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Subtle voices of dissent surface in war-torn Gaza

  • FILE- In this Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 file photo, Palestinian Ziad Rizk, sits with others in a shelter made of a blanket stretched over four boles next to one of the destroyed al-Nada Towers, where he lost his apartment and clothes shop, in the town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip. Dozens of residents the al-Nada Towers took advantage of the latest truce to visit their homes, salvage what they can and exchange tips on how best to seek and secure compensation for their homes. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)

    FILE- In this Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 file photo, Palestinian Ziad Rizk, sits with others in a shelter made of a blanket stretched over four boles next to one of the destroyed al-Nada Towers, where he lost his apartment and clothes shop, in the town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip. Dozens of residents the al-Nada Towers took advantage of the latest truce to visit their homes, salvage what they can and exchange tips on how best to seek and secure compensation for their homes. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)

  • FILE- In this Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 file photo, a full moonshines on the destroyed al-Nada Towers residential neighborhood in the town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip. Dozens of residents the al-Nada Towers took advantage of the latest truce to visit their homes, salvage what they can and exchange tips on how best to seek and secure compensation for their homes. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)

    FILE- In this Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 file photo, a full moonshines on the destroyed al-Nada Towers residential neighborhood in the town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip. Dozens of residents the al-Nada Towers took advantage of the latest truce to visit their homes, salvage what they can and exchange tips on how best to seek and secure compensation for their homes. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)

  • FILE- In this Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 file photo, Palestinian Ziad Rizk, sits with others in a shelter made of a blanket stretched over four poles next to one of the destroyed Nada Towers, where he lost his apartment and clothes shop, in the town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip. Dozens of residents the al-Nada Towers took advantage of the latest truce to visit their homes, salvage what they can and exchange tips on how best to seek and secure compensation for their homes. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)

    FILE- In this Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 file photo, Palestinian Ziad Rizk, sits with others in a shelter made of a blanket stretched over four poles next to one of the destroyed Nada Towers, where he lost his apartment and clothes shop, in the town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip. Dozens of residents the al-Nada Towers took advantage of the latest truce to visit their homes, salvage what they can and exchange tips on how best to seek and secure compensation for their homes. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)

  • A Palestinian man inspects the damage of his flat in the destroyed Nada Towers residential neighborhood in the town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip, Monday, Aug. 11, 2014.   A new temporary truce took hold, Monday, in the monthlong war pitting the Israeli military against rocket-firing Hamas militants as negotiators from Israel and the Hamas militant group resumed indirect talks in Egypt on Monday. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

    A Palestinian man inspects the damage of his flat in the destroyed Nada Towers residential neighborhood in the town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip, Monday, Aug. 11, 2014. A new temporary truce took hold, Monday, in the monthlong war pitting the Israeli military against rocket-firing Hamas militants as negotiators from Israel and the Hamas militant group resumed indirect talks in Egypt on Monday. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

  • FILE- In this Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 file photo, Palestinian Ziad Rizk, makes coffee next to one of the destroyed al-Nada Towers, where he lost his apartment and clothes shop, in the town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip. Dozens of residents the al-Nada Towers took advantage of the latest truce to visit their homes, salvage what they can and exchange tips on how best to seek and secure compensation for their homes. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)

    FILE- In this Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 file photo, Palestinian Ziad Rizk, makes coffee next to one of the destroyed al-Nada Towers, where he lost his apartment and clothes shop, in the town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip. Dozens of residents the al-Nada Towers took advantage of the latest truce to visit their homes, salvage what they can and exchange tips on how best to seek and secure compensation for their homes. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)

  • FILE - In this Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 file photo, Palestinian Ziad Rizk, sits with others in a shelter made of a blanket stretched over four poles next to one of the destroyed alpNada Towers, where he lost his apartment and clothes shop, in the town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip. Dozens of residents the al-Nada Towers took advantage of the latest truce to visit their homes, salvage what they can and exchange tips on how best to seek and secure compensation for their homes. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)

    FILE - In this Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 file photo, Palestinian Ziad Rizk, sits with others in a shelter made of a blanket stretched over four poles next to one of the destroyed alpNada Towers, where he lost his apartment and clothes shop, in the town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip. Dozens of residents the al-Nada Towers took advantage of the latest truce to visit their homes, salvage what they can and exchange tips on how best to seek and secure compensation for their homes. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)

  • FILE- In this Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 file photo, Two Palestinian women ride a donkey cart past the destroyed al-Nada Towers residential neighborhood in the town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip. Dozens of residents the al-Nada Towers took advantage of the latest truce to visit their homes, salvage what they can and exchange tips on how best to seek and secure compensation for their homes. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)

    FILE- In this Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 file photo, Two Palestinian women ride a donkey cart past the destroyed al-Nada Towers residential neighborhood in the town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip. Dozens of residents the al-Nada Towers took advantage of the latest truce to visit their homes, salvage what they can and exchange tips on how best to seek and secure compensation for their homes. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)

