Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood
By Khalid Amayreh
Most Western media display a hostile attitude towards the Palestinian Islamic Resistance
Movement, known popularly as Hamas, describing it as a “terrorist group” devoted to the
destruction of Israel. Especially in North America, Hamas is not only guilty until proven
innocent, it is guilty even if proven innocent, while Israel is often treated not only as innocent
until proven guilty, but as innocent even if proven guilty. This is the general perception among
most Arabs and Muslims in the Middle East and beyond.
I have reported on Hamas and have interviewed most of its leaders since its appearance in
Gaza in the closing weeks of 1987. My feelings is that it will continue, for the foreseeable
future, to play a major role not only in Israel-Palestine, but throughout the Middle East, where
concentrations of Palestinian refugees are scattered, and throughout the Muslim world, where
the Palestinian cause elicits strong emotions. For that reason it deserves fair and objective
Hamas has its roots in the worldwide Muslim Brotherhood, whose main goal is to re-
Islamize traditional Muslim societies. This process of re-Islamization, e.g., propagating Islamic
education and fostering Islamic consciousness, is expected to culminate in the reinstitution of
a Sunni Islamic political authority, or Caliphate. The last expression of the Sunni Caliphate
collapsed with the downfall of the Ottoman State at the end of the First World War.
Nearly all the founders and co-founders of Hamas have been members of the Muslim
Brotherhood and have been involved in religious, culture, educational and organizational
activities first through al Jamaiya al Islamiya (Islamic Society) and later through al-Mujamma al
Islami (Islamic Center) in the Gaza Strip. When Sheikh Ahmed Yasin, the main founder and
spiritual leader of Hamas, was murdered by Israel in March, 2004, he was mourned all over the
Occupied Palestinian territories as “head of the Muslim Brothers” in addition to being Hamas’s
Ahmed Yasin was born in 1936 in the village of al Jura, near the modern-day city of Ashkelon
just north of Gaza. At the age of six, his father, Ismael, died which meant that Yasin would grow
up fatherless and have to depend very much on himself, in addition to providing for his family.
He was 12 years old when the Palestinian Nakba or catastrophe occurred in 1948, forcing his
mother to flee with her children southward to the Gaza Strip. Here they lived a life of poverty,
and from here the future Muslim leader could observe Jews from Europe and elsewhere
settling in his village and taking over his home, claiming to have returned to the ancestral land
they had left more than two thousand years before.
At the age of 16, Yasin fell on his back while playing sports, and lost the ability to stand or
walk. His paralysis, however, did not prevent him from pursuing a career in education which
brought him into direct contact with the people.
On the night of Dec.9, 1987, the senior leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza, now
headed by Yasin, held an emergency meeting and decided to officially launch Hamas as a
resistance group against the Israeli occupation. In addition to Yasin, the participants included
Abdul Aziz Rantisi, Abdul Fattah Dukhan, Salah Shehadeh, Muhmammed Shama’a, Ibrahim al
Yazuri and Isa al Nashar.
In Dec.14, 1987, the first communiqué by Hamas was released to the press. The
communiqué was unsigned and bore only the Arabic acronym of the three letters making up
its name: hms. Eventually, it was decided to use the more euphonious name “Hamas” instead
of the odd-sounding “hams.” Hamas in Arabic means zeal and enthusiasm. A host of reason
contributed to its appearance and its subsequent growth and popularity.
The Israeli repression of Palestinians had become ever more ferocious as Israeli
occupation soldiers dealt harshly with Palestinian demonstrators, killing them indiscriminately
at the slightest provocation. At the same time, Israel had adopted a policy of narrowing
Palestinians’ horizons through settlement expansion as well as a number of other draconian
measures, such as massive home demolitions, land confiscations and sweeping arrests. In
short, the Israeli repression had reached the point where an explosion was looming, and the
question was not if it was going to happen but when. Most Palestinians thought the main
strategic goal behind the escalating repression was to force them and their children to
emigrate. Interestingly, even today, there are influential political parties in Israel that advocate
the expulsion of Palestinians, including the expulsion of Israel’s own Palestinian citizens.
At the same time, the Islamic camp, which had been generally non-violent and engaged
mainly in preaching and building up an Islamic consciousness, had come to the conclusion
that the Islamists (the term had not been coined by that time) would stand to lose in the eyes of
the people unless they took part in the struggle against the Zionist occupiers. One of the main
propaganda assets that had been used by Fatah, the mainstream secular faction of the P.L.O.
headed by Yasser Arafat, against the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine was that its members
just indulged in rhetoric and empty talk in the mosques while avoiding the “field of struggle and
resistance against the enemy.” Hence, involvement in the resistance, besides being a religious
and moral duty, would also silence the secular camp.
