2020-02-12

Understanding Why Hamas Refuses to Recognize Israel

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by Neil Godfrey

As a follow on from the previous post it seems appropriate to post one more piece from Alastair Crooke. As a diplomat Crooke had direct meetings with Hamas leaders so what he writes should have some credibility. The following is from his 2009 book Resistance: The Essence of the Islamist Revolution. I hope some readers find this discussion informative. All bolded highlighting is my own.

Refusing Recognition

The refusal to recognise and to acknowledge special rights or a hierarchy of identity is filtered through the prism of Euro-centrism when westerners contemplate a movement such as Hamas: refusal to recognise Israel is perceived not as an act of resistance but the obduracy of fundamentalism. It is a further signal of being held fast by religious or cultural instincts – it demonstrates the inability to embrace change.

‘Plainly Israel “exists”, and to deny it, is obdurate perversity … All they have to do is say those three words: We recognise Israel’, an editorial board meeting at Ha’aretz, the Israeli daily newspaper repeatedly and wearily emphasised in a discussion with the author – with heads shaking in disbelief at Hamas’ inexplicable refusal to say the three words.

That is surely the widespread assumption among most Westerners today. So what is Hamas’s explanation? What is the point of resistance against such overwhelming power?

Hamas is not only refusing to ‘say the three words’. It refutes a Jewish-Israeli exclusionary identity, one that has never acknowledged Palestinian rights, and which has never accepted any parity of rights between the Jewish people and the Palestinian people.

Khaled Mesha’al, the political leader of Hamas, speaks of resistance as an attempt to bring about a ‘balance’. He was clear that the aim of this was to effect a psychological change on the part of the occupier – rather than to inflict a military defeat in terms of conventional military tactics:

Khaled Mesha’al

The problem is that they believe that they can dictate to the weaker party. This is not an approach that will lead to peace. A few years ago in 2003 we were ready to be flexible. We offered a new initiative – the truce, or hudna, of 2003 – but Israel did not respond positively. It did not result well.

Israel still, at this time, plainly does not feel the need to pay any price … It wants to impose its pre-conditions of required Palestinian ‘good behaviour’; it then demands the right to evaluate for itself that ‘good behaviour’, and thinks that is enough. It is never willing to offer gestures on its own initiative. This unbalanced approach will fail: it needs to understand that in Hamas there is a tough negotiator; but one, that, unlike others, stands by its commitments when given.23

23. Khaled Mesha’al in an interview with the author, 2007.

Justice? Compromise? But without respect for the rights of the other?

And in a later interview:

They want neither a peace based on justice nor a peace based on compromise. They want to keep the land, they want security for themselves and they want to be the masters of the whole region, without recognising the rights of Palestinians. Yasir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas tried to pursue a compromise. Did they achieve peace with the Israelis? So, the obstacle to peace in the region is Israel – and American bias.24

24. Interview with Hugh Spanner in Damascus, May 2008.

What Hamas is doing – in dramatic fashion – is to put a finger on a key failure of the Israeli–Palestinian political process since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993 – which is the singular omission of any clear outline of Palestinian rights.

A people’s narrative is their identity. It is at the heart of their self-respect, dignity. It is true of large groups as well as of individuals.

What the Hamas leaders are stating is that while the West repeatedly honours the Jewish narrative of injustice, it feels no parallel need to recognise or acknowledge the Palestinian narrative of injustice that Palestinians feel in respect to the events of 1948, when villages and houses were destroyed, many were killed and thousands fled to refugee camps beyond Palestine’s borders. Continue reading “Understanding Why Hamas Refuses to Recognize Israel”


2018-08-04

The Hamas Charter: Context and Significance

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by Neil Godfrey

“Despite its militant extremism, the Islamist movement has shown that it can be pragmatic.” — Roy, “Hamas and the Transformation(s) of Political Islam in Palestine,” 13

Let’s address head-on the Hamas Charter that denies Israel’s right to exist. (We will leave aside in this post Israel’s Likud Party platform that denies the right for a Palestinian state to ever exist.) I have tried to keep abreast of the makeup and intentions of Hamas for some years but confine myself in this post (or series of posts) on two relatively recent studies:

The prevailing inability or unwillingness to talk about Hamas in a nuanced manner is deeply familiar. During the summer of 2014, when global news rooms were covering Israel’s military operation in the Gaza Strip, I watched Palestinian analysts being rudely silenced on the air for failing to condemn Hamas as a terrorist organization outright. This condemnation was demanded as a prerequisite for the right of these analysts to engage in any debate about the events on the ground. There was no other explanation, it seemed, for the loss of life in Gaza and Israel other than pure-and-simple Palestinian hatred and bloodlust, embodied by Hamas. I wondered how many lives, both Palestinian and Israeli, have been lost or marred by this refusal to engage with the drivers of Palestinian resistance, of which Hamas is only one facet. I considered the elision of the broader historical and political context of the Palestinian struggle in most conversations regarding Hamas. Whether condemnation or support, it felt to me, many of the views I faced on Palestinian armed resistance were unburdened by moral angst or ambiguity. There was often a certainty or a conviction about resistance that was too easily forthcoming.

