Hamas and Palestine’s right to exist

By Tony Iltis

January 28, 2009 -- If Western politicians and media are to be believed, the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) is an anti-Semitic, religious fundamentalist, terrorist outfit that forms part of an al Qaeda- (or, alternatively, Iranian-) led movement which seeks to violently impose Islamic law on the world, and is dedicated to the annihilation of Jews. 

However, what is Hamas’s actual practice and the source of its strong popularity among Palestinians?

Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections, which international observers described as the most democratic in the Arab world. In government, it has attempted to eradicate corruption and gangsterism.

The demonisation of a democratically elected political leadership has become the justification for war crimes. The entire infrastructure of Gaza — hospitals, mosques, government offices, schools, water and energy, food stores, emergency services, orphanages — can be defined as “Hamas infrastructure” because Hamas remains the civil authority.

“Hamas infrastructure” is equated with “terrorist infrastructure”, providing Israel and its Western backers with justification for deliberately targeting such civilian institutions, in flagrant violation of international law.

This equation of “Hamas” with “terrorist” is also used to legitimise the kidnapping and assassination of Palestinian parliamentarians and officials. Such assassinations — often carried out in crowded places using missiles fired from war-planes or predator drones that maximises the killing of bystanders — have continued throughout every truce observed by Hamas.

As the Israeli army’s Major Avital Leibovich explained on Janaury 2, “Hamas leaders [are] marked men. We have defined legitimate targets as any Hamas-affiliated target.”

The demonisation of Hamas stems not from its religious views or practice, but Western hostility to Palestinian self-determination.

In a February 2006 interview, newly elected Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh told the Washington Post,

“We do not have any feelings of animosity toward Jews. We do not wish to throw them into the sea. All we seek is to be given our land back, not to harm anybody … We are oppressed people with rights.”

The key to Hamas’s popular support is not to do with Islam, but its role in resisting Israeli aggression. It advocates equality between religions.

A March 2008 assessment of Hamas’s current practice by the International Crisis Group reported that Hamas “denies any intent of coercively imposing an Islamist entity”.

The ICG reported “no flagrant signs of Islamisation of the courts and schools. The authorities did not alter the PA school curriculum, the PA’s law code or its constitution.”

Women have been appointed to high-profile positions, such as to the judiciary and appeals court. According to the report, “A Hamas official maintained: ‘The people in Ramallah are trying to stigmatise Hamas as extremist. But an Islamic emirate will not come about in Gaza’”.

Rather, in the face of Israeli aggression, Hamas has advocated a united front of resistance involving all Palestinian factions.

The firing of homemade rockets into Israel has been cited as evidence of Hamas’s aggression, yet any objective account of the conflict would present such actions for what they are — a response by representatives of an oppressed group to far greater aggression by one of the best-armed military powers in the world.

The latest six month-long ceasefire that preceded Israel’s recent bout of slaughter ended only after Israel, which failed from the start to implement the terms of the agreement and ease the crippling siege on Gaza, murdered six Palestinians on November 4.

Rather, the Western claim that Hamas is not an “acceptable partner for peace” reflects the real purpose of the endless “peace processes” that have followed the signing of the Oslo Accord in 1993: to preserve the existence of an exclusively Jewish state in a country where only half the population are Jewish.

While the Palestinians had historically striven for a “democratic, secular state” covering the whole Palestine in which all people within it could live in equality, under the leadership of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah party, the Oslo Accords signed with Israel accepted the premise of a two-state solution, whereby an independent Palestine based on the territories occupied by Israel since 1967 (the West Bank and the Gaza Strip) would exist alongside Israel.

However, while Palestinian acceptance of the “right” of Israel to exist as an exclusively Jewish state was a precondition for talks, discussion of the geographic definition of the Palestinian state was deferred and Israel has refused to negotiate on crucial issues, such as the right of Palestinian refugees driven from territory claimed by Israel to return to their homelands.

In the West Bank and Gaza, the building of Jewish-only settlements and bypass roads were increased. It became clear that the Palestinian “state” would have authority only in geographically seperated, walled ghettos.

With Palestinians denied a viable economy, the Palestinian Authority became dependant on financial support from Israel’s Western allies who demanded it crack down on threats to Israel’s security.

While there were limits to Arafat’s willingness to surrender to Israeli diktats, under his successor, Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah-led PA accepted the role of policing the ghettos created in the West Bank and Gaza.

In the 2006 elections, Palestinians rejected the collaborationist politics of Abbas, and the corruption and criminality that came with the Western financial backing.

Hamas’s election victory was in coalition with secular and Christian parties and was on the basis of a nationalist agenda.

While remaining committed to the ideal of a united, democratic Palestine, the Hamas-led PA was willing to offer a long term truce on the basis of Israel returning to its 1967 borders.

However, Israel surrending 22% of the territory it controls was never the intention of the “peace processes”. The US and the European Union immediately placed economic sanctions on the PA to punish Palestinians for voting for a leadership that refused to collaborate in the annihilation of the Palestinian people.

In June 2007, despite Hamas attempts at forming a government of national unity, Abbas carried out a coup against the elected PLC in the West Bank.

In Gaza, however, well-armed US-trained forces led by Mohamed Dahlan failed in an attempt to dislodge the Hamas-led PA. Since then Gaza has been under a starvation siege as well as subject to constant military assaults of varying intensity.

Hamas has continually shown willingness to enter truces based on very partial demands, such as ceasing military attacks and lifting the Gaza siege most recently.

