Israel-Hamas war puts Palestinians back on Arab world’s agenda

Protesters demonstrated last month in support of Palestinians in Amman, Jordan. (Photo: Bloomberg)
Protesters demonstrated last month in support of Palestinians in Amman, Jordan. (Photo: Bloomberg)


Israel’s fierce response to Hamas’s cross-border assault has reinvigorated support for Palestinians in the Arab world and stirred popular anger—not just at Israel and the U.S., but also at Arab governments.

AMMAN, Jordan—Israel’s fierce response to last month’s cross-border assault by Hamas militants from Gaza has reinvigorated support for Palestinians in the Arab world and stirred popular anger—not just at Israel and its biggest ally, the U.S., but also at Arab governments.

Some in the Arab and wider Muslim world joined global condemnations of Hamas, which carried out attacks on a music festival and agricultural communities in southern Israel. Authorities there say 1,200 people were killed and more than 200 were kidnapped and taken to Gaza.

But as the death toll from Israeli airstrikes and ground operations has climbed, surpassing 12,000, according to health authorities in the Hamas-controlled enclave, Arab television and social media have been blanketed with images of suffering and destruction in Gaza.

There is little in the way of public-opinion polling on the Arab reaction. But from Jordan to Oman and Egypt to Morocco, tens of thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets in weekly protests to express support for the Palestinians and call for a cease-fire. They are also demanding their governments abrogate agreements with Israel and are in some cases cheering for Hamas.

Despite the public pressure, Arab states haven’t taken strong action against Israel and they are unlikely to do so, as those in power look to maintain stability and preserve relations with the U.S., analysts say.

“For me, what’s happening in Gaza calls for a response from the entire Arab world," said Najah al-Atoom, a retired schoolteacher in Jordan who says she spends hours monitoring developments in Gaza on social media. “The position of our governments is shameful."

Some pro-Palestinian protesters in Egypt last month shouted the slogan “Bread, freedom and social justice" that galvanized the 2011 Arab Spring and led to the removal of the country’s longtime dictator. Security forces arrested dozens of demonstrators and cracked down on subsequent rallies.

In Morocco, hundreds of thousands of people have hit the streets to support the Palestinian cause, organizers say, but also to criticize their own government’s relations with Israel.

“We’re at a very sensitive and extremely dangerous phase," said Jordanian political analyst Osama Al Sharif. “We don’t know what kind of reaction we’re going to face, especially with these regimes feeling the pressure that they have abandoned the Palestinians."

Roughly 720,000 Palestinians were displaced amid Israel’s 1948 founding, which was followed by rounds of armed conflict with Arab states. In recent decades, many of these states have made peace with Israel and deepened ties even as little progress has been made toward a political settlement between Israelis and Palestinians.

Morocco, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and later Sudan normalized relations with Israel as part of the Abraham Accords brokered under the Trump administration, opening the door for business and security cooperation. Egypt and Jordan, both of which have strong U.S. relations, have had diplomatic ties with Israel since 1979 and 1994, respectively.

In the months before the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, Israel and Saudi Arabia were engaged in U.S.-brokered negotiations aimed at Riyadh recognizing Israel in exchange for American security guarantees and assistance setting up a nuclear program.

“The scenes we’re seeing from Gaza destroy everything that Israel built over the last three decades in terms of peace and regional integration," said a senior Arab official.

The Saudi talks are now on hold. The kingdom has condemned Israel’s actions in Gaza, Bahrain suspended economic ties with Israel, and Turkey has recalled its ambassador, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan branding Israel a “terror state."

Jordanian lawmakers agreed this week to review agreements with Israel, including its 1994 peace treaty and a $10 billion gas deal. In Tunisia, Parliament is discussing criminalizing contacts with Israel including by normal citizens.

But such moves are unlikely to advance without support from the countries’ leaders. Even Iran, Hamas’s most prominent backer, has lent little more than moral support to Hamas since the attacks, though the U.S. and Israel say Iran helped facilitate the assault with training, funding and other aid.

Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, represents an Islamist nationalist movement that Arab governments like Egypt, Jordan and those in the Gulf find dangerous.

Jordanian security forces have tolerated protesters waving Hamas flags and chanting slogans in favor of the militants, while preventing them from approaching the Israeli Embassy in Amman or marching toward the border with Israel.

Arab officials say they worry that the longer the conflict drags on, the harder it will be to contain domestic unrest. Protests have resulted in violent confrontations between protesters and police in Jordan, Egypt and Turkey.

Leaders in the region see a risk of resurgent global terrorism and say it could also lead to broader protests about domestic issues like poverty, jobs and security-state abuses of the type that led to the Arab Spring. A decade after uprisings caused several governments to topple, the Middle East and North Africa remain largely run by authoritarian governments that haven’t addressed those core concerns.

“Don’t rule out a scenario of a new wave of Arab Spring, and that may include a lot of countries," said Oraib Rantawi, director of the Amman-based Al Quds Center for Political Studies.

Moroccans were largely against normalization before a 2020 deal to establish relations with Israel, with over 88% saying they opposed the idea, according to the research institute Arab Center Washington DC. Morocco, a monarchy that restricts free speech, went ahead with normalization in exchange for recognition of its sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara, access to Israeli intelligence technology and getting into Washington’s good graces.

Before the U.A.E. normalized relations with Israel, most of its citizens opposed working with Israel, according to a poll commissioned by the think thank Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Months after a normalization deal was struck in 2020, the population became roughly evenly split on the issue but in the years since more people have cooled to the idea, subsequent polls showed.

Polling in Bahrain, which normalized relations with Israel the same year, showed a roughly even split.

Sion Assidon, an organizer in the Moroccan Front to Support Palestine and Against Normalization, said that before the war, police harassed protesters or prevented them from joining antinormalization marches.

“Now, it’s impossible to stop us. There are so many of us," said Assidon, a former political prisoner of Jewish-Moroccan descent. “The police are opening big avenues and hear us chanting that ‘normalization is complicity.’ We protest in front of Parliament and government buildings."

He said the government brands itself internally as pro-Palestinian even as it brokers military and intelligence agreements with Israel. “It’s a contradiction," he said. “They need to manage it."

Suha Ma’ayeh and Menna Farouk contributed to this article.

Write to Stephen Kalin at and Omar Abdel-Baqui at

Catch all the Elections News, Politics News and Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates & Live Business News.


Switch to the Mint app for fast and personalized news - Get App