In Gaza, looking back at Hamas’ legacy

Gaza’s younger generation always believed in Hamas’s right to be in power, but Hamas never believed in the youth’s right to take part in their own society.

By Abeer Ayyoub

I was only 18 when Hamas won the parliamentary elections in 2006. I wasn’t fully aware of the difference Hamas could make for the country, or the development the PA might have been able to offer if it had stayed in power. I was, however, totally convinced that the democratic results should be respected.

Hamas won the elections, but democracy wasn’t respected. The Islamic movement was boycotted by almost everyone in the international community and even the Arab world. It felt like Palestinians were being punished for enjoying the right to elect their own rulers.

It wasn’t only Hamas that had to survive this unfair isolation, but also the people who lived under their control. Two years later, Israel tightened the siege on Gaza after Gilad Schalit was captured, and then Hamas took over Gaza, ousting the PA’s forces to the West Bank. All of that put the Islamic government in the same boat with the people of Gaza — in one of the world’s biggest battles for survival.

A Hamas supporter in Gaza City, March 23, 2014. (Basel Yazouri/
A Hamas supporter in Gaza City, March 23, 2014. (Basel Yazouri/

As a young Palestinian student in Gaza, I wasn’t spared from that battle for survival; I had to carry on with my studies despite the difficult financial situation caused by the Israeli siege. I had to get to school on foot most of the time due the fuel shortage, study in candlelight because of the electricity crisis (which continues to this day), and endure the mental consequences of being one of many trapped in the world’s biggest open-air prison.

For Gazans, living under the control of an Islamic government was far from ideal. The government’s Islamic policies enormously affected the personal lives of the already conservative people here. Hamas’s systematic violation of personal freedoms was one of its worst policies. Banning hookah smoking for girls in public places, questioning couples in the streets to make sure they are related and separating genders at elementary schools were just some of the decisions. Those issues and their effects created unnecessary distractions and noise for a government that had far more vital issues to focus on, even when some would argue that such decisions were taken as part of fundraising campaigns among the big Islamic countries and to highlight its Islamic roots. “Hamas and Islamizing society” was the theme that regularly hit the headlines during the nine years of its rule, which was widely used — and misused — by the mainstream media worldwide. How do you Islamize an already extremely conservative society?

And all that without mentioning the tense internal political atmosphere caused by division between the two governments in Gaza and the West Bank. Freedom of expression and the right of peaceful assembly almost disappeared during Hamas’s nine years — not only in Gaza, but also in the West Bank. I myself experienced the loss of that freedom when I was arrested in 2011, while participating in one of the demonstrations supporting Egypt’s anti-Mubarak revolution. Political arrest was a term my ears weren’t very accustomed to before the two factions decided to become friendly enemies.

Hamas has failed to gain the support of most of us, the younger generation in Gaza. But we always recognized its right to be in power. Hamas, however, never believed in our right to participate, and play a role in our own society; it never trusted us. Hamas has lost all those young boys who were subjected to its violence due to their hairstyle or Western jeans, all the activists who were arrested or beaten for being a part of opposing political movements and all the liberal people who were insulted for not adhering to the extreme Islamic rules Hamas was trying imposing on people. Hamas has left a negative attitude in almost every Gazan home. Here, it is important to note the fact that most people in Gaza are educated and aware of what’s going on around them and in their lives., People were aware that Hamas was being subjected to an unjust boycott from the outside world. But instead using those intellectuals to support it, Hamas lost them with a lack of trust and proper communication.

Hamas left power in recent days, a unity government was formed, and Israel is still upset that Hamas is still a part of the new Palestinian government. To me, national unity has always been the ideal solution. People going back to the polls and realizing their democratic rights is the first priority. Palestinians in Gaza don’t, as everyone thinks, need humanitarian handouts and sympathy. Instead, they just need to live normal lives, just like everyone else lives around the world. The Palestinian cause is not a humanitarian one, it’s a primarily a political one. Palestinians need to work and to manufacture, they need open borders, have a steady economy and they need international pressure on Israel to stop its constant violations. We need widespread recognition of the Palestinians’ most basic rights.

Abeer Ayyoub studied English literature at the Islamic University of Gaza. She is a journalist who covered the last war on Gaza and has recently covered various internal issues. She has written pieces online in English for Al Jazeera, Haaretz and other publications.