However, unlike Abbas’s Fatah, Hamas refuses to make endless unreciprocated concessions. Its popular legitimacy derives from this.

As Khalid Mish’al, head of the Hamas political bureau explained in the January 6 Guardian: “No rockets have ever been fired from the West Bank. But 50 died and hundreds more were injured there last year at Israel’s hands, while its expansionism proceeded relentlessly.

“We are meant to be content with shrinking scraps of territory, a handful of cantons at Israel’s mercy, enclosed by it from all sides. The truth is Israel seeks a one-sided ceasefire, observed by my people alone, in return for siege, starvation, bombardment, assassinations, incursions and colonial settlement …”

“The logic of those who demand that we stop our resistance is absurd. They absolve the aggressor and occupier — armed with the deadliest weapons of death and destruction — of responsibility, while blaming the victim, prisoner and occupied.

“Our modest, home-made rockets are our cry of protest to the world. Israel and its American and European sponsors want us to be killed in silence.

“But die in silence we will not.”

[This article first appeared in Green Left Weekly issue #780, January 28, 2009.]

LRB Vol. 31 No. 2 29 January 2009

Israel's Lies

By Henry Siegman

Western governments and most of the Western media have accepted a number of
Israeli claims justifying the military assault on Gaza: that Hamas
consistently violated the six-month truce that Israel observed and then
refused to extend it; that Israel therefore had no choice but to destroy
Hamas's capacity to launch missiles into Israeli towns; that Hamas is a
terrorist organisation, part of a global jihadi network; and that Israel has
acted not only in its own defence but on behalf of an international struggle
by Western democracies against this network.

I am not aware of a single major American newspaper, radio station or TV
channel whose coverage of the assault on Gaza questions this version of
events. Criticism of Israel's actions, if any (and there has been none from
the Bush administration), has focused instead on whether the IDF's carnage
is proportional to the threat it sought to counter, and whether it is taking
adequate measures to prevent civilian casualties.

Middle East peacemaking has been smothered in deceptive euphemisms, so let
me state bluntly that each of these claims is a lie. Israel, not Hamas,
violated the truce: Hamas undertook to stop firing rockets into Israel; in
return, Israel was to ease its throttlehold on Gaza. In fact, during the
truce, it tightened it further. This was confirmed not only by every neutral
international observer and NGO on the scene but by Brigadier General (Res.)
Shmuel Zakai, a former commander of the IDF's Gaza Division. In an interview
in Ha'aretz on 22 December, he accused Israel's government of having made a
'central error' during the tahdiyeh, the six-month period of relative truce,
by failing 'to take advantage of the calm to improve, rather than markedly
worsen, the economic plight of the Palestinians of the Strip . . . When you
create a tahdiyeh, and the economic pressure on the Strip continues,'
General Zakai said, 'it is obvious that Hamas will try to reach an improved
tahdiyeh, and that their way to achieve this is resumed Qassam fire . . .
You cannot just land blows, leave the Palestinians in Gaza in the economic
distress they're in, and expect that Hamas will just sit around and do

The truce, which began in June last year and was due for renewal in
December, required both parties to refrain from violent action against the
other. Hamas had to cease its rocket assaults and prevent the firing of
rockets by other groups such as Islamic Jihad (even Israel's intelligence
agencies acknowledged this had been implemented with surprising
effectiveness), and Israel had to put a stop to its targeted assassinations
and military incursions. This understanding was seriously violated on 4
November, when the IDF entered Gaza and killed six members of Hamas. Hamas
responded by launching Qassam rockets and Grad missiles. Even so, it offered
to extend the truce, but only on condition that Israel ended its blockade.
Israel refused. It could have met its obligation to protect its citizens by
agreeing to ease the blockade, but it didn't even try. It cannot be said
that Israel launched its assault to protect its citizens from rockets. It
did so to protect its right to continue the strangulation of Gaza's

Everyone seems to have forgotten that Hamas declared an end to suicide
bombings and rocket fire when it decided to join the Palestinian political
process, and largely stuck to it for more than a year. Bush publicly
welcomed that decision, citing it as an example of the success of his
campaign for democracy in the Middle East. (He had no other success to point
to.) When Hamas unexpectedly won the election, Israel and the US immediately
sought to delegitimise the result and embraced Mahmoud Abbas, the head of
Fatah, who until then had been dismissed by Israel's leaders as a 'plucked
chicken'. They armed and trained his security forces to overthrow Hamas; and
when Hamas - brutally, to be sure - pre-empted this violent attempt to
reverse the result of the first honest democratic election in the modern
Middle East, Israel and the Bush administration imposed the blockade.

Israel seeks to counter these indisputable facts by maintaining that in
withdrawing Israeli settlements from Gaza in 2005, Ariel Sharon gave Hamas
the chance to set out on the path to statehood, a chance it refused to take;
instead, it transformed Gaza into a launching-pad for firing missiles at
Israel's civilian population. The charge is a lie twice over. First, for all
its failings, Hamas brought to Gaza a level of law and order unknown in
recent years, and did so without the large sums of money that donors
showered on the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority. It eliminated the violent
gangs and warlords who terrorised Gaza under Fatah's rule. Non-observant
Muslims, Christians and other minorities have more religious freedom under
Hamas rule than they would have in Saudi Arabia, for example, or under many
other Arab regimes.

