Hamas is one of the most recognisable players in the Israel/Palestine dispute. They are extremely important to any peace process that is to have any real and lasting effect in the region.
But how did they rise to the position in which they find themselves? Having only come into existence in 1987 they were not present for the earlier struggles against occupation but now they occupy a position that is in many ways stronger than that of Fatah, the successor to the P. L. O. (Palestinian Liberation Organisation). Their rise has been in many ways meteoric and from the outside baffling, that an unknown and new entity could become so powerful in such a short space of time without the help of the old guard.
It could be argued that the rise of Hamas came about through chance, fluke and mismanagement on the side of their opposition but this would be to discredit the skill at which Hamas have exploited situations to their favour. As it stands now they are the most powerful group, both politically and militarily, in the Gaza Strip. Their influence is also growing in the West Bank as they offer an alternative to Fatah, seen by many to be a cumbersome and corrupt organisation that has become ineffective in the fight for a Palestinian state.
This has been done through building up networks within communities and by showing that they like Hezbollah in Lebanon can cause damage to the Israeli state. The Origins of Hamas: Hamas are a relatively new group in Palestine, there was no Islamic resistance movement in the occupied territories until the first Intifada in 1987 of any real note. Instead the scene was dominated by the secular nationalist movements of the P. L. O. Before 1987 Hamas was in effect the Muslim Brotherhood (M. B. ). This group came to Palestine in 1935 having originally been founded in Egypt in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna.
In 1935 Hassan al-Banna sent his brother Abd al-Rahman al-Banna to Palestine to build up contacts and eventually found a branch in Jerusalem in 1945. By 1947 there were twenty five branches of the Muslim Brotherhood with membership from twelve to twenty thousand. The work of the Muslim Brotherhood revolved around religion, education and basic social care and networking choosing to shun the idea of armed resistance against either the British or later against the Israelis. After the creation of the Israeli state the Muslim Brotherhood’s administration was split. The Gaza Strip was administered by the Egyptian arm of the M.
B. and relations with the newly founded Israeli state were fraught for the most part. However in the West Bank, which was annexed by Jordan in 1950, the M. B. was administered by the Jordanian branch and relations were far better with Israel. This is a trend that still prevails today as the Gaza Strip is seen as much more extreme in her opposition to Israel where as the West Bank is more moderate. These social activities provided a very important function in the Palestinian Territories. One of the most important being that of education. The M. B. have a long history of providing education for the peoples of Palestine.
This was very much in keeping with the moderate stance of the M. B. ’s founder Hassan al-Banna and was reflected in the foundation of al-Mujamma‘ al-Islami (the Islamic Centre) in 1978. The Islamic Centre centralised the activities of the Brotherhood in the Palestinian Territories under the leadership of Ahmed Yasin. The Centre provides educational as well as medical services. However the real success of the M. B. was their religious teachings, the number of mosques after the foundation of the Centre rose from 400 to 750 in the West Bank and 200 to 600 in the Gaza Strip from 1967-1987.
This was an ideal way to impart their ideology and teachings, to a captive audience at evening prayers. The increase in the number of Mosques, almost doubling in the West Bank and increasing three fold in the Gaza Strip, is testament to the influence that the Brotherhood wielded through its social activities. It is important to note that throughout its existence up until the First Intifada in 1987 the Muslim Brotherhood had been largely left alone by the Israeli authorities.
This tacit support for the M. B. as in, as we can see now, a misguided attempt to divert support away from the secular nationalist movement of the P. L. O. led by Yasser Arafat, the logic being that if people’s energy was expended on religious and social works then they would have less time to devote to the destruction Israel. By 1987 the fight for a Palestinian homeland had gathered considerable pace, led by the secular, nationalist P. L. O. of which Fatah was a large constituent. The tension culminated in the First Intifada, or Palestinian uprising.
At this point the Muslim Brotherhood realised that it could no longer remain a-political if it were to survive. As a consequence of this the Society created a political wing called Hamas which means zeal in Arabic but is also an acronym for Islamic Resistance Movement. The Intifada was started after a mortar attack in the Gaza strip which killed several Palestinian workers led to protests and riots against the Israeli occupation. This caused the M. B. to hold a meeting in Gaza featuring some of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Gaza Strip.
