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Israel’s Gaza Policy Boosts Hamas’s Popularity? Doesn’t Look Like It

Radical leftists worldwide enthusiastically support Hamas, which has the cardinal virtue of being virulently anti-Israel. It’s a pity they never asked Gaza Strip residents, who actually have to live under Hamas rule. But one of Israel’s leading pro-Palestinian journalists, Amira Hass of Haaretz, gave these residents a voice this week:

“I wish these pictures reached leftists abroad,” my friend said to herself Tuesday as she watched Hamas police use rifle butts and clubs to beat her friends — activists from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Although my friend has never been a fan of the Fatah government in the West Bank, she is outraged by the romanticization of Hamas rule by foreign activists.

Ironically, the PFLP agrees with Hamas about most key issues: “opposition to the Oslo Accords, glorification of the armed struggle and opposition to direct negotiations with Israel.” The protest wasn’t over anything political, but over the chronic power outages — more than eight hours a day, every day, for months — caused by the Hamas and Fatah governments’ ongoing spat over who should pay for Gaza’s power plant’s fuel after the European Union stopped footing the bill last November. Since both sides refuse to pay, the amount of fuel entering the Strip has steadily declined; in the first week of August, it amounted to only 23 percent of what is needed to run the plant at full capacity.

Hamas initially tried to prevent the protest — though under Palestinian law, demonstrations don’t need a license. When that failed, “hundreds of police with clubs and rifles” dispersed the demonstrators “very violently.” Many demonstrators were wounded and needed medical attention; others “were detained for some time.”

Most likely, overseas leftists won’t see these pictures, since Hamas kept photojournalists from taking any. But Hass’s word pictures are vivid enough.

The punch line, however, is her own commentary. Hass cannot be suspected of pro-Israel sympathies; she lived for years in both Gaza and Ramallah, and her tireless media crusade for the Palestinian cause has won her numerous journalism awards overseas. But after noting that Hamas routinely suppresses unauthorized gatherings — even a party organized by the Khan Yunis refugee committee for students who passed their matriculation exams — she concluded:

[T]he shamelessly brutal suppression of the [PFLP] protest shows just how scared the Gaza government is. … If Hamas felt it still had public support, it wouldn’t need to suppress any activity that it didn’t initiate or finds unflattering.

Of course, it’s not just radical leftists who won’t like that conclusion; it’s the entire Western foreign-policy and media establishment — which unanimously asserts that Hamas’s popularity is steadily increasing, thanks to Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Granted, the Palestinians’ own polling data refute that idea, as I noted here in June, but why let facts interfere with a good anti-Israel theory?

Which is why Hass’s unarguable point — that popular governments don’t need to suppress demonstrations — will doubtless also be universally ignored. And that’s an even greater pity, because a little more attention to facts would greatly improve Western policy in the Middle East.


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