourished By Violence
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Late last year, during an interview in Qatar, Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayya told the New York Times that his terrorist group attacked Israel on Oct. 7 in order to revive the flagging revolutionary avidity that once animated Palestinians toward establishing a new country independent from Israel.
The fervor had diminished, he said, because of years of Israeli control that led to a struggle for basic survival. Meanwhile, Hamas watched with dismay as the world moved on: For example, Arab countries such as the UAE and Bahrain were beginning to recognize Israel, a diplomatic move they had previously withheld because of the Palestinian issue.
“We succeeded in putting the Palestinian issue back on the table, and now no one in the region is experiencing calm,” he said.
The comments illustrated how, while Hamas is technically in control politically of the Gaza Strip, the group’s agenda has never reflected the dreams of many ordinary Palestinians in the region who crave to live peaceful, normal lives. Indeed, before the Oct. 7 attacks and Israel’s massive – some would say disproportionate – response, Hamas was deeply unpopular in Gaza, wrote Foreign Affairs.
As columnist David Ignatius detailed in the Washington Post, plenty of Gazans have shared their experiences with corrupt or incompetent Hamas officials. Hamas harasses businesses, muzzles journalists, and shuts down any attempts at civil society that might breed resistance or criticism of their regime.
Hamas, incidentally, won and began its takeover of Gaza after the 2005 elections, defeating the Fatah-backed Palestinian Authority that now governs the West Bank. Since then, Palestinians have not had a chance to vote again for their leaders.
In 2018, when 53 percent of Palestinians in Gaza lived in poverty and 25 percent of women in Gaza risked death during childbirth, many Palestinians in Gaza were dissatisfied with Hamas’ handling of the region’s economy, said Miami University professor of comparative religion Nathan French. Around half of Gaza’s residents wanted to leave the region.
Today, however, as Israeli bombs fall on the heads of Palestinians, there’s a very good chance that a majority of the public in Gaza supports Hamas.
A recent poll found that 57 percent of Gazans believed Hamas was correct in attacking Israel, the Associated Press reported. Forty-two percent of Gazans supported Hamas in December, an increase from 38 percent three months ago.
Support for Hamas was even greater in the West Bank, where 44 percent supported Hamas in December – in contrast to 12 percent in September. Almost 90 percent of West Bank residents also wanted Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority’s US and Israeli-backed president, to resign.
Perhaps Hamas launched the Oct. 7 attacks not only to draw international attention to the plight of the Palestinians, but also to elicit an Israeli response that would rally Palestinians to their side and boost its popularity.
The question, however, is what comes next if violence and discord are necessary to keep a Hamas government in power.