Among the ranks was Ahmed Yasin, the founder of the Islamic Centre. The group began to meet on a more regular basis and the idea of forming a new organisation out of the ranks of the M. B. began to take shape. From the outset the younger membership in the West Bank were keen to engage in armed resistance however the old guard dragged their heals for a time, unsure of what if any damage it would do to their organisation. After all the Muslim Brotherhood had built itself up as a provider of social services and a religious instructor, any movement towards armed resistance would be a dramatic departure from this.
As well as this there was the issue of going toe to toe with the old guard, Fatah had held a strangle hold over the armed struggle, the only other power being Islamic Jihad who had never managed to garner the same level of support as the secular P. L. O. Another possible reason for the Brotherhood’s decision to form Hamas as a separate organisation, according to Ziad Abu-Amr, is that in the event of the Intifada failing the Muslim Brotherhood could deny links and so avoid retribution from the Israeli government. However in 1988 when the First Intifada was under way the M. B. finally resolved their ideological differences and entered the fray.
In August of 1988 the Brotherhood formally recognised their new creation. The Hamas Charter laid out their aims and beliefs, the most notable being their refusal to recognise Israel and its pledge to destroy her, “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it” (The Martyr, Imam Hassan al-Banna, of blessed memory). The rationale behind Hamas claim to Palestine and the destruction is also important to note.
In contrast to the claims of the P. L. O. that Palestine was the original state and that Israel is an illegal state founded by an organisation that did not have the mandate to do so, Hamas went one step further. The claim made by Hamas was that all of the Palestinian lands constituted an Islamic Waqf (trust) and so could not be split up, “The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Muslim generations until Judgement Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up.
Neither a single Arab country nor all Arab countries, neither any king or president, nor all the kings and presidents, neither any organization nor all of them, be they Palestinian or Arab, possess the right to do that. Palestine is an Islamic Waqf land consecrated for Muslim generations until Judgement Day. This being so, who could claim to have the right to represent Muslim generations till Judgement Day? ” There are pros and cons to this type of reasoning; on the plus side it is impossible to defeat this argument with the use of legalistic or even humanitarian argument, it is a religious belief that is based on the Koran.
This argument is in a way turning the Zionist argument for the foundation of a Jewish state on its head but can also be seen as fighting fire with fire, religious fundamentalism with religious fundamentalism. On the other side one of the draw backs to this kind of reasoning is that it backs Hamas into a corner; it cannot compromise on a two state solution as its aim is the obliteration of the state of Israel, an objective that seems as distant now (if not more so) than it was at the time.
This in turn is one of the main reasons Hamas has been excluded from the Peace talks over the years. This document, though, however flawed is what ushered in the existence of a true second force to the dominance of the P. L. O. Hamas were challenging the established order of things in Palestinian politics, they even attempt to start a fresh with their relations with the P. L. O. putting aside the bitter feud that the Brotherhood had with the secular nationalists, “The Palestinian Liberation Organization is the closest to the heart of the Islamic Resistance Movement.
It contains the father and the brother, the next of kin and the friend. The Muslim does not estrange himself from his father, brother, next of kin or friend. Our homeland is one, our situation is one, our fate is one and the enemy is a joint enemy to all of us. ” Even if this is only lip service it shows the separateness of this newly formed organisation from its mother group of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas was now born and was about to have a profound impact on the landscape of the Palestinian political landscape. Hamas as a Resistance Movement:
Hamas was split into a number of wings; the political wing, the social and charitable wing and the military wing (Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigade). Although it is only a small part of Hamas activities, with around 90 per cent of its $70 million budget being spent on social, charitable and religious work. Despite this, in terms of media coverage Hamas is best known for being an Islamist militant group. This has a lot to do with the effectiveness and in some cases the sheer scale of their attacks especially in relation to the suicide bombings that came to define the early years of Hamas fight.