Another reason contributing to the appearance and rise of Hamas was the overthrow in
1978 of the Shah of Iran, who was an important regional ally of Israel and one of America’s
main strategic pillars in the region. For the Islamists the Khomeini revolution was a source of
encouragement and inspiration, which prompted thousands of young Palestinians to join the
Ironically, Israel, too, played a role in all of this. Prior to the launching of Hamas, Israel
viewed the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza as somewhat expedient to the Israeli
policy of divide and conquer. For this reason, Israel gave the Islamists of Gaza a license to
establish a large community center known as al Mujamma’a al Islami and later the Islamic
University of Gaza, one of the Brotherhoods’ chief achievements. Belatedly, Israel came to
realize that Hamas could not be co-opted and that it was an avowed enemy that loomed more
dangerously than Fatah and the left-wing organizations.
Hamas, however, is much more than a resistance group. It is, first and foremost, a religious
and social organization. The movement maintains a vast network of social, educational, and
charitable networks throughout the occupied territories, many of which date back to the
Jordanian era and the first decades of the Israeli occupation. In the Islamic tradition of charity,
Hamas has been helping the poor and the needy with food and money and offering cheap or
free medical care to those who can’t afford to pay. In numerous cases, Hamas also helped
tormented Palestinians whose homes were demolished by Israel to rebuild, which earned
Hamas respect and popularity among many ordinary Palestinians.
This positive image is often compared and contrasted with the generally negative image of
the traditionally corrupt Fatah organization, many of whose leaders and members live in fancy
villas and drive fancy cars as opposed to Hamas leaders who live a comparatively modest
lifestyle in average or below average houses and often drive second-hand cars.
Hamas is actually a middle class movement with most of its support coming from urban
centers rather than the Palestine countryside. Its average supporter is more, not less,
educated than the average Fatah supporter. Similarly, Palestinian women are more, not less
likely, to support Hamas than are Palestinian men. This is certainly true at Palestinian
universities where female students are on average more supportive of Hamas than are male
students. Unlike in its formative years, when the movement was led by traditionalists, Hamas
today is run mostly by western-educated intellectuals, including many American-educated
professionals, who seek to combine Islamic ideological purity with Western liberalism. Finally,
the vast number of Hamas supporters and followers, probably 90-95 per cent, back the
movement, not necessarily because they are infatuated with its ideological irredentism, e.g.
dismantling Zionism and liberating all of mandatory Palestine from Israel, but because they
see in Hamas an honest and selfless movement whose behavior is compatible with Islam.
Nearly a year after its founding in 1987, Hamas published its charter, seen by many as a
radical ideological document that precludes any practical possibility for a compromise with
Israel. The charter is laden with Quranic verses and Islamic religious symbolism, and views all
of Mandatory Palestine (which includes Israel proper, the West Bank and Gaza Strip) as an
Islamic patrimony or “wakf domain” that can be liberated only through “jihad” or armed
Part 1, article 11 of the charter states that Palestine is an exclusive Muslim domain “until
the Day of Resurrection,” and that “No Arab country nor the aggregate of all Arab countries,
and no Arab king or President nor all of them in the aggregate, have that right (to renounce it).”
Article 13 of the charter rejects all peace initiatives aimed at resolving the Arab-Israeli
conflict because “Peace initiatives, the so-called peaceful solutions, and the international
conference to resolve the Palestinian problems are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic
The charter makes clear that Hamas is not against Judaism or Jews, but only against the
state of Israel, as the usurper of Palestine and oppressor of the Palestinian people. “Under the
shadow of Islam,” it says, “it is possible for the members of the three religions: Islam,
Christianity and Judaism to coexist in safety and security.”
This is undoubtedly a radical document, not only because it rejects Israel, but also because
it seeks to project inflexible theological and ideological positions as a manual for political
action. In this sense it can be compared to the messianic Jewish ideology of “Eretz Yisrael
Hashlema” or “Greater Biblical Land of Israel,” which teaches that all of Mandatory Palestine
(including Israel proper, the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem) as well as large parts of
Middle East belong exclusively to the Jews by a divine decree.
Against this background, it is often argued that the radicalism inherent in the Hamas charter
is to a large extent a reaction to Israel’s unmitigated settlement expansion, which was making
the survival of Palestinians on their national soil uncertain, and to Israel’s refusal up to then to
officially recognize the existence of the Palestinian people.
In an October 2007 interview with Khalid Tafesh, I asked the Hamas parliamentarian
representing the Bethlehem district why Hamas doesn’t revoke its charter to prove its good
will toward Israel. “First of all,” he responded, “the charter is not a Quran, it is not a document
from heaven; it can be revoked.” He went on to call the charter a “historical document” that
was part of Hamas’s formative years, but had no bearing on its current political thinking. “How
many times in the past ten years,” he asked me, “have you heard Hamas leaders quote from
the charter? I personally have not heard them do so even once.”
Some Islamists also argue that references to the destruction of Israel have more to do with
eschatological Islamic beliefs and prophecies about the end of time and less with practical
ideological principles. This may be a sound interpretation since many of the Quranic verses
and prophetic traditions cited in the charter are actually end-of-time prophecies resembling in
one way or the other biblical prophecies that foresee the ultimate destruction of Israel,
especially prior to the second advent of Christ, a Christian belief shared by Muslims.
