The origins of Hamas can be traced back to the establishment of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Egypt in 1928. It established a branch in Gaza in 1946 and envisaged a society moulded by their interpretation of Islam. The leader of Arab nationalism, President Nasser, banned the MB in 1954 when Egypt ruled Gaza.
Its leadership was influenced by the writings of Sayyid Qutb, who favoured the reading of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. He blamed Jews for the ills of the world and was hanged in Cairo in 1966 by the Egyptians.
After the Six Day War, Ahmed Yassin, a Palestinian refugee from Al-Jura, established charities which funded a network of social institutions — to the extent that the Israelis saw the Islamists as a useful tool to use as informants against Arafat’s nationalists.
It was only in the 1980s that Yassin’s group began to accumulate weapons and to train young men. On the outbreak of the first Intifada, Yassin’s followers emerged as a movement in 1988, distinct from the MB and called itself Hamas — the Islamic Resistance Movement.
In early 1989, Hamas carried out its first operation when it kidnapped and killed two Israeli soldiers. Hamas was outlawed for ‘its jihad against the Zionist enemy everywhere’.
It subsequently developed suicide and car bombs in the 1990s through the expertise of Yahya Ayyash, ‘the Engineer’. In Gaza, its morality police attempted to enforce actions against prostitutes, drug dealers and women deemed not to be conforming to Islamist norms.
In April 1994, the first suicide bombing attack in Israel took place in Afula when eight people were killed. This was followed a few days later when a member of Hamas detonated himself on a bus in Hadera.
With links to the Ayatollahs in Teheran, Hamas proceeded to undermine the Oslo Accords between Rabin and Arafat with a series of suicide bombings. With each atrocity, Rabin’s poll ratings went down while Netanyahu’s went up. This combination of the bombings and Rabin’s murder by a member of far Right resulted in Netanyahu’s victory in the 1996 election and catalysed the demise of the Oslo peace process.
Hamas’s Charter in 1988 sought to establish ‘an Islamic state throughout Palestine’. In early tracts, Jews were discovered to be behind the French Revolution while Trotsky was transformed into the Zionist agent who had brought about the October Revolution in Tsarist Russia.
In the eyes of Hamas, the four horsemen of the apocalypse were defined as ‘Jews, crusaders, communists and secularists’. All this did not prevent the far Left in this country from aligning themselves with MB fronts in the early 2000s. It closed its eyes to the dictatorial, homophobic, occasionally antisemitic, often anti-Christian approach of the MB and looked the other way when Hamas was throwing its Fatah opponents off the rooftops of Gaza. Figures such as Jeremy Corbyn only spoke of ‘Palestinians’ and did not differentiate between nationalists and Islamists.
Arik Sharon finally defeated the suicide bombers and eliminated the leaders of Hamas by 2004, but the organisation instead developed its technological expertise in manufacturing bigger and better missiles that covered greater distances with help from Teheran and Damascus. It based its rockets on original designs from North Korea.
The disciples of Sayyid Qutb believe that the Jews today are no different from the Jews of the time of the Prophet in the seventh century. The Jews of that epoch rejected Islam as they had done Christianity previously. The defeat of the Jewish Qurayza tribe who fought the army of Islam in 627 and the mass beheadings of its men was interpreted by the Islamists of Hamas as the rationale for the butchery of Jews in recent times and certainly for the murder of hundreds of Israeli civilians a few days ago.
Unlike Palestinian nationalists who were willing to negotiate with Israelis and partition the Land, Palestinian Islamists are entrapped by an interpretation of religion which allowed them to follow the path of the Cossacks in going from house to house to murder Jews. Many of the inhabitants of the Gaza settlements were kibbutzniks who opposed Netanyahu and were aghast at the rampages of the West Bank settlers.
Last Shabbat, the daughter and son-in-law of Ben-Gurion University Professor Ilan Troen, my friend and colleague and an international pioneer of Israel Studies, were murdered at Kibbutz Holit on the border with Gaza. They had sent their children to a Jewish-Arab school in Beer-Sheva where lessons were taught in both Hebrew and Arabic — ‘in the knowledge that it would lead to understanding, accommodation and peace’.
Their last act was to shield their son who miraculously survived.
In its brutal medieval approach to human life, Hamas does not differentiate between Left and Right, between old and young, between Zionist and Jew. In the transient euphoria of empowerment, they gloried in their killing of civilians last week.
- Colin Shindler is a Professor of Israel Studies
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