Hamas (“Islamic Resistance Movement”) is a radical Islamist terror organization that strives to establish a…
Hamas (“Islamic Resistance Movement”) is a radical Islamist terror organization that strives to establish a shari’a-based society from the Nile to the Euphrates. The rise of Hamas has been noticeable for several years but the substantial change occurred with the local elections of December 2005, which Hamas used as a launching pad to win the January 2006 elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council. Hamas’ electoral success arouse from its ability to capitalize on the growing disenchantment with Fatah, a secular, ethno-nationalist party. It also claimed to offer a better alternative for ordinary Palestinians; unfortunately for them, the reality has been far different from the one painted in Hamas’ promises.
The recent takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas has shown not only to the global community, but more importantly to the Palestinians, what Hamas has to offer: a highly restrictive, violent, and intolerant society. The emergence of ‘Hamastan’ has had catastrophic implications to the maintenance of peace and security in the Middle East due to Hamas’ refusal to reject terrorism and its failure to cooperate with other Palestinian groups. As a result, Gazans have become Hamas’ latest victims, as the organization’s belligerent actions towards its own people have caused the Strip to slowly sink into a humanitarian calamity. Israel, with the assistance of collaborative Palestinians and international organizations, is endeavoring to prevent this calamity by ensuring the near-daily supply of fuel, water, electricity and other basic necessities to the Palestinians. Despite media reports, Israel has repeatedly shown a desire to reach a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians, only to have it torpedoed by Hamas. However, to expect Israel to negotiate with a recently elected radical terrorist entity such as Hamas is tantamount to requesting that governments of the world negotiate with al-Qa’ida; at best, an impossible request. The global community must recognize that Hamas bears sole responsibility for placing Gaza on the precipice of a humanitarian crisis. The purpose of this commentary is to briefly explain who Hamas is and why their seizure of Gaza represents nothing short of a regional disaster.
Objectives and Structure of Hamas
The founder of Hamas, Sheik Ahmed Yassin was a former leading member of the radical Islamist Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, an ideological organization designed to overthrow secular Arab regimes across the Muslim World. Yassin was appalled with the secular objectives of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), as the PLO saw itself first as an ethno-nationalist movement that strove to ensure a homeland for the Palestinian people, whilst not centering its platform on being anti-Jewish. Hamas’ two goals have remained constant: to “eliminate” the existence of the State of Israel as the Jewish homeland through the use of indiscriminate violence; and to establish a radically Islamist society. The Charter of Hamas could not be clearer in laying out these two objectives: “Israel will rise and will remain erect until Islam eliminates it as it had eliminated its predecessors.” The Charter further declares, “The Islamic Resistance Movement is a distinguished Palestinian movement, whose allegiance is to Allah, and whose way of life is Islam.” Hence, in accordance with Hamas’ unwavering goal of eliminating Israel, Hamas continues to fire Qassam rockets into Israel-proper (mainly at the cities of Sderot, Askelon), as well as the continuous use of suicide bombers, which arbitrarily target men, women, and children of all faiths. A prime example of a Hamas-orchestrated suicide attack deliberately targeting innocents is the 1 June 2001 Dolphinarium Club attack in Tel Aviv in which 21 Israelis were killed, the majority of them teenagers. Another attack, which clearly shows the regional reach of Hamas’ militant agenda, is the attack at Mike’s Place, a pub along Tel Aviv’s beachfront promenade. The Hamas-planned operation utilized two British-born Muslims to commit the atrocity. A more recent Hamas attack, this time with Qassam rockets launched into Israel, claimed the life of one mid-afternoon Israeli driver.
Hamas is a three-tier organization, but in reality there is no explicit separation between its wings. Michael Herzog, a Visiting Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has stated that all departments in Hamas “answer to the same organizational authority, which makes the principal decisions on terror operations as well as on political, social, and other policies.” At the top of Hamas’s organizational structure lies the religious command, the highest decision making body in Hamas. Thus, within this organization, the religious authority not only incites violence but also assists and dictates terror operations, making them central to all Hamas-led militant missions.
Hamas, since its creation has heavily invested in numerous socio-economic structures, such as schools, television stations (Aqsa TV), hospitals, and even garbage collection services. The objective was clearly designed to utilize Hamas’ financial muscle to manipulate, if not compel and intimidate secular Palestinians into joining its rank and file. It is irrefutable that the radical Islamist-based socio-economic manipulation succeeded, as membership in Hamas grew, whilst freedom declined. This socio-economic gerrymandering is similar to the ones employed by other terror organizations such as the Hezbollah in Lebanon and the PKK in Turkey. These organizations prey on the weak members of society, exploiting them for their own selfish and distorted agenda. However, due to Hamas’ most recent show of brutality towards the opposition in Gaza, the organization’s “charity” has begun to show its true militant Islamist agenda, a radical Shari’a-based society in which basic human rights are crushed daily.