Six years after their inception Hamas carried out its first suicide bombing killing one person at Melhola Junction and injuring eight Israeli soldiers. Since then they have become more advanced and effective in their use of suicide bombings. The largest number of suicide bombings came in 2002 at the outbreak of the Second Intifada. Hamas killed 220 people in a widespread campaign against the occupation of the Palestinian territories. This figure has not been matched since and now it would seem that Hamas has become more pragmatic in its approach to fighting the Israeli occupation.
Instead of the traditional use of suicide bombings Hamas has moved to firing rockets. This move is reflected in a more widespread change in the way that jihad is being fought in the region. Parallels can be drawn with Hezbollah in Lebanon; they are extremely effective at using mortar attacks and guerrilla warfare as seen in the 2007 Israeli invasion. This change in approach can be interpreted in a number of different ways. The first is that this is a decision to shift emphasis in an attempt to build up a more highly skilled force to combat their enemies.
After all once a suicide bomber has launched a successful attack they seldom manage a repeat performance. This holds water for Hamas, in particular if it is looked at in the way they now operate. They are far more like a proper military force now with much better training and discipline than the majority of other paramilitary groups in the Palestinian Territories as was shown when they routed Fatah in 2007 to seize control of the Gaza Strip. The second could be a fall off in support for the group.
This might be especially true of Hezbollah who is beginning to be seen by many in a more negative light after a number of damaging political scandals leading to their support trailing off, as was seen in recent parliamentary elections. The final suggestion and one that appears to ring truest of Hamas is that now they are in office as an elected government they are subject to more moderating forces. They can no longer just fight for Muslims in the Gaza Strip, they now have to represent the Christian and secular elements of society.
This is a charge that has been levelled at them by militant groups within Gaza, “People in the street say Hamas has changed,” said Abu Ahmed, spokesman for the military wing of Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian armed group in Gaza that complained recently that Hamas had arrested four of its militants as they tried to attack Israeli soldiers near the border. “They’re paying a price for that. People need to know that Hamas is still committed to the resistance. ” This presents a new challenge for Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigade, they now have to adapt to the role of policing instead of merely resistance.
The same evolution for Fatah left them widely discredited as a resistance movement. Hamas must find a way to adapt without going down the same path as Fatah. It is a very delicate path to tread to also ensure that they don’t lose their core support but still fulfil the role of policing without endangering the national interests of Gaza by provoking Israel. Hamas as a Religious, Social and Political Movement: Hamas still maintains the spirit of their father organisation, the Muslim Brotherhood in that the vast majority of their funding is still spent on social and religious work, as stated above this amounts to some 90 per cent f the their $70 million budget.
After all Hamas was originally set up as political party in 1987, the military wing was secondary. As well as this Hamas has now superseded the Brotherhood and so has assumed the roles that were traditionally carried out by the M. B. Indeed, Hamas identifies itself as a humanistic organisation in its charter. Hamas therefore still carries out many of the roles of its mother organisation such as medical care, student loans and basic welfare. This sets them quite apart from some of the other groups in the Palestinian Territories.
It also creates a problem for the branding of Hamas as a terrorist organisation. While it is true that their military wing (Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigade) is very active it is only a small part of the operation and as pointed out by Quintan Wiktorowicz, with thousands of volunteers working for Hamas in distributing aid. “Without regard to the somewhat stale argument that “one man’s terrorist group is another man’s freedom fighter,” the official U. S. position is problematic for two reasons. First by labelling Hamas a terrorist group, the government ignores most of what Hamas actually does.
Hamas is a social movement with thousands of activists and hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) of Palestinian sympathisers, and it engages in extensive political and social activities far removed from suicide bombers. Second, it is always problematic to speak of terrorist groups (or states), as opposed to groups or states that periodically use acts of terror for tactical political reasons. ” This social activism has won Palestine many supporters in Gaza and the West Bank. This is integral to the how Hamas grew so rapidly, by continuing the work of their parent organisation they have ensured a large and loyal base of supporters.
