#5 To what extent do Gazans support Hamas?
Survey data shows that Gazans have little trust in the Hamas government, and a majority of them favour a solution to the conflict that recognises the existence of Israel alongside a Palestinian state
There is an interesting article (open access version) in Foreign Affairs by Amaney A. Jamal and Michael Robbins reporting on a recent survey conducted in the Gaza strip days before the October 7 attacks. It was partly framed as a response to recent declarations by the Israeli President Isaac Herzog to justify the bombing of the Gaza strip by the IDF arguing that
“It is an entire nation out there that is responsible,” Herzog said at a press conference on Friday. “It is not true this rhetoric about civilians not being aware, not involved. It’s absolutely not true. They could have risen up. They could have fought against that evil regime which took over Gaza in a coup d’etat.”
This claim itself is egregious: citizens shouldn’t be held collectively responsible for the actions of their government, especially not in authoritarian regimes. The article in FE itself is worth reading insofar as it strongly contradicts the idea that the population of Gaza fully supports or aligns with the political objectives of Hamas. The data notably shows that the overall base of support of Hamas is quite small. Only 27% of respondents in Gaza selected Hamas as their preferred party (actually behind Fatah at 30%), and general trust in the Hamas government of Gaza is very low. As per the authors:
The survey’s findings reveal that Gazans had very little confidence in their Hamas-led government. Asked to identify the amount of trust they had in the Hamas authorities, a plurality of respondents (44 percent) said they had no trust at all; “not a lot of trust” was the second most common response, at 23 percent. Only 29 percent of Gazans expressed either “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of trust in their government. Furthermore, 72 percent said there was a large (34 percent) or medium (38 percent) amount of corruption in government institutions, and a minority thought the government was taking meaningful steps to address the problem.
This data is based on the Arab barometer, a survey programme conducting opinion polls in MENA countries since 2006. I went to look for the actual survey data to make some graphs myself. The most recent wave conducted just this month is obviously not available, but previous rounds are freely accessible. I used the one from October 2021, which is based on a sample of 1800 respondents age 18 and over in the West Bank and Gaza (technical details are here).
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The results align closely with the most recent data reported in Foreign Affairs. Back then already, trust in the Hamas-led government of the strip among the (adult) population of gaza was very low.
Here how this breaks down by party preference (the party people feel closest to):
This can be understood in the context of the dismal economic conditions prevailing in the area. As we know, access to basic necessities in Gaza has been extremely problematic in recent years.
A similar picture emerges when people were asked about whether their government was corrupt: 80% of Gazans thought that there is “to a large” or “medium” extent corruption within the national state agencies and institutions in their country. The data shows however a lower perception of corruption in Gaza than in the West Bank, where 90% of respondents think that state agencies are to a large extent or at least moderately corrupt.
If we look at which party people feel closest to (Hamas, besides also being an Islamic terror group, also has a political arm that competed in elections) , we also see that there is far from unanimous support for Hamas. This support is higher in the Gaza strip, but generally low considering that the group governs it alone. The data reported in FE from this month even indicates a higher level of support for Fatah than for Hamas.
Maybe the most striking result here is people’s answers when asked what their preferred solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict was: the two States solution (one for Jews, one for Arabs) following the 1967 borders was by far the preferred option here, far above a Confederation or a one-state solution. One should be very careful with this data because the options given to respondents were limited and arguably none of them aligned with the most extremist views expressed by Hamas, such as the destruction of Israel. We don’t know what answers would have been if these more radical options had been offered. In the survey, respondents with such views could apparently only answer “Other” (sic), which may be why this response is much more widespread among respondents indicating Hamas as their preferred party. Ignoring this (quite significant) caveat, by this metric nearly 70% of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank favoured a solution that acknowledged the existence of Israel. Even half of the people declaring Hamas as the party they feel closest to did so.