Steven Aiello

Gazan Youth Speak IV: Can Hamas be Replaced?

Gazan Youth Speak IV

Ongoing series involving questions sent to Palestinian students (ages 12-18) in Gaza. Here are the questions and answers (the students have no direct contact with me — everything is communicated via their teacher). Previous post can be read here.

I think that the responses communicate clearly how youth are victims of this conflict, while also showing the range of individual perspectives of both Gazans, and the Jewish Israelis who asked the questions. Several also indicate that at least not all youth have access to full information (e.g. not understanding what happened on October 7th, or lack of full awareness of democracy) The responses are presented as is, with only minor editing of typos, and explanatory comments in [in brackets]. All are anonymous, with only letters representing individual responses.

Would you consider Hamas a terror organization? Why or why not?

[Many responses reference the military wing of Hamas: Al-Qassam Brigades]

  1. No it is an army, and resistance. And they help a lot. They have the Al-Qassam brigades that are an army.
  2. Not. They are not because they are more an organization to provide. And has good schools, and their army is helping us be freed.
  3. No they are a movement, with finance to help the poor and help with health care and school. And then politics to make sure Palestine is safe. Then the army that also makes sure [that we are] safe but that via self defense.
  4. No they aren’t. Why not? Because their goal is to free Palestine, to give good health care, good education and good infrastructure. But their leaders aren’t here and that can be seen. They don’t understand what life is like. They behave like it is 1948 and don’t want to change anything, they can’t think out of the box. They are too old.
  5. No they are just a resistance movement, a political party and a military divided into three parts
  6. No they are not, they are working for the freedom of Palestine. Al-Qassam on other hand, sometimes I wonder why they are so extreme.
  7. It began as a resistance movement, in fact it began as an effort to get Palestine free. By making the Muslim Brotherhood have a Palestinian offshoot. It did become armed in the 1980’s and more so in the middle of 1990’s. When Al Qassam joined it became more violent I have to say. And the dream of a free Palestine by anything else but weapons started to fade away sadly. I don’t like the title “terrorist organization”, because somebody’s terrorists are somebody else’s freedom fighters. Just like someone else’s army is another one’s enemies. I don’t call them a terrorist organization because what they have done to Gaza has been both good and less good. I rather refer to them as a split group with a goal which they don’t internally agree on. It is slowly falling apart. And we are the victims of their downfall.
  8. I do not view Hamas as a terrorist organization. The freedom fighters have worked hard to ensure our safety. Without them, we likely would not have survived; we would have perished by now.

Do you think Hamas can be replaced with a democratic government? Why or why not?

  1. I am not sure what a democratic government means, but Hamas can be replaced. It has done much good.
  2. If they let us vote then we will be democratic but that is also the way Europe sees it. They [Europeans] always try to change everyone. And I think we need our government, not theirs because that is another culture. But I think we need elections. And maybe not a party with a military wing?
  3. Only by election. But we have to have elections every 4 years and then we also need all Palestine, not just Gaza [likely refers to including the West Bank, referred to by many Gazans as East Palestine]. Now it is too small.
  4. What needs to be done is to make it younger, if it wants to be in politics. Because I am tired of all those over the age of 50 that never lived here, or visited one time. I don’t know what you mean with democratic, what is that? To have elections? Then yes we need elections. I have never voted, I don’t even think my parents were old enough to vote. It can be replaced for sure.
  5. Democracy is the power of the people, and once upon a time Change and Reform was chosen. By the people. Not me, the majority of us have never voted. And they did a good job getting power, but then civil war broke out. And almost 90% of the leadership aren’t here in Gaza. That is annoying. If political parties were allowed, I am sure it can change. But to me it seems like Sinwar, Bibi and Abu Mazen all are too attached to leadership to allow anyone else to take over.
  6. That was a hard question. It can only be replaced by humans and voting. But then they need to allow others to run for government also. Not like last time when it [sparked a] civil war.
  7. What is democracy for the person who asks the question I must kindly ask. To me a democracy is a government chosen by the people, and Hamas was chosen from a coup and the result of civil war. I don’t consider that democratic, at the same time it only seems to be a problem when Hamas are taking actions that aren’t liked by the outside media. Of course it can be replaced, but then we need something to replace it with. War, and occupation isn’t a good start in creating something new.
  8. Who will replace Hamas if they are removed, and what will the consequences be? Nobody wants the Palestinian Authority with its rampant corruption and lack of action. They allow violence to occur and never seek retribution. They are powerless. We need elections. I need elections. I need political parties with promises, such as the ‘Change and Reform’ party, that are not influenced by Salafi Jihadism.

