It's 'Dehumanizing' To Say Palestinians Support Hamas, the Media Said. Then This Poll Dropped.

Young Palestinians at the border between the West Bank and Israel (Getty Images)
November 22, 2023

After Hamas's Oct. 7 massacre of Israelis, leading U.S. news outlets pointed to a single poll from just before the attack as proof that most Gazans did not support the terrorist group. But none of those outlets mentioned a poll published last week that shows Gazans overwhelmingly approve of both Hamas and its slaughter and abduction of Israelis, including dozens of babies and children.

It’s the latest example of the media ignoring information that complicates its depiction of Palestinians as innocent victims of Israeli cruelty.

Then: Arab Barometer completed the first poll on Oct. 6. Leaders of the research group, which tracks public opinion across the Middle East, presented their findings in Foreign Affairs on Oct. 25 under the headline, "What Palestinians Really Think of Hamas." The answer: 67 percent of Gazans had "no trust" or "not a lot of trust" in their autocratic Islamist rulers, and a majority favored a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over sharing one state or a federation with the Jews.

"The argument that the entire population of Gaza can be held responsible for Hamas’s actions is quickly discredited when one looks at the facts," wrote Arab Barometer's Amaney A. Jamal, who is also the dean of Princeton University's School of Public and International Affairs, and Michael Robbins. "As Israel’s operations in Gaza escalate, the war will take an unfathomable toll on civilians. But even if Israel were to 'level Gaza,' as some hawkish politicians in the United States have called for, it would fail in its mission to wipe out Hamas. Our research has shown that Israeli crackdowns in Gaza most often lead to increasing support and sympathy for Hamas among ordinary Gazans."

During a subsequent media tour, the pollsters found a receptive audience for their message, which was already central to news coverage of Israel's war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

BBC, Nov. 14: "What People in Gaza Would Want To Happen When the War Ends?:

[Presenter Lucy Hocking:] Do you feel that so often [Palestinians] have been dehumanized?

[Jamal:] 100 percent.

New York Times, Nov. 5: "She Polled Gazans on Oct. 6. Here's What She Found.":

[Podcaster Ezra Klein:] The people of Gaza, like any other population, have diverse beliefs. But one thing is clear: Hamas was not very popular. ...

One wonders whether so many Gazans want to be sacrificed as martyrs by Hamas. There have not been elections in Gaza in almost 20 years. The polling we have shows that Gazans dislike and distrust Hamas, but I think Palestinians are much more often spoken of, at least in America, as an undifferentiated mass. Their support for Hamas is often assumed, which is one reason I think so many are willing to hold them collectively responsible for what Hamas does. ...

[Jamal:] So you have a population that is basically under this Israeli occupation, but then living under authoritarian rule of their own leaders. And then the world community or [Israeli president Isaac] Herzog basically saying, well, they’re going to be held responsible for what Hamas did.

That is just inaccurate. That does not reflect the realities on the ground. And Hamas has not been representative of the Palestinian people.

NPR, Nov. 5: "The Israel-Hamas War Has Not Quashed Their Compassion, Their Empathy, Their Hope":

In support of that argument, in an article in Foreign Affairs, two authors affiliated with Arab Barometer, a nonpartisan group that evaluates public opinion across the Arab world, point out that in a survey of Palestinians days before the war began, "73 percent of Gazans favored a peaceful settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." And two-thirds of those surveyed expressed little or no trust in Hamas.

CNN, Oct. 30: "What Palestinians Really Think of Hamas:"

[Anchor Poppy Harlow:] We have consistently said, the [Biden] administration continues to say, You cannot group Hamas, a terror organization, with the Palestinian people. They govern, yes, but the distinction is so important.

[Jamal:] So, in other words, as [Gazan] citizens now are bearing the brunt of the Israeli retaliation, they too have not supported Hamas. So it is really a catastrophe.

On HBO's Last Week Tonight on Sunday, host John Oliver cited the poll to argue that Gazans "don't have the freedom to speak openly" about their supposed opposition to Hamas.

Now: The Arab World for Research and Development released a survey on Nov. 14 that found 60 percent of Gazans feel positively about Hamas and 64 percent support the group's Oct. 7 attack. Among West Bank Palestinians, those numbers were 87 percent and 83 percent, respectively. Hamas's armed wing, the Al Aqsa Brigade, received even more widespread support: 70 percent in Gaza and 87 percent in the West Bank.

The Arab Barometer pollsters would blame Israel for pushing Palestinians toward Hamas and terrorism. But decades of polling has shown that large majorities of Palestinians endorse even the most heinous acts of violence against Israeli civilians. In 2008, for example, 84 percent of Palestinians approved of a terror attack in which a Palestinian gunman shot 19 Jewish children at a school in West Jerusalem, killing 8 of them, according to the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.

Another hint that Hamas's Oct. 7 attack was a hit with ordinary Palestinians—even before Israel had a chance to respond militarily—came from footage of the terrorists returning to Gaza on that day with Israeli hostages, including the half-naked body of a 22-year-old woman.

News outlets have largely ignored those videos, too, along with polls showing that certain groups of Americans share the Palestinians's sympathy for Hamas and its actions on Oct. 7.

The media have their story about who is the victim and who is the victimized, and they're sticking to it.