Let’s not absolve Hamas.
Hamas, the reactionary organization that controls Gaza, is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is an organization deeply rooted in right-wing political Islam, and there’s little to admire about the organization. Unlike the PLO and Fatah, which evolved from counterproductive terrorism, such as hijacking planes and ships and blowing up things, Hamas has resisted the inevitable, namely, offering to recognize Israel in exchange for official status as representative of the Palestinians.
That, of course, doesn’t mean that Israel should bomb Gaza, killing scores of civilians. Nor does it mean that a drone-like campaign of assassinations aimed at Hamas’s leaders is a good policy. In fact, since the beginning of the formal conflict between Israel and the Palestinians around 1965, Israel has repeatedly murdered Palestinian leaders, counterproductively. The recent airstrike that killed Hamas’s military leader is the latest in a long line of murders that has served only to radicalize the Palestinian population.
And maybe that’s the point.
Israel’s far right, and much of the center, too, has long acted as if moderate Palestinians were the enemy, not radicals. To the extent that Israel says it can’t negotiate with the Palestinians, killing their moderate and pro-peace leaders makes it a self-fulfilling policy. Israel thrives on radical Palestinians. In fact, as I documented in my 2005 book, Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam, Israel helped create Hamas in the 1970s and 1980s by supporting the Muslim Brotherhood on the West Bank and in Gaza as a counterweight to the PLO and Fatah.
Back in 2005–06, as Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza, it did so with full knowledge that Hamas would rise to power, not Fatah.
And now, Israel’s ungodly assault on Gaza is once again strengthening Hamas as Fatah’s expense. Indeed, many Palestinians suspect that part of Israel’s aim in its brutal actions since last Wednesday in Gaza are explicitly designed to undercut Fatah once again, especially in advance of Mahmoud Abbas’ current plan to seek official UN recognition this fall. That is a tangible threat to Israel, while Hamas’s silly rocket attacks are not.
Unfortunately, frustrated Palestinians who’ve seen peace efforts falter and die against the rock of Israel’s utter refusal to abandon the West Bank and its illegal settlements are attracted by Hamas’s romantic if idiotic military tactics. And now Hamas is feeling strengthened by the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the region, from governing Egypt to leading the assault in Syria to early signs of revolt in Jordan.
It’s understandable that Palestinians, especially among the youth, would rally to Hamas’s side, especially in the face of Israel’s attack. That might be exactly what Israel wants, however.
Back in the late 1950s, the Palestinian movement was heavily influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood. But Yasser Arafat and a number of other leaders broke away from the Brothers, who opposed Arab nationalism, and they founded Fatah as an explicitly nationalist, secular movement. It was the religious fanatics left behind in the Muslim Brotherhood who eventually created Hamas. Of course, Hamas has evolved, and there are many, many factions inside it, including leaders who recognize the two-state imperative. And there are many, many outside influences too, including Saudi Arabia sheikhs, Qatar-based clerics, Egyptian Brothers and—last but not least—Iran.
If and when the dust clears in the latest war, and hopefully some sort of ceasefire will be brokered soon that opens Gaza to trade and commerce, it will be time for Hamas to rethink itself, and stop relying on an absurd and hopeless policy of military confrontation.
For more on the attack on Gaza, read Mohammed Omer’s “Report from Gaza Under Siege .”