For many looking at this situation from the outside it would appear as though it is nothing more than a veil of legitimacy however many believe that Hamas are genuinely able to compartmentalise their work, “Hamas has been very good at compartmentalizing their activities — where they have a soup kitchen, for example, they simply give soup, nothing more,” said Mouin Rabbani of the International Crisis Group, which studied Islamic social activism in the occupied territories. “But it all fits into a broader pattern of popular mobilization and becomes another way of seeking support for the organization. This social activism is integral to the support that Hamas received in the latest parliamentary elections.
In 2006 Hamas won the election held in the Palestinian Territories. This in turn led to heavy sanctions being imposed and pressure from the international community to force Hamas out. After much wrangling President Abbas declared emergency powers and handed power over to Fatah. Hamas responded by ousting Fatah from the Gaza Strip in a bloody feud with Fatah and other groups sympathetic to Fatah.
As a result of this Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza in 2007 which is seen as being illegal and was even cited in the Goldstone Report, “27. The Mission focused (chap. V) on the process of economic and political isolation imposed by Israel on the Gaza Strip, generally referred to as a blockade. The blockade comprises measures such as restrictions on the goods that can be imported into Gaza and the closure of border crossings for people, goods and services, sometimes for days, including cuts in the provision of fuel and electricity.
Gaza’s economy is further severely affected by the reduction of the fishing zone open to Palestinian fishermen and the establishment of a buffer zone along the border between Gaza and Israel, which reduces the land available for agriculture and industry. In addition to creating an emergency situation, the blockade has significantly weakened the capacities of the population and of the health, water and other public sectors to respond to the emergency created by the military operations.
The Mission holds the view that Israel continues to be duty-bound under the Fourth Geneva Convention and to the full extent of the means available to it to ensure the supply of foodstuff, medical and hospital items and other goods to meet the humanitarian needs of the population of the Gaza Strip without qualification. ” In the face of such adversity many groups would fold or the public would turn against them but this is not true of Hamas. They have cemented their position in Gaza and their influence in the West Bank is growing.
As political movement Hamas began in 1987 with the advent of the Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement. This document set out their main goals and ideology. The most notable being their rejection of any Israeli state and their claim to the entirety of the Israel, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank based around a religious belief that the only way in which the region can be governed is under Islam. “The Islamic Resistance Movement: The Movement’s programme is Islam.
From it, it draws its ideas, ways of thinking and understanding of the universe, life and man. It resorts to it for judgement in all its onduct, and it is inspired by it for guidance of its steps. ” This is the key tenement of Hamas ideology and again it is very much based around the teachings of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is also similar in many ways to other revolutionary groups in the region. Hezbollah for instance seeks Islamic governance in the Lebanon and is willing to use armed resistance to meet its ends. But this is not purely an Islamic idea the Jewish Underground and other far right Jewish groups have used violence when they feel that there has not been enough done to ensure the integrity of the Jewish state.
Indeed it could well be argued that Hamas is even more accepting in its ideology as instead of a Muslim state for Muslims (many far right groups in Israel demand a Jewish state for Jews), they instead claim that they would not obstruct other religious and ethnic groups in carrying out their practices. “The Islamic Resistance Movement is a humanistic movement. It takes care of human rights and is guided by Islamic tolerance when dealing with the followers of other religions. It does not antagonize anyone of them except if it is antagonized by it or stands in its way to hamper its moves and waste its efforts.
Under the wing of Islam, it is possible for the followers of the three religions – Islam, Christianity and Judaism – to coexist in peace and quiet with each other. Peace and quiet would not be possible except under the wing of Islam. Past and present history are the best witness to that. It is the duty of the followers of other religions to stop disputing the sovereignty of Islam in this region, because the day these followers should take over there will be nothing but carnage, displacement and terror. Every one of them is at variance with his fellow-religionists, not to speak about followers of other religionists.
Past and present history are full of examples to prove this fact. ” However there are still some glaring paradoxes in the ideology of the Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement. The most notable being in the fact that while the claim is made that under Islamic governance there will be tolerance the only way to achieve this is through jihad. “Now and then the call goes out for the convening of an international conference to look for ways of solving the (Palestinian) question. Some accept, others reject the idea, for this or other reason, with one stipulation or more for consent to convening the conference and participating in it.