I have struggled to find such certainty in my own study of Hamas, even as I remain unwavering in my condemnation of targeting civilians, on either side.

(Baconi, p. xi)

  • Baconi, Tareq. 2018. Hamas Contained: The Rise and Pacification of Palestinian Resistance. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.
  • Caridi, Paola. 2012. Hamas: From Resistance to Government. New York: Seven Stories Press.

The Beginning

The Hamas charter, adopted in August 1988, made clear the Islamist values of Hamas, declaring that the Quran was its constitution and the land of Palestine part of Islam’s sacred territory that could never be surrendered to non-Muslims.

A few months after its creation, in August 1988, Hamas issued its charter, “The Charter of Allah: The Platform of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas).” This document introduced the movement and outlined its mission, values, and goals. It defined Hamas’s motto as “God is its goal; The messenger [the Prophet Mohammed] is its Leader; The Quran is its Constitution; Jihad is its methodology ; and Death for the Sake of God is its most coveted desire.”

(Baconi, p. 21)

On August 18, 1988, Hamas published its charter, the Mithaq, its most debated, cited, and condemned document and one that was often used as a political bargaining tool. Article 13 expressly states that “the initiatives, what is called a ‘peaceful solution’ and ‘interna­tional conferences’ to resolve the Palestinian problem, are contrary to the ideology of the Islamic Resistance Movement, because giving up any part of Palestine is like giving up part of religion. The national­ism of the Islamic Resistance Movement is part of its religion; it edu­cates its members on this, and they perform jihad to raise the banner of God over their nation.”

(Caridi, p. 101)

Who wrote the Charter?

The charter was a rambling work of religious and antisemitic slogans put together by an aged cleric a generation removed from the contemporary leadership of Hamas. The charter was never debated.

According to the most credible account, the text of Hamas’s Charter was penned by Abdel Fattah al-Dukhan, one of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood’s older generation in Gaza, who was among those present at the December 9, 1987, meeting at Sheikh Ahmed Yassin’s house. Nearly the same age as Yassin and a refugee from the Ashkelon area . . . . It was therefore neither one of the new leadership’s ideologues nor one of the future leaders of the Diaspora who wrote the Mithaq. The hand that wrote the foundational Charter, the militant text that over the years became a political manifesto that Hamas itself never debated, belonged to a teacher of fifty years, a preacher from one of Gaza’s refugee camps.

(Caridi, p. 101)

A nationalist-religious charter

According to the charter Palestine is a “waqf” or Islamic land until Judgment Day and that can never be surrendered to non-Muslims.

Through its charter, Hamas made clear its refusal to recognize the State of Israel. The document stressed the indivisibility of the land of “Historic Palestine,” referring to the land that constituted the British Mandate, located between the Eastern Mediterranean and the River Jordan, over which Israel was established. Hamas defined this territory as “an Islamic land entrusted to the Muslim generations until Judgement Day.”107

(Baconi, p. 23)

The Charter’s preamble speaks of the destruction of Israel, but through one of the three citations that appear at the beginning of the text rather than by means of a discussion. The citation is taken from Hassan al-Banna, who in 1948 said, “Israel will grow and will remain strong until Islam will eliminate it, just as it eliminated what came before it.”4 Paradoxically, however, it is not so much these words of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood that created a nearly insurmountable obstacle to changing the Mithaq, but Article 11, which defines Palestine as an Islamic waqf, and therefore a land that can not be subject to the disposal of men, but rather “an Islamic land entrusted to the Muslim generations until the Judgment Day.”’ Thus, adds the Charter’s author, “no one may renounce all, or even part of it.”6

(Caridi, p. 102)

Hamas leaders respond to calls to change its charter

Hamas’s secular rival, the PLO, had always bound itself to the Palestine National Congress’s charter that likewise declared its national duty to be “the liberation of Palestine” and “the elimination of Zionism in Palestine”. Since the PNA’s charter did not prevent Israel from negotiating with the PLO Hamas leadership have dismissed Israel’s objections to its charter as an excuse. They believe that Israel is most perturbed by Hamas success in popular elections in Gaza and that this is its real reason for refusing to negotiate.

Hamas leaders insist they want to avoid the mistake of the PLO who, they believe, gave in to Israel too cheaply.

