A recipe for disaster or resistance? Understanding the Hamas ideology

Published August 17th, 2014 - 01:24 GMT
  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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