Knowing the parties constituting the conference, their past and present attitudes towards Muslim problems, the Islamic Resistance Movement does not consider these conferences capable of realising the demands, restoring the rights or doing justice to the oppressed. These conferences are only ways of setting the infidels in the land of the Muslims as arbitraters. When did the infidels do justice to the believers? … There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors.
The Palestinian people know better than to consent to having their future, rights and fate toyed with. ” This does not seem like the most religiously tolerant way of achieving peace, holy war is not often cited as a way to achieve a multi-faith society. It is also difficult to reconcile the call for jihad with the social activities that the group perform. There is no real sense of bias in who receives the aid from Hamas based around religious observance. Therefore it can feel at times as though the Covenant is more extreme than the group that follows its principals.
This is understandable however, after all, the Covenant was written at the outbreak of the First Intifada and so it would be understandable that it should be based around emotional sentiment; it was the dawning of a new era for the Palestinian Territories. Despite this Hamas has shown itself to be a competent and shrewd political player. They have grown their vote steadily culminating in the election victory of 2006. And aside from the 2005 presidential election they have run candidates in all or most of the elections since 1987.
However, Hamas cannot become the undisputed government until they are no longer branded as a terrorist organisation. While that sceptre still hangs over their head they are open to sanctions. But in order to have the mantle of terrorist removed Hamas must take drastic steps; they must renounce violence and accept the existence of the Israeli state. Although there have been suggestions that Hamas could accept the existence of Israel based around the 1967 borders this is still in the eyes of many quite some way off.
As for the rejection of violence this could be even harder for them. If Hamas is not seen to resist Israeli occupation with violence then they run the risk of being usurped by another group. Hamas in the Eyes of the World: The international community, for the most part, has since 2007 refused to recognise Hamas as the government of the Palestinian Authority. Instead Fattah is seen as the government by many countries. Hams is recognised as a terrorist organisation by the U. S. , the E. U. and by Japan. This from the very outset puts them at a disadvantage.
They struggle to receive funding from international charities and organisations and anyone who is seen to support them is branded as a sponsor of terror. Whether this is fair or not is rather irrelevant from the point of view of day to day practicalities, it is an unavoidable obstacle and all the screaming and shouting from Hamas will not change it any time soon. This is why following the expulsion of Fatah from Gaza, Hamas were cut off. E. U. and U. S. aid stopped flowing until such a time as Hamas were no longer the governing body in the region.
However there are still countries that do not recognise Hamas as being a terrorist group, these countries include Russia and Norway. Norway being one of the first countries to recognise the Hamas led government. Equally Russia does not consider Hamas to be a terrorist group because they are democratically elected. Both Australia and the U. K. recognise the Izz al-Din al-Qassam as being a terrorist group. This external condemnation of Hamas has had far reaching effects on not just Hamas but the people of the Palestinian Territories and in particular the Gaza Strip ever since Hamas rose to power.
The stance of many countries represents, in many ways a wide brush stroke that does not accurately represent the facts; as discussed above there are different wings of Hamas. The political wing of Hamas being branded as a terrorist group would be in many ways a kin to Sinn Fein being branded a terrorist group because of its dealings and close connections with the I. R. A. So why then does the international community fail to see any differentiation between the Izz al-Din al-Qassam and the political wing of Hamas? The answer to this is not so one sided.
The first issue is the closeness of the bond between Hamas the political party and Hamas the militant group. The vast majority of the Hamas leadership have served prison sentences. This does discredit them in the eyes of many. It is hard to call yourself a legitmate political party when most of your membership have convictions for being a member of a terrorist group. But on the side if, the West wishes to embrace democracy to its bosom then they mustr accept the fact that Hamas were elected to power by the people. In a more local sense the view of Hamas is also mixed.
Jordan in particular is anti-Hamas having outlawed the group in 1999. This was part of Jordan moderating on the Israel issue. They are also one of the few Arab or middle Eastern countries to recognise Israel’s right to exist. But while the reaction towards Hamas is not uniformed support they certainly do enjoy a lot more support than they do from outside the region. One of the primary supporters of Hamas is Iran. This is not the most normal of decisions for Iran to make based on the religious differences between the two. Iran is majority Shia while Hamas is a Sunni group.
