OpinionIsrael at War

Disgruntled Palestinian laborers turn against Hamas

In interviews with several laborers who used to work in Israel before the Hamas massacre, they warned that the situation in the West Bank was on the brink of an explosion due to the dire economic conditions.

A Palestinian police car in Al-Manara Square in Ramallah. Credit: Tomasz Przechlewski/Flickr via Wikimedia Commons.
A Palestinian police car in Al-Manara Square in Ramallah. Credit: Tomasz Przechlewski/Flickr via Wikimedia Commons.
Khaled Abu Toameh
Khaled Abu Toameh is an award winning Arab and Palestinian Affairs journalist formerly with The Jerusalem Post. He is Senior Distinguished Fellow at the Gatestone Institute and a Fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

Public opinion polls may indicate an increase in Hamas’s popularity among Palestinians in the West Bank after the Oct. 7 massacre, but a growing number of Palestinians living there have begun speaking out against the Iran-backed Palestinian terror group.

Most of those critical of Hamas are the Palestinian laborers who used to work inside Israel before the carnage. It is estimated that more than 140,000 Palestinians from the West Bank used to cross into Israel every day—legally and illegally—to work in a variety of jobs, including construction and agriculture. These laborers have not been able to return to their workplaces since the Hamas attack due to strict Israeli security restrictions. Many of them fear that they may never return to work in Israel and that they will be replaced with foreign workers.

An average Palestinian used to earn 400 to 600 shekels a day ($112 to $167) as a laborer in Israel. That’s much more than what a Palestinian earns working for the Palestinian Authority or employers in the private sector in the West Bank.

Moreover, the P.A. is not able to provide most of the laborers with work. Five months after the start of the Israel-Hamas war, most remain unemployed, and they are beginning to vent their anger and frustration at both the P.A. and Hamas. P.A. Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh has advised the laborers to find work in their villages and cities.

In interviews with several laborers who used to work in Israel before the Hamas massacre, they warned that the situation in the West Bank was on the brink of an explosion due to the dire economic conditions.

“Many laborers have been forced to work as vendors in their cities and villages,” said a construction worker from Nablus. “Some sell vegetables and fruit, while others sell clothes and sandwiches.”

He added: “The laborers were always considered the lucky ones. They used to make a lot of money working in Israel. Some built themselves new houses with the money they made in Israel, while others bought new cars. Now, these laborers are complaining that they can’t feed their children. They are very angry with Hamas. But many are also angry with the Palestinian Authority for failing to help them.”

A shopkeeper from Tulkarem, whose son also used to work in Israel before Oct. 7, said that he has noticed that even people who were previously known as Hamas sympathizers have begun criticizing the terror group.

“I meet many people every day who are complaining that Hamas has brought a new nakba [catastrophe] on the Palestinians in both the Gaza Strip and West Bank,” the shopkeeper remarked. “Many are asking why Hamas did not prepare the people for the war before it launched its invasion [of Israel]. Most of the criticism is directed against the Hamas leaders leading lavish and comfortable lives in Qatar, Lebanon and other countries.”

In another village near Jenin, a Hamas-affiliated imam reportedly told his followers that he and his family have decided to distance themselves from the terror group because of its responsibility for the “tragedy” that befell the Palestinians as a result of the Oct. 7 massacre.

The disgruntled imam was quoted as saying that it was “inconceivable” and “insane” that Hamas would sacrifice thousands of Palestinians and destroy the entire Gaza Strip to secure the release of a few hundred Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails. The imam added that the abduction of Israeli women and children has caused tremendous damage to the Palestinians and their cause. “Holding civilians as hostages is very bad for us in the international arena,” the imam reportedly argued.

The critical voices emanating from the West Bank do not necessarily imply that there is love for Israel. True, Palestinians who have been directly affected as a result of the war are furious with Hamas because they can no longer enter Israel to work. Are they prepared to speak out in public against Hamas? Not yet. Does this mean that we will witness an intifada against Hamas in the West Bank? Unlikely, at least in the foreseeable future.

If anyone has good reason to be worried, meanwhile, it’s the Ramallah-based P.A. that has not been able to provide solutions for the unemployed laborers. Instead of seizing the opportunity to rally Palestinians against Hamas, the P.A. has escalated its anti-Israel rhetoric since the beginning of the war. By inciting Palestinians against Israel, the P.A. is effectively destroying the chances of West Bank Arabs returning to jobs in Israel and driving more Palestinians into the arms of Hamas.

The P.A.’s anti-Israel campaigns are designed to divert attention from the incompetence and corruption of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah. P.A. chairman Mahmoud Abbas cannot even bring himself to condemn the Oct. 7 butchery perpetrated by Hamas. He finds it safer to divert the anger on the Palestinian street toward Israel rather than Hamas. This tactic has thus far proven ineffective. According to public opinion polls published by Palestinian groups, a majority of Palestinians have lost confidence in both Abbas and the P.A.

The disillusionment with Hamas among a growing number of Palestinians in the West Bank is a positive development. However, the trend is unlikely to gain momentum as long as the P.A. leadership does not seize the opportunity to communicate to its people that Hamas’s path of slaughter prevents them from achieving any of their aspirations. 

Originally published by The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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