Apologists and supporters of Israel have been trying to disseminate the message that
Hamas’s uncompromising stand vis-à-vis Israel stems from the movement’s perceived anti-
Semitic indoctrination. Hamas has repeatedly stated that the problem with Israel has to do
with the occupation, not with Israel being Jewish.
On numerous occasions Hamas’s founder Ahmed Yasin declared that Hamas was not
against Jews but against the occupation: “I want to proclaim loudly to the world that we are
not fighting Jews because they are Jews. We are fighting them because they killed us,
destroyed our homes, and took our land away from us. They killed our children and our
women. They scattered us all over the globe. All we want is our rights. We don’t want more.”
On Oct. 4,1997, Yasin met in Gaza with Rabbi Menchem Froman of the settlement of Tek’ua,
near Bethlehem. According to Froman, whom I have interviewed several times, the Hamas
founder told him that he favored the prospect of Jews and Arabs living together in peace in the
Unquestionably, this pragmatic approach within Hamas has been weakened by the West’s
boycott of the democratically-elected, Hamas-led government, which has served to bolster the
hard-liners who have been arguing all along that it is pointless to pin any hopes on Western
Furthermore, it is important to remember that Israel, especially since the outbreak of the al-
Aqsa uprising in September 2001, has been implementing a policy of “shock and awe” against
Palestinians in general, and Hamas in particular.
The Israeli army has murdered scores of Hamas political leaders, including its founder
Sheikh Ahmed Yasin. He was assassinated by three internationally banned flechette missles
that the Israel Defense Forces fired at him as he was leaving the Abbas Mosque in his
wheelchair. Yasin’s successor, Abdul Aziz Rantisi, was murdered a few weeks later when two
missiles hit his car as he was driving through Gaza City. And Ismael Haniya, the current Hamas
leader in Gaza, has been a frequent target of assassination by the Israeli army.
In some cases, Israel has exterminated entire families of Hamas leaders. On March 4,2002,
one moderate Hamas leader in Ramallah, Hussein Abu Kweik, saw his wife and three children
annihilated by the Israeli army, apparently in a failed attempt on his life. The army simply
bombed the family car as his wife returned home, after picking up her children from school.
When I interviewed Abu Kweik in April, 2007, I got the feeling I was talking to a holocaust
survivor. With his wife and three children blown to smithereens, Abu Kweik felt that he was
living on borrowed time. Israeli death squads “visited” his home several times afterwards,
telling his elderly mother “we want to kill Hussein so that he can join his beloved wife and
children.” Eventually, Abu Kweik was arrested and imprisoned for four years on charges of
“advocating the destruction of Israel and holding anti-Jewish views.”
Hamas has explained in numerous occasions why it believes the state of Israel has no “moral
right to exist.” Azzam Tamimi, a Palestinian Islamic scholar based in London, sets forth the
main reasons in a Jan. 30,2006 article in The Guardian: “Israel has been built on land stolen
from the Palestinian people. The creation of the state was a solution to a European problem
and the Palestinians are under no obligation to be the scapegoats for Europe’s failure to
recognize the Jews as human beings who are entitled to inalienable rights.”
Tamimi concludes: “Hamas, like all Palestinians, refuses to be made to pay for the criminals
who perpetrated the Holocaust.”
Some Hamas leaders whom I have interviewed argue that recognition of Israel would imply
an acceptance of the Zionist national narrative, namely that Palestine has always been a
Jewish homeland and that 14 centuries of uninterrupted Palestinian presence in Palestine
was an Arab colonization. This, argues Aziz Duweik, the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative
Council, who is now imprisoned in Israel for his affiliation with Hamas, is tantamount to
demanding that the Palestinians embrace Zionism.
“We are not going to become Muslim Zionists just to obtain a certificate of good conduct
from Israel and the west,” Duweik told me soon after he won a seat in the Palestinian
legislative elections in January 2006.
Unfortunately, instead of treating Hamas political leaders, many of whom are quite
moderate, the way the British government treated I.R.A. political leaders, the Israeli army has
stormed their homes and offices, blindfolded them, handcuffed them, and dumped them in jail.
Today, as many as 47 out of 50 elected Hamas MPs in the West Bank languish in Israeli
prisons and detention camps. The only “charge” against them is that they participated in an
election under the banner of an illegal organization. This is the election, it should be
remembered, that both Israel and the Untied States said Hamas could participate in: the
problem is Israel and the United States never thought Hamas would win!
In addition, many Hamas leaders have come to believe that the issue of recognizing Israel is
a red herring, used by Israeli propagandists to justify their ongoing colonization of Palestinian
lands. The P.L.O.’s recognition of Israel, they argue, did not lead to Israel’s ending its military
occupation, so why should Hamas now fall into the same trap as the P.L.O.?
This is a plausible argument. While the P.L.O. did recognize Israel as part of the Oslo
Accords in 1993, Israel only agreed to recognize the P.L.O. as the sole representative of the
Palestinian people. Israel has never given reciprocal recognition of a prospective Palestinian
state. Nor has it ever viewed the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem as “occupied”
territories, as does virtually all of the international community, including successive American
administrations. Instead, Israel continues to insist that the “occupied territories” are actually
“disputed territories” –a view that was totally rejected by the International Court of Justice in
the Hague (I.C.J.) which, in 2004, reasserted the status of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East
Jerusalem as “occupied Territories.”
