Many Gazans like me despise Hamas but are too scared to speak out

The polls show widespread support for the terror group but I don’t believe them. The anecdotal evidence of resistance is more important


A displaced Palestinian man reacts as he sits among objects salvaged from a house that was used as a shelter by his extended family members, many of whom were reported killed when it was destroyed during an Israeli strike on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on January 7, 2024, amid ongoing battles between Israel and Hamas militants. (Photo by AFP) (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)

February 01, 2024 10:34

Growing up in Gaza, I distinctly remember Hamas’s rise to power and its creeping domination of Palestinian politics and social affairs. After taking over the territory in a bloody coup, Hamas ruled with an iron fist and criminalised opposition for nearly two decades.

I now live in the United States and have been very public about my hatred of Hamas. My freedom of speech is a privilege, and I will not refrain from expressing my true beliefs simply because I’m worried about who might disagree with me. But although voices like mine might seem few and far between, I believe that many more Palestinians agree with me than you may think.

It is true that recent polls by the Arab World Research and Development group and the Palestinian Center for Policy Survey and Research have found widespread and growing support for Hamas among Palestinians, including in Gaza, following October 7. But I’m certain these figures are misleading.

Face-to-face polling will inevitably generate paranoia amongst Palestinians on the ground, with respondents worrying they are talking to either Israeli agents or Hamas informants. We have yet to see the results of a poll that allows Palestinians to confidentially express their true feelings.

Even though I no longer live in the Strip, I have experienced this intimidation first-hand. Since October 7, when I started to speak out openly against Hamas, I have faced a daily torrent of hate messages, harassment, threats, and online abuse. Accusations of treason, cowardice, being a spy, a sellout, or a paid “Zionist bootlicker” are common insults I receive for sharing any views that are critical of Hamas or the “resistance”.

Even members of my own family in Gaza have warned me that I’m tempting fate. After an Israeli airstrike killed 30 members of my mother’s family in Rafah on 14 December (two more were killed in an October strike on our home in Gaza City), one relative warned me: “If the Israelis don’t kill the rest of us, Hamas might finish us off, thanks to your writing.” But my freedom of speech is a privilege and I will not silence myself.
Unfortunately, many people both inside and outside Gaza find it difficult to criticise the group because they are so misinformed about Hamas’s disastrous impact on the Palestinian cause. This is partly the result of brainwashing. For example, many Gazans have not seen footage of the October 7 attacks and don’t believe there were Israeli civilian casualties, and around the world denial is widespread.

This is no accident. For decades, Hamas has cynically equated itself with the word “resistance”, as if the group’s violent ideology was the only real way to push back against Israeli injustices. As a broad concept, resistance, or muqawama, has enjoyed decades-long support from Palestinians. In the past, however, many have embraced non-violent resistance.

Hamas, by contrast, has always promoted armed struggle as the sole path for Palestinian rights and statehood. The group’s suicide bombings undermined the fragile but promising Oslo Peace Accords in the 1990s, and it has consistently incited Palestinians against peace, coexistence and nonviolent resistance. “This enemy only knows the language of force” is one of the most parroted statements by Hamas.

The group has used mosques, charity groups, youth camps and slick media campaigns to propagate its message and has used public shaming and violence to smother dissent. Anyone who questioned Hamas’s motives or objectives has been painted as a cowardly collaborator. To demand better living conditions or more political liberties was akin to treason. Many people have fallen under this pressure. And many Muslims in the diaspora have taken on this messaging.

Others are reluctant to speak out against Hamas for fear of seeming disloyal or pro-Israel. If people outside of Gaza find it difficult to question the forced conformity, imagine how much more challenging it is for many inside the coastal enclave.

Nonetheless, over the years, I have seen thousands of Gazans expressing a loathing for Hamas on social media, criticising its failures to govern properly and provide electricity, employment and peace. While Hamas couldn’t go after every single account holder, it has targeted known social media users who have a substantial following, arresting them and forcing them to sign documents stating they will not speak up again.
Today, many Gazans are worried that despite the ferocious war, the IDF has been unable to fully destroy or eliminate Hamas. They fear that Hamas will maintain its rule, making them even more concerned about publicly speaking out against the terror group.

Nevertheless, those in refugee centres and displacement camps are experiencing the worst consequences of Hamas’s suicidal adventures. These Palestinians are starting to question the wisdom of armed resistance, the morality of Hamas’s actions and the group’s apparent disregard for the wellbeing of its people, ideas that until now have been deeply taboo.

There are still many in Gaza who support Hamas. But my conversations with my family and others on the ground suggest that the constant danger has perversely liberated some locals to express their true opinions.
On social media, I have seen dozens of videos of Gazans accusing Hamas of stealing aid and expressing deep resentment for the group’s actions that led to this catastrophe.
On a radio programme, a bereaved man cursed Hamas’s leaders and called for the release of Israeli hostages to end the war. In another video, a battered man who survived an Israeli bombing accused Hamas fighters of hiding among civilians and provoking Israeli attacks.

Another showed a young woman sheltering with her child at a UN school. She was calling for aid to be sent by “honest hands” and demanding divine vengeance upon those who caused the war, a veiled reference to Hamas.

Videos and social media posts increasingly show Gazans venting their frustration. A few days ago, about a thousand anti-Hamas Gazans in Khan Younis spontaneously marched for the release of the hostages and the end of the war.

Individuals in Gaza have told me that Hamas has ordered journalists in the Strip not to broadcast such views and to keep the focus on the “Zionist enemy” – or face harsh consequences. Nevertheless, many in Gaza are ready for a different future.

Amid the unprecedented misery brought on by Hamas’s horrendous attack and Israel’s counteroffensive, I believe the seeds for a rejuvenated Palestinian national project that sidelines Hamas’s subjugation and ideology have already been sown.

Ahmed Fouad Alkhatib is a nonprofit administrator and a writer on Gaza issues and political affairs

February 01, 2024 10:34

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