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Gazans are starting to blame Hamas for wartime suffering

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23 December 2023, The Australian, by Margherita Stancati and Abeer Ayyoub

Palestinians overwhelmingly hold Israel responsible for the death and destruction, but criticism of the militant group is spreading.

When news of the Oct. 7 attacks on southern Israel by Hamas militants reached Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, many took to the streets in celebration, distributing sweets and cheering fighters as they paraded hostages through the enclave.

Since then, however, quiet criticism has begun spreading against the militant group, with Gazans blaming the militants for having provoked Israel’s wrath and for their inability to shield the population from a devastating war and a humanitarian crisis that deepens by the day.

“People are dying every minute,” said a 56-year-old businessman from Gaza. “Hamas is the one that dragged us into this terrible vortex.”

Nearly 20,000 people have been killed in Gaza since the start of the war, Palestinian health officials said. A majority of the fatalities in Gaza are women and children, they say. The figures don’t distinguish between civilians and combatants.

The overwhelming majority of Palestinians blame Israel for the death, destruction and dislocation caused by the war. Yet many Gazans say that Hamas is also responsible for the suffering, and that thos

A survey by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, a Ramallah-based think tank, found that one in five Gazans polled blamed Hamas for their suffering in the war. The survey, completed in early December, also found that support for Hamas, which has ruled the enclave with an iron fist for years, had increased slightly since Oct. 7, with 42% of respondents choosing it over other Palestinian parties.

In the West Bank, which is far from the fighting in Gaza, by contrast, support for Hamas more than tripled between September and early December, when 44% of respondents said they backed the group, according to the survey.

“Gaza, which usually gives Hamas greater support, is showing more criticism of Hamas than the West Bank. There is more questioning of the decision to go to war,” said Khalil Shikaki, director of the think tank and a professor of political science based in Ramallah.

Hamas’s popularity among Gazans got a boost in the immediate aftermath of the Oct. 7 incursions into Israeli territory, with many Palestinians seeing the attacks as a response to what they decry as mistreatment by Israel. The survey also found that most respondents were unaware of the scale of the killings and other violence committed by Hamas militants during the attacks.

Palestinians check the rubble following Israeli bombardment in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on December 21, 2023, amid continuing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas. Picture: Said Khatib/AFP

The Hamas-led assault, which included terrorist attacks on a music festival and agricultural communities, left some 1,200 people dead — most of them civilians, according to Israeli authorities.

During the hours-long attacks, parts of which were captured on camera, militants pursued and killed fleeing civilians, including children, with guns and grenades. Some victims were mutilated, including some who were decapitated, and there is mounting evidence of sexual violence, based on survivor accounts, first responders and witnesses. Around 240 people were kidnapped and brought to Gaza.

“On the first day, people were happy. But as Israel started pounding Gaza, destroying infrastructure and killing civilians, things started to change,” said Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at Gaza’s Al-Azhar University. “There is a lot of criticism among Palestinians that the Oct. 7 attack — the killing of Israeli civilians, women and children — was a strategic mistake that provoked Israel into the current war.”

“Damn Hamas,” said a hairdresser originally from Gaza City who is now sheltering in Rafah, near the Egyptian border. “May God be my witness: If I see Ismail Haniyeh, I will hit him with my slippers,” she said, referring to Hamas’s political leader. Throwing slippers or shoes at somebody is considered highly insulting in the Arab world.

The woman is one of about 1.9 million people, around 85% of the Gaza Strip’s population, who fled their homes because of the war and are now internally displaced. Like many Gazans, she said she worries she may never be able to return home.

“Next week, we may end up in Sinai,” the desert region across the Egyptian border, she said. “What for? What did the resistance do for us?”

Across Gaza, residents are struggling to find food and clean water. The enclave’s disintegrating healthcare system is incapable of coping with the flow of sick and injured people.

Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist organisation, came to power in Gaza through elections held in 2006. It has since imposed authoritarian rule over the territory, clashing with the more moderate Fatah party — which runs the Palestinian Authority that controls parts of the West Bank — and losing much of its popularity. Hamas generally cracks down on public dissent in peacetime and is unlikely to be influenced by public opinion in wartime.

In private, locals say, the group is often harshly criticised. And now, some public signs of discontent are beginning to appear.

The spokesman for Hamas’s Interior Ministry was speaking on live TV in Gaza City last month when a passer-by walked into the frame. “I complain about you to God, Hamas,” he said, waving his bandaged hand in the air.

The clip was widely shared by Gazans on social media, prompting Hamas authorities to issue a public statement: “We warn against publishing any pictures, videos or materials that are offensive to the image of the steadfastness and unity of our people in Gaza.”

Despite the rising discontent with Hamas, residents of Gaza are unlikely to openly challenge the group while the war is continuing.

“I hate Hamas, the government. I never respected them. But the militants? I believe in them so much, they are sacrificing their souls for the sake of Palestine,” said a 36-year-old banker from Gaza City.

Yet she does hold one thing against the militants: their failure to prepare for the consequences of the war, such as food and medical supplies running out.

“If they prepared for the attack for two years, why didn’t they also make plans for the two million Palestinians they put under fire without asking their opinion?” she added.

Such simmering opposition raises questions about the group’s long-term hold over the strip.

Hamas is “in a war, they are fighting back and defending themselves,” said Abusada, the political scientist, who left Gaza for Cairo last month. “But once the war is over, you will hear more and more criticism against Hamas.”

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Article source: The Australian/Margherita Stancati and Abeer Ayyoub 23.12.2023

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000