This is an important finding. The I.C.J., the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, ruled
that “the construction of the separation wall and its associated regimes are contrary to
international law.” It pointed out that “all states are under obligations not to recognize the
illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall.” It reminded Israel that it is “bound
to comply with its obligations to respect the right of the Palestinian people to self-
determination and its obligations under international humanitarian law and international
human rights law.” And it concluded by urging Israel to cease construction of the separation
wall and dismantle sections located in the occupied territories forthwith; repeal or render
ineffective all related legislative and regulatory acts; compensate for damage caused; and,
return Palestinian property or provide compensation if restitution is not possible.
The Bush administration rejected the ruling.
Emboldened by such unrestricted American support, Israel defied the I.C.J. ruling and
continues to this day to build Jewish settlements on both sides of the wall.
There is another hurdle that makes Hamas’s recognition of Israel even more unlikely. Israel,
especially of late, has been demanding that Palestinians recognize it as the state of the jewish
people. Palestinians, including the American-backed Fatah-led regime in Ramallah, are worried
that Palestinian recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state” could be used to justify increased
institutionalized discrimination against Israel’s non-Jewish citizens, particularly its 1.4 million
Palestinians. Israel is also likely to use its “Jewish state” recognition to preclude the return of
any significant numbers of Palestinian refugees who fled or were forced to flee their homes
when Israel was created in 1948.
Despite its ideological “de jure” rejection of Israel, Hamas has given many signs of its
willingness to recognize Israel “de facto.” When I interviewed Ahmed Yousuf, political adviser
to Prime Minister Ismael Haniya in September 2007, he told me: “Israel as a state is a fait
accompli, and we cannot ignore this… If Israel considers Hamas’s non-recognition a source of
anxiety, then Israel should demonstrate its good will by implementing U.N. resolutions and
ending her occupation.”
The Hamas – Fatah Rift
Following Hamas’s election victory in January 2006, the U.S., along with the European Union
(E.U.) and other Western countries imposed drastic sanctions against the P.A., particularly the
Hamas-led government. This included freezing all financial aid to the elected government as
well as bullying international and regional banks to refrain from making financial deals with
Hamas and its institutions. Non-conformist banks were to be blacklisted and punished.
The U.S. justified the actions by citing Hamas’s refusal to recognize Israel, forsake violence
and accept all U.N. resolutions pertaining to the Arab Israeli confrontation as well as
outstanding agreements between Israel and the P.L.O., including the Oslo Accords. (The U.S., it
should be noted, has never punished Israel for its numerous rejections of U.N. Security Council
In truth, Hamas on numerous occasions has voiced its willingness to abandon violence
against Israel if the Israeli occupation army ceased its own violence against Palestinians.
Israel has rejected all these offers, arguing that a ceasefire with a “terrorist organization”
would grant Hamas legitimacy. Hamas has even said that it would be willing to respect
outstanding agreements as a whole, but the Bush Administration has been in no mood to listen.
The harsh sanctions, coupled with an Israeli decision to withhold Palestinian tax revenues
from the P.A., have caused immense humanitarian distress in the occupied territories, forcing
the government to stop paying regular salaries to over 150,000 civil servants and public
employees. The Hamas-led government has been forced to resort to unorthodox ways and
means to keep itself afloat, such as bringing in or smuggling into Gaza suitcases stashed with
millions of dollars in cash.
To make things worse, the Israeli occupation army launched a widespread military
campaign in July, 2006, following the capture by Hamas fighters of an Israeli soldier during a
cross-border guerilla attack on an Israeli army outpost. The Israeli army and Air Force targeted
the Palestinian civilian infrastructure, including roads, public buildings, government
headquarters and even a major university in Gaza. Israeli warplanes attacked and destroyed
the American-insured power station in Gaza, plunging the Strip into darkness for weeks. The
campaign lasted over a month, resulting in hundreds of Palestinians killed and maimed.
Among the victims were entire families.
Eventually, the harsh Israeli-Western sanctions created a virtual implosion in Gaza which
found expression in recurrent bloody clashes between Hamas militiamen and Fatah forces,
especially those answerable to former American-backed Fatah strongman Muhammed Dahlan.
In mid-June, 2007, the showdown between Hamas and the American-armed forces of
Dahlan culminated in a decisive battle that ended with Hamas’s Executive Force taking control
of the entire Gaza Strip. The mini civil war in Gaza, which continued intermittently for eight
months, killed as many as 333 Palestinians, including militiamen and civilians.
While the mid-June events in Gaza were portrayed in much of the U.S. media as a bloody
coup by Hamas against the “legitimate” forces of P.A. Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, the real
picture was different, at least from Hamas’s perspective.