The greater lie is that Sharon's withdrawal from Gaza was intended as a
prelude to further withdrawals and a peace agreement. This is how Sharon's
senior adviser Dov Weisglass, who was also his chief negotiator with the
Americans, described the withdrawal from Gaza, in an interview with Ha'aretz
in August 2004:

What I effectively agreed to with the Americans was that part of the
settlements [i.e. the major settlement blocks on the West Bank] would not be
dealt with at all, and the rest will not be dealt with until the
Palestinians turn into Finns . . . The significance [of the agreement with
the US] is the freezing of the political process. And when you freeze that
process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and you
prevent a discussion about the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem.
Effectively, this whole package that is called the Palestinian state, with
all that it entails, has been removed from our agenda indefinitely. And all
this with [President Bush's] authority and permission . . . and the
ratification of both houses of Congress.

Do the Israelis and Americans think that Palestinians don't read the Israeli
papers, or that when they saw what was happening on the West Bank they
couldn't figure out for themselves what Sharon was up to?

Israel's government would like the world to believe that Hamas launched its
Qassam rockets because that is what terrorists do and Hamas is a generic
terrorist group. In fact, Hamas is no more a 'terror organisation' (Israel's
preferred term) than the Zionist movement was during its struggle for a
Jewish homeland. In the late 1930s and 1940s, parties within the Zionist
movement resorted to terrorist activities for strategic reasons. According
to Benny Morris, it was the Irgun that first targeted civilians. He writes
in Righteous Victims that an upsurge of Arab terrorism in 1937 'triggered a
wave of Irgun bombings against Arab crowds and buses, introducing a new
dimension to the conflict'. He also documents atrocities committed during
the 1948-49 war by the IDF, admitting in a 2004 interview, published in
Ha'aretz, that material released by Israel's Ministry of Defence showed that
'there were far more Israeli acts of massacre than I had previously thought
. . . In the months of April-May 1948, units of the Haganah were given
operational orders that stated explicitly that they were to uproot the
villagers, expel them, and destroy the villages themselves.' In a number of
Palestinian villages and towns the IDF carried out organised executions of
civilians. Asked by Ha'aretz whether he condemned the ethnic cleansing,
Morris replied that he did not:

A Jewish state would not have come into being without the uprooting of
700,000 Palestinians. Therefore it was necessary to uproot them. There was
no choice but to expel that population. It was necessary to cleanse the
hinterland and cleanse the border areas and cleanse the main roads. It was
necessary to cleanse the villages from which our convoys and our settlements
were fired on.

In other words, when Jews target and kill innocent civilians to advance
their national struggle, they are patriots. When their adversaries do so,
they are terrorists.

It is too easy to describe Hamas simply as a 'terror organisation'. It is a
religious nationalist movement that resorts to terrorism, as the Zionist
movement did during its struggle for statehood, in the mistaken belief that
it is the only way to end an oppressive occupation and bring about a
Palestinian state. While Hamas's ideology formally calls for that state to
be established on the ruins of the state of Israel, this doesn't determine
Hamas's actual policies today any more than the same declaration in the PLO
charter determined Fatah's actions.

These are not the conclusions of an apologist for Hamas but the opinions of
the former head of Mossad and Sharon's national security adviser, Ephraim
Halevy. The Hamas leadership has undergone a change 'right under our very
noses', Halevy wrote recently in Yedioth Ahronoth, by recognising that 'its
ideological goal is not attainable and will not be in the foreseeable
future.' It is now ready and willing to see the establishment of a
Palestinian state within the temporary borders of 1967. Halevy noted that
while Hamas has not said how 'temporary' those borders would be, 'they know
that the moment a Palestinian state is established with their co-operation,
they will be obligated to change the rules of the game: they will have to
adopt a path that could lead them far from their original ideological
goals.' In an earlier article, Halevy also pointed out the absurdity of
linking Hamas to al-Qaida.

In the eyes of al-Qaida, the members of Hamas are perceived as heretics due
to their stated desire to participate, even indirectly, in processes of any
understandings or agreements with Israel. [The Hamas political bureau chief,
Khaled] Mashal's declaration diametrically contradicts al-Qaida's approach,
and provides Israel with an opportunity, perhaps a historic one, to leverage
it for the better.

Why then are Israel's leaders so determined to destroy Hamas? Because they
believe that its leadership, unlike that of Fatah, cannot be intimidated
into accepting a peace accord that establishes a Palestinian 'state' made up
of territorially disconnected entities over which Israel would be able to
retain permanent control. Control of the West Bank has been the unwavering
objective of Israel's military, intelligence and political elites since the
end of the Six-Day War.[*] They believe that Hamas would not permit such a
cantonisation of Palestinian territory, no matter how long the occupation
continues. They may be wrong about Abbas and his superannuated cohorts, but
they are entirely right about Hamas.

Middle East observers wonder whether Israel's assault on Hamas will succeed
in destroying the organisation or expelling it from Gaza. This is an
irrelevant question. If Israel plans to keep control over any future
Palestinian entity, it will never find a Palestinian partner, and even if it
succeeds in dismantling Hamas, the movement will in time be replaced by a
far more radical Palestinian opposition.

If Barack Obama picks a seasoned Middle East envoy who clings to the idea
that outsiders should not present their own proposals for a just and
sustainable peace agreement, much less press the parties to accept it, but
instead leave them to work out their differences, he will assure a future
Palestinian resistance far more extreme than Hamas - one likely to be allied
with al-Qaida. For the US, Europe and most of the rest of the world, this
would be the worst possible outcome. Perhaps some Israelis, including the
settler leadership, believe it would serve their purposes, since it would
provide the government with a compelling pretext to hold on to all of
Palestine. But this is a delusion that would bring about the end of Israel
as a Jewish and democratic state.

