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While war in Gaza continues, support for Hamas is growing in the West Bank

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Israel says the war in Gaza will eliminate Hamas as a military threat. But two months after Hamas' deadly October 7 raid on Israel, the popularity of Hamas among Palestinians appears to be rising in the West Bank. Tired of decades of Israeli military control and lost hopes of statehood, even some moderate Palestinians say they view Hamas' attack as a legitimate act of defiance, and they don't believe the evidence of Hamas atrocities. NPR's Brian Mann reports from Ramallah.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: The first day I arrive in Ramallah, there are marches and protests across the city, with many protesters identifying themselves as supporters of the Qassam Brigades. That's Hamas' military wing.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in non-English language).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Chanting in non-English language).

MANN: It is just a sea of flags, many of them the green flags of Hamas, people chanting here, praising Hamas.

It's important to say there is overwhelming evidence Hamas fighters killed Israeli civilians, women and children in the October 7 attack that Israel says left 1,200 people dead. Video recorded by Hamas fighters shows attacks against civilians. But here in the West Bank, Palestinians see October 7 very differently - as a legitimate act of resistance and defiance of Israel's occupation. Nihad Abu Ghosh is a journalist and political analyst in Ramallah who describes himself as a secular moderate.

NIHAD ABU GHOSH: Hamas made the most important action against Israel since its existence. To me, it's something like a miracle. Of course, we don't believe all the lies.

MANN: This argument, this conspiracy theory, is embraced even by many educated Palestinians with strong connections to the West. Shopkeepers, government workers, farmers and students - they tell me again and again Hamas' attack on Israel was a military strike by devout Muslims against Israeli police and soldiers. They say Hamas fighters would never rape women or murder children. Fadi Quran is a Palestinian activist in the West Bank with a progressive group called Avaaz who's not a Hamas supporter. He says he's personally troubled by accounts of attacks on civilians.

FADI QURAN: The Palestinians do not support the harming of innocents.

MANN: But Quran says after decades of mistrust, many Palestinians simply don't believe Israeli and Western accounts of what happened.

QURAN: So from the first day, there was a question on Palestinians' mind. Is this all true?

MANN: What people are left with, Quran says, what many Palestinians have embraced is the image of Hamas as a symbol of strength.

QURAN: This idea that Gaza, after 17 years of blockade, was capable of, like, challenging the blockade, challenging the military occupation was seen as an inspiring act of resistance.

MANN: There's another reason Hamas' brand has soared in the West Bank. After October 7, Israel agreed to release a couple hundred Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Israeli hostages taken by Hamas.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Singing in non-English language).

MANN: It's dusk in Ramallah when I arrive at the hilltop home of Hanan Barghouti. Barghouti was arrested by Israel for Hamas-related activity and released during the hostage-for-prisoner exchange.

HANAN BARGHOUTI: (Speaking Arabic).

MANN: Barghouti says she believes if it weren't for pressure exerted on Israel by Hamas, she would never have come home.

BARGHOUTI: (Speaking Arabic).

MANN: Barghouti says the rise of support for Hamas in the West Bank is heartening, a sign, she says, the organization is moving in the right direction. She tells me Hamas has gained popularity not only here but internationally. I asked Barghouti if it's possible for some kind of peace between Palestinians and Israelis, and she shakes her head no. And many people here agree. They tell me the time for negotiation and coexistence with Israel has ended. Nihad Abu Ghosh, the journalist, says the less-confrontational Palestinian Authority, the official government here in the West Bank, has seen its popular support crumble, in part because of what he describes as collaboration with Israeli security officials.

ABU GHOSH: The bad performance of the Authority here - this gives power to Hamas.

MANN: After October 7, Israeli officials say the only way their country can be safe is to eliminate Hamas, and that requires the ongoing offensive in Gaza. But for Palestinians here, the focus now is on the humanitarian crisis caused by the war. Thousands of people in Gaza have been killed, including many women and children.

QURAN: The nonstop violence is really radicalizing all Palestinian society.

MANN: Activist Fadi Quran, who himself advocates nonviolence, says the war is making it harder for Palestinians to talk about coexistence.

QURAN: Honestly, basically, that people do not feel safe around anyone that even professes support for Israel. You know, the truth is we as Palestinians now see anyone that says, I stand with Israel, as someone calling for the genocide of our people and the slaughter of our children.

MANN: As the war grinds on, people I talk to here say this is the political and cultural space Hamas is filling for many Palestinians. Brian Mann, NPR News, Ramallah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.