Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Hamas is an organization which has been shrouded in misconception and mystery since it has been in existence. To outsiders, it seems strange that the organization has managed to gain such popular support. Its goals and promises seem impossible, and yet the Palestinian people support it regardless. The rest of the world has a different view of Hamas than the people of Palestine. The way Hamas is portrayed in the western world through media sources, though it is somewhat truthful, is a very lopsided and misleading. Following the news media in the United States, one may be led to believe that Hamas is nothing more than a group of crazy terrorists striking out at everything they can. While Hamas certainly has its violent side, there is much more to the story than many people realize.
The rise of Hamas was made possible by the existing conditions in Palestine. Throughout much of the 60s, surprisingly, Palestinians and Israelis lived alongside each other with minimal conflict. Unfortunately, conflict broke out in 1967, and after 1977 things got progressively worse for Palestine. The Israelis became oppressive, and the situation became more and more tense throughout the 80s. These conditions created a perfect environment for an organization such as Hamas to develop .
The history of Hamas can be traced back to the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt. In 1987, on December 8th, an Israeli truck crashed into two Palestinian taxis, leaving the Palestinian drivers dead. This traffic incident enraged the Palestinians, and on the very next day a group of Muslim Brotherhood members cooperated with a university in Gaza to stage a strike. That night, these members decided to found a new organization called the Islamic Resistance Movement, which in Arabic produces the acronym HAMAS. This movement was able to establish itself by taking off at the right moment, while the Palestinians were in a state of rage, allowing a movement such as this one to gain momentum . In 1988, the movement began to market itself as an alternative to the secular and weak government which was the Palestinian authority, also known as the PLO. Beginning in 1993, Hamas began using methods of terrorism to fight the Israelis. In the wake of the attack on the World Trade Center which took place in 2001, Hamas was labeled by the U.S. and Israel a terrorist organization. After Yassir Arafat died in 2006, Hamas won support of the Palestinians through elections in a landslide victory. The violence still comes and goes in waves, with treaties being broken as tensions mount and new agreements signed when things get better . However, since 2006 Hamas seems to have taken on a slightly more moderate appearance, at least trying to maintain some sort of peace in the region in comparison to its previous years of all-out war.
Khalid Mashal – Khalid Mashal, a physics teacher, is considered to be the highest-ranked personnel of Hamas. He has stated that Hamas will not disarm.
Sheikh Ahmed Yassin – Yassin was the founder and leader of the movement, but was killed in 2004 by an Israeli helicopter. Besides being the leader, Yassin was in control of all terrorist activities. He went to prison on more than one occasion, and other than attacking civilians through bombings Yassin is responsible for the kidnapping and murder of several Israeli soldiers.
Abdel Aziz Rantisi –Rantisi took leadership after the death of Yassin. He was a doctor by profession as well as one of the founding members of Hamas along with Yassin. Rantisi often spoke publicly about increasing suicide bombings and kidnapping soldiers, and in many ways the ideology he pushed exemplifies the problems Hamas has with their policies. He advocated that violent struggle was the only way, that Muslims must not give up even an inch of land, and that they must fight until every Israeli is dead. He too was killed in 2004, after the second attempt on his life. In the first attempt Rantisi avoided a missile fired at his jeep and then barely escaped the vehicle before a second missile landed a direct hit. His car was later hit by another missile, and though he was pulled out alive he died on the operating table. Hamas decided after his death to keep the leadership a secret from then on.
Mahmoud Zahar – Another of the founders of Hamas, Zahar was the first public speaker for the organization. He is a high ranking official, but after Hamas decided to keep the leadership a secret it is uncertain the role he plays. However, he did announce after the 2006 elections that Hamas would extend its truce with Israel if Israel would return the favor. It is possible that he would have been a rival to Rantisi and Mashal, as he is more moderate than they were .
The ideology of Hamas to the outsider is very complicated. They seek to instate a religious government, inspired by Islam and working within Islam. Hamas also stresses the importance of elections, and though the majority of Palestinians are tired of war and want to live their own lives, they voted overwhelmingly for Hamas in the 2006 elections. This is due to a variety of reasons; one being that really the only other option is the official Palestinian Authority, which nobody wants to see back in control. Another reason is that Hamas actually does provide several services for regular civilians and members alike that are extremely modern. Hamas provides health care, schools, financial aid, and many other social services to the people which it governs. With respect to this, the issue is often very misunderstood to foreigners, especially in the West. Western thinking tends to lump all “terrorist” groups together, treating al-Qaeda as the same thing as Hamas, for example. Hamas is actually closely related ideologically to the Muslim Brotherhood, with a few major differences. One difference is that Hamas believes in the use of violence to achieve its goals. Another important difference to note between Hamas and other organizations is that Hamas and its movement revolve around a very strong national identity for Palestine.
Terrorism is another major aspect of the ideology of Hamas. The first terrorist attack on an Israeli citizen by Hamas occurred in December of 1991. In April of 1993 Hamas backed its first car bombing, and in 1994 saw its first successful car bombing . Attacks such as these not only have a damaging effect on the lives and stability of the people they are directed at, but fulfill the other half of the goal of terrorism; to scare the masses. Perhaps the nature of these bombings is where the western world derives its image of Hamas. Westerners find suicide bombing particularly disconcerting. For proof one only has to look at the psychological effect Japanese kamikaze pilots had on Americans. These bombings are not only a way to launch a direct attack on an enemy, they are also symbolic of people’s willingness to lose everything in the fight for their cause as well as an effective means of psychological warfare. The strategy has certainly worked.
So, what is the basic ideological standpoint of Hamas? The answer to this question depends on who you ask. Hamas has been labeled a terrorist organization, a political movement, and a social welfare program. Indeed, it does capture aspects of all of these things, and sometimes these ideologies clash or contradict. At any rate, one thing is for certain; Hamas is a more complicated organization than one might initially realize.
The future of Hamas and the Palestinians is unclear. The Palestinians are poor and tired of war, but one of the main ideals of Hamas since the very beginning has been to fight Israel until the bitter end. Unfortunately, there is no end in sight, and with neither side willing to back down it seems as though something catastrophic would have to occur in order to resolve the issue. At the same time, it is always possible that Hamas could disappear as rapidly as it came into existence. It is difficult to predict the outcome of the situation Hamas has created for itself, though eventually something must change.
Levitt, Matthew. Hamas: Politics, Charity, And Terrorism in the Service of Jihad. Harrisonburg, VA, 2006.
Pike, John. Hamas Leadership. July 9th, 2011. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/para/hamas-leaders.htm (accessed April 27th, 2012).
Tamimi, Azzam. Hamas: A History From Within. North Hampton, MA: Olive Branch Press, 2007.
Wilkinson, Peter. Timeline: The Evolution of Hamas. December 30th, 2008. http://articles.cnn.com/2008-12-30/world/hamas.profile_1_hamas-claims-responsibility-rantisi-hamas-leader?_s=PM:WORLD (accessed April 27th, 2012).