Anthony Cordesman, one of the most reliable military analysts of the Middle
East, and a friend of Israel, argued in a 9 January report for the Center
for Strategic and International Studies that the tactical advantages of
continuing the operation in Gaza were outweighed by the strategic cost - and
were probably no greater than any gains Israel may have made early in the
war in selective strikes on key Hamas facilities. 'Has Israel somehow
blundered into a steadily escalating war without a clear strategic goal, or
at least one it can credibly achieve?' he asks. 'Will Israel end in
empowering an enemy in political terms that it defeated in tactical terms?
Will Israel's actions seriously damage the US position in the region, any
hope of peace, as well as moderate Arab regimes and voices in the process?
To be blunt, the answer so far seems to be yes.' Cordesman concludes that
'any leader can take a tough stand and claim that tactical gains are a
meaningful victory. If this is all that Olmert, Livni and Barak have for an
answer, then they have disgraced themselves and damaged their country and
their friends.'

15 January


[*] See my piece in the LRB, 16 August 2007.

Henry Siegman, director of the US Middle East Project in New York, is a
visiting research professor at SOAS, University of London. He is a former
national director of the American Jewish Congress and of the Synagogue
Council of America.

Behind the Myths about Hamas
by Deepa Kumar

Most mainstream accounts of the Palestinian Hamas organization present
it as a bunch of rabid fanatics, bent on violence and motivated by an
irrational hatred of Jews and the state of Israel. This view is
reflected both in the mainstream media and in many books published on
the topic.

When we separate propaganda from reality, however, what we find is a
group that has taken on the mantle of national resistance against
Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands.

Hamas describes itself like this: "The Islamic Resistance Movement
(Hamas) is a Palestinian national liberation movement that struggles for
the liberation of the Palestinian occupied territories and for the
recognition of the legitimate rights of Palestinians."1

In its manifesto in the lead-up to the 2006 elections, it stated: "Our
Palestinian people are still living through the phase of national
liberation; they have the right to endeavor to regain their rights and
end the occupation using all available means, including armed resistance."2

It is because of this commitment to the national liberation struggle --
and the recognition among Palestinians that Hamas, whatever else it may
stand for, refuses to concede on the question of resisting Israeli
repression -- that the organization has won wide support.

Hamas began to gain a hearing in the late 1980s, when the secular
nationalist Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), dominated by the
Fatah faction led by Yasser Arafat, gave up on the long-term goal of
liberating all of historic Palestine -- and followed a path of
negotiations that resulted in the Oslo Accords of 1993.

The culmination of Hamas' growing support was the January 2006 elections
to the Palestine Legislative Assembly, in which Hamas won a majority.

The reason for this victory lies not only in the failure of Oslo and the
continued brutality of the Israeli occupation, but also mass
disillusionment with the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority. Hamas'
steadfast opposition to occupation and constant criticisms of Fatah's
compromises, combined with its network of social service and charity
agencies, bolstered its image not only among religious Muslims, but also
among secularists and Christians.

Despite its victory in free and fair elections, the U.S. and Israel
sought to undermine and destroy Hamas. Israel suspended the transfer of
tax revenues collected from Palestinians in the amount of $50 million a
month. This began the strangulation of Gaza and set off a humanitarian

While the public strategy involved the collective punishment of the
people of Gaza for electing Hamas, Israel and its U.S. ally also
undertook a secret operation to overthrow Hamas, funneling arms and
money to Fatah fighters to enable them to carry out a coup in Hamas'
base in Gaza. Hamas won the battle for Gaza, and Fatah was routed. Yet
mainstream accounts of the conflict present Hamas as having launched a
coup in order to come to power.

Israel continued to step up its pressure on the people of Gaza, cutting
off much-needed supplies, electricity, and essentials and launching a
military assault late last month.

The siege and the latest invasion of Gaza have caused untold suffering,
death, and misery. But they have not accomplished Israel's aim of
fomenting a Palestinian opposition ready to topple Hamas. On the
contrary, the group continued to gain influence since the 2006 elections.

The reason for this is simple. When a people lose their livelihood,
their homes, their loved ones, and their dignity at the hands of an
occupying power, they resist -- and in this case, the resistance
movement is led by Hamas.

If elections were to be held in occupied Palestine, Hamas would likely
win again. This is not because all the people of Palestine agree with
Hamas' Islamist principles -- and not at all because Palestinians are
anti-Semitic fanatics -- but because people living under inhuman
conditions imposed by an occupying power will turn to organizations that
give voice to their aspirations for liberation.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Hamas was founded in 1987 in the context of the first Palestinian
uprising, or Intifada. Organizationally, it comes out of the Muslim
Brotherhood, established in 1945 in Jerusalem.

The Brotherhood was formed as a social welfare organization involved in
cultural and social activities. It consciously stayed away from the
arena of politics. Even after the formation of the state of Israel and
the war of 1948, the Brotherhood maintained this approach. It operated
on the premise that its primary goal was to Islamize society -- only
secondarily would it "prepare the generations for battle" with Israel
down the road.

In 1948, when Israel took over and occupied 78 percent of historic
Palestine, the movement was fractured and split between the West Bank
and Gaza. The Brotherhood developed in different ways depending on the

In the West Bank, which came under Jordanian control, it flourished and
became a loyal opposition to Jordan's Hashemite regime. However, in
Gaza, under Egyptian administration, its fate was similar to the
Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which was persecuted by the ruling party.
Under these conditions, it had to go underground and operate in secrecy.

