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Sunday, January 25, 2009

How Israel helped spawn Hamas

Some of you may not even realize this, but it was none other than the State of Israel that nurtured Hamas through its early days. Much as the US tried using Islamists as allies in Afghanistan in the late '70's - to its eternal regret - Israel tried to develop Hamas as a rival to the secular Fatah terrorists of Yasser Arafat, who were far more 'successful' at murdering Jews back then.

There's a good summary of the sorry history in this article in the weekend Wall Street Journal (Hat Tip: Memeorandum). Here's a teaser and then you should read the whole thing.
When Israel first encountered Islamists in Gaza in the 1970s and '80s, they seemed focused on studying the Quran, not on confrontation with Israel. The Israeli government officially recognized a precursor to Hamas called Mujama Al-Islamiya, registering the group as a charity. It allowed Mujama members to set up an Islamic university and build mosques, clubs and schools. Crucially, Israel often stood aside when the Islamists and their secular left-wing Palestinian rivals battled, sometimes violently, for influence in both Gaza and the West Bank.

"When I look back at the chain of events I think we made a mistake," says David Hacham, who worked in Gaza in the late 1980s and early '90s as an Arab-affairs expert in the Israeli military. "But at the time nobody thought about the possible results."

Israeli officials who served in Gaza disagree on how much their own actions may have contributed to the rise of Hamas. They blame the group's recent ascent on outsiders, primarily Iran. This view is shared by the Israeli government. "Hamas in Gaza was built by Iran as a foundation for power, and is backed through funding, through training and through the provision of advanced weapons," Mr. Olmert said last Saturday. Hamas has denied receiving military assistance from Iran.

Arieh Spitzen, the former head of the Israeli military's Department of Palestinian Affairs, says that even if Israel had tried to stop the Islamists sooner, he doubts it could have done much to curb political Islam, a movement that was spreading across the Muslim world. He says attempts to stop it are akin to trying to change the internal rhythms of nature: "It is like saying: 'I will kill all the mosquitoes.' But then you get even worse insects that will kill you...You break the balance. You kill Hamas you might get al Qaeda."

When it became clear in the early 1990s that Gaza's Islamists had mutated from a religious group into a fighting force aimed at Israel -- particularly after they turned to suicide bombings in 1994 -- Israel cracked down with ferocious force. But each military assault only increased Hamas's appeal to ordinary Palestinians. The group ultimately trounced secular rivals, notably Fatah, in a 2006 election supported by Israel's main ally, the U.S.

Now, one big fear in Israel and elsewhere is that while Hamas has been hammered hard, the war might have boosted the group's popular appeal. Ismail Haniyeh, head of the Hamas administration in Gaza, came out of hiding last Sunday to declare that "God has granted us a great victory."

Most damaged from the war, say many Palestinians, is Fatah, now Israel's principal negotiating partner. "Everyone is praising the resistance and thinks that Fatah is not part of it," says Baker Abu-Baker, a longtime Fatah supporter and author of a book on Hamas.
Read the whole thing.

The only inaccuracy I found in it was its definition of the British Mandate as comprising "the biblical lands now comprising Israel and the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza." The article then goes on to claim that "Since 1948, when the state of Israel was established, Israelis and Palestinians have each asserted claims over the same territory." The British Mandate also included what is today known as Jordan - which comprised 78% of the Mandate. And Israelis and Arabs (there was no such thing as a distinct group called 'Palestinians' until the PLO was founded in 1964) have been asserting claims over the same territory since the Mandate was established, although the Jewish claim goes back much longer than the Arab one.


At 10:27 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Carl - at that time Israeli governments wanted to weaken the PLO. They certainly were far more successful than they realized. What they didn't grasp is that once Hamas took care of the PLO, it would turn its sights on Israel. Which is what has happened.

At 12:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, and before the fostered Hamas, they nurtured Arafat, and before that they were looking for someone to surrender everything that reminded them of Torah and Mitzvot to. Yet, despite failure after failure they persist in looking for a way to throw off our connection with G-d, just like our Prophets fortold over 2,000 years ago. And just like this bad stuff is happening, so will the good stuff that comes after it, may it be soon.

At 8:19 AM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...


Don't know how long you have been reading but search Schueftan (or Shueftan - I'm not sure of the spelling). He's the moron who explained the 'rationale' behind unilateral withdrawals. Makes just about everything else I've ever posted look like a walk in the park.


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