How the Palestinians of Gaza live with Hamas

A personal view by a Palestinian from Gaza who grew up in the era of the resistance group’s rise to power.

The author writes: Journalism and its practitioners will always carry an inherent point of view no matter how objective we try to be. However, it is built on the honourable principles of freedom of speech and equality of human rights

As I write this article, I am aware that the opinion and call for help I voice is one obscured by a cloud of propaganda, so that even the very term Hamas will evoke a response that has become increasingly difficult to counter. We are surrounded by such virulent images of prejudice that in the most respected forums the very name of our country or of our political factions can deny us and our supporters everywhere any opportunity for the complex discussion of truth. It is against this background that I feel the terrible weight of this time of death and destruction in Gaza. I write to correct the distorted record of the Palestinian struggle and rights. This article is my opinion, but it is what I have seen and from an honourable people, a valuable culture and from fellow human beings: it is a call for help.

The people of Gaza constitute a well-educated population, who have been put under the strain of war and destruction far too many times. Hamas, which has been the de facto governing body in Gaza since 2007, although with limited governmental power in terms of ability to deliver services to Gaza, is but one significant fraction of the story of Gaza.

Hamas came to whatever power it has had in Gaza through popular elections, which it won in 2006, over the beleaguered Fatah movement. Fatah had dominated official Palestinian politics since the 1960s. Palestinians in Gaza relate to Hamas, or not, in different ways. On the one hand, it is in charge of policing Gaza, and maintaining security inside it. Yet Gaza has been under severe blockade from sea, air and land by the Israeli occupation forces since 2007. Whatever is allowed into Gaza in terms of life-essentials such as food, water, electricity and fuel is controlled by the Israeli occupation. Therefore, Hamas’s authority in Gaza, if one can call it authority at all, is limited.

People in Gaza, particularly those employed in the various pubic sectors, receive their salaries from the Palestinian Authority, the governing structure that emerged after Oslo in 1993, which is dominated by Fatah and has its is headquarters in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank; the United Nations, through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which looks after Palestinian refugees;from charities; or from Hamas itself. Many of the loyalties in Gaza have material underpinnings, in the sense that people maintain loyalty to whoever keeps their families and loved ones alive, given the severe restrictions on Gazans’ life.

Hamas is one of these organisations, an effective force in Gaza, provisioning the Gaza Strip with social security, such as during the Covid Crisis with its immediate deployment of mobile quarantine facilities. Most people bear witness to its efficiency in terms of maintaining security in Gaza. This is in contrast to the Palestinian Authority of Fatah, whose rule in Gaza from 1993 to 2007 was marred by corruption and ultimately a breakdown in law and order.

In addition, Hamas has demonstrated its capability to resist repeated Israeli assaults on Gaza. This has earned it respect as a movement of resistance in the face of official, Western-backed Israeli terrorism and the non-existent prospects for peace in Palestine under the increasingly maximalist Israeli extreme right wing.

However, this does not mean that all people support Hamas in Gaza. Far from it. But the reality is that in Palestine, people relate to political movements on the basis of their ability to stand up for their historic rights, and Hamas is seen in that light.

The Palestinian population of Gaza and the West Bank have been exposed to extreme violence, morphing now into genocide and ethnic cleansing by the Israeli Government and its settler movement in the West Bank.  This background dims hope of any prospects for peace for the Palestinians, who have long been maligned for resisting peacefully or violently against the Israeli occupation. There are no prospects whatsoever on the horizon of the Palestinians gaining their rights as enshrined in international law.

Hamas cannot be understood in terms of people’s relationship to it in Gaza without this multifaceted reality: services to the people of Gaza, security in Gaza, and resistance to the Israeli occupation and its regular assaults on its people and the lack of any hope of a peaceful resolution to the Palestinian tragedy since 1948.

Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere do not equate Hamas with the extremist ISIS and its indiscriminate violence against people in Syria or Iraq or elsewhere, as Israel and its backers now repeatedly and irresponsibly suggest they do. Hamas has always linked its military operations and struggle in general to the Israeli occupation and targeted it as the primary source of Palestinian suffering. It has never engaged in operations outside Palestine against any other state.  While there are occasions, where indiscriminate violence took place against Israeli civilians as happened on 7 Oct. Hamas still made distinctions between military and civilian targets; and there are several statements by Hamas spokespersons that support this differentiation.

Palestinians are thirsty for emancipation from the Israeli occupation, and people in Palestine see the Hamas operation on the borders with Gaza in that light: as a desperate attempt to free them from the biggest open air prison on earth and to improve their horrific conditions.  Hamas for them and all Palestinians remain rational interlocutors with whom it is possible and necessary to conduct diplomacy and pave grounds for peace, despite 7 Oct. Alas, the Israeli genocide unleashed after that complicates Palestinian reality even further and makes their fervent dream for liberation and freedom from the Israeli occupation a distant reality.

When I visited Gaza in 2018 for the first time in 18 years, I saw a population that is on the whole capable of sensitive and nuanced thinking, despite repeated assaults on its life and sanity.  I felt sympathy for most of the views that I heard, and understood the rationale for them: from those who expressed the view that only resistance could work with the Israeli occupation, to those who submitted to the reality of the Israeli occupation as brute force, and called for diplomacy and peace where possible with it, to those in between who advocated non-violence resistance and peaceful methods to attain their rights; although none of these has ever worked with the intransigent Israeli occupation.

Hamas itself as a movement espouses and represents all these views. Although it used force on 7 Oct primarily against the Israeli military installations responsible for the blockade of Gaza, it is cognisant of the Israeli power and its Western backers, and most probably, in my view, did not expect the extent of Israeli destruction and genocide unleashed on Gaza after that. It probably thought, from its reading of Israel’s history, that Israel would ultimately submit to exchanging Palestinian prisoners, while delivering military reprisals Hamas can afford to accommodate as a movement accustomed to deadly confrontations with Israel.

In general, the people of Gaza have also evolved alongside Hamas in terms of its distinction between Jews as respected People of the Book and Zionism as an ideology of occupation and violence against the Palestinian people.  This was expressed very clearly in its second charter in 2017, which is often ignored by the Western media. The distinction reads as follows, in article 16:

“Hamas affirms that its conflict is with the Zionist project not with the Jews because of its religion. Hamas does not wage a struggle against the Jews because they are Jewish but wages a struggle against the Zionists who occupy Palestine. Yet, it is the Zionists who constantly identify Judaism and the Jews with their colonial project and illegal entity.”

The people of Gaza are linked to Gaza and Hamas is of them. This is particularly the case as they desperately cling to vanishing semblances of life amidst extreme destruction and inhumanity applied against them from the Israeli occupation and its official Western backers. The latter are turning a blind eye to the complexities of Palestinians lives, views and realities, while embracing their unconscionable Israeli occupiers instead: double standards and inhumanity to an extreme degree.

The author is a Palestinian academic originally from a refugee family in Gaza, now living in the UK. He has asked to remain anonymous.

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