What Palestinians and Israelis think about the war in Gaza

While a great deal of media attention during the Hamas/Israel war has been devoted to public opinion in the West, much less has been focused on that in the Middle East – which is unfortunate since it is those living there who will ultimately decide when the war is over and under what circumstances.

Contrary to what many in the West think, public opinion in Gaza is complex, with a wide range of views being held by those living there. Good examples of this are the many protests that occurred in Gaza over the years prior to October 7 -- such as the July 30, 2023 anti-Hamas demonstration where thousands of people took to the streets demanding better living conditions. This dissatisfaction was mirrored in the polls conducted during the period – such as the Arab Barometer study in which 67% of respondents reported not trusting Hamas (44% “no trust at all”; 23% “not a lot of trust”). While part of this was due to the government’s lack of openness and responsiveness, an even greater issue involved the difficulties people faced in buying the necessities of life. For example, 78% of respondents said the availability of food was a problem and 75% said they had trouble affording it even when it was available -- which may explain why in the same poll poorer Gazans supported Hamas less (25%) than more affluent ones (33%).

To add insult to injury, these shortages were blamed more on government mismanagement (31%) and inflation (26%) than Israel’s blockade (16%). And as late as July 2023, 62% of Gazans felt that Hamas “should preserve a cease-fire with Israel”. Perhaps even more surprising was the finding that 50% of respondents felt “Hamas should stop calling for Israel’s destruction, and instead accept a permanent two-state solution based on the 1967 borders.”

After October 7

And then the war broke out, dramatically altering the mindset of many in the West Bank and Gaza, with 98% of those polled reporting that they felt prouder of being Palestinian.

While this surge in patriotic feeling was to be expected - given past increases in support for Hamas during times of combat, the surprise this time was that support for the attack was greater in the West Bank (68%) than in Gaza (47%), accompanied by a dramatic jump in support for Hamas in the West Bank from 12% in September to 44% in December 2023.

Why this happened is still up for debate. Part of the explanation may be that Gazans are less enamoured with Hamas as a result of being ruled by it. Or it may be that Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority are so disliked that Hamas looks good by comparison. Others point to the sharp increase in Hamas’ popularity in the West Bank following the prisoner exchange with Israel. Yet others have suggested that it is a reaction to settler attacks in the West Bank. Or it may simply be that it is easier to be bellicose when you are observing from a distance than when you are in the thick of things.

Polling also shows a reluctance to view Hamas’s fighters in a negative way – as seen by the 90% of respondents in a December 13 poll who did not believe they committed the atrocities shown in videos. (Which was interesting since 85% also claimed not to have seen the videos.) And a majority believed the attacks were in response to settler violence and to win the release of political prisoners rather the result of influence from Iran.

On the question of blame, respondents in the same poll placed responsibility for the suffering of Gazans squarely on the shoulders of Israel (52%) and secondarily on the US (26%) – with only 11% blaming Hamas.

And lastly, there seems little taste for peace since polling shows: greater hostility toward Israel, greater support for armed struggle, and little faith in negotiations, the two-state option, and the idea that Palestinians and Israelis can coexist peacefully.

 

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Israeli public opinion

Israeli public opinion is also complex, due to a number of fault lines in Israeli society – which include ideological differences between the Left and Right, religious differences between ultra-orthodox and secular Jews, and the ethnic, cultural and religious differences separating Israeli Jews and Arabs, to name just a few.

That said, public opinion in Israel has taken a decidedly hawkish turn since October 7 – as seen by a sharp decline in support for the creation of an independent Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution. This was shown in a December 22, 2023 Gallup poll in which 65% of respondents declared themselves opposed to the idea – a reversal from a decade earlier when twice as many Israelis supported the idea than opposed it. As well, 74% of respondents said they do not think peace is likely with the Palestinians – with only 13% saying it is possible. (This is less than half the 29% average support for the idea reported in the period between 2006 and 2017.)

Coupled with this is the 94% support among Israeli Jews for the IDF’s use of force in Gaza – with 43% claiming it is using too little force, while 51% believe it is applying an appropriate level. Not surprisingly, this is in sharp contrast to Israeli Arabs, 55% of whom believe the IDF is applying too much force. And a similar split in opinion exists on whether the heavy casualties seen among Palestinians in Gaza is justified – with 88% of Jews saying it is justified while 53% of Israelis Arabs say it is not.

Other issues that divide Israelis include the Government’s performance (especially that of Netanyahu) during the current crisis, plans for the post-war period, and what to do about the hostages held by Hamas. Not surprisingly, Coalition supporters are more positive than the Opposition and Israeli Arabs are more dovish and more hopeful about negotiations, the possibility of lasting peace, and a future Palestinian state.

And to complicate things further, the split between the parties on the Left and Right impacts a large number of issues, such as whether to emigrate or stay in Israel, who is to blame for the unpreparedness on October 7, the conduct of the war, the hostage situation, and even how resilient the Israeli people have been during this crisis.

In spite of these disagreements, there is one thing upon which Israeli Jews can agree on – namely, the performance of the IDF which almost 93% of Jewish respondents view positively. (But even here there is some disagreement since only 17% of Arab Israelis share this view.)

Summing up

From these polling results, it is clear that October 7 has been a watershed event in the forging of Middle Eastern public opinion. And not for the better! For in both the Palestinian territories and Israel, views have hardened to a point where a desire for peace has been replaced by a desire for revenge. And nowhere is there a vision of a brighter future in which both sides might one day live together in peace and prosperity.

Still, there is always hope. For it must be remembered that public opinion observed during wartime can – and often does - change significantly once the guns are silent and cooler heads prevail. That being the case, perhaps when the two sides have tired of killing each other, wiser leaders will step forward to forge policies that are a blessing rather than a curse.

We can only hope and pray that this is so. 


Paul Malvern writes from Canada. He is President of The Malvern Consulting Group Ltd., which provides public and private sector clients with advice and assistance in the areas of strategic communication and social marketing. He is also an author and social critic, whose second book, Persuaders: Lobbying, Influence Peddling and Political Corruption in Canada, was nominated for the Governor-General’s Award for Best Business Book in 1985. He was the head of the Prime Ministerial Communications Group in the Prime Minister's Office and Lead Speechwriter for Stephen Harper.

Image credit: Palestinian News & Information Agency (WAFA) 


 

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  • Kathy Ungar
    commented 2024-02-06 19:22:05 +1100
    I share the author’s wish for peace, which could be immediately achieved by the cutting of US funding for what is better described as a massacre than a war. On the Israeli side, the commission of crimes against civilians (bombing, starvation, shooting, imprisonment and torture) should be admitted and condemned by everyone. Similarly, Hamas war crimes committed on October 7, albeit on a far lesser scale, should be admitted and condemned by everyone. The cynical embellishment of these crimes by Israel to boost the war effort – see here https://thegrayzone.com/2023/12/06/scandal-israeli-october-7-fabrications/ and here for an Israeli media investigation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jp4uLjCztfI – does not mean no crimes occurred or that the killing or kidnapping of innocent people can somehow be defended.
    Finally, we all need to admit the extraordinary fact that Hamas originally received covert funding from Israel, as Netanyahu openly told the Likud party. This was to ‘divide and conquer’ and deflect the claims made for a two-state solution by those Palestinians who did recognise Israel. Putting blame exclusively on Hamas and its foreign supporters glosses over Netanyahu’s own responsibility for Hamas’s dreadful actions and Israel’s infinitely more dreadful reprisals.
  • Paul Malvern
    published this page in The Latest 2024-02-05 15:47:30 +1100