Are you ok with Hamas shooting rockets at Israeli cities?

  1. Yes, only when that is done for revenge. [seems to mean in response to Israel doing something[
  2. It is always done as retaliation? For something that we have the right to defend.
  3. I cannot think of another way to defend Gaza and the people here, when things are done to us or our people. We cannot do anything else.
  4. Okay? Of course it isn’t good, but I ask what else can be done? When we have no rights to defend ourselves, while thousands are dying. My entire family was blown up, I was severely injured. Do I then want revenge or just say “let it happen”? No, until we come up with something else OR get freedom, that is the best way.
  5. We have the right to defend ourselves.
  6. I can’t think of another way to defend Gaza.
  7. No, like I am not okay with provocative behavior. The provocateurs know very well what the response will be. The seemingly endless of back and forth violence needs to end one day, but then human beings need to be willing to stop.
  8. It is the only way for us Gazans to display our humiliation at the hands of Israel and the only way to show presence and protect ourselves against the powerful weapons of mass destruction that Israel deploys. Rockets are not even comparable in terms of casualties to what Israel causes.

How would you have reacted to Oct 7 if you were the government of Israel?

  1. First think what we did? Why do they hate us? Negotiate for the hostages. And target the [Hamas] leadership.
  2. Question how it could happen at all? And also ask, if hatred comes from being isolated and controlled? Force [negotiation] talks. And arrest the leaders.
  3. I am not sure what happened. But if I really want people in a cage, then make sure that they cannot escape. Also not attack and humiliate them over and over again. But that is too late. It is already done. So then stop being stubborn and start to talk. And get the leadership.
  4. I am not sure what happened on that day. But I guess I would think it is time to change tactics. It doesn’t work to continue murdering thousands of civilians again and again. But those are also old grumpy corrupt men too deep into their lust of blood so I don’t think anything will change. Dialogue was never any option, so why now?
  5. With happiness that I get away with corruption and can start yet a new war. Which I know will lead nowhere, but since war is my language I will do it anyway. Because peace, what is that?
  6. Asking why? And then see what the USA did and accomplished after the 9/11 war on Afghanistan [unclear if this was meant ironically or as a real response suggestion]. Show real emotions for a change.
  7. In a dream world I would have liked to think I would wonder how? How could this happen? What has been done? Could it have been avoided? Did we think we were safe? Did we think that those we occupy will never turn against us? Did we think that the warnings were just empty words? Were there signs? 

But, I am not in a dream world. I am in a world where revenge takes over the hearts so easily, and pushes away common sense, removes clear thinking and rather [leads to a] show of strength. [Then] I think I would have attacked the leadership of those responsible. But first make sure to know, who did it? And not always take the easy road and blame just one single army, when there are so many armies to choose between. Violence should never be number one on the agenda, nor should hatred. But the area is run by power hungry war loving individuals who have lost touch with their common sense. And that is sad.

8. If I had been a part of the Israeli government on October 7, I would have asked myself what we had done to provoke such a strong attack. What had been done, and what could I do to respond? I would have likely gone after the source of the aggression, rather than causing the deaths of over 12,000 Gazans. I would have done my best to cut off the spread of false news, false pictures, and false stories, in an effort to understand the source of the hatred. I am still conflicted over what I would have done, but whatever course of action is taken now will be wrong. This will only lead to more hatred, less trust, more orphans, and more anger.

About the Author
Steven Aiello is the Director of Debate for Peace (, and a board member of the NGO Committee on Sustainable Development NY. He has a BA in Economics, MA in Diplomacy and Conflict Studies, and MA in Islamic Studies. He teaches Model UN for schools throughout Israel. Among his other hats he serves as Regional Coordinator for Creating Friendships for Peace, and Dialogue Officer at Asfar. Steven has also served as Chief of the Middle East Desk Head for Wikistrat, interned for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and the American Islamic Congress. His writing has been published in the NY Daily News, Jerusalem Post, Iran Human Rights Review; Berkley Center at Georgetown;, and the Center for Islamic Pluralism. He can be reached via email at
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