Another traditional supporter of Hamas is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This religiously makes more sense, the Kingdom is the main Sunni power in the region. However from a diplomatic sense it is slightly awkward. The Kingdom is a close ally of the U. S and therefore it could be problematic for relations between the two countries. This stands in contrast with Iran who has little to no diplomatic ties with the U. S. The support of these countries is vital to Hamas as it translates into funding and political strength. Support for Hamas is not confined to these two countries; it is also supported by Syria and by Hezbollah in the Lebanon.
The support of Syria is derived from two main reasons; the first is that the Golan Heights are still being occupied by Israel and so Damascus supports Hamas. The second is that Iran is one of Hamas main allies and so it makes political sense to support them. Countries such as Egypt take a more balance view towards the situation. They often act as mediators between Israel and Hamas during any kind of cease fire negotiations. Egypt may not support Hamas fully due to the groups formation out of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt have a long and troubled history.
As a result Egypt is more trusted by Israel to act as a mediator. Turkey too is seen as a more moderate voice although there has been a certain shift towards Hamas in recent months. Hamas will continue to have to battle against the international community as well as Israel for as long as they refuse to alter their charter and recognise Israel. Until then there is little chance of them being removed from many countries lists as terrorists thus presenting problems in terms of funding and credibility in the international community.
However a change in the charter has implications closer to home; while countries such as Jordan and Egypt (seen by most in the Arab world as relative moderates on the Israel issue) would welcome such a move there are others who would be more disapproving. Iran has grown her influence in the Middle East in recent years thanks to a boisterous and nationalistic leader (Ahmadinejad). This growth in influence has been seen by the U. S. A as being linked to Hamas’ success. “In the Middle East, Iran and its neighbours see a strategic shift: Iran’s influence is rising in ways that go beyond the menace of its nuclear program.
The fall of the Taliban and Saddam, increased oil revenues, HAMAS. s electoral victory, and Hezbollah’s perceived recent success in fighting against Israel all extend Iran’s shadow in the region. Our Arab allies fear Iran’s increasing influence, are concerned about worsening tensions between Shia and Sunni Islam, and face heightened domestic criticism for maintaining their decades-old strategic partnerships with Washington. Iran’s growing influence has coincided with a generational change in Tehran’s leadership.
Iranian President Ahmadi-Nejad’s administration staffed in large part by second-generation hardliners imbued with revolutionary ideology and deeply distrustful of the US has stepped up the use of more assertive and offensive tactics to achieve Iran’s longstanding goals. ” Part of this growth has included extending a hand to the Sunni Islamist group Hamas, who were far more used to being courted by their Sunni brethren in The Kingdom. Any sea change in the Hamas policy on Israel would be met with anger from Iran, who has made themselves powerful allies of Hamas. As well as this Hamas rely on neighbours such as Syria and Hezbollah.
Syria has been locked in conflict with the Israelis over the Golan Heights since 1967 (occupied after the Six Day War by Israel). So again this is an example of a neighbouring state that would favour Hamas remaining in armed conflict with Israel. Finally there is the issue of Hezbollah; they are a very powerful force in the Lebanon and are supporters of Hamas. The risk is that if Hamas becomes too complacent in relation to Israel, or changes their Charter to recognise Israel, then any of these allies could change allegiance to another militant group and destabilise Hamas.
This complex relationship with the international community is perhaps what has shaped Hamas’ sometimes contradictory policy; not recognising Israel but still having a cease fire with a state you claim does not exist is one such confused example. Hamas must walk a thin line; they must ensure that their main sponsors (Iran, Syria, etc. ) are happy with them. But at the same time they must try to achieve legitimacy in the eyes of the rest of the international community, most notably the E. U. member states and the U. S. A. as this could yield greater dividends both financially and politically.