In 1967, when Israel annexed the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the two
Muslim Brotherhoods were brought together. This fused the clandestine
and more militant tactics of the Gaza wing with the moderate tactics of
the Jordanian one.

From 1967, the organization sought to expand its influence in a number
of ways. Between 1967 and 1975, it launched a campaign to build mosques
throughout the Occupied Territories. In this, it had the support of
Israel, which had started to view the Brotherhood as an ally against the
secular nationalist PLO, which dominated Palestinian politics.3

This dovetailed with a larger strategy adopted by the US in the region
where, directly or indirectly through Saudi Arabia, it supported and
funded Islamist groups as a bulwark against secular nationalist parties.4

In 1973, the Islamic Center (al-Mujamma al-islami) was founded in the
Gaza Strip. The Mujamma, whose goal was to Islamize Gazan society, set
up schools, medical clinics, day care centers, youth and sports clubs,
and other social and communal forums tied to the mosque.

In Gaza, the number of mosques increased from 77 in 1967 to 200 by
1989.5 The combination of mosques and social welfare organs would prove
to be crucial means for propagating the movement's message and for
recruiting cadres, at a time when the secular movements largely ignored
these spheres.

Nevertheless, the Islamists remained marginal players on the political
scene. Up until the late 1980s, the Fatah movement and the PLO
dominated Palestinian politics, with other more left-wing nationalist
organizations vying for influence.

Once again seeking to counter the secular nationalists, the Israeli
government recognized and formally licensed the Mujamma in 1978. For
Israel, now led by the conservative Likud Party, the Islamists'
hostility to the left made them useful allies. At times, Israel even
funded these forces.

The Mujamma, in turn, routinely clashed with secular nationalists and
far left forces. In 1980, it set fire to the Palestinian Red Crescent
office, which was a stronghold of the left. After 1983, it engaged in
violent clashes with PLO members for control over the Islamic University
of Gaza. The most bitter and violent confrontations were with more far
left groups, like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

In 1987, a popular Palestinian uprising, known as the Intifada, erupted
first in the Gaza Strip and then in the West Bank. The Muslim
Brotherhood (in the form of the Mujamma movement) was posed with a new
reality that challenged its gradualist approach to Islamizing
Palestinian society.

Up to this point, the Brotherhood had strategically refrained from
direct political activity in the national arena, concentrating on its
social welfare organs. But it now ran the risk of losing credibility if
it did not take part in the uprising. Hamas was set up by the
leadership of the Brotherhood to respond to and participate in the Intifada.

Even before the Intifada, a debate had been brewing between the quietist
and militant sections of the MB's membership. As Khaled Hroub, one of
the most authoritative writers on Hamas, explains:

Internally and by the time of the Intifada, the rank and file of
the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood was witnessing intense internal
debate on the passive approach to the Israeli occupation. One [section]
pushed for change in policy toward confrontation with the occupation,
thus bypassing [the other section, which stood for the] old and
traditional thinking whose focus was on the Islamization of society
first. . . When the Intifada erupted, the exponents of the
confrontational policy gained a stronger position.6

Hamas was the product of the pressure exerted by the more nationalist
and confrontationist section on the leadership of the Brotherhood.

Around this time, the PLO, which had previously relied on the strategy
of armed struggle to liberate all of historic Palestine, began to
gravitate towards a more compromised stance. In particular, it
relinquished the long-term goal of liberating all of Palestine and
recognized the right of Israel to exist, and it opted for negotiations
over struggle to form a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Many Palestinians held out hope that the Oslo peace process might
address the horrific conditions under which they were forced to live.
Yet by 2000, the sham of Oslo was exposed, leading to the second Intifada.

Hamas was able to grow and gain influence because it rejected Oslo, by
holding on to a vision of liberating all of historic Palestine. In
short, the weakness and wrong turns of secular nationalism and the left
created the opening for Hamas to grow.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Hamas today is a different organization than the one that was founded in

For instance, its 1988 charter makes little effort to distinguish
between an anti-Zionist and an anti-Jewish stance. Yet the experience
of fighting against the occupation and for national liberation
transformed the organization -- in 1990, it published a document stating
that its struggle was against Zionists and Zionism, and not Jews and

As Hroub wrote in 2000:

Hamas' doctrinal discourse has diminished in intensity since the
mid-1990s. And references to its charter by its leaders have been made
rarely, if at all. The literature, statements and symbols used by Hamas
have come to focus more and more on the idea that the core problem is
the multidimensional issue of usurpation of Palestinian land, and the
basic question is how to end the occupation. The notion of liberating
Palestine has assumed greater importance than the general Islamic aspect
(my italics).7

This does not mean that Hamas has ceased to be an Islamist party. Its
day-to-day activities still involve a strong religious dimension. It
devotes time and energy to educating its membership in its particular
interpretation of Islam, to leading daily prayers, and to fighting
"vice" in the streets.

At certain times, Hamas members have intervened to stop what the
organization defines as "immoral" behavior, such as partying, drinking
alcohol, not wearing the hijab, mixed swimming, and so forth. One such
incident occurred in 2005 in Gaza, when a Palestinian women was killed
and her fiancé beaten up after they were found in his car at a beach.

