Reviewed in the New York Review of Books.
It’s particularly interesting to read about the struggle between the pragmatists who want what’s best for Gaza, and the ideologues who seek God’s Kingdom on earth.
“Cracks emerged when Hamas drifted from social activism and armed struggle into politics. After Hamas decided to contest the 2006 elections, one of its preachers in Rafah left the movement with scores of followers. God’s will above man’s, he said, and besides Hamas had no business participating in an authority established by agreement with Israel. During the contentious interregnum of national unity government before Hamas’s takeover of Gaza in June 2007, both Fatah and Hamas solicited Salafist support. Unruly clans seeking an Islamist cover to press their claims bolstered their ranks. Amid the chaos, the Salafists sought to enforce their authority by waging a nasty morality campaign against Internet cafés, hairdressers, the American school, and other such places of ill-repute.
Armed confrontation with the Salafists followed fast on the heels of Hamas’s takeover. In July 2007 the Qassam Brigades laid siege to the stronghold of one jihadist group, the Army of Islam, forcing the release of the BBC’s kidnapped correspondent Alan Johnston.”
Analysis of Israel’s role in Hamas’ fortunes comes towards the end:
“Indeed, Israel’s mishandling of Hamas began even before the group’s creation. The Israelis turned a blind eye to recruitment by the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1970s and 1980s, largely because they saw the Islamists as a foil to nationalist groups. Belatedly alerted to the arming of Hamas cells during the first intifada, Israel increased its appeal by televising the trial of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the wheelchair-bound Gaza preacher who was Hamas’s spiritual head, and then by exiling hundreds of Hamas activists to Lebanon, where they had a useful chance to make contact with fellow Islamists such as Hezbollah.
Hamas’s subsequent resort to hideous “martyrdom operations,” as suicide bombings were called, owed much to Hezbollah’s inspiration and perhaps also to its technical expertise. Israel’s response of targeted assassinations hugely bolstered Palestinian sympathy for Hamas, even as it served to radicalize its followers. As Paul McGeough’s book makes abundantly clear, for instance, Khaled Meshaal, a relative hard-liner, rode to dominance within Hamas on the wave of outrage that followed Israel’s botched attempt to poison him in Amman in 1997. By contrast, when in 2003 Israel succeeded in murdering Ismail Abu Shanab, a respected Gazan intellectual with an engineering degree from Colorado State University, it eliminated a Hamas official who had argued passionately against suicide bombings and in favor of a long-term truce.
Israel’s dramatic acceleration of Jewish settlement in the occupied territories during the 1990s, and its systematic undermining of the Palestinian economy by means of roadblocks and closures, convinced many Palestinians that Hamas was perhaps correct in judging the peace process a sham. Even as Yasser Arafat’s credit waned among his own people, both Israel and the Clinton administration pushed him to crack down on Hamas. This he did, with some brutality and considerable success, in a campaign that put hundreds of Hamas activists into Palestinian prisons. Yet rather than being rewarded for risking the anger of his own people, Arafat was simply pressured to do more, and told that he would be held to account for any atrocity carried out by Hamas.
In effect if not in intention, Israel handed the Islamists veto power over the peace process. It also so weakened Arafat that when Israel floated the possibility of an offer at Camp David in 2000, the Palestinian leader shied from pursuing it, largely because he feared he could not swing his people to support it. When, in the autumn of 2000, the second intifada broke out in the wake of this failure, Arafat felt obliged to ride the violence rather than attempt to contain it, and soon lost control of his movement as local Fatah activists strove to outdo Hamas in fury.”
It’s good to read everybody’s favourite type of criticism – criticism of Israel – from people who a) haven’t got it in for Israel and b) know what they’re talking about. (The Green Party’s International Committee should try it sometime.)
Read it all and, for all the blandness of the account, be grateful you don’t live in a country Hamas runs, having your marriage licence checked by morality police, dissenting in fear of your life, and waiting for your government to give you a chance to vote them out. And be grateful you don’t have Hamas in the country next door.