In an interview I held in July 2007 with top Hamas politician Yahya Mousa, who is also deputy-
head of the movement’s parliamentary bloc, he vehemently denied Fatah’s claims that Hamas
carried out a coup against the legitimate Palestinian government. “First of all,” he said, “we
are the legitimate government. The people of Palestine elected us by a very large margin to
restore the rule of law and put an end to lawlessness and chaos and protect people’s lives and
property. So all we did was to carry out our duties to the Palestinian people. Second, the real
coup was being hatched and planned by Muhammed Dahlan in concert with the CIA and Israel.
They were planning to carry out a bloody coup against Hamas, the democratically elected
government. The American-backed coup was to involve the murder of hundreds of people,
including Hamas’s religious and political leaders. The coup was to take place on 13 July, 2007.
They were planning to dig mass graves in Gaza for Hamas and its supporters. And, thank God,
we forestalled and thwarted their heinous plans before they could put them into effect.”
I asked Mousa if he possessed hard evidence to corroborate his claims; he replied: “These
things are very clear. The American General Keith Dayton had been supplying Abbas’s man in
Gaza, Muhammed Dahlan, with heavy machineguns, anti-armored missiles, sniper rifles and
tens of millions of rounds. Now let me ask you, why do you think the U.S. gave Dahlan all these
weapons? To fight Israel? Besides, we have confiscated thousands of documents, damning
documents, incriminating and criminalizing Dahlan. The man was simply a CIA agent whose
main task was to decapitate Hamas and turn Palestine into another Somalia and another Iraq
and another Afghanistan. The man (Dahlan) was simply carrying out orders from Elliot Abrams,
the American Zionist official who was in charge of the Palestine security file and also of foiling
the Mecca agreement. So what was Hamas supposed to do, watching Abbas, Dahlan, Dayton,
and Abrams sharpening their knives and getting ready to decapitate the movement?”
Following the mid-June Hamas takeover in Gaza, P.A. Chairman Mahmoud Abbas dismissed
the short-lasting national unity government that had been created pursuant to the Feb. 8, 2007
Saudi-mediated Mecca agreement, which the Bush administration had opposed. Abbas
immediately formed a de-facto government in Ramallah, headed by the American-favored
former Palestinian finance minister Salam Fayadh. It was this “authority” that carried out a
violent crackdown on Hamas during which more than 1,500 Hamas activists were arrested,
with many reportedly subjected to physical and psychological torture.
Citing the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip, Israel – probably in collusion with the U.S. and
the Fatah-dominated P.A. regime in Ramallah – on Sept. 19, 2007, declared the Gaza Strip a
“hostile entity,” and imposed a harsh blockade of its 1.4 million population. In addition to
significantly reducing supplies of fuel and electricity to Gaza, Israel now bars most Gazans
from either leaving or returning to the Gaza Strip, which causes tremendous distress to tens of
thousands of students, workers, patients seeking medical care abroad, as well as ordinary
people. Some reports from Gaza have begun comparing the situation there to the Warsaw
Ghetto and “a genocide slow motion.” These descriptions may have a whiff of exaggeration
about them. What is clear, however, is that a real, man-made, humanitarian disaster has
materialized in Gaza.
Hence, it has come about that Palestinians have two governments, one in Ramallah enjoying
Western political support and financial backing as well as Israels acceptance; and another in
Gaza, led by Hamas, reviled, boycotted, isolated and blockaded.
Hamas and al-Qaida
Ever since Sept. 11, 2001, Israel and her supporters, particularly in the United States, have
been making strenuous efforts to conflate Hamas with al-Quaida as indistinguishable political
groups. These efforts have yielded significant successes in North American and, to a lesser
extent, in Europe, where governments have moved to classify Hamas as a terrorist
organization. Israel apparently hopes that by associating Hamas with al-Qaida, it can foster an
impression in the West that the Palestinian problem is first and foremost a terrorist problem
and that Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands is not done through choice, but through
necessity, as an essential part of Israel’s Western-oriented war on terrorism. In a nut shell,
Israel wants to convince the world, or at least the Western world, that the Palestinian cause
has little or nothing to do with a genuine struggle for freedom and justice, and that priority
should be given to the “war on terror” rather than ending Israel’s occupation.
The truth of the matter is that Hamas and al-Quaida are entirely different organizations in
terms of ideology and political thought as well as methodology and public discourse.
Ideogically, Hamas follows the relatively moderate school of the Muslim Brotherhood, which
advocates peaceful means, not violence, in effecting change in Islamic societies. In contrast,
al-Qaida adopts a school of thought called “Madrasat al Fikr al Salafi al Jihadi” or “the school
of the fighting salafi ideology.” (Salafi is a person who follows the true, authentic way of the
Hamas adopts the principle of gradualness, both with regard to the creation of an Islamic
society and an Islamic state. Al-Qaida strongly rejects this methodology and dismisses the
concept of truce or coexistence with the enemy as incompatible with the Sharia or inexpedient
to the cause of Islam.
Hamas believes in the principle of political participation and effecting change through direct
involvement in the political system, as evident from Hamas’s participation in the 2006
Palestinian legislative elections. Hamas also is committed to democratic governing principles
and Hamas officials are held to standards set by constituent groups that are representative of
a broad-based polity. Al-Qaida, on the other hand, explicitly prohibits any participation in
parliamentary or other elections on the grounds that the entire system is “kafir”, e.g. run by
secularists or un-Islamists.
