Excerpt from the forthcoming book, Islamic Resistance to Imperialism by Eric Walberg.
Wednesday August 27, 2014, 21:03 DST
US democracy promotion in the Middle East took a remarkable turn when Israel dismantled its settlements and withdrew from Gaza (1.8 million, 99.8% Sunni, 0.2% Christian) in 2005, and genuine elections were held in 2006, which the Islamic movement, Hamas won. This was yet another affirmation that honest elections in the Arab world, whether in Egypt in 1952, Algeria in 1991 or as later happened in Tunisia and Egypt in 2012, would result in Islamic governments. The US-Israeli reaction was horror, and every obstacle was put in the way of the Hamas administration, led by Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, including the total blockade of the 1.8 million Gazans (still in place at this writing), unremitting bombing and two full-scale invasions.
As has been the case with Iran and Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal, Israel and the West have worked to undermine Islamic movements by intensive external subversion. The Palestinian Authority (PA) under President Mahmoud Abbas and his Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was recognized by the West as the sole Palestinian government, and continued to work with Israel, now in league with it against Hamas and the people of Gaza, further discrediting the PA as a corrupt, ineffectual puppet administration.
Following the Arab Spring in 2011 and the rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the situation in Gaza eased somewhat, a situation that ended with the coup in Egypt in July 2013.
In addition to external subversion, Hamas was plagued by internal al-Qaeda-affiliated groups such as Jund Ansar Allah (Army of Supporters of Allah), which carried out their own operations (rockets, mortars, abductions), forcing Hamas to crack down on them. In June 2013, Hamas deployed a 600-strong force to prevent rocket fire into Israel from Gaza; however, as happened in Egypt following the 2013 coup, militant groups have continued to carry out their acts of resistance despite the Muslim Brotherhood’s commitment to nonviolent protest (confirming the new logic for the West: that a genuine Islamic government is the best guarantee against al-Qaeda-type terrorism).
Israel has worked to undermine Hamas by
Despite a decline in GNP under Hamas, in 2012, Gazan official Mahmoud Zahar said that Gaza’s economic conditions are better than those in the West Bank. In 2011, Hamas began buying cheaper fuel from Egypt (rather than from Israel), bringing it via a network of underground tunnels. This ended with Egypt’s coup. Now Israel and the post-coup Egyptian government are working together to destroy the tunnels, precipitating a fuel crisis.
Most of the Gaza Strip administration funding comes as aid, delivered by UN organizations directly to provide education and food. Most of Gaza’s GDP of $700 million comes as foreign humanitarian and direct economic support, including from the Arab League, the US, Europe, Turkey and Iran, though the civil war in Syria has disrupted the latter’s aid. All aid from the West is funneled through the UN, as they consider Hamas a terrorist organization (though western governments and Israel have been negotiating with Hamas officials all along).
Hamas has three wings: the social welfare and political wings, which are responsible for social, administrative, political, and propaganda activities, and the military wing, which is engaged in covert activities, such as acting against suspected collaborators, gathering intelligence on potential targets, procuring weapons, and carrying out military attacks. The Majlis al-Shura (consultative council), the top political and decision making body, includes representatives from Gaza, the West Bank, Israeli prisons, and the exiled external leadership, the Political Bureau, elected by regional councils. Before the beginning of the war on Syria, it operated in exile in Damascus, Syria (now in Qatar).
In the tradition of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hizbullah, 90% of Hamas activities revolve around social, welfare, cultural, and educational activities—services not provided by the PA despite its collection of Palestinian tax revenues—including running relief programs and funding schools, orphanages, mosques, healthcare clinics, soup kitchens, and sports leagues. It supports families of those who have been killed or imprisoned while carrying out militant actions or supporting such actions.
Hamas is well regarded by Palestinians for these services, as well as its efficiency and perceived lack of corruption compared to the PLO. Despite the blockade and the 2008-2009 Israeli invasion of Gaza intended to cow Palestinians into submission, Palestinian public opinion polls have consistently shown Hamas steadily increasing in popularity with 52% support compared to 13% for Fatah. The PA, fearing its complete discrediting, has prevented any further ‘national’ elections since 2006.
Since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, some of its members have attempted to impose the hijab head covering on women, though it has passed no laws regarding dress and moral standards. The government’s Islamic Endowment Ministry has deployed Virtue Committee members to warn citizens of the dangers of immodest dress, card playing, and dating. Hamas officials argue that Islamic law is the desired standard but that they would rely on persuasion. Ahmad Yousef and Ghazi Hamad, advisers to Prime Minister Haniyeh, have stated that their role model for Islamic government is Turkey’s AKP rather than the Taliban.
Fearing Hamas’ example as an honest no-nonsense government, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan have openly sided with Israel against Hamas. Egypt and Saudi Arabia’s fight against political Islam mirrors that of Israel. Diatribes against Hamas on Egyptian TV are even broadcast by Israel into Gaza.
The Arab states’ loathing and fear of political Islam is so strong that it outweighs their allergy to [Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu. I have never seen a situation like it, where you have so many Arab states acquiescing in the death and destruction in Gaza.
Hamas faces equally strong opposition from the other extreme. Prime Minister Haniyeh condemned the killing of Osama bin Laden by the US, calling him a “martyr” and an “Arab holy warrior”. (The US government condemned his remarks as “outrageous”.) However, Hamas’s respect for their Islamic nemesis is not reciprocated by Salafis and al-Qaeda types. In fact, most of today’s jihadist movements have no interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for the time being regarding it as irrelevant in the context of the struggle to achieve an overall change in the region leading to the return of the Caliphate. Instead, their call is to attack Muslim governments. One tweet stated, “The Hamas government is apostate, and what it is doing does not constitute jihad, but rather a defense of democracy [which Salafists oppose].” Another tweet said, “Khaled Meshaal [head of Hamas political bureau]: Hamas fights for the sake of freedom and independence. The Islamic State: it fights so that all religion can be for God.”
Despite the fact that it will undermine the potential for greater Islamic empowerment through the overcoming of sectarian differences, Egyptian Salafist sheikh Talaat Zahran condemns Hamas as equivalent to Shia, since they receive funding, arms and training from Iran and Hizbullah.
In their ultra-purist world (reminiscent of what on the secular front Lenin once called ultra-leftism—“an infantile disease”), Salafis see conflict with an allegedly illegitimate Hamas government as a first step toward confrontation with Israel. They would fight Hamas and other factions and engage Israel afterward, justifying this by appealing to the struggle against apostasy under the first caliph Abu Bakr, and Salah al-Din’s assertion of Sunni Islam over the Shia Fatimids prior to evicting the Crusaders in the twelfth century. Some ISIS fighters even burned the Palestinian flag during the Israeli invasion of Gaza in July 2014 because they consider it a symbol of the decline of the Islamic world, which succumbed to national divisions through the creation of independent political states. While some commentators take this attack on Palestinian nationalism as ISIS’s manifestation of a covert Western agenda, it is in actuality consistent with its own Islamic worldview of what is needed for an authentic Islamic presence to re-emerge.