A Layman's Guide To WWIII:
Who's Who in Palestinian Politics
By Kevin Filan
The Ba'ath Party |
The Grey Wolves
In 1940 a young Egyptian Army officer named Anwar Sadat attended several seminars by the Muslim Brotherhood, a popular Egyptian organization dedicated to Islamic fundamentalism and the resurrection of the great Islamic empires. In 1981 members of the Muslim Brotherhood assassinated Anwar Sadat as retaliation for his peace treaty with Israel. Considered by many to be a "state within a state" in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood has established over seventy branches around the world, with a complex financial support network and a dream of establishing a worldwide Islamic state. Some of its branches are religious, while others are political and still others militant. Among the latter is its Palestinian branch, better known as Hamas.
Hamas is the Arabic acronym for Harakat Al-Muqawama Al- Islamiya fi Filistin, or the Islamic Resistance Movement in Palestine: it is also an Arabic word meaning "Bravery" or "Zeal." Founded in 1988 by Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, it was formed as the "military wing" of the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood. In its charter, it specifically rejects any "peace accords," stating:
[T]he international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement. For renouncing any part of Palestine means renouncing part of the religion; the nationalism of the Islamic Resistance Movement is part of its faith, the movement educates its members to adhere to its principles and to raise the banner of Allah over their homeland as they fight their Jihad
The Hamas Charter also includes a good deal of virulently anti-Semitic rhetoric; it blames the "Zionist conspiracy" for (among other things) the Freemasons, the Rotary Club, the French Revolution, the first and second World Wars, capitalism and communism, the corruption of women, and the infiltration of world banks and the media. It states that Palestine was entrusted to Muslims by Allah himself, and that it must be controlled by Muslims from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean Sea.
By 1991, the Israelis had arrested many key Hamas operatives, including Sheik Yassin. This did not stop Hamas, but rather radicalized them. Hamas members began attacking Israeli targets via suicide bombings, a technique which would later become a staple of the Palestinian arsenal. A rash of suicide bombings in 1996 led to the election of hard-liner Benjamin Netanyahu as Israeli Prime Minister. Unfortunately, Hamas received a lucky break in September of 1997, when two Mossad agents bungled an assassination attempt against Khaled Meshal, a Hamas leader residing in Jordan. A furious King Hussein declared that if Yassin and other Hamas members were not released from Israeli prisons, he would try the Israeli agents and hang them in public. His hand thus forced, Netanyahu released Yassin to Jordanian custody: within a week, a Jordanian helicopter had returned Yassin to Gaza and to a hero's welcome. Later, Yassin would tour several Arab countries, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, winning widespread praise and millions of dollars in donations. His growing popularity led to his house arrest by Arafat's forces; while Hamas officially calls the PLO its "Brothers in liberation," in actuality there is considerable tension between the secularist PLO and the devoutly religious members of Hamas.
After the Oslo Accords, Hamas appeared to be waning in strength… but as the fighting has continued, it has grown increasingly more popular in the West Bank and Gaza. Its ties to the Moslem Brotherhood and to other Arab organizations have provided it with ready access to funding. These funds have gone not only toward bombs and war materiel, but also toward the building of schools, hospitals and charities. As conditions have worsened among the Palestinian population, and as Arafat's administrative shortcomings have become glaringly obvious, Hamas has become an increasingly popular alternative. The United States and Israel may see Hamas as dangerous terrorists; among many Palestinians and Arabs, they are seen as noble freedom fighters, striving to uphold Islamic ideals in the face of secular and Zionist oppressors. Continuing operations against them (including recent Israeli attacks against Hamas leaders in Gaza and the West Bank) have only served to increase this support.
Since 1995, the U.S. government has declared Hamas a "terrorist organization." After September 11, the Bush administration began freezing assets of organizations linked to Hamas or which were allegedly providing aid to Hamas. This may have choked off some funding, but has also resulted in a backlash of support to these organizations. Cries of "anti-Moslem bigotry" have resulted in growing sympathy from America's left wing. Ironically, an organization dedicated to Islamic fundamentalism is growing increasingly popular among secular humanists .