Hamas believes that the conflict with Israel should be confined to the Palestinian theatre
(Palestine-Israel) for tacitcal, organizational, pragmatic and military reasons. Hence, it has
never purposely targeted foreigners in any of its military actions. In contrast, al-Qaida believes
that that the entire world should be the theatre of jihad against the enemies of Islam. Acting on
this principle, al-Qaida has been attacking both Muslims and non-Muslims throughout the
region and the world.
Hamas rejects al-Qaida’s “al-Manhaj al Takfiri,” (the doctrine of judging Muslim opponents
as disbelievers or apostates) and doesn’t allow itself to be drawn into judging existing Arab-
Islamic regimes as un-Islamic or Kafir. In contrast, al-Qaida ascribes apostasy to nearly all
existing Arab regimes and governments and sees no need for establishing relations with them
for religious and practical considerations.
Finally, Hamas rejects the principle of using violence against Arab and Muslim societies.
Unlike al-Qaida, Hamas recognizes and calculates the actual balance of power in its struggle
and does all it can to retain its means of resistance and maintain its survival as a movement.
Hamas has a tactical policy based on the neutralization of as many potential enemies as
possible, and tries to build friendly relationships with as many potential friends as possible.
In a speech he gave on May 5,2007, al-Qaida’s second-in-command, Ayman al Zawaheri,
castigated Hamas for sacrificing the Sharia’ for the sake of an agreement with “the
secularists.” His confemnation of Hamas symbolized the depth of disagreement between the
two groups: “I ask the leadership of Hamas, first, not to turn away from the rule of Sharia’, and
to only agree to participation in elections on the basis of an Islamic constitution. And I ask it,
second, that if it is given the choice between abandoning government and abandoning
Palestine, it should abstain from government. The culture of concession and methodology of
backtracking bore their evil fruits, and the Hamas leadership agreed to participate in the
aggression against the rights of the Muslim Umma in Palestine. I request every Muslim to look
at this map to appreciate the ugliness of the crime in which the leadership of Hamas too part.”
It is important to remember that Hamas does not believe that the alternative to its non-
recognition of Israel must be perpetual confrontation and war with the Jewish state. On
several occasions, Hamas, including its founder, Sheikh Yasin, has proposed a lengthy hudna
or truce in exchange for total Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories, releasing
Palestinian prisoners and dealing seriously with the right of return of Palestinian refugees
pursuant to U.N. Resolution 194. More recently, a number of Hamas-affiliated intellectuals have
sought to upgrade the concept of hudna or sulh (extended peace bound by time limitations)
into virtually open-ended peace, something that would look very much like a formal peace
Fathi Amr, a prominent Islamic thinker from the southern West Bank told me in an October
2007 interview that the Islamic concept of sulh is a sincere and honest endeavor to prepare for
ultimate peace. “A truce can last for as long as the two sides want, it can be for ten years,
twenty years, or even fifty years,” he says. “The Prophet Muhammed forged a ten-year truce
with the polytheists of Quraysh. And he would have kept the truce for its entire duration had
Quraysh not violated it when its allies, the Banu Bakr, attacked and murdered members of the
Banu Khauza’a tribe, who were Muslims.”
Some Islamic thinkers, like Ismael Shindi, Professor of Islamic Fiqh (Jurisprudence) at
Hebron University believe that a prolonged period of stability, calm and peace could bring about
a positive transformation of people’s thinking which could lead to permanent peace in the
region. “When people on both sides of the divine are given the chance to get accustomed to a
peaceful coexistence,” Shindi told me when I interviewed him in October 2007, “a state of
normality would gain a foothold, and their mutual perceptions and attitudes would certainly
change.” He takes encouragement from the transformation in Europe. “European countries
fought two harsh world wars in the past century during which tens of millions of people were
killed. But look how Europeans are getting along these days. Europe is becoming virtually one
Hamas’s willingness to accept a balanced peace settlement along the lines of United
Nations resolutions, also has found expression in Hamas’s election manual and in Prime
Minister Ismael Haniya’s inaugural speech in the spring of 2006. These documents reflect
more the concept of the two-state solution, without any hint of the liberation of Palestine from
the River Jordan tot he Mediterranean or the destruction of Israel, as found in the original
charter. This stand is further reflected in Hamas’s reference to the “apartheid wall,” the
refugees’ right of return, stoppage of settlement expansion, and the end of occupation of
territories, occupied in 1967 – all of which, again, rest on U.N. pronouncements.
Notwithstanding these overtures, Israel has constantly rejected the idea of a prolonged
truce with Hamas as is evident from its ongoing policy of territorial expansion and continuing
to build the separation (Palestinian call it apartheid) wall in the heartland of the West Bank in
violation of international law.
