From Hobson's Choice
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Hamas is a militant Islamic organization reportedly founded 8 December 1987, the eve of the 2nd intifada in Palestine. It was from the very beginning a militant wing of the Muslim Brotherhood (al-ikhwan al-muslimun) in Palestine, led by Shaikh Yassin. While the MB had been active in the region since the mid-1930's, it had focused its energies on religious training; Western intelligence erroneously believed it was "quietist," and for a brief time evidently received assistance from Israeli intelligence.
The Prehistory of Hamas
The founder of Hamas was a paraplegic cleric named Shaykh Ahmed Yassin, who was born Majdan, Palestinian Mandate (UK) in 1938. The Haganah drove much of the Arab community out of this city, and renamed it "Ashqelon." With the creation of Israel, Gaza became the site of one of the most desperate refugee camps in the world under UNRWA administration. Yassin had become paralyzed playing sports at age 12. At this time, the Gaza Strip was under Egyptian administration, and so in 1959 he went to university in Cairo. While there, he became involved with the Muslim Brotherhood. The MB had been founded in the 1920's by Hassan al-Bana and initially supported the Free Officers who ousted the monarchy. But within a few years it had become hostile to the junta, and had to go underground. Indeed, Yassin was actually imprisoned by Nasser's government about the same time as the last, and fatal, imprisonment of Sayyid Qutb.
Qutb was an ideologue of Islamic "revivalism," typically associated with a colossal battle with the West. Qutb had repeatedly denounced Nasser as jahiliyah, or ignorant of true Islam (as opposed to tawfiq, apostate). The latter would have been sheer suicide for Qutb; the former was close enough, and in '66 Qutb was executed for conspiring against the regime.
Yassin's resumption of normal life was short-lived; in July 1967, Israel overran the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Yassin avoided open involvement in politics; but in 1973 he founded Mojama'a Al-Islam (The Islamic Charitable League) as a charitable office. Perhaps because it offered an alternative to the PLO, Israeli authorities tolerated it and may have even helped it acquire control over all of the charities in the Gaza Strip.
Yassin seems to have gone into the armed insurgency business in 1982, with al-Majahadoun Al-Filastiniyun (Palestinian mujahadin). This may have been linked to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which seemed to represent a qualitative worsening in the ruthlessness of Israel's stance towards its neighbors. It may have been stimulated by Iranian help, since the velayat-e-faqih was looking for allies and had ample resources for them. It may even have been part of an elaborate sting operation by Israeli intelligence itself. Within a few months, however, Yassin was arrested because he was found to be in possession of an arms cache. He was sentenced to 13 years, but was exchanged after serving only one year. This pattern repeated itself.
With the onset of the first intifada, the numerous rival organizations in the West Bank and Gaza scrambled to pull ahead of events. Yassin's Hamas was declared to have been born on the eve of the 8 December riots that threw the IDF occupation forces off balance. The intifada was itself a response to the massively intensified campaign of settlement and dispossession launched by Yitzak Shamir . Shamir's initial reaction to the intifada was predictable; he urged IDF personnel to break the bones of the demonstrators. Needless to say, this led to the IDF targeting inconsequential stone throwing youth, while the actual snipers and booby-trappers already knew to avoid detection. The 1987 intifada was low-tech and did not involve significant use of suicide bombing. In 1992 Shamir was replaced by Moshe Arens, who altered tactics; his successor, Yizhak Rabin, initiated dialogue with the PLO after the PLO's main foreign backer, the USSR, collapsed.
Hamas during the 1987 Intifada
Hamas was not implicated in any significant actions of violent insurgency until May 1989; for 18 months it did not actually engage in violence. Shaykh Yassin was arrested and tried in an Israeli military court, and sent to prison. Later he was released for "humanitarian reasons" and sent into exile in Jordan. During the period of the intifada there was a dispute within the ranks of the Palestine branch of the Muslim Brotherhood as to whether Hamas should be acknowledged as its armed wing.
In mid-August 1988, the Hamas charter was issued and Hamas recognized as a branch of the Palestinian MB (Article 2). Nonetheless, the charter makes only a passing reference to the importance of Islamizing society and places more emphasis on Palestine and jihad. Palestine is considered an Islamic trust or endowment (waqf), so that no one has the right to give up any part of it (Article 11). To liberate Palestine, the only solution is recourse to a jihad, now a religious duty of every Muslim (Article 15).
