A year later: Hamas still defiant, but Gazans continue to struggle
The Islamist militant group has controlled the coastal strip for a year now and says it will not relent to international pressure.
Few Gazans are making any money these days. There are the shopkeepers who profit from selling cooking oil to fuel motorists' dilapidated diesels and the donkey-cart drivers who find more fares every day.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Today, Hamas's year in power is felt everywhere. While Gaza suffers under an Israeli blockade, it has been changed from a lawless territory to one that is relatively safe. But by most Western standards of governance, Hamas has failed.
Hospitals lack medicine. Raw sewage streams into the sea. Drinking water is in short supply. People continue to die almost daily in the ongoing conflict with Israel. All the exits to Gaza are shut. Even the glimmer of a cease-fire with Israel does not arouse much hope that any improvement is around the corner.
Now Hamas finds itself at a crossroads. After evolving from an Islamist resistance movement to a political titan influencing regional and global politics, it faces possible war with Israel while at the same time it still maintains support among Palestinians for its ongoing defiance.
"The mistake of Hamas was to be in government and resistance at the same time," says Eyad Sarraj, an independent politician and the Gaza commissioner of the Palestinian Independent Human Rights Committee. "If they get rid of their extreme ideas, they can do much better. They have a moral power they haven't even used yet," which stems from their lack of personal corruption.
But Gaza has been under an almost total siege for the past year imposed by Israel and backed by the West.
"The closure and the occupation are responsible for the situation," says Oman Marough, a Palestinian from the poor northern town of Jabaliyah. "With all kind of difficulties, I'm still supporting Hamas and supporting them in the government. We should carry with them the responsibility of suffering."
Such sentiments are common, and lend some credence to the claim of Hamas leaders that the people remain allied with them in their struggle against Israel.
The people of Gaza "are suffering not because of our policy," says Hamas Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar. "It's because of Israeli occupation, it's because of the previous corruption, it's because of the sanctions implemented on the Palestinian side. So we have to differentiate between the people who are doing their utmost effort in order to minimize the suffering and the people who are inflicting the suffering by force."
On a recent afternoon in Jabaliyah, dozens of donkey-cart drivers awaited fares. It's 60 cents to travel a few blocks.
A severe fuel shortage has forced motorists to buy soybean oil to replace the diesel fuel and gasoline that Israel now provides to Gaza at a severely diminished quantity. Cooking oil sells for around $8 per gallon while gasoline on the black market costs $50 per gallon. Obtaining gasoline and diesel legally requires weeks of waiting for fuel rationed by Hamas to between 10 and 50 liters per car.