  • FILE-In this Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 file photo,  a Palestinian man inspects the damage of his flat in the destroyed al-Nada Towers residential neighborhood in the town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip. Dozens of residents the al-NadaTowers took advantage of the latest truce to visit their homes, salvage what they can and exchange tips on how best to seek and secure compensation for their homes. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)

    FILE-In this Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 file photo, a Palestinian man inspects the damage of his flat in the destroyed al-Nada Towers residential neighborhood in the town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip. Dozens of residents the al-NadaTowers took advantage of the latest truce to visit their homes, salvage what they can and exchange tips on how best to seek and secure compensation for their homes. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)

  • FILE- In this Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 file photo, Palestinian Ziad Rizk, center, sits with others in a shelter made of a blanket stretched over four poles next to one of the destroyed al-Nada Towers, where he lost his apartment and clothes shop, in the town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip. Dozens of residents the al-Nada Towers took advantage of the latest truce to visit their homes, salvage what they can and exchange tips on how best to seek and secure compensation for their homes. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)

    FILE- In this Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 file photo, Palestinian Ziad Rizk, center, sits with others in a shelter made of a blanket stretched over four poles next to one of the destroyed al-Nada Towers, where he lost his apartment and clothes shop, in the town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip. Dozens of residents the al-Nada Towers took advantage of the latest truce to visit their homes, salvage what they can and exchange tips on how best to seek and secure compensation for their homes. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)

  • FILE- In this Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 file photo, a Palestinian boy rides a donkey next to the destroyed al-Nada Towers residential neighborhood in the town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip. Dozens of residents the al-Nada Towers took advantage of the latest truce to visit their homes, salvage what they can and exchange tips on how best to seek and secure compensation for their homes. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)

    FILE- In this Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 file photo, a Palestinian boy rides a donkey next to the destroyed al-Nada Towers residential neighborhood in the town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip. Dozens of residents the al-Nada Towers took advantage of the latest truce to visit their homes, salvage what they can and exchange tips on how best to seek and secure compensation for their homes. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)

  • FILE-In this Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 file photo, Palestinian Ziad Rizk, left, sits with others in a shelter made of a blanket stretched over four boles next to one of the destroyed al-Nada Towers, where he lost his apartment and clothes shop, in the town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip. Dozens of residents the al-NadaTowers took advantage of the latest truce to visit their homes, salvage what they can and exchange tips on how best to seek and secure compensation for their homes. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)

    FILE-In this Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 file photo, Palestinian Ziad Rizk, left, sits with others in a shelter made of a blanket stretched over four boles next to one of the destroyed al-Nada Towers, where he lost his apartment and clothes shop, in the town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip. Dozens of residents the al-NadaTowers took advantage of the latest truce to visit their homes, salvage what they can and exchange tips on how best to seek and secure compensation for their homes. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)

  • FILE- In this Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 file photo, Palestinian Ziad Rizk, sits with others in a shelter made of a blanket stretched over four boles next to one of the destroyed al-Nada Towers, where he lost his apartment and clothes shop, in the town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip. Dozens of residents the al-Nada Towers took advantage of the latest truce to visit their homes, salvage what they can and exchange tips on how best to seek and secure compensation for their homes. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)
  • FILE- In this Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 file photo, a full moonshines on the destroyed al-Nada Towers residential neighborhood in the town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip. Dozens of residents the al-Nada Towers took advantage of the latest truce to visit their homes, salvage what they can and exchange tips on how best to seek and secure compensation for their homes. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)
  • FILE- In this Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 file photo, Palestinian Ziad Rizk, sits with others in a shelter made of a blanket stretched over four poles next to one of the destroyed Nada Towers, where he lost his apartment and clothes shop, in the town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip. Dozens of residents the al-Nada Towers took advantage of the latest truce to visit their homes, salvage what they can and exchange tips on how best to seek and secure compensation for their homes. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)
  • A Palestinian man inspects the damage of his flat in the destroyed Nada Towers residential neighborhood in the town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip, Monday, Aug. 11, 2014.   A new temporary truce took hold, Monday, in the monthlong war pitting the Israeli military against rocket-firing Hamas militants as negotiators from Israel and the Hamas militant group resumed indirect talks in Egypt on Monday. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
  • FILE- In this Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 file photo, Palestinian Ziad Rizk, makes coffee next to one of the destroyed al-Nada Towers, where he lost his apartment and clothes shop, in the town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip. Dozens of residents the al-Nada Towers took advantage of the latest truce to visit their homes, salvage what they can and exchange tips on how best to seek and secure compensation for their homes. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)
  • FILE - In this Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 file photo, Palestinian Ziad Rizk, sits with others in a shelter made of a blanket stretched over four poles next to one of the destroyed alpNada Towers, where he lost his apartment and clothes shop, in the town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip. Dozens of residents the al-Nada Towers took advantage of the latest truce to visit their homes, salvage what they can and exchange tips on how best to seek and secure compensation for their homes. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)
  • FILE- In this Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 file photo, Two Palestinian women ride a donkey cart past the destroyed al-Nada Towers residential neighborhood in the town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip. Dozens of residents the al-Nada Towers took advantage of the latest truce to visit their homes, salvage what they can and exchange tips on how best to seek and secure compensation for their homes. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)
  • FILE-In this Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 file photo,  a Palestinian man inspects the damage of his flat in the destroyed al-Nada Towers residential neighborhood in the town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip. Dozens of residents the al-NadaTowers took advantage of the latest truce to visit their homes, salvage what they can and exchange tips on how best to seek and secure compensation for their homes. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)
  • FILE- In this Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 file photo, Palestinian Ziad Rizk, center, sits with others in a shelter made of a blanket stretched over four poles next to one of the destroyed al-Nada Towers, where he lost his apartment and clothes shop, in the town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip. Dozens of residents the al-Nada Towers took advantage of the latest truce to visit their homes, salvage what they can and exchange tips on how best to seek and secure compensation for their homes. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)
  • FILE- In this Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 file photo, a Palestinian boy rides a donkey next to the destroyed al-Nada Towers residential neighborhood in the town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip. Dozens of residents the al-Nada Towers took advantage of the latest truce to visit their homes, salvage what they can and exchange tips on how best to seek and secure compensation for their homes. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)
  • FILE-In this Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 file photo, Palestinian Ziad Rizk, left, sits with others in a shelter made of a blanket stretched over four boles next to one of the destroyed al-Nada Towers, where he lost his apartment and clothes shop, in the town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip. Dozens of residents the al-NadaTowers took advantage of the latest truce to visit their homes, salvage what they can and exchange tips on how best to seek and secure compensation for their homes. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)

