Israel’s Role in Creating Hamas
by Beverley Milton-Edwards and Stephen Farrell
(2010 Polity Press)
Book Review – Part I
This review is divided into two parts. Part I describes Israel’s role in promoting and supporting the rise of Hamas. Part II describes the gradual decline of the Fatah-led PLO, which led to their 2006 election defeat.
Hamas is about the militant Palestinian group which was democratically elected to run the Palestinian Authority in 2006. The main value of the book is the rich context it provides regarding the Israeli occupation of Palestine, which is totally absent from the mainstream media. Hamas clearly documents the role Israel played in promoting the rise of Muslim fundamentalism in Palestine. The book also emphasizes the essential role foreign financial assistance plays in perpetuating this war – with the US heavily backing Israel and other Islamic states backing the Palestinians.
According to Milton-Edwards and Farrell, Israel’s motives in backing the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine were identical to those of the US in Afghanistan and Anwar Sadat in Egypt. In all cases, the goal of supporting the Islamic fundamentalism was to counter the secular Arab leftists and nationalists who controlled most Middle Eastern states prior to 1967. The US and its allies had enormous concerns that that the leaders in power would form a single Arab economic or political block that would thwart US corporate and strategic interests.
Milton-Edwards and Farrell trace the origins of Hamas to the decision by the Muslim Brotherhood to open offices in Palestine in the 1940s, when it was still under the British Mandate. As a condition of their World War I defeat, the old Ottoman (Turkish) empire was divided up among European powers. In 1947 Britain surrendered control of Palestine, and the UN partitioned it into Jewish and Palestinian Arab states. Outraged that Jews, who represented on 32% of the population were awarded 56% of Palestine, in 1949 Syria, Egypt and Jordan joined with Palestinian jihadists, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, in declaring war on Israel. In the resulting settlement, Palestinian Arabs lost even more territory, forcing 726,000 refugees to flee to neighboring states. Gaza, to the west of Israel, came under Egyptian control. Jordan, to Israel’s east, assumed control of the West Bank. The king of Jordan, an autocratic totalitarian ruler, immediately closed the West Bank offices of the Muslim Brotherhood and placed their members under close police surveillance.
In the 1967 six day war, Egypt, Jordan and Syria attacked Israel and were once again defeated. The West Bank and Gaza came under Israeli military occupation, while Israel banned the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and forced Yasar Arafat and other PLO leaders to flee into exile.
Israel Turns a Blind Eye to Mijamma Violence
Prior to 1973, the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood saw its primary role as performing charitable works and speaking out against the liberal Westernized culture Palestinian youth brought back when they went to university in Egypt. In 1973 they formed a new organization Al-Mijamma ‘al-Islami (The Islamic Center), under the leadership of a charismatic wheelchair bound cleric named Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. Mijamma’s ultimate goal was to reclaim Palestinian land and homes Israel had seized in 1947 and 1967. However they felt the first step in building a militant resistance organization was to re-establish Palestine as an Islamic society. Thus despite considerable anti-Israeli rhetoric, their main focus was on islamization, which they approached by teaching, preaching and setting up community institutions to provide food and other social services to impoverished Palestinian families.
Initially their political attacks (demonstrations, street ambushes, attacks on homes and offices) were limited to so-called Israeli “collaborators” and individuals linked with the PLO and other secular and leftist groups and institutions, including teaching and medical associations. However once they assumed control of the Islamic University of Gaza in 1973, they began harassing and expelling female students who refused to wear Islamic dress, as well as beating up men who spoke out against these activities.
Israel, which governed both the West Bank and Gaza after 1967, turned a blind eye to this lawless violence. They only provided direct financial aid to the Islamic Academy in Hebron, where many of Hamas’s military leaders would receive their training. Yet in 1978 Israel granted official recognition to Mijamma, allowing it to meet openly and publicly, at a time when all other Palestinian parties were banned as illegal terrorist organizations.
The Birth of Hamas
During the 1987 insurrection, called the Intifada, Mujamma renamed itself Hamas. Their founding document, which disputes Israel’s right to establish a religious state on Palestinian territory, is full of references to common anti-Semitic conspiracies. In addition to quoting from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (a proven forgery), it blames “the Jews” for the French revolution, the Communist revolution and secret societies like the Freemasons, Rotary Club and Lions. Nevertheless despite their full participation alongside the PLO in the Intifada, Israel continued to allow foreign money to flow freely to Hamas, while they continued to freeze PLO assets. Likewise Israel allowed Hamas to keep their schools open in Gaza, while they force West Bank Palestinian schools to close.
In 1990, Israel finally began cracking down on Hamas, following the murder of two Israeli soldiers. Their leader Sheikh Hassan was arrested, tried and imprisoned. Three years later, Israel illegally (under international law) deported 400 Hamas members, following the kidnapping of an Israeli border guard.
Meanwhile the PLO, Hamas’s rival, made the tragic mistake of endorsing Sadam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1991. This resulted in the suspension of all aid the PLO previously received from wealth Gulf oil states.
To be continued.
Beverly Milton-Edwards is Professor in the School of Politics, International Studies and Philosophy at Queen’s University Belfast. Steven Farrell, who has dual British-Irish citizenship, is Middle East Correspondent for The New York Times.