"Crescent and Sword: the Hamas Enigma" , Are Knudsen, p.9
As already mentioned the Hamas leadership had no formal religious training and partly for this reason had not produced a distinct body of scholarship, apart from the Hamas charter. The secular outlook of Palestinian society has also meant that a specific Palestinian jurisprudence (ijtihad) was lacking and made Hamas dependent on foreign ideologues and scholars. Accordingly, Hamas’s political message can be described as “populist” and was disseminated through pamphlets, leaflets and magazines that aimed to bring Hamas’s message to the general public.
The novelty of Hamas’s ideology is the amalgamation of nationalism (wataniyya) and Islam which has become the organisation’s trademark. Hamas combines the MB’s reformist approach which emphasises that only by embracing Islam will the Palestinians emerge victorious, with Qutb’s revolutionary call for jihad as an individual duty of every Muslim. Recovering custodianship of Palestine is made a sacred obligation by terming Palestine an Islamic endowment (waqf) whose custodianship must be entrusted to Muslims, who are under a religious duty to protect it.
It would appear that what motivated the MB to emerge from 38 years of quietism was that the struggle against Israel was now being waged by a grassroots movement; for decades MB's control of the mosques has been growing, while the number of mosques generally has been growing. There was no longer a mechanized army led by a jahiliyah junta, nor an alliance with the atheist Soviet Union. The MB therefore believed 1987 would be different. And indeed, the population did become greatly radicalized.
Hamas during the Oslo Peace Process
The decision of the PLO to meet with Israel in Madrid (October '91) came at a terrible time for the movement. The intifada had motivated the Israeli polity to exclude Palestinians, and intensify collective punishments (chiefly, the withholding of water). The severe hiatus in all forms of political radicalism worldwide led the Palestinians without vocal allies, while all of its nation-state allies had either vanished or turned coats. Arafat's own leadership methods were a disaster. Needless to say, in better times the Israelis had spurned peace overtures; they wished to negotiate from a position of strength, and had gambled that that time would be later, not sooner.
It was clearly in Hamas' interest to derail the process; but given the delusional character of the Israeli settlers and their ideology, it is hardly surprising that they would make the first move. In February 1994, settler Baruch Goldstein burst into an underground crypt in Hebron, West Bank, and gunned down 29 Palestinian worshippers. He himself was killed in the attack. Two months later, the suicide bombings began. By the end of '94, these attacks had killed 33 Israelis and would escalate. Until September 2000, however, they were carried out almost entirely by Islamic Jihad and Hamas.
The months leading up to the 3rd intifada (Sept 2000-present) were marked by a failed effort on the part of the Israeli government and the PLO to cooperate on a transfer of power. Part of the problem was that the PLO was, in reality, being used as a surrogate for the Occupation, something it wished to avoid at nearly any cost. And the government was unable to carry out the transfer of power agreed upon; settler associations managed to derail it and insist that the government repudiate promises to end settlement construction, i.e., promise to violate the terms of the treaty and international law. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was politically committed to reversing the process using as a pretext failure of the PA to disband radical groups like Hamas. In July '00 the peace process was dead and neither side was interested in its revival.
Ariel Sharon staged a deliberately provocative act, visiting the Temple Mount with an escort of 1000 policemen. Later that day the 3rd intifada had erupted; shortly afterwards, it was established that all the Palestinian resistance movements were using suicide bombings. A large number of European parliamentarians expressed sympathy for the bombers and their cause; the point of view is now almost a cliché.
Hamas as a Social NetworkThe Muslim Brotherhood took over the administration of charities in the Gaza Strip in the 1970's; they also have a lot of control over institutions in the West Bank.
All the Islamist movements in the Middle East of any importance receive either foreign backing or foreign funding or both. Hamas is no exception and estimates of the organisation’s total budget ranges from US$ 40 to 70 million. 41 Hamas has since its inception in 1987–88 received large sums of money from its benefactors in the Gulf countries and this accounts for about 85 per cent of the budget. A smaller amount, about 15 per cent, is collected locally through religious endowments (waqf) and alms (zakat). Until the Six Day War in 1967, the waqf on the West Bank was under Jordanian control (Jordan annexed the West Bank in 1950). This continued after the Israeli occupation and subsequent annexation of the West Bank and Gaza. Following the outbreak of the first intifada, it became impossible for the Jordanian waqf authorities to maintain control over the holy shrines, the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of Rock, which had become veritable battlefields. When the PA was formally established in 1994 in the Gaza Strip and Jericho, Palestinian control of the waqf became an important goal for the PLO, due to the immense symbolic importance of the holy shrines, in addition to bolstering future claims to Jerusalem as a capital in a liberated Palestine. In 1995, the PLO appointed its own waqf custodian, and a year later established a separate waqf department under the PA. In Gaza especially, this was used to take over Hamas-controlled mosques and institutions, initially depriving Hamas of much of its social infrastructure.It seems clear that neither the PA nor the PLO can administer the network of Islamic charities, and they remain in Hamas control.
