A recipe for disaster or resistance? Understanding the Hamas ideology

Published August 17th, 2014 - 13:24 GMT

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Hamas
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Image 1 of 15: Hamas is a Palestinian Sunni Islamic group founded during the First Intifada (1987) as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood came on scene in Egypt in 1928, headed by Hasan al-Bana, to establish an Islamic state with the Quran and the Sunna serving as the basis for all aspects of life.

Sayyid Qutb
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Image 1 of 15: The Brotherhood’s connection with Palestine dates back to 1935. While they embraced the same ideology as their Egyptian mothership, in Palestine it idealized another figure, Sayyid Qutb. Hasan al-Bana was known for his moderation, but Qutb embodied the concept of active opposition to the existing order.

Izz al-Din al Qassam
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Image 1 of 15: Another inspiration for Palestinian Islamists was Izz al-Din all Qassam, the first leader of armed resistance of modern Palestine, who was killed by the British in 1935. His death led to the Great Palestinian Rebellion (1936-39).

gaza schools
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Image 1 of 15: The activity of the Brotherhood in Palestine was not political in the main, but social and religious. They established religious schools, charity associations, and social clubs. However, their emphasis on the Islamic restructuring of society won little support from a population weary of foreign occupation.

fateh
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Image 1 of 15: The emergence of Palestinian national resistance movements, such as Fatah (formerly the PLO) led by Yasser Arafat, had far greater appeal, and the Brotherhood’s failure to participate in resistance cost them many potential adherents.

PLO ARAFAT
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Image 1 of 15: Conceived in 1964 at the first Arab Summit, the PLO aimed to free Palestine via armed struggle, halt Zionism, and secure the return and self-determination of Palestinians. In 1974, they called for an independent state in the territory of Mandate Palestine.

fateh
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Image 1 of 15: In the 1980s, militant Fatah was Israel’s main enemy. Israel tolerated Gazan Islamists, often using them as ballast against non-religious nationalists by supporting the likes of cleric Sheikh Ahmed Yassin to set up schools and mosques as a means to steer populist support away from the PLO.

Amed Yassin
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Image 1 of 15: Yassin formed Mujama al-Islamyia in 1973. Israel stepped back when Islamists and their secular rivals fought for local influence. In 1987, Mujama became Hamas, coordinating Brotherhood activities in Gaza.

First Intifada
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Image 1 of 15: After the First Intifada, a Palestinian uprising which caught all organized groups by surprise, Hamas published its official charter in 1988, veering off the Brotherhood's ethos of nonviolence.

oslo
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Image 1 of 15: The first Hamas suicide bombing occurred in April 1993. Five months later, Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin, then-prime minister of Israel, sealed the Oslo accords. Israel formally recognized the PLO and Hamas became their bete noire.

Rabin assassinated
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Image 1 of 15: The fragile Israeli-Palestinian peace pact eventually unraveled. Rabin was assassinated by an Israeli right-wing fanatic in November 1995. Arafat died in November 2004. Hamas refused to accept Israel or renounce violence, becoming the leading institution of Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation.

ahmed yassin
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Image 1 of 15: In 2004, the 66-year-old Yassin was killed when an Israeli helicopter fired a missile at him as he was being wheeled from early morning prayers. The attack also killed his bodyguards and nine bystanders, and was widely condemned as detrimental to any peace process. 200,000 Palestinians attended his funeral.

2-state solution
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Image 1 of 15: Tagged by the US as terrorists, the PLO came back into grace when they claimed support of a 2-state solution. The US, UK, EU, Israel, Canada, Jordan, and Egypt classify Hamas as terrorists, but other nations - Iran, Russia, China, and many Arab nations - do not. Hamas has also indicated support of a 2-state solution, with certain conditions.

Islamic University of Gaza
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Image 1 of 15: Israel backed the creation of the Islamic University of Gaza, but now views it as a Hamas training site. Co-founded by Yassin, members of Gaza’s Cabinet did hold faculty positions, but Palestinian academics Marcy Newman and Akram Habeeb rebut charges of Hamas links, writing, “IUG is a university that reflects the diversity of its population."

Hamas trounced Fatah
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Image 1 of 15: In 2006, Hamas trounced Fatah in Palestinian elections. Hamas' government was dismissed in 2007, politically splitting the territories with Fatah ruling the West Bank and Hamas ruling Gaza. Later that year, they won a legitimate election to take control of Gaza, a victory that rankled both the West and Fatah.

  1. Hero or zero: who is Hamas? As the dust settles on Israel’s longest-ever attack on Palestine, let’s rationally assess this Islamic resistance movement which can so easily be painted as poster boys for every point-of-view.

    Its evolution is complicated (in its infancy, it was nurtured by Israel!) and can’t neatly be summarized in a slideshow. But if we share some facts and sidestep spin, we might incite you to dig deeper towards a fresh and (relatively) unbiased view. 

    During the heyday of Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization, Hamas provided community social welfare programs - think schools and mosques. Arafat was exiled in the early 1990’s, but returned to Palestine after the Oslo Accords - his political faction, Fatah, now obliged to forego armed opposition towards Israel.  With Fatah accepting a two-state solution, Hamas stepped up to fill the vacuum of armed resistance to Israeli occupation.

    Specifically, the military wing of Hamas stepped up; the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades branded itself as the anti-occupation hero. Using radical tactics like suicide bombings, Hamas demanded open border crossings, an end to occupation, and right of return for all Palestinians, declaring no stop to fighting until full agreement. Many ordinary Palestinians weary of horrific living conditions - regardless of political affiliation - support this position, and Hamas.

    In 1st Century Judaea, a political movement called “zealotry” arose when Jews sought to oust Roman occupiers by means of armed force, deaf to peace treaties that did not meet their demands. (Coincidentally, the Arabic word Hamas can translate to “zeal”.) Those ancient aggressive nationalists sound awfully contemporary, but the Middle East doesn’t own the patent to terrorism as a roadmap for political change.

    Look to Basque nationalists in Spain. The ETA began as advocates for their unique culture before morphing into armed Marxists demanding an independent state. Spin the globe to Sri Lanka. The Tamil Tigers sprang up in 1976 as militant nationalists campaigning for... an independent state. The conflict turned into civil war, one of Asia’s longest-running battles.

    Consider Ireland’s Sinn Féin - a political party founded in 1905 long linked to the terror-tagged Irish Republican Army (IRA). Both groups were actively involved in the war for liberation from Britain with Sinn Féin as its political voice and the IRA running the armed campaign.

    History overflows with "freedom fighters" born from cogent political movements - their grievances turning to terrorism if their opponents hold greater political prowess and military might. Strong leadership is essential to keep cohesion or these groups risk splitting between political and military agenda.

    Military pitbulls need be kept on a tight leash. They are appreciated and supported in wartime; understood as a state’s “best bet” born of desperation (as eloquently stated by Israel’s Gideon Levy, Irish Senator David Morris, and British entertainer Russell Brand) - but at what point does their dogged violence become a detriment to larger goals?

    In the current lull, we bring you a bit of the backstory. Hamas is the first Islamist group in the world to gain legitimately gain power via democratic election. They warrant a deeper dig - peel that onion made up from years of layers of media spin. After all the devastation and destruction of the past five weeks, are Hamas friends or foes for sustainable peace in Gaza? Tell us how you see it.

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