By Neff, Donald
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs , Vol. 21, No. 8
Donald Neff is author of the Warriors trilogy, 50 Years of Israel, and the newly reissued Fallen Pillars: U.S. Policy Towards Palestine and Israel Since 1945, all available from the AET Book Club.
The decade of the 1980s saw the emergence of two of Israel's most militant Islamic foes, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the occupied territories. Hamas is responsible for many of the bloody suicide bombings which continue to terrorize Israel today. Ironically, both groups came into existence in large part because of unintended consequences of Israel's actions.
Hamas, meaning zeal, is an acronym for "Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya," the Islamic Resistance Movement. 1 It was founded in the occupied Gaza Strip in 1987 and its charter, which first appeared in February 1988, declared Hamas "the intifada wing of the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) in Palestine." 2 Hamas was a militant outgrowth of the Muslim Brotherhood, a humanitarian group operating in the Gaza Strip since the 1970s. Devoting itself to grass-roots social work in mosques and civic clinics, the Brotherhood abstained from all forms of anti-occupation struggle.
By 1986 the Brotherhood controlled 40 percent of all the mosques and the 7,000-student Islamic University in Gaza. At the time, Israeli authorities saw the Brotherhood as a counterbalance to the secular PLO and contributed to the Brotherhood's cause through favors and donations to mosques and schools. 3 Israeli donations to the Brotherhood were reported to be in the millions of dollars. 4
When Hamas emerged from the Brotherhood, however, it turned out that Israel had helped create an enemy motived not only by the nationalism of the PLO but by the religious fervor of Islam.
Hamas quickly gained support because of its Islamic credentials and the absence of corruption that many attached to PLO officials. Moreover, it dazzled many Palestinians with its daring attacks carried out by its military wing, the Izzidine (Brigade) Qassam, named after a prominent Palestinian Islamic nationalist who was killed by the British in 1935. The brigade was founded in 1990. 5
Hamas' charter, combining the ideas of Palestinian nationalism and religious fundamentalism, pledged the group to carry out armed struggle, work for the destruction of Israel, the replacement of the PLO, and to raise "the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine." Hamas justified its attacks by saying they were against Israeli military personnel and that U.N. General Assembly Resolution 2649 had affirmed the legitimacy of armed struggle by Palestinians. 6
Hamas published a newsletter, first called Hamas but later changed to Al-Thabat, or "to build." In the pages of Al-Thabat, Hamas opposed the Madrid peace conference, calling it a Zionist ploy to buy time. "Our enemy does not rush toward the peace that some among us desire," the newsletter said. "Rather, the peace he wants is, in actuality, submission or resignation to the status quo."
Hamas believed in coexistence with Jews and Christians, but only within a Muslim state. It went out of its way in a series of communiques to say it acknowledged Christians according to the Qur'an and that it sought to work in unity with Christian Palestinians. 7
Hamas totally rejected the PLO's quest for a two-state solution. In a document the group described as its "Covenant," issued in August 1988, Hamas said: "The Islamic Resistance Movement considers the land of Palestine to be an Islamic trust for all generations of Muslims. It cannot be given up in part or ceded; no one has the right. The only solution to the Palestinian problem is by jihad. All initiatives, conferences and proposals are a waste of time." 8
Israeli authorities originally took no action against Hamas' leader, the blind quadriplegic Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, now 50. After the publication of the Hamas Covenant, however, they began quietly arresting Hamas leaders: dozens of scholars, preachers and others making up the middle and lower ranks were soon detained. …