In contrast to its early beginnings in the late 1980s, Hamas today seems a different
organization. In 1988, a religious-theological fundamentalism shaped Hamas’s charter and
molded its thinking and political discourse. Indeed, the phraseology used in the charter
reflected a movement that is parochial, demagogic and to some extent anti-Jewish. (Hamas
then did not make the necessary distinction between “Jewish,” “Zionist” or “Israeli” by using
the three interchangeably.
Since the outbreak of the al-Aqsa intifada in September 2000, and the growing influence of
Western-educated activists within the movement, religious demagoguery has given way to
political realism. The movement now refers to itself as “an Islamic-democratic party,” with
some Hamas members going as far as comparing their movement with Christian democratic
parties in Europe. On many occasions it has asserted its commitment to “political plurality”
and “transition and rotation of power.” In part, this evolution is consistent with general trends
within the Muslim Brotherhood Egypt, Jordan and other countries.
According to the political adviser to Prime Minister Haniya, Ahmed Yousuf, the relationship
between Islam and democracy is one of “adaptation” and “coexistence” not one of “paradox
and contradiction.” In a September 2007 interview he explained: “We in Hamas don’t see
estrangement or incompatibility between Islam and democracy. We believe that democratic
transformation is an asset for our people. We also realize that efforts to bolster the
democratic course will eventually help us reduce the chances for corruption and nepotism in
the Palestine society.” And he went on to argue that life in a democratic climate is conducive
to building a healthy society, adding that the Arab world, including the occupied Palestinian
territories, was suffering because of the excess of despotism and authoritarianism.” As a
governing authority, we have realized that it is a must to allow civil liberties and freedom of
speech and expression and refrain from introducing restrictions on the mass media. A free
society would enable us to see our mistakes and flaws which, in turn, allows us to rectify our
mistakes as soon as possible.”
Indeed, even after Hamas’s takeover in Gaza in mid-June 2007, Hamas made it clear that it
did not aim to create an Islamic state in Palestine or even apply the Islamic (Sharia’) law in
Gaza. Instead, it would pursue the goal of establishing a just and egalitarian society based on
moral principles, such as justice, equality and social solidarity.
Having said all this, however, it would be misleading to conclude that Hamas is becoming or
about to become a secular, liberal movement. The fact is Hamas, like other Islamist
movements in the Arab world, is trying “to democratize Islam and Islamize democracy.”
The most significant evolution in Hamas’s political discourse came following the decision to
participate in the legislative elections which took place in January 2006. The 14-page electoral
platform for the Change and Reform List seems to constitute the broadest vision that Hamas
has ever presented concerning all aspects of Palestinian life. Compared with the 1988 charter,
the 2006 platform looks almost void of religious-ideological zealotry. The following clauses are
indicative of the significant transformation the movement has gone through since its birth in
the late 1980s:
–The organizing system of the Palestinian political action should be based on political
freedoms, pluralism, the freedom to form parties, to hold elections, and on the peaceful
rotation of power. These are the guarantees for the implementation of reforms and for fighting
corruption and building a developed Palestinian civil society.
–Hamas will adopt dialogue and reason to resolve internal disputes, and will forbid
infighting or the use of threat of force in internal affairs.
–Hamas will emphasize respect for public liberties including the freedom of speech, the
press, assembly, movement and work.
–Hamas forbids arbitrary arrest based on political opinion. It will maintain the
institutions of civil society and activate its role in monitoring and accountability.
–Hamas will guarantee the rights of minorities and respect them in all aspects on the
basis of citizenship.
In the summer of 2006, Hamas accepted the National Reconciliation Document of
Palestinian Prisoners inside Israeli Prisons (NRD). Signed by President Abbas and Prime
Minister Haniya, the NRD called for forming a national unity government that would include all
Palestinian parliamentary blocs, especially Fatah and Hamas, within a common platform
capable of dealing with the problems of poverty and unemployment caused by Israeli
aggression against the Palestinian people. However, due to intensive pressure by the United
States and Israel on Fatah to dislodge from “the dialogue with Hamas,” and because of Fatah’s
decision to create conditions that would lead to the collapse of the Hamas-led government, the
NRD eventually drifted into oblivion. Moreover, it was obvious that the sweeping arrest and
incarceration by Israel of the vast number of Hamas’s elected lawmakers in the West Bank
made the task of following up on the NRD virtually impossible.
This political transformation was echoed in Ismael Haniya’s inaugural speech before the
Palestinian Legislative Council on March 27, 2006 in which he called on the international
community, particularly the Quartet (U.S., E.U., Russia and U.N.) to side with the values of
justice and fairness for the sake of a just and comprehensive peace in the region and not to
side with one party at the expense of the other. And while Haniya lauded the position of Russia
that called for dialogue with Hamas, the Palestinian prime minister criticized the U.S. for its
moral duplicity: “The American administration, which has been preaching democracy and the
respect of people’s choices, is called to support the will and choices of the Palestinian people.
Instead of threatening them with boycotts and cutting aid, it should fulfill its promise to help in
the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.
