As strikes resume, the battered Palestinians of the Strip don’t want Hamas to give up the fight.
- By David KennerDavid Kenner is the Middle East editor at Foreign Policy. He is based in Beirut, Lebanon, and has been with FP since 2009 (a long time, he knows). He worked for FP previously in Cairo, where he covered the early days of the Arab Spring, and before that in Washington. He has attended Georgetown University and the American University of Beirut and has reported from Libya, Egypt, Gaza, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq.
GAZA CITY — Hopes that the Gaza war was on its way to a resolution had a cruel collision with reality at 8 a.m. this morning. At the very moment a 72-hour cease-fire expired, a barrage of rockets arced out of Gaza toward southern Israel. Most of them slammed down into empty fields; one was intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system. The Israeli retaliation, meanwhile, resulted in the death of a child and the injury of more than a dozen others throughout the day.
From the outside looking in, this turn of events seems nonsensical. Why can’t the two sides reach a compromise? Why wouldn’t Hamas agree to an extension of the cease-fire, when its civilians and infrastructure are bearing the lion’s share of the damage?
And then you come to Gaza. The horror stories seek you out: The man living in a crowded United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) refugee camp who hasn’t had the money to repair his house since it was damaged in the 2012 war; the 7-year-old girl who interrupts an interview to interject that her father has been killed; the exhausted general manager of Shifa Hospital, who spoke mournfully about how his staff was performing surgeries in waiting rooms because all of the operating rooms were full.
These people all said that this war was easily the worst of the three conflicts with Israel since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in 2007. And all of them maintained that Hamas should continue striking Israel until its demands are met.
For these Gazans, the roots of their support for Hamas lie in the fact that they simply have so little left to lose. Sitting in his office in Gaza City, Raji Sourani, the director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, ticks off the statistics showing how impoverished this tiny territory was even before the war: 50 percent unemployment, 80 percent of households below the poverty line, and 90 percent dependence on international organizations that provide food and aid.
"We have become a nation of beggars. That’s not us — we are a people with dignity and with pride," he said. "If you want to have isolation from the outside world, bombing, [and] destruction … that means you want to create extremism. Chapeau [respect] for Hamas that we don’t have either [the Islamic State] or al Qaeda. It’s a miracle."
In Cairo, Jerusalem, and even Ramallah, the idea that this war could fatally weaken Hamas appears to be taken seriously. Inside of Gaza, Sourani and others interviewed predicted that it would only make the Palestinian Islamist movement stronger.
"They are strong now, because people really appreciate them," Sourani said. "I think for the last four or five years, Hamas is the uncontested political power in the occupied territories…. In Gaza, they are monopolizing the political scene."
The fighters, too, believe they have the wind at their back.
Abu Ziad, a man in his 30s with a bushy, black beard typical of hard-line Salafists, shifts his cellphone between his hands mechanically as he speaks. He explains that the organization he represents, the Mujahideen Brigades, a small hard-line faction allied with Hamas, did not speak with foreigners for a long time, but recently decided to change its policy in order to explain their cause to the world. The group, he said pointedly, was one of the four "resistance factions" currently waging war against Israel, along with Hamas’s al-Qassam Brigades, Islamic Jihad, and the Nasser Salaheddin Brigades — a list that pointedly excluded Fatah’s military faction.
The Palestinian armed factions, Abu Ziad said, were currently "living through a historical change." They were becoming more deadly: Smuggling more weapons into Gaza, constructing more tunnels under enemy lines, and firing bigger rockets further into Israel than ever before.
"The resistance doesn’t have anything to lose," he said. "We will not raise the white flag. We will continue until we liberate Gaza, and break the siege."
The world, simply put, looks different from Gaza. And for that reason, this war is far from over.