The Great Debate

Homing In On Hamas

June 27, 2016


By Eric Willoughby


The author has been campaigning on the Palestinian issue since 1967 and is now voluntary Publisher and Editor of the Palestine Media Digest. He has had personal involvement in the region for some 30 years, mainly resident in Amman, and has written and broadcast widely on the Palestinian issue.


Hamas is often given as the excuse for Israel's worst excesses of barbarity, including the massive bombing operations on Gaza.


In a 2015 "debate" in the UK's upper parliamentary chamber (House of Lords) the myths were trotted out time and time again, including a recital from the 1988 Charter, which has been superseded a few times since then.


The simple fact is that Hamas emerged as a RESULT of Israel's intransigence and inhumanity in enforcing its occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, after 20 years of trying everything else. The only wonder is that such an organisation didn't start earlier.


The one and only problem is Israel's invasion of June 1967 and the ongoing occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people.

Every invasion and occupation spawns resistance, just as night follows day, and for the first 20 years in the case of the Palestinians it remained largely non-violent, despite Israel's many atrocities.


From a distance the Muslim Brotherhood saw its kinfolk and neighbours being crushed and killed under the brutal Israeli occupation, and after 20 years decided to establish a more militant resistance operation in Gaza.


"Hamas" is an acronym for the Islamic Resistance Movement, and the word hamas in Arabic means "determination". It simply meant that Israel's violence and cruelty had outlived Palestinian patience, and the gloves were off.


The Gaza Palestinians had become used to the more benign control of the Egyptians before 1967, more or less with complete autonomy. But the new situation of military occupation was a new horror, and when the Israeli settlements began appearing all over the Strip, it was clear that the future was worrying. Whatever truth or otherwise there is in the Bible, little can be more prophetic than:  "Ashkelon shall see it, and be afraid; Gaza too, and shall writhe in anguish; Ekron also, because its hopes are confounded. The king shall perish from Gaza. Zechariah 9:5 ". 


Hamas was formed in 1987 because everything else had failed to instill any sense of humanity or justice into Israel. International law, UN resolutions, the Geneva Convention and all human rights agreements were treated with contempt and flagrantly scorned.


Until then the Gaza Strip had been mainly a secular enclave, though there are still three Christian churches unbombed by Israel (yet). Extremism is not part of the Palestinian character, but being under brutal occupation does tend to alter the outlook.


Hamas was not born out of anger, but of despair.


In 1973 the Islamic Brotherhood had established a charity in Gaza in an attempt to relieve the suffering. A new library was one of its achievements, together with Islamic schools and clubs and of course a mosque.


An important timeline here is that "Islamism" had become a developing part of the Middle East culture, and in 1979 the Shah of Iran was deposed in an Islamic revolution.


It was a time of intense activity, but Hamas did not emerge because of the First Intifada; it was more a case of the newly-formed Hamas inspiring it out of desperation.


In 1985 Israel had started "deporting" Palestinians from the occupied territory, which was reminiscent of an earlier occupation and deportation programme in Europe.


Co-founder of Hamas Sheik Ahmed Yassin stated in 1987, and the hurriedly composed Hamas Charter affirmed in 1988, that Hamas was founded to liberate Palestine from Israeli occupation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.


If there was a tipping point it was Israel's savage attack on the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza on December 9th 1967. The camp had been established in 1948 following the genocidal and ethnic-clearance policies of the Zionist terror groups Irgun, Haganah, Yishuv, Palmach and others. There are few parallels in history of an occupying power attacking camps where refugees are sheltering from their own cruelty are struggling to exist.


But it was only a particularly despicable atrocity amongst many. Two Gaza students at Birzeit University had been shot by Israeli soldiers on campus on 4 December 1986, a schoolboy from Khan Yunis was shot dead by Israeli soldiers on October 1st 1987, the IDF ambushed and killed seven Gaza men who had escaped from political imprisonment in May. Some days later, a 17 year old schoolgirl, Intisar al-'Attar, was shot in the back in her Deir al-Balah school by a settler in the Gaza Strip. Just a few of the daily rounds of horror that the Palestinians had live with under Israel's cruelty and nothing has changed.


The inclusion of a military wing in the new Hamas movement in 1987 is sometimes regarded as controversial, but for the Palestinians of Gaza the very existence of Hamas was a glimmer of hope. Nothing else had improved their condition. The newly arrived settlers were troublesome and violent, and life was becoming increasingly unbearable.


Some of the early "military" actions (though "militant" is probably more appropriate) in response to Israeli atrocities are regarded as controversial or even over-violent, but it has to be remembered that all resistance to military occupation is legitimate under the Geneva Convention. Indeed the wording was ratified as amended in UN Resolution 3103.


Nevertheless, the popularity of Hamas increased to the point at which it was overwhelmingly elected in closely-observed elections in 2006.


In between, Israel had been pressured into changing its full occupation of Gaza into a blockade and siege, with Egypt retaining control of the Rafah Crossing. It's often said that there's no perceptible difference, and even that the occupation was preferable, but at least the insidious settlements were largely evacuated.


Today, Hamas is known for its "rockets" which is flattering in the sense of regarding the Gaza Palestinians as having expertise in rocket science, but of course it's meant to be far from that.


What is not asked enough, is WHY Hamas uses even the most basic munitions against Israel, and as always the answer is in the course of legitimate resistance to military occupation and siege.


At last the Palestinian Authority is trying to bring Israel before the International Criminal Court for its atrocities in Gaza and the West Bank, not least the 2014 massive blitzkrieg. These are of course not war crimes, because there is no official state of war between Israel and the Palestinians. There cannot be, since the Palestinians have never had any armed forces and still do not. The bombing was simply criminal international mass murder.


They are crimes against humanity, all notions of human rights, the Geneva Convention and any semblance of co-existence.


And if Israel is so indignant about the Hamas "rockets" the question must be asked why they have never made a complaint in the international courts. The simple answer is that all resistance to occupation is legitimate, but atrocities to enforce occupation are not; Israel would come off worse.


Without Israel's continuous invasion to steal land for the Zionist ideal, there would be no resistance and no need for an organisation like Hamas. One is a result of the other, and peaceful co-existence is the alternative to both.


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