“I want Gaza to be liberated from the government of Hamas,” says “Maryam,” a lifelong resident of the coastal strip that Hamas has ruled since 2007. “Then, Gaza will develop. We’ll have tourists and theater.”
Maryam is telling her story — a tale of growing up singing and dancing, until Hamas seized power — in a short, animated clip. It is part of “Whispered in Gaza,” a series of 25 videos produced by the Center for Peace Communications, a New York nonprofit.
The series is being presented in three parts, in English and French, by The Times of Israel in partnership with CPC, alongside an Arabic-language edition of the clips presented on alarabiya.net, a Persian edition via the newspaper Kayhan, a Spanish edition on Infobae, and a Portuguese edition on RecordTV.
All interviews were conducted over the course of 2022.
The Palestinian speakers, all of whom currently reside in Gaza, describe arbitrary arrests, extortion, and violence by Hamas authorities. Some express longing for the time before Hamas seized power in a coup against the Palestinian Authority in 2007, when they were freer to express themselves and pursue a life path they chose. (The PA held partial authority in Gaza from 1994 under the Oslo Accords. Israel maintained overall control of the Strip until 2005, when it dismantled its 21 settlements there, evicted their 9,000 Israeli Jewish residents, and withdrew unilaterally to pre-1967 lines.)
According to CPC president Joseph Braude, the series “challenges those who justify Hamas violence to choose between supporting Hamas and supporting the Palestinians it oppresses. At the same time, it challenges those opposing Hamas to recognize that countless Gazans want a brighter and more peaceful future, and ask what can be done to empower them.”
“Do I believe in peace with Hamas?” asks “Basma,” another Gazan woman, in a second clip in response to a question. “No. There can’t be peace with them.”
The CPC interviewer laughs and clarifies that she was asking about peace with Israel, a possibility to which the woman proves more open.
“Much has been said about the impact of Israeli policies and actions on the civilian population in Gaza, and rightly so,” observed Ghaith al-Omari, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Yet the conduct of Hamas, the de facto rulers of the Strip — who have created an oppressive, stifling reality for the majority of Gazans — has received much less attention. ‘Whispered in Gaza’ is a commendable effort to provide ordinary people in Gaza a platform to communicate with an international audience.”
CPC promotes Arab-Israeli engagement to foster development in the Middle East, according to senior US diplomat Dennis Ross, who chairs its board.
In 2021, over 300 Iraqis from across the country gathered at a CPC conference in the northern city of Erbil, where speakers called for Iraq to join the Abraham Accords. The CPC-backed Arab Council for Regional Integration has held public conferences in which Arab thinkers advocate relations with the Israeli people. Other CPC projects protect peace activists from retribution and seed Arab-Israeli partnerships.
CPC found Gazans eager to tell the world about their suffering under Hamas. Many already express themselves on social media, Braude noted, but face Hamas pressure to remove their posts.
One interviewee says he filmed Hamas police beating women and a child with Down syndrome for protesting the cut-off of their electricity. Hours after he uploaded the video, thousands of frustrated Gazans had reached out to him. He was on the run from Hamas for days until he was arrested and forced to take down the video.
“I now understand that their jails are full of honorable people,” he says. “Anyone who tries to think for himself winds up there.”
CPC employed animation and voice-altering technology to protect speakers’ identity. The participants consented to be interviewed for the sake of relaying their ideas and experiences to an international audience, Braude said, adding, “They want these stories to be heard.”
The Times of Israel viewed the original footage as used in the animated clips, confirming the speakers’ identity and that their testimony has been accurately translated. Said Braude: “An artistic depiction of the story a voice tells can provide a visceral experience of someone’s life that is hard to forget.”
Attempts to gauge Gazan public opinion through polling tend to yield inconsistent results. Regarding Israel, a 2022 survey by The Washington Institute found most Gazans simultaneously favoring “a permanent two-state solution” based on pre-1967 borders and “reclaiming all of Palestine, from the river to the sea.” Part of the challenge relates to the 2021 finding by Palestinian pollsters that 62 percent of Gazans say they cannot criticize Hamas without fear. (A speaker in one clip observes, “If you say, ‘I don’t want war,’ you’re branded a traitor.”)
In 2019, approximately 1,000 Gazans waged anti-Hamas street demonstrations under the banner “We Want to Live,” braving gunfire and prison.
Clips in which interviewees describe their aspirations include calls for international support for Hamas’s opponents as well as dialogue with Israelis. Braude said the series aims not to advance a particular policy but, rather, to help Gazans join the global conversation.
Jawad Anani, a former Jordanian foreign minister and Jordan-Israel peace negotiator, viewed the material before its release. In an accompanying monograph published Monday, he dubs it a step toward “peace and prosperity” in Gaza: “Our shared hope for such a future is why it was right and proper for this effort to turn the spotlight on the tragic situation of parents and their children in Gaza. It can help catalyze a new dynamic, moving beyond the present dismal, dead-end reality by fostering constructive dialogue.”
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