Hamas may have been trying to make an example last week through the firing-squad execution of at least 25 Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel. But the public killings in the same week as the beheading of American journalist James Foley by the Islamic State made Hamas look not so much as the flag bearer of Palestinian resistance as the terrorist group that the United States and Israel accuse it of being.
The summary executions in Gaza, which followed the Israeli assassination attempt on Hamas military chief Mohammed Deif and the killing of his wife and two children, were condemned by human rights organizations and even within official Palestinian circles. For example, the Palestinian Authority criticized Hamas for the executions because of its lack of judicial oversight and transparency. Similarly, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights called for an end to the “extra-judicial executions.” And Amnesty International said, “Hamas must immediately and totally cease its use of the death penalty.”
For his part, Hamas leader Moussa Abu Marzouk explained the public shootings as an attempt to satisfy the people. “Because of the pressure put on us by the residents of Gaza, because of the cries of despair and so that there would not be further chaos,” he said, “we decided to create deterrence so that people would not try to be clever.” This strange comment from the Hamas leader appears to reflect the organization’s reported concern that it is losing the support of the masses and is turning to public executions as a means of quashing challenges to its rule.
The public outrage over the executions is a welcome rebuke of Hamas, which regularly uses citizens as human shields and turns humanitarian centers into weapons storage facilities. It gives some balance to the odious but popular narrative that Israel is the sole cause of misery in the Middle East.
In the face of a weakened Hamas, Gazans have a choice: They can either seek to end the fighting and strengthen the Palestinian Authority or they can continue to support Hamas as it hunkers down, al-Assad-style, to pursue a grim war of attrition. Hasn’t there been enough misery and death in Gaza to make that an easy choice?