Oppressed, But by Whom?

Oppressed, But by Whom?

If you pay even marginal attention to the mainstream media, academic, and protest-community discussions of the Palestinian war against Israel, you will notice a unifying explanation/justification for the barbarity perpetrated against innocent people: Israel left Hamas with no other option.  The Palestinian people are desperate.  They are blockaded by Israel, treated as subhuman, and have no recourse but to lash out against their oppressors.  Poverty, humiliation, and, above all, desperation drive terrorism in general and drove the attacks on Israel over the weekend specifically.  Or so we’re told.

Even superficially, this is an absurd rationalization.  Gaza, for example, is blockaded by TWO nations, Israel on one side, and Egypt on the other.  And yet Hamas “lashed out” against only one of the two – the one, not coincidentally, that is home to more than half of the world’s Jewish population.

We recall writing a piece while at Lehman Brothers discussing the same justification for Al-Qaeda’s “lashing out” at the United States in response to the Arab world’s “desperation.”  That piece is lost to history, unfortunately, but we remember reminding readers that Osama bin Laden was the son of a billionaire; that Ayman al-Zawahiri was from a prominent and wealthy Egyptian family and was, in fact, a physician; that Mohamed Atta was a trained architect from a well-to-do family, who was radicalized while in Germany pursuing graduate studies; and that the story was much the same for most of the other hijackers and the masterminds of 9/11.  They weren’t desperate.  They were bored.  And they saw themselves as heroes, conquerors, modern-day incarnations of Tariq ibn Zayid.

Unsurprisingly, the desperation rationalization falls apart in any serious analysis of the situation in Gaza as well.  The leaders of Hamas – like all Palestinian leaders, dating at least to the late multi-billionaire Yasir Arafat – live quite comfortably, some might say decadently.  The following – from the invaluable Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) – provides just a bit of flavor about the peculiarly wealthy leaders of Hamas and their families:

On December 30, 2022, the Saudi news website Elaph.com reported, citing a “knowledgeable Palestinian source,” that Ma’az Haniya, the son of Hamas leader Isma’il Haniya, recently obtained a Turkish passport, which allows him to easily exit Gaza and travel abroad, where he lives in luxury and manages the family’s real estate. The website claims that, since Haniya became head of Hamas’ political bureau, his family has been living extravagantly and purchasing extensive real estate in Gaza and abroad. It claims further that Haniya’s sons drink alcohol abroad and spend time in luxury nightclubs with women other than their wives.       

This is not the first time the Arab media has reported about the extravagant lifestyle and the corruption of Hamas leaders and their families, reports that have sparked anger among Gazan Palestinians.  The criticism increased as the situation in Gaza deteriorated and as more and more of the leaders’ family members left the Gaza Strip to settle abroad. In late July 2022, for example, it was reported that several of Haniya’s family members had been allowed to leave the Strip through the Rafah crossing and join other members of the family who had settled in Turkey….Isma’il Haniya himself has been living abroad since 2019, dividing his time between Turkey and Qatar.

In November 2021, it was circulated on social media that the son of another Hamas leader, Ghazi Hamad, had given his brother a honeymoon in Sinai as a wedding present….

In other words, the people who planned the war on Israel, the people who ordered the commencement of hostilities, the people who are driving the Iranian and Qatari-backed war of religious vengeance against Israel are anything but desperate.  They are, in fact, quite comfortable, quite content with their lives of leisure and extravagance.

Now, that is not to say that Gaza is free from the sort of desperation that the West’s Hamas-ophiles decry.  There is, indeed, powerful and volatile discontent among the Palestinian people in Gaza.  They are poor, uneducated, brutally oppressed, callously manipulated, and thoroughly devoid of hope.  They are a beaten and broken people who have almost nothing to live for.

Fortunately for us, the Center for Peace Communications (a New York-based nonprofit) put together a series of videos that help to explain the hopelessness of the Palestinian Gazans and their growing frustration with their oppressors.  Joseph Baude, the president of CPC declared that the series serves as proof to doubters that Palestinians want to be free and to live normal lives.  This brief description of an interaction with one interviewee, explains just what that will take:  “’Do I believe in peace with Hamas?’ asks ‘Basma,’ another Gazan woman, in a second clip in response to a question. ‘No. There can’t be peace with them.’ The CPC interviewer laughs and clarifies that she was asking about peace with Israel, a possibility to which the woman proves more open.”

