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HAMAS. The organization Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyah (Movement of Islamic Resistance), the most important Palestinian Islamist organization in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, is known by its acronym Hamas. A non-Qur’anic word, Hamas also means “zeal.” It was established in December 1987, at the very beginning of the Palestinian uprising (intifddah), as the organizational expression of Muslim Brotherhood participation in the anti-Israeli resistance after two decades of Islamic political quietism. Its armed wing is called `Izz al-Din al-Qassam Forces, a reference to the shaykh killed by the British at the beginning of the great Palestinian revolt in 1936.

Until the intifdah, Islam rarely constituted the primary justification for the liberation struggle of the Palestinians; rather, this was maintained in the name of Arab or Palestinian nationalism. “Official” Islam, an integral part of Jordanian authority in the West Bank or an autonomous force in Gaza, was content to preside solely in religious matters. At the end of the 1970s, however, a new type of Islamic activism appeared. Claiming the authority of the Muslim Brotherhood and linked with its Egyptian and Jordanian branches, this movement had as its primary preoccupation the reislamization of society. This quest was characterized by vigorous preaching in the mosques and also by attacks on unveiled women and the destruction of bars and cinemas. Some of these new Islamists had a strongly anti-Israeli discourse-Israel is believed to constitute the spearhead of Western aggression against Islam, so the liberation of Palestine is fundamentally a religious question; their practice, however, was politically restrained. The Muslim Brothers refrained from confronting the occupying power and confined their political activities to the struggle against the Palestinian Communist Party. At this time Fatah, the main wing of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), and Jordan were happy to encourage the Islamist attacks on the left, and Israel had an interest in encouraging any division among the Palestinians. Although this political behavior cost the Muslim Brothers political legitimacy in the view of many Palestinians, they managed to establish a large social welfare network in the Gaza Strip under the charismatic coordination of Shaykh Ahmad Yasin, a handicapped schoolmaster. They also infiltrated the majority of mosques in Gaza and came to control the Islamic University. In the West Bank, however, the Muslim Brothers failed to establish a network or to find a charismatic leader; their only strongholds were in the universities.

With the appearance at the beginning of the 1980s of Islamic Jihad cells-rivaling the Muslim Brotherhood in Islamic activism but fundamentally different in political behavior-Islam became truly integral to the politics of the occupied territories. Under the leadership of Shaykh `Abd al-`Aziz `Awdah, a lecturer at the Islamic University in Gaza, and Dr. Fathi Shiqaqi, a physician from Rafiah on the Egyptian border, various small groups made jihad against Israel in all its forms, including armed struggle, the central religious duty. In doing so, they claimed the authority of Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leader executed in 1966, of some Egyptian Islamic Jihad members, and of intellectuals of the Islamic revolution in Iran. Their activists came either from the ranks of the Muslim Brothers, whose political conduct they criticized, or from the religious wing of Fatah. In 1986-1987 they engaged in a series of antiIsraeli guerrilla operations; although maintaining a very small membership, they thus played an important role in inciting the intifddah. In the process, Islam regained political legitimacy among the Palestinians for the first time since the 1930s.

Almost spontaneous at the beginning, the uprising very quickly became organized through local and regional committees. Within this mobilization of the entire Palestinian society, Hamas was created in Gaza at the initiative of Dr. `Abd al-`Aziz al-Rantisi, a physician working at the Islamic University, and of Shaykh Yasin. This new organization initially attracted Muslim Brothers only on an individual basis; in February 1988, however, the brotherhood formally adopted Hamas as its “strong arm.” In its covenant (mithdq) published in August 1988, Hamas explains its anti-Israeli engagement in terms of jihad, now an individual religious duty, and claims continuity with the jihad of the Muslim Brothers since the 1930s. Israel, the state of the Jews who want the destruction of Islam, cannot legitimately exist, and the military option as embodied in holy jihad is the only one available for the liberation of Palestine. Hamas presents its relationship with the PLO as that of a relative: “Can a Muslim abandon his relatives and friends? Our homeland is one, our disaster is one, our fate is one.” In spite of this, the seeds of tension with the nationalists remain: for Hamas, “Palestine is on Islamic waqf (pious endowment) until the end of time. Neither it nor any part of it may be given up.” Furthermore, “the Islamicity of Palestine is a part of our religion and whoever gives up on his religion is lost.” In the name of religion, therefore, Hamas rejects the political program adopted by the PLO when creating the Palestinian state in November 1988; the PLO had recognized the legitimacy of the Israeli state’s existence and demanded the holding of an international conference under United Nations auspices for the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

In 1993, more than five years after its foundation, Hamas could boast an important following, estimated at 30 to 4o percent of the population. This was due in part to growing frustration and despair and to the political legitimacy it had gained by its anti-Israeli commitment, but also to its capacity to mobilize at the same time the most traditional sectors of the society. In spite of sporadic tensions, general violent confrontation between Hamas and Fatah was avoided. Hamas has denounced the 13 September 1993 breakthrough in which the Israelis and the PLO agreed to limited Palestinian autonomy in Jericho and the Gaza Strip, and it has continued to target both Israelis and Palestinian “collaborators.” The movement is banned by Israel, and its founder Shaykh Yasin and hundreds of its followers are in jail.

[See also Arab-Israeli Conflict; Muslim Brotherhood, overview article; Organization of the Islamic Jihad; Palestine Liberation Organization; and West Bank and Gaza.]


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Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/hamas/

  • writerPosted On: June 10, 2013
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