Reasons for Hamas’ Success: There is a multitude of reasons for the success of Hamas; ranging from the fact that they offered choice from the established order to the way in which they organised and recruited their grassroots supporters. Alone none of them can account for the meteoric rise of Hamas, but when they were combined they reveal how Hamas has managed to grow to be the second largest if not the largest and most important Palestinian player in the Israel/ Palestine conflict. Hamas was founded on the back of a great outpouring of emotion with the dawning of the First Intifada.
This was first time that the Brotherhood had involved itself in armed resistance against the occupying Israeli forces. It was also the first time that Palestinians had been given a viable alternative to the P. L. O. Although there were other Islamist militant groups, namely Islamic Jihad, they had never managed to garner the same level of support as the P. L. O. Hamas however came from a stronger position, the Muslim Brotherhood had already spent years building a loyal base through their charitable work and Hamas as a wing of the Brotherhood could then seize on this.
They have used this to great effect by continuing the charitable work that was started by the M. B. and have even now eclipsed their parent organisation. With this support they could start to affect real change unlike the smaller groups that had always operated on the periphery of the events. The P. L. O. had been very good at exploited the smaller groups as well. Arafat had a talent for playing groups off each other in order to remain in control, the tribalistic nature of Fatah today is testament to this.
However when confronted with a new group that was not based around the loyalty of families to a nationalist cause but instead around religion this feat became harder. The advantage that Hamas had was that the members who were willing to fight were not necessarily fighting for a group alone but for a divine belief that Palestine was an Islamic trust. This in turn creates a bond that outweighs loyalty to a single leader. The way in which Fatah has struggled since the death of Arafat to find a replacement who can inspire to the same degree shows that they are in need of a strong leader to tie them together.
In contrast Hamas has had a multiple of leaders in its short history but still remains unified. Despite losing two leaders in space of one year (Yassin in March 2004 and Rantisi in April of the same year) they have only grown in strength winning the elections in 2006. Therefore it can be seen that the use of a divine goal or aim has aided Hamas and has contributed to their success. Hamas have also benefited from the perception of Fatah as being corrupt. In stark contrast it is felt by many Palestinians that Hamas are not susceptible to bribery.
This greatly helped Hamas in their bid to gain legitimacy within the Palestinian Territories and was a very important factor in them winning the legislative election in 2006. Hamas offered an alternative to the old boys club of Fatah that has allegedly squandered or embezzled around $700 million dollars of public funds. Hamas were able to take advantage of this by appearing to be above this sort of behaviour. Credence was again lent to this by their charitable work; they fed the poor while Fatah were being accused of stealing from them. But perhaps the most important reason for the growth and success of Hamas is its greatest enemy; Israel.
Frank Halliday wrote, “In Palestine, the Israeli authorities, concerned to counter the influence of al-Fatah in the West Bank in the late 1970s, granted permission for educational, charitable and other organisations (linked in large part to the Muslim Brotherhood) in ways that helped nurtured the emergence of Hamas in 1987; Israeli thus did not create Hamas, but it did facilitate its early growth. ” It is hard to over state the importance of Israel’s complacency in the early years of the Brotherhood; giving them free rein almost to recruit and spread influence while they focused on secular and nationalist Fatah.
This is what allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to gain a foot hold in the Palestinian Territories. But equally the response of Israel to Hamas has created a lot of the growth and success that Hamas has enjoyed. When the British forces opened fire on civil rights activists in Belfast on the 30th of January 1972 it left 13 men dead it is said to have done more to help the cause of the I. R. A. more than any attack they launched themselves. In the case of Hamas events such as this occur far more frequently. Thousands of Palestinian civilians have been killed by Israeli security forces.
This can only lead to a feeling of resentment within the Palestinian people and has undoubtedly led to the fanatical support that is associated with Hamas’ suicide bombings. Conclusions: Hamas has been one of the most important institutions in the Palestinian Territories almost from the outset of its formation in 1987. From its beginnings from the Muslim Brotherhood to its current form as the elected government of the P. A. its influence has been enormous. It has grown from being a branch of the larger M. B. in Egypt to being the foremost resistance group.
