The creation of Hamas

A commenter wrote this:

Perverse that the organization called a “Terrorist Organization” by the world media and political community was founded in part by Israel as a means of keeping violent militancy under close surveillance and control in Palestine/Gaza/West Bank.

This comment reiterates an oft-repeated view that Hamas was created with Israel’s approval. This is a misrepresentation of history.

In Hamas Unwritten Chapters, Azzam Tamimi, a Palestinian scholar with close ties to Hamas, describes how the organization came into existence.

Although formally announced in 1987 at the beginning of the First Intifada, Hamas began as a branch of Ikhwan, the Muslim Brotherhood, which was founded in Egypt in 1928. The ability for Ikhwan to thrive in Gaza was provided by the Israeli occupation which began in 1967. Prior to that, Ikhwan had been suppressed by the Egyptian authorities.

Tamimi writes:

Israel opted to revive certain aspects of archaic Ottoman law in its administration of the affairs of the Arab populations in the West Bank and Gaza. This permitted the creation of voluntary or non-governmental organizations such as charitable, educational and other forms of privately funded service institutions. This was a fortunate development for the Palestinians under occupation. For the first ten years of occupation, from 1967-1977, the Israeli occupation authorities pursued a policy of ‘non-intervention’ drawn up and supervised by Moshe Dayan, then Minister of Defence in the Labour government. The intention was to be responsive to Palestinian wishes, allowing them the freedom to enjoy their non-political institutions as far as these institutions remained consistent with Israel rule and posed no threat to it… [It was under these conditions that] the Ikhwan succeeded in more than doubling the number of mosques under their authority.

In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon, following seven years of intermittent civil conflict in that country. Israeli forces advanced all the way to the Lebanese capital Beirut, with the eventual eviction of the PLO from Lebanon. While Beirut was under siege by the Israeli forces, commanded by Israel’s then Defence Minister Ariel Sharon, between two and three thousand unprotected and unarmed Palestinian civilians in the Sabra and Shatila camps were massacred by Israel’s ally, the Christian Lebanese Forces. Palestinian populations across the world felt a suffocating sense of anger, impotence and frustration.

Amid all these dramatic events, pressure was mounting on the Ikhwan in Palestine to take action on behalf of their cause. Their social reform program had seemed to absorb all their efforts at a time when developments in and around Palestine called for a more dramatic response. Having successfully outflanked the nationalist and leftist forces within Palestinian society the Islamists now faced the criticism that while others had been making sacrifices resisting occupation they had restricted themselves to social and educational services. Their detractors went so far as to accuse them of brokering a deal with the Occupation Authorities, as a result of which their activities were tolerated and their projects were licensed. The Islamists’ enemies embarked on old-fashioned Nasir-style propaganda, labeling the Ikhwan as the invention of Britain or the United States, or as lackeys of the Zionists.

From 1979 to 1981, throughout the network of the Ikhwan organization inside Gaza and the West Bank, the younger members, who were electrified by Saraya Al-Jihad’s resistance operations, voiced one persistent question: “Why are we not involved in the military resistance to occupation?” [Saraya Al-Jihad was a group of Islamic-oriented members of Fatah that had launched a campaign of armed resistance in the West Bank.] Little was known at the time about a plan to engage in military action which had already been drawn up, during the same period of soul-searching, by Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, as the leader of the Ikhwan in Gaza. Clearly, the Ikhwan, or at least some of its leaders, could no longer withstand the pressure from within their own ranks and the mounting scepticism of Palestinian society as a whole. They had also begun to suffer, perhaps, from a growing sense of guilt on their own part over their inaction.

No one took the decision to ignite the Intifada on 8 December 1987; it was triggered by an accident, which in turn set off the spontaneous explosion of anger by the masses. However, it was an explosion anticipated by the Palestinian Ikhwan, for which they had been preparing since at least 1983. The day the Intifada began, the institutions created by the Ikhwan inside and outside Palestine came into action, with each performing the tasks assigned to it. The Ikhwan had no option except to seize the occasion. They needed to exploit it the the limit of their ability, in order to reinstate themselves as the leaders of the jihad to liberate Palestine. Had they not done so, it would have meant the demise of their movement. In addition, only the Ikhwan had the intention, the will, the infrastructure and the global logistical support to keep the flame of the Intifada alight for as long as it could be maintained.

For the Ikhwan, now acting under the name of Hamas, the Intifada was a gift from heaven. They were determined to end the occupation, and to ensure that this would be only the beginning of a long-term jihad. They mobilized their members, employing the network of mosques and other institutions under their control, foremost amongst which was the Islamic University [in Gaza]. They called for civil disobedience and organized rallies, which almost inevitably culminated in stone-throwing at Israeli troops, burning the Israeli flag and setting up improvised road blocks with burning tyres. The Intifada was an explosion of anger in the face of the occupation, sparked off by the dreadful and inhumane conditions endured by the Palestinians for many years and the humiliation and degradation to which they had been subjected. However, the Ikhwan’s slogans were not confined to demands for the end of the occupation. They went further, also demanding the abolition of the state of Israel. Most of the demonstrators had been refugees, and their real homes were not the squalid and wretched UN camps of Gaza or the West Bank but the hundreds of towns and villages that once stood where Israel exists today.

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