The socio-political division is found in the center of the structure and the bottom tier is comprised of the military wing. The latter is itself composed of three branches; an intelligence wing to survey Palestinian collaborators; another arm that punishes those who violate Islamic law, and the Izz al Din al Qassam, which executes the terror, attacks within Israel-Proper, as well as within the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The main goal of Izz al Din al Qassam was to create a solid military organization that would fulfill the goals set forth by the religious command. At the time of the establishment of the militant wing, the main concern was to block the Oslo Peace negations and ensure that the implementation of the Accords never occurred. Since Oslo, Izz al Din al Qassam has carried out thousands of attacks, ranging from shootings and knifings to kidnapping to suicide bombings. Hamas has claimed responsibility for thousands of attacks, which have resulted in hundreds of Israeli Muslim, Christian, and Jewish deaths, using the most horrific and barbaric tools at their disposal. Many Hamas-perpetrated suicide attacks, such as the attack on the Sbarro Pizzaeria in Jerusalem on 9 August 2001, have utilized nails, bolts, and nuts in order to ensure the maximum number of casualties. The Sbarro suicide attack claimed 15 lives, of which 7 were children. There have also been instances in which nails and other material have been soaked in rat poison, illustrating a crude form of chemical-based terrorism, to cause even greater number of deaths. Hamas has also attempted to use cyanide poison in their suicide belts and it has been documented that Hamas has attempted to garner information on how to carryout biological attacks on Israelis. The former head of Hamas’ West Bank military wing, Adel Awadallah, intended to carryout an attack that involved the contamination of Israel’s water system, a key example of the brutality and indiscriminateness of Hamas’ tactics.
“The Day of Judgment will not come about until Moslems fight Jews and kill them. Then, the Jews will hide behind rocks and trees, and the rocks and trees will cry out: ‘O Moslem, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him’”. (Article 7)
Hamas’ radical ideology is not, and has never been, limited to the elimination of the State of Israel; the organization is overtly and violently anti-Semitic. Hamas’ calls for ‘death to the Jews’ is common, as are Hamas-sponsored television programs that clearly illustrate Jew-hatred. One of the most recent examples was seen in the cartoon character “Farfur”, Hamas’ Mickey Mouse rendition. The show’s character, designed for children’s education, called for fighting Zionists and creating a world, which is dominated by Islam. Hamas’ potent and belligerent anti-Jewish rhetoric, which one could argue is influenced by Hizballah’s al-Manar television station, ensures yet another major impediment to peace talks with Israel. How can Israel negotiate with this type of ‘partner’ when they not only reject the State of Israel but also viciously abhor its Jewish citizens?
The Reality of Hamas in Power
Soon after seizing the Gaza Strip, Hamas gunmen kidnapped an officer in Fatah’s Special Forces’ Unit, Force 17. The officer was driven to a deserted area, shot three times, and left to bleed out. Speaking from an Israeli hospital where he was being treated for his wounds, the officer stated, “…that’s not Islam. That’s evil and hypocrisy. How ironic that Israel is rescuing us from our Muslim ‘brothers”. Another Palestinian deliberately shot by Hamas gunmen spoke of his experience with Hamas in Gaza. “I wanted to shoot myself for voting Hamas…we really believed Hamas would change things”. For scholars familiar with the insidious nature of Hamas it is clear that Hamas is a pragmatic organization, when it suits its purposes. Hamas has shown a willingness to talk, though, without making any commitments. This creates the illusion that it is a willing partner – not only to Israel but also to Fatah and the Palestinian Authority – when in fact its sole objective is to remain true to its militant Islamist nature. Hamas also continues to receive support from Iran and Syria (two known states that sponsor terrorism to promote their national interests, as they have done in Lebanon with the Hezbollah and Fatah al-Islam in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp north of Tripoli). Put simply, it is becoming increasingly apparent that Gazans have fallen under the rule of a sinister force that controls the Gaza Strip with a gun in one hand and the Qu’ran in the other.