Annapolis and After
Like most Palestinians, Hamas rejected the Annapolis conference on the grounds that the
United States, especially the Bush administration, cannot be an honest broker between the
Palestinians and Israel. Speaking on Palestinian al-Aqsa TV, Hamas leader Mahmond al-Zahar
asked: “How can we possibly trust George Bush, who invaded and occupied and destroyed
two Muslim nations and killed or caused the death of nearly a million people, to bring peace to
Palestine? How could we trust a man who described Ariel Sharon as a man of peace, and who
told Israel that it could keep the settlements in any future peace settlement in Palestinians?
Can a man like this be trusted?”
Even in the West Bank, despite a decision by the American-backed Palestinian government
in Ramallah to ban protests against the Annapolis conference, thousands of people took to the
streets to show their displeasure with the conference. They were met by poorly-trained and
utterly-undisciplined P.A. police who attacked both them and the journalists covering the
demonstration. One protester was killed in Hebron, and several others injured, one seriously.
And a number of journalists were beaten and arrested. P.A. officials, including the P.A.
government spokesman Riyadh Maliki, refused to apologize for the police brutality, insisting
that the protesters had acted against the rule of law and endangered national security.
Hamas cannot destroy Israel, a nuclear-armed power that exerts immense influence on
American politics and policies, as former President Jimmy Carter and a number of prominent
American academics have recently asserted. Hence, invoking Hamas’s “dedication to the
destruction of Israel” is very much a theoretical question bordering on absurdity. This is
another issue Israel uses as a foil to consolidate its occupation of the West Bank with ever
more Jewish-only settlements.
So where do we go from here?
Hamas is willing to give Israel de facto recognition and virtually an open-ended peace
provided Israel agrees to end its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, carry out U.N.
resolutions with regard to Palestinian refugees, and allow for the creation of a sovereign and
viable state on these territories.
Hamas is also willing to halt all forms of violent resistance against Israel if the latter is
willing to reciprocate and stop its own much superior violence and terror against virtually
unprotected and helpless Palestinians.
The latest cease-fire offers by Hamas were made by Prime Minister Haniya himself on Sept.
20, 2007. Israel rejected both offers.
Hamas wants to be a genuine peace partner, not an inferior vanquished supplicant begging
for everything from Israel and the United States, from travel permits to accessing food and
work. The fact that Hamas has agreed to get involved in Palestinian politics should testify to
the organization’s willingness to play by the rules of international law.
At the same time, it is equally clear that Hamas will not be bullied by sticks or induced by
carrots to give up all its bargaining cards before negotiations with Israel begin. When the P.L.
O. recognized Israel in the early 1990s and agreed to revoke the Palestinian National Charter,
Israel’s response was to double its settler population. In light of this history, it should not have
been surprising – disappointing, perhaps, but not surprising – when, days after the American-
led conference at Annapolis had prepared the ground for the first serious peace talks in seven
years, Israel announced it would be adding 307 new homes to its settlement of Har Homa
south of East Jerusalem. And the day before Israelis and Palestinians were to hold their first
talks on a comprehensive peace following Annapolis, Israeli troops, tanks, and helicopters
invaded southern Gaza, killing six and wounding 12 Palestinians.
Hamas will continue to be a key political player, one that should not be ignored. It is an
integral part of the Palestinian political landscape, a mainstream political movement that is
committed to the principles of justice, civil society, civil liberties and human rights.
As for insisting that Hamas must recognize Israel as a Jewish state as a prerequisite for
inclusion in any peace endeavors, this is probably a pointless demand. Hamas recognizes
Israel’s existence, but will not recognize Israel’s “moral legitimacy.” This is a matter of religion
for Hamas. At the same time, it is willing to abandon armed resistance, especially violence
against Israeli civilians, provided Israel genuinely reciprocates.
Interestingly, while the Israeli government continues to reject Hamas’s calls for an honest
and mutually binding truce, some Israeli intellectuals have welcomed the prospect of a
ceasefire with Hamas, especially in the Gaza Strip. According to the Israeli newspaper Ha’
aretz, a long list of prominent Israeli Zionist-Jewish intellectuals, on Sept. 23, 2007, signed a
petition urging the Israeli government to negotiate a ceasefire with Hamas. The signatories
included the novelists Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua, David Grossman, Meir Shalev, Judith Katrir, Eli
Amir, Savyon Liberecht, Yehuda Sobol and Dorit Rabinyan. If Israeli Zionist Jews are calling for
negotiations between their government and Hamas, it is difficult to understand why the United
Sates and especially the European Union refuse to engage with a movement that has been
voted into office by a majority of its people.
In short, the West, especially the U.S. and E.U., should push for a long-term modus vivendi
between Hamas and Israel. Such an arrangement, especially one lasting for 20-50 years,
would be conducive to creating a healthy environment that would very much pave the way for a
lasting historical peace between the Palestinian people and Israel.
As a longtime reporter covering events here in Palestine, it is my strong recommendation
that the West initiate as soon as possible a meaningful and sincere dialogue with Hamas. This
would encourage the democratically elected organization to walk in the path of moderation,
which would eventually serve the cause of peace in this troubled region, and help mend the
equally troubled relations between the West and the Muslim world.