Hamas faces growing public discontent as Gaza war erodes support


The man in the video is beside himself, a mask of fear radiating across his bloodied face.

“I am an academic doctor,” he says, “I have had a good life, but we have a filthy (Hamas) leadership. They have become accustomed to our bloodshed, may God curse them! They are scum!”

The video – unthinkable before the war in Gaza – was filmed outside a hospital filled with hundreds of Palestinian casualties after an Israeli operation to free hostages from central Gaza last month.

Warning: Graphic image

Seconds before the video ends, he turns to the crowd.

“I am one of you,” he says, “but you are a cowardly people. We could have prevented this attack!”

The video went viral. And it’s not the only one.

In a viral video, an injured man in Gaza was filmed attacking Hamas leadership In a viral video, an injured man in Gaza was filmed attacking Hamas leadership

An injured man in Gaza condemned the actions of the Hamas leadership in a video shared on social media last month (UGC)

In Gaza, open criticism of Hamas is growing, both on the streets and online.

Some have openly criticized Hamas for hiding hostages in apartments near a busy market or firing rockets from residential areas.

Residents told the BBC that swearing and cursing at Hamas leaders is now commonplace in the markets. Some donkey cart drivers have even given their animals nicknames after the Hamas leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar. They urge the donkeys on with shouts of “Yallah, Sinwar!”

“People say things like, ‘Hamas destroyed us,’ or even cry out to God to take their lives,” one man said.

“They wonder what the October 7 attacks were for. Some say they were a gift to Israel.”

Some are even urging their leaders to agree to a ceasefire with Israel.

There are still people in Gaza who are particularly loyal to Hamas. After years of repressive control, it is difficult to say to what extent the group is losing support, or to what extent existing opponents feel more able to express their opinions.

But even some who work for the group itself have doubts.

A senior Hamas government official told the BBC that the Hamas attacks were “a crazy, unpredictable leap”.

He asked us to keep his identity a secret.

“I know from my work with the Hamas government that they prepared well militarily for the attack, but they neglected the home front,” he said.

“They have not built safe shelters for people, they have not reserved enough food, fuel and medical supplies. If my family and I survive this war, I will leave Gaza as soon as I get the chance.”

File photo of Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar shaking hands with a man during a rally in Gaza on April 14, 2023File photo of Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar shaking hands with a man during a rally in Gaza on April 14, 2023

Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, pictured here in April 2023, has been in hiding since the war began (Reuters)

There was resistance to Hamas long before the war, but much of it remained hidden for fear of reprisals.

The last time Palestinian elections were held, in 2006, Gazans voted for Hamas in 15 of the territory’s 24 seats. In the remaining nine districts, voters chose other parties.

A year later, Hamas violently expelled Palestinian Authority forces from Gaza, leading to a bitter rift with the rival Fatah movement. Hamas subsequently seized control of the entire Gaza Strip.

Ameen Abed, a political activist, said he had been arrested several times before the war for speaking out against Hamas, but that nine months later dissent was growing.

“In Gaza, most people criticize what Hamas has done,” he said.

“They see children living in tents and insulting their leaders has become routine. But it has a lot of support among those outside the Gaza border, who sit under air conditioners in their comfortable homes, who have not lost a child, a home, a future, a leg.”

Despair and war are undermining the social structures in Gaza and Hamas control is no longer what it used to be.

Four-fifths of Gaza’s population is displaced and often moves between temporary shelters.

And public order has been disrupted in some places, partly as a result of Israel’s policy of targeting Gaza’s security forces, not just Hamas’s official internal security service, but also the community police responsible for combating street crime.

As control eroded, criminal gangs emerged, looting neighborhoods and sending aid convoys around. Private security firms also emerged, some run by powerful local families.

Displaced children in GazaDisplaced children in Gaza

More than 1.9 million Palestinians have been displaced in Gaza, according to the UN (Anadolu via Getty Images)

An aid agency worker working in Gaza described “absolute chaos at street level” and “a state of anarchy,” saying that order among civilians had been completely disrupted as a result of Israeli policies.

Israel’s prime minister has repeatedly vowed to continue the war until Hamas’s military and governing capabilities are destroyed.

Some aid agencies, both in northern and southern Gaza, also report that their activities are regularly monitored by local Hamas officials. Videos also regularly circulate showing unofficial Hamas security forces shooting and beating people caught looting.

A reliable source told the BBC that dozens of people had been killed by Hamas in bloody clashes with other local groups after Israeli troops withdrew from an area.

The fear of criticizing Gaza’s leaders may have diminished, but it has not gone away. So it is still difficult to accurately gauge the extent to which support for the group is changing, apart from individual testimonies.

Some, like 26-year-old Jihad Talab, still strongly support Hamas.

He fled Gaza City’s Zeitoun neighborhood with his wife, daughter and mother and now lives in Deir al Balah. He says the group is not responsible for their suffering.

“We must support (Hamas) because it is the one who works on the ground, the one who understands the struggle – not you or me,” he said. “Idle accusations only serve the occupation (Israel). We will support it until our last breath.”

A Palestinian man walks to a waterhole in GazaA Palestinian man walks to a waterhole in Gaza

After nearly nine months of war, an aid worker said Gaza was in a “state of anarchy” (Anadolou via Getty Images)

A regular poll by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research, a West Bank think tank, shows that most people in Gaza still blame Israel and its allies for the war, rather than Hamas.

The latest survey in June found that nearly two-thirds of Gaza respondents were satisfied with Hamas – an increase of 12 points from December – and that only about half would still prefer Hamas to lead Gaza after the war, over any other option.

These results differ from several statements provided by the BBC, including that of a senior Hamas official who privately acknowledged that Hamas was losing support as a result of the war.

These glimpses through the cracks in the media blockade around Gaza can never provide a complete picture of the situation. International journalists are prevented by Israel and Egypt from reporting first-hand on the situation there.

It is clear that Hamas is still very sensitive to public opinion.

Strikingly similar messages regularly appear on certain social media to justify the actions, often seemingly in response to criticism from within the country.

A source familiar with Hamas told the BBC that there was an organised international network to coordinate social media messages for the group.

After Israeli families published a video on October 7 showing female soldiers being abducted by Hamas forces, some in Gaza questioned whether targeting women during the war was consistent with Islamic teachings.

In response, several pro-Hamas social media accounts posted similar messages, insisting that soldiers, male or female, were legitimate military targets and claiming that the unit was involved in the shooting of protesters in Gaza during demonstrations six years ago.

Criticism of Hamas is growing sharper and long-hidden divisions over Hamas rule in Gaza are becoming clear.

Out of the devastation caused by Israel’s battle with Hamas, a new war is emerging: a struggle for control of public opinion in Gaza itself.

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