Now that stories alleging a humanitarian disaster in Gaza have been debunked by eyewitnesses visiting the Hamas-held territory, critics of Israel’s blockade have shifted tack claiming that such an action is counterproductive. For example, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times argued on July 2, 2010 that the “siege of Gaza” had failed and that Israel was simply “empowering Hamas rather than undercutting it.” He underscored this point by quoting several Gazans:
“When people lose their jobs, they hate Israel all the more,” Mr. Telbani said. “They don’t blame Hamas. They blame Israel.”
Sari Bashi, the executive director of Gisha, an Israeli human rights organization that monitors Gaza, says that the siege has probably strengthened Hamas.
So if the present policy has failed utterly — even backfired by possibly bolstering Hamas — let’s start over. It’s time not just to ease the siege of Gaza, but to end it once and for all.
But is Kristof correct that the Israeli blockade has bolstered Hamas?
In contrast to Kristof’s anecdotal evidence, opinion polls conducted by Palestinian organizations suggest quite the contrary — that under the blockade, Gazans have grown increasingly weary of Hamas and its methods. While Palestinians remain as hardline as ever in their views about the conflict with Israel, this has not translated to support for Hamas.
Gazans’ rising negativity towards the Hamas government and Ismail Haniyeh
In March, 2008, a poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) showed 47 percent of respondents supported the Hamas government and just 33 percent opposed — a positive margin of 14 percent. This was nine months after Hamas had ejected Fatah from Gaza which led to the imposition of the Israeli blockade.
Two years later, a January 2010 poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion (PCPO) found only 32 percent had a positive view of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyah and 58 percent had a negative view, a deficit of 26 percent (all numbers are rounded to nearest whole). Another poll by An Naja University tallied an even more lopsided margin of 26 percent positive and 62 percent negative, a deficit of 36 percent.
Even more revealing is the contrast between the opinions expressed by Gazans and West Bankers.
Arab World for Research and Development (AWRD), a Ramallah based group, in June, 2010, asked Gazans for their assessment of Hamas in general — a broader question than those in the other polls which focused on the Hamas government administration. A resounding 65 percent expressed a negative view of the group and 31 percent expressed a positive view, an opinion deficit of 34 percent. The West Bankers, however, remain evenly split on how they view the Hamas government.
The negativity of Gazans toward Hamas in these opinion polls reflects a wide spectrum of grievances. A PCPO poll in Jan. 2010 demonstrated that only 4 percent of Gazans believed they enjoy substantial human rights, versus 71 percent who felt they do not. In assessing blame for the schism between Fatah and Hamas, 41 percent of Gazans blamed Hamas versus only 13 percent who blamed Fatah. Hamas was also blamed for the tunnel collapses and resultant loss of life by 52 percent of respondents, versus just 22 percent who held Egypt primarily responsible.
Gazans changing their minds about rocket fire on Israeli towns
Enthusiasm for launching rockets on Israeli towns has waned among Gazans in the past two years. The PCPSR poll in March 2008 must have been reassuring to Hamas at the time, showing that 65 percent of the Gaza population supported rocket attacks on Israel versus just 33 percent who opposed them. An AWRD poll in May 2008 was more lukewarm, but nevertheless affirmed a plurality of 44 percent who supported rocket attacks versus 40 percent who opposed them.
But in the interim period since those polls were taken, Gazans have been confronted with Israel’s willingness to act forcefully to stop the rocket fire, and its continued enforcement of the blockade despite international criticism. AWRD reported in its June 2010 poll that support for resuming rocket attacks had fallen to 35 percent, while 65 percent opposed such attacks. A PCPO poll in May 2008 showed a similar result, with 29 percent of Gazans who supported rocket attacks versus 62 percent who opposed any resumption of firing rockets.
Diminished support for Hamas and for rocketing Israel should not be interpreted as indicating any softening of Palestinian attitudes towards Israel. Approval of violence as a means of promoting Palestinian goals remains strong and opinion polls reflect an unchanged hard line on key demands.
A poll taken by AWRD on Aug. 28, 2010 reveals that 68 percent of Palestinians reject any agreement that does not offer refugees (and millions of their descendants) the right of return to Israel, a majority reject any division of Jerusalem, even in the manner that existed prior to 1967. Eighty-four percent believe it is essential that Palestinians take total control of Jerusalem. Overwhelmingly, Palestinians reject the demilitarization of any future Palestinian state and by nearly 3 to 1, Palestinians are convinced that even if the two-state solution is implemented, Israelis and Palestinians will not be able to coexist in peace. Yet in contrast to these hardline positions, only 28 percent of those polled supported continued rocket attacks against Israel, although a plurality thought that violence offered the most likely means of establishing a Palestinian state.
A review of opinion polls going back to 2006 and 2005 reveals that an apparent shift towards increased militancy and greater support for Hamas occurred between 2006 and 2008. This was a period during which Hamas gained and consolidated its rule in Gaza and Israel maintained a mostly hands-off policy. But sympathy for Hamas diminished over the last two years. One interpretation of this shift is that Palestinian public opinion is responding to the pain and hardship caused by Israeli military responses to rocket fire and to the gradual impact of continuing economic and political isolation. As Israel responds to provocations with force and resolve, Gazans bear the brunt of the response and take a less favorable view of Hamas tactics.
In sum, the anecdote-based argument by Nicholas Kristof that Israel’s blockade policy is counterproductive and should be ended immediately, is not borne out by polling data. It appears that over time, Gazans have grown weary of the consequences of Hamas rule.
Poll conducted by
|AWRD (Arab World for Research and Development )||6-10||Opinion of Ismail Haniyah|
|An Naja University||4-10||Opinion of gov’t of Ismail Haniyah among Gazans|
|4-10||Opinion of gov’t of Ismail Haniyah among WB|
|PCPSR (Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research)||3-08||Opinion of the Hamas government|
|PCPSR||9-07||Opinion of the Hamas government|
|PCPSR||9-06||Opinion of the Hamas government|
PCPO (Palestinian Center for Public Opinion)
Satisfied with Ismail Haniyah
Satisfied with Ismail Haniyah
Opinion of Ismail Haniyah
|AWRD||6-10||Opinion of Mahmoud Zahar|
|AWRD||6-10||Opinion of Hamas|
|PCPO – Gazan opinion||1-10||Fatah responsible for schism|
|Hamas responsible for schism|
|PCPO||1-10||do Gazans enjoy human rights|
|PCPO||1-10||who is more responsible for loss of life in tunnels – Egypt|
|AWRD||6-10||Return to missile fire on Israel|
|PCPO||5-10||Support missile fire on Israel|
|AWRD||5-08||Support missile fire on Israel|
|PCPSR||3-08||Support missile fire on Israel|
|PCPSR||9-07||Launch rockets on cities|
|PCPSR||6-10||Should the ceasefire be renewed|
|AWRD||5-08||Support 10 year truce|
|AWRD||5-08||Rockets are helpful|
|PCPSR||6-07||Support new ceasefire|
|PCPSR||1-06||Support further attacks|