Hamas' position on women is reactionary; it sees them as primarily
responsible for the home and family life. While it has repeatedly
insisted that it will not force women to wear the hijab -- and has, for
the most part, carried through on this -- there is an indirect pressure
exerted on women to follow Hamas' views on veiling, if they wish to seek
their help.

Women can join Hamas, but their realms of activity are limited to
charities and schools. They are largely invisible, and not one woman
has occupied a leadership position in the organization since 1987.
While a limited number of women have carried out suicide attacks, that
task is assigned primarily to men.

Nevertheless, it bears underling that Hamas is not as reactionary as the
Taliban. It doesn't prohibit women from operating outside the family
sphere. Thirteen of the 66 Hamas candidates who ran for election in
2006 were women. Yet despite seven winning their seats, only one woman
was included in the cabinet -- and, predictably, she was put in charge
of women's affairs.

Hamas also differs from more fundamentalist Islamist parties in that it
accepts the concept of the nation state, rather than the ummah, a
religious community formation. Its party structures are modeled on
Western ones, and its internal affairs are carried out in a more or less
democratic manner. The leadership inside Palestine is elected from
within, and by the rank and file. It is also not anti-science or

Hamas exhibits all the contradictions of modern Islamist parties. It
achieved prominence because of a political vacuum caused by the collapse
of secular nationalism and the left. Yet given its politics and class
basis, it doesn't present a long-term solution to the economic and
political problems faced by the people who turn to it.

The class basis of Islamism is the middle class or the petty
bourgeoisie. In general, this class does not have the social weight
necessary to bring the system to a standstill or force concessions from
powerful groups.

This problem is further compounded in the case of Hamas by the context
of occupation. Hamas draws support from merchants, business people, and
the rich, but its cadre and leadership are drawn largely from the
educated middle classes or de-classed people in refugee camps.

This explains why Hamas vacillates between armed struggle and radical
pronouncements on the one hand, and ceasefires and concessions on the
other. Ultimately, these strategies are a dead end.

Palestinian liberation will depend on support from outside the Occupied
Territories -- most obviously, from the region's working classes, among
whom massive sympathy and solidarity with the Palestinian cause exists.

Israel's assault on Gaza stirred huge demonstrations around the world,
from Indonesia and Pakistan to South Africa and Europe -- with some of
the largest in Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Morocco, and Turkey.

In Egypt, in particular, the working class has expressed both anger
against the neoliberal Mubarak regime and sympathy for the Palestinian
cause -- a revolt that toppled Mubarak would remove a crucial source of
complicity with Israel's occupation.

A strategy that offers hope for Palestinian liberation would connect
workers' struggles throughout the region to the fight for one secular,
democratic state in Palestine. And that would lay the basis for a
lasting peace in the Middle East.

1 Khaled Hroub, Hamas: A Beginner's Guide, Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto Press,
2006, p. 17.

2 Azzam Tamini, Hamas: A History from Within, Olive Branch Press, 2007,
p. 294.

3 Shaul Mishal and Avraham Sela, The Palestinian Hamas, New York:
Columbia University Press, 2000, p. 21.

4 See Robet Dreyfuss, Devil's Game: How the United States helped
Unleash Fundamentalist Islam, New York:Henry Holt and Company, 2005.

5 Mishal and Sela, p. 21.

6 Hroub, 2006, p. 13.

7 Khalid Hroub, Hamas:Political Thought and Practice, Institute for
Palestine Studies, 2000, p. 44.
Deepa Kumar is Assistant Professor of Media Studies at Rutgers
University. She is currently working on a book on Political Islam, US
Foreign Policy, and the Media.


Date:28/01/2009 URL: http://www.thehindu.com/2009/01/28/stories/2009012852231100.htm

A struggle to realise Palestinian hopes

Atul Aneja
Interview withDr. Musa Abu Marzuk, Deputy Chairman of the Hamas political bureau who is second-in-command in the group’s leadership-in-exile.
— Photo: AFP

Hamas is ready to accept an independent Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank with East Jerusalem as the capital, says Dr. Musa Abu Marzuk.

Musa Abu Marzuk, a key Hamas figure, has been ceaselessly at work since the Israeli attacks on Gaza began on December 27. The 58-year-old second-in-command in the Palestinian group has emerged as its public face over Arab satellite television channels such as Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya. In this interview he says Hamas is ready to accept an independent Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank with East Jerusalem as the capital, without formally recognising the state of Israel. He clarifies that once this state emerges “we [would] then arrive at a stage when a status of calm between this state and Israel is established.” Asked how Hamas would visualise the return of Palestinian refugees after a Palestinian state was established on land occupied by Israel in the 1967 war, the Deputy Chairman of the Hamas political bureau says: “Any kind of solution after that will be between the people. Now if the people return to Israel and they have full rights, human rights and political rights, then it’s their choice of the kind of future they want. Our struggle is that Palestinian hopes are realised and full justice is accomplished.” Dr. Marzuk, who has a doctorate from the United States, spoke to The Hindu at an undisclosed location in the Syrian capital Damascus. Excerpts:

The first phase of resistance in Gaza appears to have been accomplished after the recent war. How does your resistance advance from the level that has already been achieved?

During this stage, the Israeli aggression hit Gaza from everywhere: the sea, air and land. Gaza Strip, as you know, is a very small area. It’s 365 sq km, and it’s one of the most crowded areas in the world. It has 1.5 million people living there. Most of the people in Gaza are refugees. They have come from their cities, towns, villages and farms in [historical] Palestine. Nearly 75 per cent, or one million, people are refugees who live in this area.

