Hamas: Between Militarism and Governance

BY IBRAHIM NATIL** | 07.09.2011

  • The Birth of Hamas

By the beginning of the 1980s, the senior leadership of the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood (Brotherhood) in the Gaza Strip was facing significant pressure from a group of young leaders who had graduated from Egyptian universities.

hamas_logoSeveral of this younger generation, led by Sheikh Fathi Shqaki, challenged the approach of the older generation of the Brotherhood in the Gaza Strip, who believed their principal task was to effect change through tarbyiah (education) and dawa (outreach) with individuals, particularly the younger generation, and across the wider community in Palestine. The older generation believed that the task of rescuing Palestine lay with an external power. However, Shqaki believed that the Brotherhood should focus not only on social and grass-roots activities; it should use military resistance against the Israeli occupation forces and against Israeli settlers.

Inspired by Iranian Islamic Revolution ideology, Shqaki and his close friend Abed Aziz Owda, who had been expelled from the Brotherhood, began mobilising others to join their new group, Islamic Jihad in 1979. The ranks of young cadres of the Brotherhood were attracted to the military activities and ideology of the Islamic Jihad and demanded that the senior leadership of the Brotherhood in the Gaza Strip should prepare for military action. To sustain the unity of their movement, the Brotherhood had to find an answer that would appease these young leaders.

At a conference in Jordan in 1983, the Muslim Brotherhood Society endorsed the Palestinian delegation’s proposal to establish a ‘special committee’ for Palestine as a section within the Jordanian office. The task of this committee was to provide money and logistic support to train fighters from the Gaza Strip in Jordan. Shortly after the meeting, Israeli military forces found weapons at the home in Gaza city of the local leader of the Brotherhood there, Sheikh Ahmed Yasin – an indication that the special committee had moved quickly. Israel arrested Sheikh Yasin, accusing him of storing weapons to use against their forces and against Israeli settlers. However, Sheikh Yasin was soon freed in a prisoner exchange between Israel and the Popular Front for Palestine Liberation’s General Command in 1985. He continued conducting his activities in secret as a member of the Brotherhood until the outbreak of the First Intifada in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) on 8 December 1987. Along with six colleagues from the Brotherhood in Gaza, Sheikh Yasin established Hamas (an Islamic resistance movement) to play a part in the uprising and to resist Israeli occupation (Tamimi 2007).

  • Hamas During the First Intifada (1987—1993)

Hamas organised a number of events and strikes to demonstrate its strength as a resistance movement against Israeli occupation. In its charter published on 18 August 1988, Hamas confirmed its link to the Brotherhood, describing itself as the Palestinian ‘wing’ and calling for a synthesis of nationalism and Islamism in Palestine. Hamas’ charter envisioned the Palestinian state would be run according to Sharia law. It stated that Palestinians should not cede one inch of land to Israel, and that jihad, or ‘resistance’ for the liberation of Palestine was a religious duty for all Muslims.

Hamas’ emergence as a resistance movement threatened the hegemony of the PLO, which saw itself as the sole representative of the Palestinian people. Serious political, religious, national and ideological rifts between Hamas and the PLO intensified during the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, which began in 1991 and was outlined in the Oslo agreement signed in Washington on 13 September 1993 (Rigby 2010). This agreement had established the PA in the Gaza Strip, dominated by the ruling Fatah party, and served to escalate further the tension between Hamas and the PLO. Hamas considered the Oslo agreement a strategic threat to the movement’s socio-political existence and to its influence in Palestinian society; Hamas stated explicitly that it would launch a series of attacks against Israeli targets in an attempt to halt the peace process.

  • Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (1994—2000)

In 1994, as a result of the Oslo agreement, most of the PLO’s security apparatus and political structure moved from exile in Tunisia and Algeria to the Gaza Strip, to lay the foundations of the PA. This new political structure which arrived on the scene, populated by PLO forces and the PA, threatened both the ideology of Hamas and its expansion. For its part, Hamas used the Oslo agreement to form an alliance with other Islamist, secular and nationalist groups based in Damascus that also opposed the establishment of the PA. This alliance declared that the Intifada would continue against Israeli Occupation until the liberation of Palestine. As Mousa Abu Marzouk, the chairman of Hamas’ political office stated, ‘Military activity is permanent’ (Tamimi 2007).


*Published in Journal of Conflict Transformation & Security (JCTS) Vol. 1 | No. 2

** Ibrahim Natil is completing his PhD in Political Science at the University of Coventry and has an MA in Diplomatic Studies from the University of Westminster, London. Ibrahim has fifteen years experience in community development, human rights and peacebuilding in Palestine and is the founder and Director General of the Society Voice Foundation in Palestine. Ibrahim served as a consultant for a number of international and Palestinian organisations in the fields of public relations, media, programme development and capacity building. He was an editor of a weekly radio programme on community development, and directed and supervised a number of field studies in women’s empowerment and good governance in Palestine. Ibrahim speaks English, Arabic, Hebrew and some French.

© Copyright 2011 by CESRAN

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