You see, the Palestinians of Gaza are indeed oppressed…but by Hamas itself, not the Jewish people next door.  The Times of Israel continues:

Everywhere Iyad turns in Gaza, he finds Hamas’s leaders looking back at him. Their portraits and slogans cover the walls and alleys. “Is this a city or a military barracks?” he asks. When his fellow Gazans declare themselves “ready for martyrdom,” he hears only despair. “OK, Palestine is our cause, and it is a just one,” he says, “but that doesn’t mean you should keep getting Palestinians killed, again and again, without any result.”

While open criticism of Hamas’s war footing remains rare, a closer look shows a population questioning the wisdom of perpetual conflict. Last August, on a rare occasion when Hamas refrained from firing rockets into Israel during a period of escalation, 68 percent of Gazans supported the decision. Gazan mother Halima Jundiya, noting the trauma her children still endure from the 2014 conflict, told The New York Times, “We don’t want Hamas to fire rockets. We don’t want another war.” Another 2022 poll found that 53 percent of Gazans agree at least somewhat that “Hamas should stop calling for Israel’s destruction, and instead accept a permanent two-state solution based on the 1967 borders.”

Indications of Gazan discomfort with Hamas ideology and policies, which have been growing, are likely understated, given the recent finding that 62 percent of Gazans believe “people in the Strip cannot criticize Hamas’s authority without fear.” One dissenter, speaking with +972 Magazine on the condition of anonymity, said, “We’ve been through four horrific wars and accomplished nothing.”…

Fatima’s brother used to work as a street vendor, selling vegetables his mother grew. But Hamas police in Gaza would confiscate his wares, demanding bribes to let him work and threatening him with jail, beatings, and worse.

Under Hamas rule, the line between taxation and racketeering is a blurred one. According to Palestinian polling, 73 percent of Palestinians believe Hamas institutions are corrupt. In 2019, after Hamas imposed a series of new taxes, approximately 1,000 Gazans waged street demonstrations under the banner “We Want to Live.” One protester observed, “Dozens of Hamas officials have grown their wealth through financial corruption” while “draining our people by imposing more taxes [and] ignoring [our] poverty.” In 2022, the U.S. Treasury Department targeted Hamas finance official and a network of Hamas-affiliated individuals and companies for having funneled over $500 million into a secret investment portfolio, noting that Hamas “has generated vast sums of revenue… while destabilizing Gaza, which is facing harsh living and economic conditions.”

The kind of extortion Fatima describes has driven many Gazans, including her brother, to flee the Strip. A 2018 poll found that 48 percent of Gazans want to emigrate….

When Hamas police came to cut off power to Ahmed’s home, his cousin, a child with Down syndrome, tried to stop them. They beat him and fired live ammunition at his house. After Ahmed uploaded footage of the incident to social media, the clip went viral. He spent the next three days on the run from Hamas authorities.

Hamas routinely deploys coercive tactics in an effort to silence critics. According to Palestinian polling from 2022, 62 percent of Palestinians believe “people in the Strip cannot criticize Hamas authorities without fear.” This fear is justified: a 2017 Human Rights Watch investigation concluded that “[s]ince it seized control of Gaza in June 2007… [Hamas] authorities have harassed critics and abused those in its custody.” The report noted that after one Gazan journalist asked Hamas leaders on Facebook, “Do your children sleep on the floor like ours do?” he was arrested, charged with “misuse of technology,” and instructed by Hamas officers that “it’s forbidden to write against Hamas; we will shoot you.”…

Hamas rule in Gaza, which began in 2007 after a lethal battle against Fatah and PA officers, has been marked by a combination of violent and nonviolent tactics aimed at eliminating all political opposition.

Sadly, it goes on and on…and on…and on….

Western “supporters” of Palestinians are, to put it mildly, doing more harm than good to those they purport to want to help.  The people of Gaza are indeed oppressed and desperate.  But this has little to do with Israel.  They are oppressed by a vicious enemy far closer to home than Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.

For 75 years, the Arabs of the Palestinian region have been exploited and oppressed.  The overwhelming bulk of that exploitation was at the hands of their fellow Arabs, who have also, not coincidentally, been their most ardent oppressors as well.

Stephen Soukup
Stephen Soukup
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Steve Soukup is the Vice President and Publisher of The Political Forum, an “independent research provider” that delivers research and consulting services to the institutional investment community, with an emphasis on economic, social, political, and geopolitical events that are likely to have an impact on the financial markets in the United States and abroad.