Now after Hamas won the elections in 2006, we tried to change the ideology, policy and goal of the movement. From the beginning our goal has been to return our people to Palestine. We have emphasised that Palestinians have a right to live in their country and not in refugee camps. Our goal has been to establish our state and to struggle against occupation.

Are you saying your final objective is a single Palestinian state? Are you inclined to accept a two-state solution?

Look, after we won the elections we accepted the [formation of the Palestinian] state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip because of the balance of power in region. And we suggested that after that a status of calm would be established between this new state and Israel, without recognising Israel. This was our aim after we won the elections. In the past, we didn’t see this as a Palestinian objective.

So your objective is to establish an independent Palestinian state including West Bank and Gaza on territory occupied by Israel during the 1967 war? However, that is not your ultimate goal?

We have priorities. Our priority now is to get the [Israeli] siege lifted and let the Palestinian people carry out reconstruction of their buildings and homes which were destroyed by the Israeli aggression in Gaza. This is the first priority now. Our second priority is to re-establish our national unity.

Under which plan? There is a Yemeni proposal and the Egyptians have been involved as mediators to achieve Palestinian unity.

It doesn’t matter whether there is a Yemeni plan or an Egyptian plan. We have to achieve our objectives — the tools are not very important. The important thing is to rebuild our unity. Our third priority is to work together to establish a Palestinian state with Gaza Strip and West Bank and with Jerusalem as the capital.

When you say Jerusalem as the capital, are you referring to East Jerusalem alone?

You see they [Israelis] should withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza Strip up to the borders of 1967. That means East Jerusalem would be the capital of the Palestinian state. After this is done, we then arrive at a stage when a status of calm between this state and Israel is established. We refuse as a movement, whether we are inside the government or outside, to recognise Israel as an independent state, because all our rights would not have been restored.

These rights relate to the rights of refugees to return to their homeland?

We have refugees in Lebanon and Syria who must return to their homes, to their relatives, who are still waiting for them. Those people will not just accept a state in West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Where should they return? To West Bank or Gaza or their ancestral villages and towns which are in present-day Israel?

If they return to West Bank or Gaza Strip, that is not a return to their country, to their villages or their homes. They would become refugees again, inside their country but in a different area. There are already more than 1.5 million refugees in West Bank and Gaza Strip. I am talking about historical Palestine, not West Bank and Gaza Strip.

So, you wish to establish an independent state along the 1967 borders without recognising Israel. But full normalisation will come only after the last phase has been accomplished — when the refugees return to their ancestral homeland?

Any kind of solution after that will be between the people. Now if the people return to Israel and they have full rights, human rights and political rights, then it is their choice of the kind of future they want. Our struggle is [to ensure] that Palestinian hopes are realised and full justice is accomplished.

There have been accusations that Hamas is a terrorist organisation which wants to throw all Jewish people into the sea?

This is not true. You know, in history, Jews have suffered many massacres. This happened in Germany, Poland in the Second World War, and in Spain. These are the three main massacres that the Jewish people have suffered. After these massacres the Jews immigrated to Islamic countries, especially Turkey, Palestine, Morocco, in fact in many places in the Islamic world.

Now, we do not have any problem with any other religion. If you look at the Islamic countries, we are part of a mixed region. I can’t be a Muslim unless I believe in Jesus. I can’t be a Muslim unless I believe in Moses. I have to believe in their prophets also. My religion rejects any kind discrimination. So to say that we will throw the Jewish people in the sea, this is just propaganda.

On the contrary, it is also necessary to recognise the massacre of the Palestinian people. In the last massacre [in Gaza] 1,500 people have been killed, including 400 children and more than 200 women.

What are the principles that unify the Palestinian resistance? You have a Leftist group like the Popular Front for the People of Palestine (PFLP) as your ally and you have support from a country like Venezuela. Do you find any contradiction between Leftist or Marxist principles and Islamic principles, or do you see them coming together in some way?

Our responsibility as Muslims is to be with people suffering injustice. These are human values that we share with others on ideological terms. We have to stand with suffering people, people suffering from hunger or people under occupation.

There have been attempts to link Hamas with terrorism and Al Qaeda. Do you reject Al Qaeda?

We are completely different. We are under occupation. Of course, we reject Al Qaeda.

Is your resistance in Gaza during the recent conflict part of a wider struggle in the region which includes Hizbollah in Lebanon, with support from countries such as Syria and Iran?

Our success is a victory for all Palestinians and not one for the people of Gaza alone. Of course, with Israel’s defeat we have defeated many others in the region who want Israel to reoccupy Gaza Strip for different reasons. It is therefore going to help all countries and people who stand with Hamas and support Hamas in different ways. At this stage our support goes beyond Hizbollah, Syria and Iran. If you return to the war, most of the people in the Muslim world and the rest of the world stood by Hamas. They have been raising Hamas flags and burning Israeli flags. That means we have the support of millions of people throughout the world.

What is the significance of the Doha conference where Hamas and its allies were invited?

At Doha, Qatar’s Emir invited [Palestinian Authority President] Mahmoud Abbas to this conference. But he could not take this step because of pressure from Saudi Arabia and Egypt. After that Hamas was chosen to attend this conference because, being a conference about Palestinians it would have lost significance had Palestinians not participated. It was a good conference because it supported the Palestinian struggle. It is very clear that certain countries are now behind the Palestinian struggle and the Palestinian cause. That was the main message that emerged from the Doha conference.

Does Turkey have a specific role in resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict?

