GAZA WARGaza War: How Representative Is Hamas of Ordinary Palestinians?

By Christoph Bluth

Published 23 November 2023

The catastrophic Hamas attack on October 7, which has led to the deaths of so many Palestinian civilians in Gaza in Israel’s response to the Hamas attack, has eliminated any pretense of legitimacy that Hamas may ever have had in the eyes of most of the world. Indeed, the days of Hamas may be over. But this will only increase the urgency of finding a long-term solution for Palestine, something that seems further away than ever.

After more than a month during which Israel has relentlessly bombarded then invaded Gaza with the stated aim of destroying Hamas, Gaza’s health authorities have estimated that more than 13,000 people – mainly civilians and a distressingly high proportion of those children – have been killed.

Yet it should be remembered that it was the initial attack on Israel by Hamas fighters on October 7, killing 1,200 people – again, mainly civilians, many in the most brutal manner – that led to Israel’s invasion of Gaza.

Initially, the Israel Defense Forces issued warnings to Gazan civilians to move south. But repeated airstrikes on towns in the south of Gaza have left the population fearing that there are no safe spaces left in the enclave.

Israel continues to insist, with the backing of its allies in the west, that this military operation is aimed at rooting out Hamas. They say it is the fact that Hamas embeds itself in civilian populations that is causing so many casualties.

But recently there have been signs that some Palestinian civilians are openly challenging Hamas’s authority. Associated Press reported on November 10 that angry crowds threw stones at Hamas police in one location while in another, people huddling in a UN shelter hurled insults at Hamas officials.

Political Party or Terror Group?
Hamas was founded in Gaza in 1987 by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, an imam, and his aide Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi. This was shortly after the beginning of the first intifada – an uprising against Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Initially emerging as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas later established a military wing known as the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades. Its primary goal was to engage in armed resistance against Israel with the aim of liberating historic Palestine.

While there is international support for Palestinian self-determination, Hamas’s aim – spelled out in its founding charter – to destroy the state of Israel has cost it legitimacy with many who would otherwise support Palestine’s cause.

The group has effectively controlled Gaza since shortly after the then-Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon withdrew troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005. In elections in 2006, Hamas secured a majority of seats in the Palestinian Authority’s legislature and established a government. This gave Hamas some legitimacy as far as the Palestinians in Gaza were concerned – at least temporarily.