The group of neighbors surveyed the destruction wreaked on their residential complex by Israeli bombardment, with building after building flattened or punctured by shells. The men then began to voice something almost never heard out loud in Gaza: criticism of its Hamas rulers.

Exhausted by a month of pounding by Israel’s military – on top of seven years of stifling closure of the tiny Mediterranean coastal strip – they questioned Hamas’s handling of the crisis and the wisdom of repeatedly going to war with Israel.

“We do not want to be bombarded every two or three years. We want to lead a good life: Sleep well, drink well and eat well,” said Ziad Rizk, a 37-year-old father of two, a cigarette dangling from his mouth. He stared at the damaged apartment building where he lived. His sofa and a blue baby carriage were perched precariously on a tilting concrete slab that was his floor.

It is impossible to say how widespread such discontent is among Gaza’s 1.8 million residents. Under Hamas rule, it’s rare and dangerous to share even as much as a hint of criticism of the government with outsiders.

Still, the men’s boldness in voicing their opinions could be a telling sign that some Gazans see Hamas as weakened. It points to how desperate many Gazans have become after the most ruinous of three bouts of major Hamas-Israel violence since the militant group overran the territory in 2007. More than 1,900 Palestinians have been killed, mostly civilians, nearly 10,000 wounded and some 250,000 displaced since fighting started July 8.

Significantly, a Hamas rally last week attracted 2,000 to 3,000 people, a low number compared with its routinely massive rallies, particularly considering it was held at a time of war.

Hamas has ruled with an iron fist since it took over Gaza, expelling the Western-backed Palestinian Authority. It does not tolerate dissent, detains critics and carries out extrajudicial executions of alleged spies for Israel. It has filled government departments with loyalists and is particularly intolerant of any criticism of its handling of the conflict with Israel. It seeks to block unauthorized media coverage of its military wing.

The men who spoke with the AP were all friends and neighbors who live in the Abraj al-Nada, or Al-Nada Towers, a collection of apartment buildings that was hit hard by Israeli airstrikes and tank shelling July 17 in the northern Gaza district of Beit Lahiya.

Visiting their wrecked homes with their families during the current truce, they sat outside a tent or in an impromptu shelter they set up – cushions and a rug under a blanket hoisted on four poles, with a small red, white and green Palestinian flag. An Israeli drone menacingly hovered overhead as the men spoke.

Their grumbling is in part born from Gaza’s increasing economic hardship. Unemployment runs at about 50 percent. The Hamas government owes workers several months’ back pay. The seven-year blockade by Israel and Egypt has choked businesses and jobs.

Visible not far away were green fields and trees across the border. An Israeli train sped by. They could easily see across the border because, they said, Israel several years ago tore down a nearby orchard on the Gaza side that was impeding its soldiers’ view in. “Look at what they have,” the 27-year-old Kafarnah said. “Why can’t we live like that too?”

His friend, a school teacher who also lost his home, delivered a more pointed criticism of Hamas.

“We have put up with a great deal. They take us to war, fire rockets on Israel from outside our homes and invite destruction to our homes. Fine, but now what?” said the green-eyed teacher in his late 20s, who did not want to be named for fear of retaliation. “Does anyone in the government know what happened to us? Shouldn’t they come offer us help? Or a few comforting words?”

Rizk said he had hoped government officials would be there to take details from residents to offer assistance or future compensation. “But I have been wasting my time,” he said.

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