The View From Gaza

Hamas's Victory

Anna Lekas Miller interviews Palestinians in Gaza about the changing views of Hamas there.

“After Hamas defeated Israel by stopping its army, the general opinion of Gazans towards Hamas has changed drastically. You could say that Hamas’s entire past before Operation Pillar of Cloud"—the name Israel gave to its brief, recent air war in the Gaza Strip—"has been erased.”

This generous view of a Hamas rout of Israel in the recent fighting, sent to me by e-mail, came from a Gaza-based Palestinian cyber-activist who goes by the alias Abu Own, a member of Gaza Youth Break Out—an anonymous network of Palestinian hacktivists living in the Strip. The group's Gaza Youth Manifesto, written in 2010, outlines many of the frustrations of young Palestinians living in Gaza. It begins, “Fuck Hamas. Fuck Israel. Fuck Fatah. Fuck UN. Fuck UNWRA. Fuck USA!” Now, it seems, Hamas is being struck from the list of expletive targets.

While many of the frustrations towards Israel, Fatah, the United Nations, UNWRA and the United States remain, Palestinian public opinion of Hamas—which has historically been ambivalent at best, and frustrated and damning at worst—is changing dramatically in the wake of Israel’s most recent attacks on Gaza. Hamas took the reins of Palestinian government through a democratic election in 2006 in what analysts viewed as a protest vote against its rivals' corruption, but violently seized power in a pre-emptive counter-coup in 2007. Since then, many Palestinians living in Gaza—though they elected Hamas—have felt a deep-seated distrust of the governing body, particularly their sometimes aimless hyper-militant strategies.

“In 2008, we thought that Hamas was pushing us into a real disaster because they were fragmented and didn’t have a certain goal,” Islam, a university student living in Gaza City who didn't want her last name used wrote to me. “In this most recent attack, Hamas convinced Gaza that they are a resistance movement, not a terrorist movement.”

When I met Islam two years ago, she did not support Hamas—many of her political sentiments seemed along the lines of the Gaza Youth Manifesto, holding nearly equal distrust for both Hamas and Israel. However, like many Palestinians in Gaza, her disdain for Hamas seems to have evaporated overnight.

“Any blame for Hamas disappeared the moment the rockets began to hit as far as Tel Aviv,” Mohammed Omer, a Palestinian journalist live on the ground in Gaza told me over the phone when I asked him about the shift. In previous years, Hamas’s rockets were only able to reach as far as the southern Israeli town of Sderot, or Ashdod at the very farthest. During the most recent clashes, Hamas rockets fell near Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Though Israel retaliated against each rocket attack with extreme force, for many Palestinians living in Gaza, these strikes showed that Hamas was a powerful resistance—and was a legitimate force for Israel to reckon with.

“I hear admiration—even among Fatah supporters who used to be anti-Hamas. They think that these strikes forced concessions from Israel,” Omer said.

In the ceasefire agreement, brokered by Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, Hamas demands that Israel ease its blockade on Gaza, and allow residents to move freely along its borders. It also demands that Israel stop assassinations of Hamas leaders. In Gaza, despite the death toll of 166 killed and 1,122 injured, many are claiming this as a victory—and Hamas as the victor.

Several other unlikely factions have also come out in favor of Hamas—including ardent supporters of Hamas’s rival political faction, Fatah.

“What I find astonishing is that there are people who were anti-Hamas, like Fatah members working with the Palestinian Authority, who became Hamas supporters overnight,” Omer mentioned. “I was just talking to one of them. He said it was just as easy as that—he was anti-Hamas, but then, as he says, ‘My party Fatah negotiated the Oslo agreement in 1993 and nothing has happened, almost twenty years later.’”

Meanwhile, Hamas was able to gain concessions from Israel—or at least talks with Israel (through Egypt)—that could change the course of Gaza’s history in eight days of fighting. After several assassinations and airstrikes against Hamas's rocket stockpiles, Israel too declared victory in the brief conflict. International analysts are noting the ambiguity about who won the war. But if you ask Palestinians I know in Gaza, there's no ambiguity at all.