The Evolution of Hamas

What Happens When a Resistance Movement Stops Resisting and Starts Governing?

A Hamas fighter speaks on the phone as he sits inside the personal meeting hall of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas after they captured his headquarters in Gaza, June 15, 2007. Suhaib Salem / Reuters

Ayman Abu Odeh, who lives in Gaza, once had high hopes for Hamas. Like many Palestinians, the 50-year-old voted for the militant group and political party in the historic January 2006 election, out of protest more than ideology: Fatah, the secular faction that had dominated politics in the Palestinian territories for four decades, had become deeply corrupt, and a decade of negotiations with Israel had failed to produce a Palestinian state.

Life was comfortable enough before Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007 after a violent, six-day power struggle with Fatah. Abu Odeh used to own a cement mixer and made a good living in Gaza’s construction industry—good enough to build a three-story house in the northeastern city of Beit Hanoun. By the end of 2006, the cement mixer was gone, destroyed during an Israeli army incursion that followed Hamas’ capture of the soldier Gilad Shalit, who was released in 2011 in a prisoner exchange. Abu Odeh scraped out a living for a while as a laborer, but that work eventually dried up, and he now relies on charity. His two adult sons are both unemployed.

Abu Odeh’s house survived until the most recent war, in the summer of 2014. Then an Israeli shell demolished that, too. His family spent the following winter in an uninsulated trailer donated by the Moroccan government—“like living in a freezer,” he called it. His sister’s family lives next door, in the two rooms of their home that survived the blast. They sleep on mattresses in the kitchen and worry that the gnarled structure above them will collapse. Electricity is out for most of the day; water comes by truck every third day. “If you miss it, you’re thirsty,” he said.

Almost everyone in Gaza has a similar story. There was the woman at the Rafah border whose kidneys failed as she waited 15 months to cross into Egypt for medical treatment. Or the businessman who fired 80 percent of the staff at his factory because a

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