According to sources inside Hamas, it was on this article that internal debate had in recent years focused in order to try to allow what is, after all, a pragmatic organization to move beyond the formal impasse that had bogged it down. Hamas’s Mithaq, after all, simply echoed what had already been said in a nationalist vein in the Palestinian National Charter, approved by the Palestinian National Congress on July 11, 1968, according to which “the liberation of Palestine, from an Arab viewpoint, is a national duty . . . and aims at the elimination of Zionism in Palestine.”Eliminating that phrase, just like the other anti-Zionist elements in the Palestinian National Charter, was not the sine qua non condition for the negotiations between the PLO and Israel that led to the Oslo Accords. In practice, the question of its elimination was tackled only in 1996, after the PNA had already been established, and even then it was left formally unresolved.

The history of the Palestinian National Charter has been taken as an example by many Hamas leaders to argue that their Mithaq has been used by Western governments as an alibi and by Israel to avoid contact with the Islamist Movement, especially after its decision to take part in electoral politics in 2005.

. . . . For the Islamist leadership, however, recanting even parts of the Mithaq meant recognizing Israel without having obtained a reciprocal legitimization and, according to many among that same leadership, without having obtained an equally formal recognition not only of the Palestinian people, but of Palestinians as a nation. From a strictly political point of view, Hamas has always feared repeating the mistakes made by Fatah and the PLO, who gave away too much to Israel without receiving anything in exchange. On the contrary, during the life of the PNA and during the negotiations between the 1991 Madrid Conference and the 2000 talks at Camp David, Hamas had always opposed the stances of the PLO and of the PNA, which it considered lax. According to Islamist leaders, if they had a similarly flexible negotiating stance, it would lead to making significant concessions without substantial and tangible results in return.

(Caridi, pp. 102f)

In late 1988, a few months after Hamas issued its charter, Yasser Arafat convened the exiled Palestinian leadership in Algiers. . . . [Arafat] declared the independence of the State of Palestine and invoked international resolutions that demonstrated the PLO’s willingness to accept a state on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as the capital. Arafat’s declaration signaled the PLO’s readiness to concede the 78 percent of Palestinian land that had been lost in 1948 and willingness to fulfill the American demand of renouncing terrorism. This signaled to the United States that the PLO was ready to enter into a negotiated settlement with Israel, prompting the administration of President Ronald Reagan to open a dialogue with the PLO in late 1988.

. . . . The PLO’s concessions were anathema for Hamas, whose charter proclaimed that “jihad for the liberation of Palestine is obligatory.” No other path for liberation was viable. The movement dismissed diplomatic efforts as contrary to its ideology, primarily because they were premised on the condition of conceding parts of Palestine, but also because Hamas believed they were unlikely to serve Palestinian interests.

(Baconi, p. 23)

Hamas evolves, reflects on its “worst enemy”

“three people sat around a table and wrote it” . . .  “Palestine cannot be considered a waqf
Continue reading “The Hamas Charter: Context and Significance”


2018-06-27

Understanding Hamas in Gaza

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by Neil Godfrey

Tareq Baconi and cover of his newly published book

I have read four studies of Hamas and have this evening begun to update my information by beginning my fifth, Hamas Contained : The Rise and Pacification of Palestinian Resistance by Tareq Baconi. So far I have only read the Preface and already I wish everyone could read it and follow up by speaking out and doing their little bits to spread light on a world that is too often lost behind distortions of reality.

Sections of the Preface that hit home with me:

The simplistic binaries that frame conversations of Palestinian armed struggle evoke the condescension expressed by colonial overlords toward the resistance of indigenous peoples. “Palestinians have a culture of hate,” commentators blast on American TV screens. “They are a people who celebrate death.” These familiar accusations, quick to roll off tongues, are both highly effective at framing public discourse and insulting as racist epithets.

Bolded emphasis in all quotations is my own.

I have often found discussions about Hamas very difficult so when I read the following I recognized something immediately:

The prevailing inability or unwillingness to talk about Hamas in a nuanced manner is deeply familiar. During the summer of 2014, when global news rooms were covering Israel’s military operation in the Gaza Strip, I watched Palestinian analysts being rudely silenced on the air for failing to condemn Hamas as a terrorist organization outright. This condemnation was demanded as a prerequisite for the right of these analysts to engage in any debate about the events on the ground. There was no other explanation, it seemed, for the loss of life in Gaza and Israel other than pure-and-simple Palestinian hatred and bloodlust, embodied by Hamas.

Totally absent from any discussion, it seems, is any serious consciousness of the “broader historical and political context of the Palestinian struggle”.

