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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Hamas still rules through fear

It is unfortunate to note that while Israel clearly weakened Hamas, the terrorist organization is still the only game in town. Its campaign of terror against Fatah - killing far more Palestinian Arabs than Israelis during the duration of the war - has kept it in its role as a thugocracy. And as this article shows, the residents of Gaza are back to their old fears:
On street corners, Hamas police are back in uniform, flaunting their AK-47s....

A recent declaration by Hamas’s prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, that the movement has won a great victory draws mirthless smiles.

But many faithfully stick to the official version. “The resistance did very well,” says Assad al-Hartani, a municipal worker as he shops for cigarettes in the market. “They stopped the invasion. Without them the Israelis would have destroyed all of Gaza.” The fact that Hamas has not been ousted from power is itself considered a fine achievement. “Israel’s war didn’t change anything,” Mr Hartani goes on. People in the crowd around him nod in agreement, albeit aware of two uniformed guards watching and listening.

In the streets you hear only support for Hamas. In more secluded conversations, views are more nuanced, with expressions of anger, fear and exhaustion. “People are furious with Hamas for bringing this on us,” says a taxi driver from Jabaliya, a big refugee camp in the north of the strip, after first making sure that the car windows were closed and no one was eavesdropping. “But they are too afraid to speak out. They know that if they say the truth about this war they may disappear.”

But he also describes how people’s feelings changed as the war went on. At first, some were delighted by the prospect of Hamas’s demise. But after days of bombs, sentiment shifted. “The Israelis made a mistake when they killed so many women and children. Everyone then supported Hamas. The Israelis made a big mistake.” He repeats that last phrase several times.

Vacuums in Arab societies tend to be filled by extremists, and in this case it was refilled by the old dictators.

Natan Sharansky famously said:
Can someone within that society walk into the town square and say what they want without fear of being punished for his or her views? If so, then that society is a free society. If not, it is a fear society.
Gaza is going to be a fear society for a long, long time.

(h/t Ruthie of America)