Longterm Goals of Hamas
Hamas has attracted a lot of attention for its longterm goals, which of course include the destruction of the state of Israel. The articles on Hamas in al-Ahram begin with the premise that Israel is analogous to the pre-1994 South Africa, with Jewish Israelis corresponding to Whites, and Arab Palestinians corresponding to Blacks. Destroying the state of Israel, in this sense, is supposed to mean not much more that what happened in South Africa in 1994, when the system of Apartheid was dissolved.
This seems to reflect a common practice of trying to present the demands of an oppressed group in as reasonable a light as possible. Hamas' charter itself emphatically insists that the B'nei Yisrael (Jews) are instigators of every bad thing, by which they include the French Revolution (Art. 22), Communism, and of course the two World Wars. It mentions the Lions Club and Rotary Club twice (22 & 28) as lackeys of World Zionism. Article 7 includes a hadith which describes a general massacre of B'nei Yisrael,  Article 28 also eliminates any ambiguity when it clarifies that it is anti-Israel because it is anti-Jew. Hamas' charter (article 13), finally, rejects any peace agreement and regards any concession of land to the infidel (kufr). Please note that I have chosen a translation of the Hamas Charter hosted at a website friendly to the Palestinian cause.
I point this out because I don't want to deceive to make Hamas more appealing. Ideologically, Hamas is reprehensible; its charter explicitly embraces Eastern European judeophobia (The Protocols of the [Learned] Elders of Zion) and holy war. It is ideologically hostile to socialism, including even moderately progressive social democracy as part of the group with whom alliance cannot be made. It's one thing to eschew socialism, it's another to proclaim jihad on it, too. Moreover, interviews with high ranking Hamas members (al-Ahram, below; Ha'aretz) reveal that they are actually quite sophisticated and familiar with the nuances of communication. They also cannot accept the idea of any B'nei Yisrael claims in Palestine, and hence any peace settlement. And Hamas is actually moderate compared to organizations already in Gaza; Hamas agreed to a ceasefire with Israel so it could govern (something with Israel and the Quartet struggled to disallow). Hamas is extremely moderate compared to organizations like the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) of Algeria, which waged its war against the insufficiently Islamic communities there, or the GIA's splinter, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC; implicated in the 3/11 bombing of Madrid). Hamas has rejected connections to al-Qaeda (BBC), despite the fact that Israel has—with Washington's tacit support—assassinated many of its leaders and is intent on eradicating it.
If Israel succeeds in severely reducing the organization, of course Hamas will be succeeded by a GIA-style organization, or perhaps something worse. Hamas itself emerged from the ruins of secular-leftist groups such as al-Fatah and the PFLP. Those groups, of course, emerged from the ruins of milder groups that were inclined to co-exist with colonial regimes. The awfulness of Hamas must not be denied if one is to face the reality of imperialism's consequences; if Hamas were really as reasonable as its supporters insist—if it really were a Palestinian analogue of the African National Congress—then we could truly say this is a simple matter of White racism and economic crowding. It's not; it's an existential struggle for the survival of two contradictory entities. The election of Hamas to government gave Hamas an incentive to make a ceasefire, but not to restrict the use of Gaza territory for rocket attacks on Israeli territory; and it's unlikely that many Israelis could be persuaded that the return to the 1967 boundaries would really result in a termination of consequential armed attacks on the Israel.
Nor do I wish to ignore the awfulness of Israeli conduct; the apartheid wall is a concrete atrocity. The claim that it is intended to prevent terrorist attacks against the Israeli population is absurd; even habsara insists on strategic depth, not a wall, to preserve Israel. The wall has been used to seize property and make life intolerable for those whom it encloses; by dramatically worsening the conditions faced by persons living under Occupation, it of course intensifies the threat of large-scale terror attacks by missile or remotely piloted drone. Sympathy for the victims of Israeli attacks is now universal in the Arab world, while many of the governments in the region must cave to Western pressure (and this doesn't even inspire outrage among Arab citizens anymore—they understand that, too). Hence, civil order is falling into general contempt. The connection between the intensified expropriation of Palestinian property, and Israel's battle for security, has polluted all relationships between the Western-aligned developing nations and the great powers; it is now clear (at least, to the developing world) that whatever else "globalization" means, it does NOT mean respect for rule of law and property rights.