In order to rise to this level it has undergone a great number of changes. It is now almost unrecognisable from its early incarnation. It has moved from moderate and non violent; the Muslim Brotherhood shunned armed resistance in favour of creating an Islamic society through religious teachings and social works, to an extremist group that has engaged in suicide bombings and more than flirted with anti-Semitism. Just a brief look at some of the statements made by past leaders leaves one in no doubt as to why it has not been trusted or included in peace talks.
We will not rest until we destroy the Zionist entity,” senior Hamas figure Fathi Hammad said at the funeral for the 20 people who died in that attack. This statement and others like it display Hamas as a violent and extreme group with a singular goal; the destruction of Israel. However as noted above there has been yet another sea change in Hamas. They have begun to move again to a more moderate stance. Although drawing criticism from other groups within Gaza and the West Bank it once again displays the pragmatic and tactile nature of Hamas.
They adapt to their surroundings and circumstances better than any other group in the Palestinian Territories. Comparisons can thus be drawn between them and Sinn Fein. Although Sinn Fein were once a singular and one dimensional entity they have learned that in order to exploit circumstances and affect any real change they must be willing to adapt and moderate as they did by entering the power sharing structure in the North. Hamas too have learned that it is possible to change only so much through firing rockets and throwing stones.
Throughout all of these changes Hamas has kept one thing at its core; its charitable work, and it is this that is most likely to allow it to weather its progression towards becoming a legitimate government and political group. People cannot fight against an occupying force on empty stomachs for very long. Hamas addresses this through its charity work. And in turn it has created fierce loyalty among the residents of Gaza and beyond. This mixed with their image of being incorruptible offers the people of Palestine hope; a commodity that could easily be in short supply in a place like Gaza.
What the future holds for Hamas is hard to tell. As a decapitated government; isolated from the West Bank and cut off from many sources of funding Hamas will have difficult times ahead. The issue of rebuilding ties with Fatah is one that burns as bright today as it did when Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007. It is a necessary step to building a Palestinian state and by remaining separate it only lends weight to Israel’s policy of occupation. It is also vital to try and stop more young men turning to more extreme groups. Hamas must also move to make itself acceptable to the wider world.
It cannot do this by demanding the destruction of Israel and allowing members to make anti-Semitic comments. This again is a complex task. They can’t afford to anger their neighbours in Iran or Syria so again the leadership of the foremost Islamist group in the Palestinian Territories must tread softly. In conclusion Hamas has been relatively successful so far in moving from militancy into politics although as Fianna Fail might say “a lot done, a lot more to do”. They must address the issues laid out above before they can expect the international community to trust them.
Hamas must make the first moves as Israel holds the balance of power and will not be pressed into handing over power to a group that is still seen as an extremist Muslim group. This will be no mean feat; the task of proving to the world that you can be trusted cannot be done through offering up martyrs against the occupying force. Such strategies did not benefit the Tamil Tigers who were destroyed by the Sri Lankan government and they not work Hamas. Hamas must continue on the path towards full political integration no matter what the costs are it has come too far to turn back to full scale militancy.
- Hamas a Historical and Political Background, Ziad Abu-Amr, Journal of Palestinian Studies, Published by California University Press, 1993
- Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement, August 1988
- U. N. resolution 181, 1948 4. Israeli scholar Reuven Paz, http://www. cfr. org/publication/8968/#p2
- Los Angeles Times, Edmund Sanders, April 22nd 2010 . Islamic Activism: A Social Movement Theory Approach, Quintan Wiktorowicz, Indiana University Press, 2003
- Los Angeles Times, Kim Murphy, March 2nd, 2006
- Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict (PDF) Executive summary (Advance 1), Richard Goldstone, 2009
- Unclassified Statement for the Record Annual Threat Assessment, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte, 11 January 2007
- http://eufunding. org. uk/accountability/FatahCorruption. html
- The Left and the Jihad, Frank Halliday, 2006
- http://news. bbc. co. uk/2/hi/middle_east/7808257. stm
- Hamas: Politics, Charity and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad, Matthew Levitt, Dennis Ross, Yale University Press, 2007