Palestinian street voted for change

Palestinians have reacted to Hamas's unexpected sweep of the legislative elections with a mixture of excitement and uncertainty.

    Even diehard Hamas supporters were taken aback by the sweep

    Minutes after official results gave the Islamic group an overwhelming win in the formerly Fatah-dominated legislative council on Thursday, Hamas supporters came out full force into the city streets to celebrate.

    Gaza City was enveloped by a sea of green flags, as cars carrying the group's trademark colour sped through streets, blowing horns below a display of fireworks that lit up the wet sky.
    Women and children sang in the streets, neighbours distributed sweets and congratulated one another on the group's upset victory, which surprised nearly everyone.
    "I voted for Hamas but truthfully I did not expect them to win at all. It was a surprise to everyone - no one expected this to happen," said Basma Ghalayini, 22, who cast her ballot for the group in what she described as a "sympathy vote".    
    Even diehard Hamas supporters were taken aback by the win, as sources began to indicate throughout the day that Hamas, not Fatah as initial exit polls suggested, was the victor. 
    More popular

    "I stayed up until 7pm inside one of the polling centre to try and keep track of the votes. Thank God, we were expecting Hamas to bear results, but in this way? Never," Asma al-Kurd, a social worker from the Dair al-Balah district of central Gaza, said.

    "I suppose we have more popularity in the Palestinian street than we expected. The Palestinian street has proven they want change."

    Jubilant Hamas supporters pray
    in Khan Yunus in southern Gaza

    Not everyone is as excited by the results as al-Kurd.
    After erupting in early and wild celebrations the previous night, Fatah supporters mainly stayed indoors, though sporadic cars carrying their trademark yellow flags eventually joined the mass celebrations in Gaza City. 
    Taha Nabil, a 25-year-old police officer in the bloated Palestinian security forces whose functioning is likely to be streamlined by the new Hamas government, expressed his concern for the future and his shock that what he called a newcomer like Hamas could win so overwhelmingly.
    "I see all these celebrations, and, well ... I just hope it's for the best," said Nabil, fireworks blasting all around him.  
    "Since I'm a police officer and a Fatah supporter, I am not very happy by the results. I just hope the fruits of the victory will not be exclusively for one party or people.   Who is Hamas anyway? We were the ones who began the revolution.  Hamas have only been around for 10 years, and suddenly, out of nowhere, they changed Gaza."
    No celebration

    As it turns out, a large number of Fatah supporters, such as Abu Ahmad Hindi, 32, decided to vote for Hamas. Still, Hindi was not celebrating in the streets, but sat drinking tea with friends taking in the scenes instead.
    "Even though I am a long-time Fatah supporter, I voted Hamas, and I am happy for their win, which was completely unexpected. I hope Fatah takes this as an opportunity and this period to learn from their mistakes, and go forward from here," said Hindi, a merchant in Gaza's upscale Remal neighbourhood.

    Besides the votes of its loyalists,
    Hamas also got the protest vote

    The Hamas vote was as much a call for change as it was a vote against the ruling party, say Palestinians.

    Corruption and rampant mismanagement prompted angry and fed-up residents to give their "protest votes" to Hamas, according to 29-year-old shopkeeper Khamas Illawaya, who voted for Hanan Ashrawi's Third Way list.
    "The Palestinian street is only 30% Hamas, but the corruption of Fatah and its failure to answer to the concerns of the Palestinian people gave Hamas a far greater number of votes than expected. The people chose change, not Hamas," said Ilawaya.
    "I firmly believe Hamas is willing to make compromises and accept any state on this planet for the interest of its people," added Illawaya, as a friend of his burst into the store, handing out celebratory sweets.

    Sleepless night

    "I didn't sleep all night," chimed in Subhi Nakhal, a teacher.
    "I really feel as if a great load has been lifted off my chest. We have hope now - for the first time in 10 years, we have hope."
    Nakhal, who says he barely has enough money to feed his family and who has been chasing the former Fatah government for medical compensation for his sick son for months, believes the secret behind Hamas's success is their effective management and administrative skills, and their social welfare programmes.

    "Not everything is about peace. ... We need to learn some manners. We need to clean our streets. And, mostly, we need security. We need to do all of these things before we make can even speak about a state"

    Usama Nabulsi,
    Palestinian storekeeper

    "The feeling of oppression is a very powerful factor," he said.
    Palestinians say now that the vote is over, they expect Hamas to perform as promised and warn that they are anxious to see quick results.
    "Change is always a good thing. Its not about Fatah or Hamas, it's about changing the faces that represent us. Our hope is that the results are for the benefit of the people.

    "They won based on the banner of 'change and reform', and we hpe that is not merely a slogan. There must be real changes, even if they are only economic and social changes and not political," said storekeeper Usama Nabulsi.
    "Do you think anyone likes the situation we are in? They are sick of the same old situation. What has Fatah done for us during the past 10 years? Nothing." 
    Certain priorities

    Nabulsi and his brother, Khalid, say they are not concerned how the world might perceive the new parliament, likening the situation to the 2001 election of the hawkish Sharon government.

    The Palestinian people, they say, have certain priorities, first among them personal security and survival. 

    Hamas supporters were out in
    full force on the streets

    "A family with 10 children living under the poverty line is not going to think first about relations of the new parliament with Israel or the US or the EU. He is going to think about how he can feed those children," said Nabulsi.
    "Not everything is about peace. We have to get our house in order. We are suffering from a real moral crisis. We need to learn some manners.

    Nabulsi continued: "We need to learn how to raise our children properly. We need to clean our streets. And, mostly, we need security. We need to do all of these things before we make can even speak about a state."

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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