Washington's embrace of Israel was somewhat different from that of the USSR (1948-1953), Britain (under the Conservatives, 1953-1961) or France (1948-1963); those countries made alliances with Tel Aviv based on joint projects. Stalin needed Israel to make Central Europe governable. The French worked on joint strategies in Algeria and Palestine with their Israeli allies. Later, France and Israel cooperated with the Union/Republic of South Africa; only in the mid-1960's did de Gaulle reverse direction (somewhat violently, actually) and become a champion of 3rd world nationalism. In contrast, the Washington community that favored a permanent global role for the USA would essentially engulf the polity of the Jewish state. The practice of unlimited support for Israel's expansionism allowed a deviant faction in that country's politics to capture the state; the one guarantee for survival was not peace, but collusion with a superpower. Rather than Israel controlling the West, as some demagogues would have it, a small group of empire builders have exploited the USA and Israel; neither country has serious democratic accountability for its foreign policy, and both were sucked in by the path of least resistance. Instead of agreeing (through messy, democratic processes) on a general vision of the future, both countries have been seduced into the day-to-day coping strategy of doing what they've done before, attacking reformers as unsympathetic or even traitors, and defending useless carnage as "self-defense."
Hamas membership believes that, having achieved spiritual development and self-mastery, the Palestinian people will be divinely assisted and invincible in their conquest of Israel. Their charter speakers of a general massacre of "the Jews," something that the media-savvy Hamas has mysteriously refused to "clarify." Hamas itself has many of the attributes of a totalitarian movement, as described by Hannah Arendt (Origins of Totalitarianism); its Western defenders appear to be the classic "front group," insulating Hamas from the hostile reception its ideology would otherwise receive in the West. The Western powers have not been deceived about Hamas' potential threat, however, and hence have manuevered it into war. This is the "responsible" thing to do; this way, no single official has to explain why he "appeased" Hamas by allowing it to govern in accordance with international agreements. In this way does tragedy approach.
- ↑ International Crisis Group, "Dealing with Hamas," p.12. The first intifada was against British authorities in the Mandate Territory of Palestine (1936-39); the cause was, naturally, a massive influx of Jewish refugees fleeing mass murder in Europe. The second intifada (usually called the first by non-Arab journalists) was between 1987 and '92; it supposedly ended with the Madrid Agreement. The third began in 2000 and is still going on.
- ↑ Many online sources claim that the Mossad "created" Hamas, or at least, funneled money to it. Unfortunately, I have failed to locate creditable sources describing this relationship. I will point out in passing, however, that such murky relations are not terribly surprising, and I suspect nearly anyone, put in the position of running an intelligence agency for the nation of her choice, would find it impossible to avoid analogous transactions. Unless, of course, the nation in question is Costa Rica or Tuvalu.
- ↑ Ahadith (singular, hadith) are sayings attributed to the Prophet; different schools of Islamic jurisprudence (madhhub) have different sets of ahadith. The one cites in Article 7 is from al-Bukhari, the most reliable of the six Sunni canons of ahadith. However, the hadith in question does not refer to "Jews" but one of the clans that initially held power in Yathrib (al-Madina) prior to Muhammad's arrival there in 622 CE.
- ↑ See Judeophobia and Communism
- ↑ Motti Golani, Israel in Search of a War: The Sinai Campaign, 1955-1956, Sussex Academic Press (1998), p.25ff. De Gaulle was president for nine years before he suddenly switched sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict; in a statement he gave at the time, he entered into a bizarre, tirade about the Jewish character that was, at best, an unfortunately insensitive quote from Charles Maurras. I would prefer to abstain from speculating on his true motives, since there are better ways of establishing what they were anyway. For the text of his statement, see "Press conference held at the Elysée Palace on 27 November 1967."
- Patrick Belton, "Hamas 2.0: A View from Ramallah"
- Jamal Hilal, "Problematizing Democracy in Palestine" , Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East (2003);
- International Crisis Group
- "Islamic Social Welfare Activism in the Occupied ...Territories" , 2 April 2003
- "Dealing With Hamas" , 26 January 2004
- "Enter Hamas: the Challenges of Political Integration" , January 2006
James R MacLean (17:13, 4 October 2007 (PDT))