As the U.S. Presidential campaign enters its final days, Palestinians in Gaza are closely following the polls. Televisions in many homes and shops are tuned to 24 hour news stations, focusing almost entirely on the campaign.
Most people in Gaza are rooting for Democratic candidate Barack Obama. Sameh, a local political organizer, explained his interest in the election by saying, “I totally support Obama. He's the lesser of the two evils because, from the 1990s, his stances and actions are in support of the Palestinians. So I believe that his real positions are different from what he has to do and say for the Presidency. The suffering of black people is embodied in him, so we hope he will care about the suffering of other people.”
Hatem, a relief worker in Gaza City, agrees. “I support Obama simply because McCain is very bad, a bad person,” said Hatem. “In the last years [the Republicans] have made all these terrible things, and they have almost destroyed the world. Obama comes from Africa, where people have witnessed a lot of difficult times, so a person coming from such a background is expected to do good things for America and the world. I know that generally U.s. policy is pro-Israel, but sometimes you can get people who try to do better. Obama will support Israel, but it may be that he will also support Palestinians a little as well.”
Since 1967, the state of Israel has maintained a military occupation of the Gaza Strip. After the election of Hamas in 2006, Israel added to the occupation by imposing an increasingly severe blockade on Gaza. In the last two years over 95% of industries in Gaza have been forced to close, massively increasing unemployment, poverty, and childhood malnutrition rates. People here are hopeful that a President Obama will offer change that Palestinians can believe in as well.
Not everyone in Gaza is following the U.S. elections. Many believe that U.S. policy will remain the same regardless of who is elected, while others have expressed their lack of interest in the entire spectacle. Still, there is a large well of support for Obama’s candidacy, and a noticeably greater interest in this particular election over any other in recent memory.
According to Leila, a student at Islamic University in Gaza, desperation and need to have something positive to hope for are driving Palestine’s Obamamania. “People never cared before for who won the American elections,” said Leila, “but America is ruling the world now, and Bush changed everything in the world and made things much worse. Now it’s very important who wins. We hope that Obama will look at our suffering and do something to solve the problems here. This election is no longer just for America. Now it’s for the future of the whole world.”
Barack Obama’s race and background also play a large role in the hope many Palestinians are feeling. Ibrahim, a media and public relations consultant, explains, “When you see Obama, you feel like he is like you. He's charismatic, and he looks and feels genuine. The Israelis have the same characteristics as the European and American white people. Everything for them is by force. All we see from them is bullets, beatings, and jet fighters. But Obama, he is like us, he looks like us. He talks about peace, and we hope that he will be successful.”
Other Palestinians in Gaza roll their eyes at the Obama fever, and dismiss any chance that U.S. policy in the Middle East could ever change. Jabar, a farmer in Khan Younis, scoffs at the hope that Obama will be any different from past U.S. presidents.
“The Palestinian people like the American people,” said Jabar, “but we hate their government because of its support for Israel. I believe the end of America is close. They are doing badly in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and here in Palestine, and President Bush doesn't have a mind working. I do not support Obama, because the son of a dog is still a dog.”
Ramzi Kysia is an Arab-American writer and activist, and one of the organizers of the Free Gaza Movement. To find out more about Free Gaza and what you can do to help support their work, please visit http://www.FreeGaza.org