Consequences of Hamas in Power
First, in order to implement its Islamist mantra Hamas has sought complete control of television, western music and dress, literature, and even moderate Muslim influence, all of which is attacked physically and verbally. Hamas’ Islamist agenda is also seen in its treatment of women as Hamas actively denigrates the role of women in Palestinian society, with at least one commentator declaring, “Hamas has been known to use violence against women as a tactic for enforcing its reactionary social agenda”. There is no reason to believe that individual freedoms will increase under Hamas. A second consequence of the rise of Hamas is the increase brutality against ordinary Palestinians, as Hamas has adopted a program of execution-style shootings, incessant mortar attacks, and even throwing individuals off of rooftops; according to the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens’ Rights over 600 Palestinians have been killed in infighting since Hamas rose to power in 2006. Moreover, Hamas’ current belligerent stance in the Gaza Strip is causing a humanitarian crisis to unfold: 65% of Gazans already live below the poverty line and at least 20% are unemployed; should the crisis grow, as Hamas’ actions prove it will, so will the percentage of the impoverished and unemployed. Another consequence is the chaos, lawlessness and anarchy caused by Hamas in Gaza, which have increased organized criminal activity in the Strip to mammoth proportions. Murder and human trafficking, specifically in women, is on the increase. Kidnappings of foreign nationals, even those sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, are rising.
The most significant and worrying consequence resulting from the rise of Hamas is the emergence of a presence of global jihadists in Gaza, which would further alienate and damage the Palestinian cause. As early as 2005, in an interview with Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera, Hamas leader Mahmoud A-Zahar acknowledged Al Qa’ida’s presence in Gaza. Since the seizure of Gaza, global jihadists have urged Muslims to both finance and arm Hamas. Additionally, according to one terrorism expert, the way in which Gaza is quickly delving into anarchy and chaos, the fear of homegrown and imported terrorists, as is seen in certain Iraqi provinces and collapsed Somalia, is a growing danger. Should global jihadists begin to set up shop in the Gaza Strip, the implications for Israel, Egypt, and Jordan, among others, will be debilitating to the entire region. A Hamas victory will encourage other Islamist organizations in the region to galvanize their efforts to initiate Islamist change.
Perhaps most alarming was a statement by Mahmoud A-Zahar, following the recent Mecca Agreement. Al-Qa’ida’s Deputy Chief al-Zawahiri, condemned Hamas for signing an agreement, which he stated was a betrayal of Muslims and betrayal of Palestine, in return for government positions in the Palestinian Authority. Following the statements by al-Zawahiri, Mahmoud A-Zahar, in a reassuring tone towards global jihadists, claimed that Hamas supported the global Jihad. Is Hamas now moving down a new path, sharing the same ideology as al-Qa’ida? Hamas’ statements and actions make this notion plausible.
The rise of Hamas to political power has brought nothing but misery and hardship for ordinary Palestinians, because, any government with the resources and even the desire to aid the Palestinians is reluctant to do so since it is currently dominated by a recognized radical Islamist terror organization. Under United Nations’ Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1373 (2001) member states are under a UN Security Council mandate to combat the scourge of international terrorism. This means that UN member-states must do all in their powers to defeat terrorism, not to assist it. In relation to Israel, the Israeli government has adopted certain measures to protect its citizens from incessant Qassam rocket attacks, suicide terrorism, weapons smuggling, and kidnappings. One way the Israelis have sought to do this is by regulating border crossing and refusing to allow those that wish to harm ones’ own citizens with free access.
There are those who contend that Israel remains in control of the Gaza Strip despite the highly controversial Disengagement Plan, which Ariel Sharon promoted at great political and personal cost. The Disengagement Plan from Gaza was part of a two –tier strategy in which Sharon hoped that he could convince Israelis to give land for peace and in return the Palestinians would renounce terrorism. But, soon after the Disengagement Plan, Hamas rose to power and rather than working to alleviate the conditions of the ordinary Palestinians, Hamas used its complete control of the Strip to move its Qassam rockets closer to the border with Israel so that it could fire more rockets at Israeli targets. Hamas, instead of using its position to promote peace and security for its people, has in fact done the opposite. Hamas’ actions have undermined the Palestinian Authority, marginalizing Abu Mazen. All of this has led to a major rift within Palestinian society, causing unnecessary suffering to Palestinians.
