The West classifies Hamas as a terrorist organization, but in the Gaza Strip, the Islamist organization is widely respected for helping families in need. International aid groups also praise Hamas for being free of corruption.The next section follows the heading "A party for the poor"
Etidal Sinati's life in poverty began one night in March 2003. Israeli helicopters were flying air attacks on the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza City and Etidal's husband Mohammed and a group of other men from the neighborhood went out to assess the damage. But the Israelis weren't done; an attack helicopter returned and fired on the onlookers. Etidal's husband was killed, leaving her with seven children and no one to provide for them. Overnight, the Sinatis became a welfare case -- and loyal to Hamas. The radical Islamist group took the destitute family under its wing.
"My husband was not a Hamas supporter. In fact, he was for Fatah," says Sinati, now a widow. It is cold in her two-room hut; a mentally ill uncle sits in a corner occasionally laughing to himself and pulling his wool blanket over his head. "But without Hamas we wouldn't have survived, and even with their support it's been difficult."
The official pension for the wife of a "martyr" -- a Palestinian killed by the Israeli military -- is €100 every three months. For a large family living in Gaza, this is about enough for one good seafood meal, but is not enough to live on. "So Hamas adopted my children," says Etidal Sinati. The widow receives €15 a month in child support for each child, and all of her children attend a school run by Hamas free of charge. "I voted for the crescent in the January election," says the illiterate Etidal. The crescent moon is Hamas's symbol.
At first glance Hamas, a party that looks after the poor with its money and charity, appears to be playing a well-known tune on the instrument of populism. On the other hand, every major international aid organization is singing the Islamist group's praises when it comes to the quality of its work. "In the International Crisis Group's 2003 report, the most important American NGOs gave perfect marks to Hamas's work; they couldn't have achieved a better result," says Helga Baumgarten, a lecturer at Birzeit University in Ramallah. [...]