Hamas leaders call for a mass uprising, urging Arabs and Muslims into the streets against Israel. What would help the Palestinian people the most, however, would be a mass uprising of Gazans against Hamas, a coup that might succeed now that Israel is intent on destroying Hamas leaders and capabilities.
In 2006, Hamas gained power in Gaza by winning a parliamentary election against the Palestinian Authority, whose corruption was well-known and unpopular. Hamas soon expelled PA officials from Gaza, beating some with clubs, shooting others and notoriously tossing at least one off a roof. Since then, Hamas has ruled Gaza tyrannically, with cruel punishments for political opponents, no free speech, no free elections, and no respect for other human rights. Hamas officials live corruptly in luxury, both in impoverished Gaza and abroad, and they misappropriate humanitarian aid to finance terrorism.
The number of Gazans who support Hamas’s aims and actions has no doubt increased as a result of 15 years of Hamas indoctrination. They rally to Hamas’s call for a fight to the death against Israel, and the Israel Defense Forces are now giving them what they demand. They endorse, or at least tolerate, Hamas’s strategy to massacre Israeli civilians while hiding Hamas military assets within hospitals, mosques, schools and neighborhoods, which ensures high Palestinian civilian casualties.
But there are surely other Gazans who oppose Hamas tyranny, regretting the 15 years of waste and oppression Hamas has inflicted on Gaza and hoping to build better lives. Many presumably want to live peacefully beside Israel and are horrified that in their name Hamas murders, rapes, and kidnaps Israeli civilians, drawing IDF fire upon their homes.
These are the Palestinians for whom the world justly grieves and wants to shield from the consequences of Hamas’s war. For them, the coming months will surely bring suffering, but will also present an opportunity.
Throughout history, courageous people have risen up to oust regimes that have brought them pain, ruin and dishonor. Some of the rebellions succeeded at great cost; some incurred great costs but failed; and some failed but planted the seeds for future success.
Many Europeans risked their lives—and many died—trying to free their countries from fascist or Communist dictatorships. Poles and French in the 1940s, Hungarians in 1956, and Czechs in 1968 knew their chances were slim. The Nazis and Kremlin-led Communists did in fact crush this resistance for a time. Even the failed uprisings, however, exhibited courage, honor and national pride which left embers that years later became flames that produced freedom.
So far, Hamas has stymied any Gazans who crave better governance and peace. But in coming days, if Israel succeeds in destroying Hamas’s ability to fight, Gazans will have a realistic chance to take their future into their own hands.
Unlike what happened to the failed opponents of tyranny of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, outside powers will not crush Gazan freedom-fighters, but help them prevail. Under less promising circumstances, better governments arose in post-fascist Italy, Germany and Japan, and in post-Communist Ukraine and central Europe in the 1990s.
Seldom in history has an oppressed people had such strong prospects of outside help as the Gazans have. Americans, Europeans, and others would eagerly assist 2 million Gazans who take a stand for a new, honest government that respects its people and favors peace through mutual compromise with Israel. Israel would help, too.
No one, however, should underestimate the costs that Gazans would have to pay to rid themselves of Hamas and improve their lives. But the other options—Israeli occupation or continued Hamas-rule—also have enormous downsides.
One of the cruelest comments ever made about politics is that people get the leaders they deserve. Gazans have the strongest possible interest to show that this does not now apply to them.