Aid to Gaza
The realities of humanitarian aid to Gaza are very different from what is being portrayed in academic circles and the media. While crossings are closed at times, this is only due to Hamas’ firing of rockets, and other terrorist activity, into Israel. The truth is that everyday Israel, in conjunction with the Gaza District Coordination and Liaison Office, opens various crossings, such as Karmi, Sufa, and Erez, in order to transport hundreds, and at times, thousands of tons of supplies to the Palestinian People living in Gaza. Hundreds of thousands of liters of hypochlorite, a water purifier, have been delivered. Between July 8 and July 13 at the Sufa and Kerem Shalom Crossings, nearly 10,000 tons of food and medical supplies were delivered. In other instances, various dairy products, including a total of over a million liters of milk, as well as tons of construction supplies have all been successfully delivered. Fuel and natural gas still reach Gaza, via the Karmi Crossing. The fuel is supplied to power stations in the Gaza Strip in order to keep up normal electricity standards. From June 15-30, massive amounts of fuel passed through Nahal Oz to into Gaza; 735,000 liters were delivered for private use; another 4,937,000 liters of Diesel, also for private use, was delivered. Power plants in need of Diesel received 4,800,000 liters. In addition, medical supplies are provided daily, as is medical assistance to Palestinians. In one instance, over 100,000 vaccines against chicken pox, tuberculosis, tetanus and rubella were delivered by way of the Erez Crossing within two days. Injured Palestinians are brought into Israel for medical assistance on a daily basis. Between 30 June and 1 July, 10 kg of medical equipment, along with over 16,000 vaccines were transported across the borders. Israel also ensures the delivery of hundreds of tons of baby formula. These numbers clearly emphasize that Israel is doing all that is possible to alleviate the daily sufferings of Gazans, whilst Hamas is exacerbating the crisis. In fact, there have already been incidents in which Hamas gunmen have fired on, and thrown hand grenades at, Palestinians waiting at crossing points or attempting to leave Gaza by way of tunnels; hundreds of Palestinians have been caught in Hamas’ deliberate crossfire.
Since Hamas’ violent takeover of Gaza and the forceful eviction of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority from the Strip, the rift that existed between the various entities representing the Palestinian people has grown exponentially. In relation to Israel, by refusing to recognize the State of Israel and renouncing terrorism, which the PLO did in the 1990s, Hamas has ensured that no real negotiations can take place. In actuality, this is what Hamas desires, as accepting Israel means abandoning one of the organization’s core objectives: elimination of the State of Israel. No country that suffers from the incessant onslaught of barbaric terrorism will speak with an organization committed to its destruction. The existence of ‘Hamastan’ has also affected the Arab World ensuring that there are no effective peace talks between Israel and its Arab and Muslims neighbors. An Egyptian journalist of the major Al Ahram newspaper highlighted this position recently, writing that Hamas’ victory in Gaza produced serious obstacles for any Arab country hoping to obtain peaceful and diplomatic relations with Israel, as no country desires to work in partnership for peace with a terrorist organization. Furthermore, ‘Hamastan’ clearly represents a direct threat to neighboring nations, who fear a possible spillover effect. Egyptian officials have already noted that the Hamas takeover of Gaza may motivate Islamic opposition in Egypt, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, to procure the necessary military might in order to overthrow the current Egyptian government. One Egyptian newspaper captured this concern when it noted, “For the first time, the Egyptians felt fear when they saw the Al Azhar University students conducting combat displays with the same methods as Hamas, and in the same clothes, with the same slogans and means.”
The only way to solve the deteriorating situation in the Gaza Strip is by addressing Hamas’ devastatingly brutal religio-political rule. It must first be recognized that Hamas is irrefutably responsible for the impending humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. Israel, like any other state under the constant threat of terrorism, cannot be expected to simply open its borders, especially borders that straddle a territory ruled by a radical Islamist terror organization, which uses any opportunity to attack. Israel has desperately sought a solution to relieve the hardships that are currently prevailing in Gaza. The Israeli High Court ordered that Israel do everything necessary in order to assist wounded Palestinians held up at the Erez Crossing; many of the wounded are a result of infighting between Hamas and opposition forces. Despite these relief efforts, Hamas continues to launch Qassam rockets into Israel and dispatch suicide bombers, as well as fighting Fatah and the Palestinian Authority, ensuring that Israel has no partner to negotiate with. The former leader of Hamas, Dr. Rantisi, once commented, “We in Hamas believe peace talks will do no good. We do not believe that we can live with the enemy.” How, then, can Israel properly engage in dialogue with the very organization who openly denounces negotiations? In essence, it would seem that Hamas has no interest in halting the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza, while Israel has every reason to preempt a crisis.
In an unprecedented statement, the head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in the Gaza Strip, John Ging, stated, “it is very clear the responsibility lies with the Palestinians” and that Hamas’ activities in the Gaza Strip “directly impacts on the humanitarian plight of the Palestinians living in Gaza”. Ultimately, it is Hamas’ addiction to violence and its refusal, despite appeals from many, including Palestinians, to abandon the way of the gun and the suicide bomber, which ensures that Gazans remain in a state of hopelessness and misery. The only way to improve the conditions in Gaza is for Hamas to renounce terrorism and engage in honest negations, as is expected of any real government. In the end, Hamas is a radical Islamist terror organization with clear genocidal objectives. Under the Convention on Genocide (1948), genocide means, “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group” (Art 2). When looking at the Charter of Hamas, it categorically calls for the extermination of the Jewish People. Thus, due to Hamas’ violent actions in Gaza, the question arises, is Hamas intending to adopt a similar charter towards its own people?