Whether condemnation or support, it felt to me, many of the views I faced on Palestinian armed resistance were unburdened by moral angst or ambiguity. There was often a certainty or a conviction about resistance that was too easily forthcoming.

Oh yes. Black and white. Right and wrong. Good and evil. The simplistic paradigms that have always guaranteed the perpetuation of ignorance and suffering.

Tareq Baconi explains that what he attempts to do in the book is to

peel back all the layers that have given rise to the present dynamic of vilifying and isolating Hamas, and with it, of making acceptable the demonization and suffering of millions of Palestinians within the Gaza Strip. . . . This book works to advance our knowledge of Hamas by elucidating the manner in which the movement evolved over the course of its three decades in existence, from 1987 onward. Understanding Hamas is key to ending the denial of Palestinians their rights after nearly a century of struggle for self-determination.

At the end of his Preface Baconi discusses the wide ranging archival and other sources he has used for this purpose.

Story 1

Personal anecdotes have the potential to encapsulate hundreds of words of analysis. One discussion was with a young boy that took place about a year after the 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza:

The conversation was during the Islamic month of Ramadan in 2015, and everyone was sluggish from the June heat. I asked him about the school year he had just finished and whether he was happy to be on holiday. He shrugged. “Sixth grade was fine,” he said, “a bit odd.” He was in Grade A and he used to look forward to playing football against Grade B. That past year, though, the school administration had merged several grades together. The classes were crowded and the football games less enjoyable. I wondered aloud to the boy why the school administration had done that. Annoyed that I was not engaging with the issue at hand, that of football politics, he answered in an exasperated tone. “Half of the Grade A kids had been martyred the summer before,” he snapped. The kids who had survived no longer filled an entire classroom.

Story 2

Another conversation with a Gazan boy (driving his taxi) who was about to graduate from his final school year:

I asked him what he wanted to do postgraduation — always a fraught topic in a place like Gaza. He said he “was thinking of joining the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades,” Hamas’s military wing. I had seen posters throughout the city and on mosque walls announcing that registration was open for their summer training camps. A few of his friends had apparently signed up. Why, I asked. He replied that he wanted to “fight the Jews.” He’d never seen one in real life, he added, but he had seen the F-16s dropping the bombs.

Almost a decade into the blockade of the Gaza Strip, which had begun in earnest in 2007, “Jew,” “Israeli,” and “F-16” had become synonymous. A few years prior, this boy’s father would have been able to travel into Israel, to work as a day laborer or in menial jobs. While it would have been structurally problematic, that man would have nonetheless interacted with Israeli Jews, even Palestinian citizens of Israel, in a nonmilitarized way. This is no longer the case. One could see in my driver how the foundation was laid for history to repeat itself. Resistance had become sacred, a way of living in which he could take a great deal of pride serving his nation.

Reality is complex

Here is why I wish many people would read this book: Continue reading “Understanding Hamas in Gaza”


2014-07-11

Two Sides Explain the Killing in the Gaza Strip

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by Neil Godfrey

Mark Regev
Mark Regev

Chief spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mark Regev, was interviewed on Radio National Thursday morning this week. You can hear the 8 minute interview here.

Here are the main points as I heard them:

Israel is currently preparing a ground invasion into Gaza.

The goal of the current Israeli air strikes (and of a ground invasion if that happens) is to free Israel from rockets from Gaza. It is a defensive goal.

In response to the claim that the threat of rockets was not ended the last time Israel invaded Gaza, Mark Regev said that in the real world we cannot expect perfect solutions but must look for the best possible solutions. After the last invasion (2008/09) Israel experienced a long period of quiet. Children for the first time knew a life free from fear of rockets.

Iranians have helped Hamas acquire the missiles.

In response to Hamas demands that Israel stop attacks on Gaza, opens the siege, stops operations in the West Bank, and releases the arrested Palestinians, Regev said if Hamas stops firing Israel will stop bombing Gaza. However, in the weeks leading up to this Israel warned them to stop firing rockets or suffer consequences.

Israel was taking every possible measure to prevent killing civilians. Not targeting people of Gaza. Israel did everything it could to avoid this fighting. Hamas has forced this war upon us all.

In response to interviewer’s question about most Palestinian casualties in the last ground invasion being civilians (using the B’Tselem figures), Regev said his figures were different and most casualties were combatants.

In response to Israel’s Deputy Chief of Staff’s declaration of the IDF doctrine that Israel targets its enemy’s civilian infrastructure as both a deterrent and to foment popular opposition to Israel’s enemies, Regev said Israel will be as surgical as possible.

Israel will try to target only terrorist infrastructure; if civilian infrastructure is used by the enemy it can be attacked.

Continue reading “Two Sides Explain the Killing in the Gaza Strip”