Day by day our international support is expanding. When we won the elections we were backed by Russia, Turkey and many others. Now, European representatives who come to meet the Syrian President or the Foreign Minister seek us out.

Did U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon meet you?

No, but I met his political representative in the West Bank and Gaza Strip one day before the Secretary-General’s visit.

How do you perceive Egypt’s role in the conflict?

We have differences with Egyptian policy. We want the Egyptians to open the Rafah gate, because we have no access to the rest of the world.

There have been proposals about a larger American military presence in Egypt to curb smuggling of weapons through tunnels into Gaza.

It’s Egypt’s responsibility to do whatever it wants to do on its territory. Nothing has been smuggled from Gaza to Egypt or Israel. There may be some people involved in smuggling items from Israel to Gaza or from Egypt to Gaza. But that is the responsibility of those countries, not ours.

Will you accept international monitors inside Gaza?

No, we do not accept international monitors either within Gaza or between the stretch from the Egyptian border to the Gaza border.

Will you accept the presence of European monitors and representatives of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the Rafah border crossing?

We have no objection to the presence of European monitors or from representatives of Mr. Abbas at the gates.

© Copyright 2000 - 2008 The Hindu


'Hamas Against Zionist Ideology, Not Judaism'

David Cronin

GAZA CITY, May 14 (IPS) - A founding member of Hamas says he hates all weapons and insists that his organisation is not anti-Jewish.
In an interview with IPS, Sayed Abu Musameh described frequent claims in the European and U.S. press that Hamas's charter is based on enmity towards Jews as a "big lie".

Speaking in the remains of the Palestinian Legislative Council headquarters in Gaza City - bombed by Israel on the third day of the offensive against Gaza it launched in late 2008 - Husameh drew a distinction between followers of Judaism and the Zionist ideology to which most politicians in Israel's main political parties subscribe. Such an ideology, he said, has led Israel to tighten its control of the Palestinian territories and their most important natural resources, including water.

"In our culture, we respect every foreigner, especially Jews and Christians," he said. "But we are against Zionists, not as nationalists but as fascists and racists."

Musameh also contended that Hamas has long been ready to agree a truce - known in Arabic as a hudna - with Israel but that Israel had refused all offers and imposed a crippling economic blockade on Gaza. The firing of Qassam rockets on the Israeli cities of Ashkelon and Sderot was designed "not to destroy Israel or to destroy Israeli people" but to "make them notice our siege."

Described by some observers of Middle Eastern affairs as one of the key "moderates" in the Islamic resistance movement, Musameh has expressed a strong interest in visiting Belfast to study whether lessons learned from the Irish peace process could be used to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hamas leaders recently held discussions with Gerry Adams, who as leader of the political party Sinn Féin has convinced the Irish Republican Army (IRA) to cease using violence.

"I hate all kinds of weapons," said Musameh. "I dream of seeing every weapon from the atomic bomb to small guns banned everywhere."

Since Hamas won a surprise victory in Palestinian elections in January 2006, 40 of Musameh's fellow members of the legislative council, including chairman Aziz Duwaik, have been jailed. Contact with his imprisoned colleagues - or with the 11,000 other Palestinians held by Israel - is impossible, Musameh said.

The destruction of the council's building has meant that video conferences between Hamas and its rival Fatah can no longer take place. Yet even before the attack, the council (described as a parliament by many Palestinians) was unable to operate properly as Israel had prevented Fatah politicians in the West Bank from travelling to Gaza for meetings.

After a joint Fatah-Hamas government - that was shunned by the U.S. and European Union - collapsed, Hamas took charge of running the Gaza Strip in 2007. Local human rights activists have protested strongly at some of the measures it has undertaken, particularly how it closed down more than 200 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that it accused of being affiliated to Fatah. Most have subsequently been allowed to resume their activities.

Despite speaking out against Hamas's tactics, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) in Gaza says it is vital that Europe and the U.S. encourage reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. "If the coalition government had been accepted by the international community or at least by Europe, we wouldn't have an internal conflict (in the Palestinian territories)," said the PCHR's Hamdi Shaqqura.

Governments that have refused to deal with Hamas because they consider it extremist are displaying double standards now that they agree to have contacts with an Israeli government that includes Avigdor Lieberman, who is seeking that Arabs within Israel's internationally recognised boundaries should be stripped of their rights as Israeli citizens unless they pass a 'loyalty test' to the state, Shaqqura said.

"Europe can do a lot in terms of Palestinian dialogue," he added. "It must encourage Palestinians to reach a compromise, and if parties can reach a compromise, it must be respected by the international community. The international community must end its hypocrisy. It has accepted Lieberman, it has accepted a racist."

Khalil Abu Shammala, director of the Al-Dameer Association for Human Rights, said: "Hamas won the (2006) election. This was the Palestinians' democratic choice, so the international community should accept it. Why not give Hamas the chance to govern and give people the choice of whether they trust it or not?"

Some analysts believe that hawkish politicians in Israel and their allies in the previous U.S. administration led by George W. Bush deliberately sought to foment strife between Fatah and Hamas as part of a colonialist 'divide and rule' strategy.

Amjad Shawa from the Palestinian NGOs Network said that bickering between the political parties "suits completely" the agenda being pursued by the Israeli government. Still, he argued that human rights activists should denounce any violations that occur regardless of who perpetrates them.

"I cannot say that Hamas has prevented the right to association but there is a violation," he added. "We will face any violations by Hamas or Fatah or whoever. We will not keep silent."