As much as Israel and the United States claim that Hamas is a collective of unschooled terrorists intent on destroying Israel, nothing could be further from the truth. Hamas is a movement born of Palestine, composed of Palestinians who were raised on the very streets where the blood of their people and families has been lost to a crippling Israeli blockage, now more than a decade old.
Like all national liberation movements Hamas has had its problems and made its share of mistakes. That said, Israel’s attempt to reduce it to a selfish and reckless group willing to sacrifice the interests and safety of their fellow Palestinians is nothing more than a delusion.
It was Israel who encouraged the rise of Hamas as a counterweight to Fatah and the PLO, not unlike Sunni Lebanese politicians who covertly funded the al-Qaeda-linked Fatah al-Islam and allowed their them into the country as a counterweight to Hezbollah.
Hamas, which means Islamic Resistance Movement, was founded in 1987 by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, a man who spent years in Israeli prisons. It members include physicians, scholars, academics, lawyers, scientists, artists and farmers. It was then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin who assisted Yassin’s start-up of a “humanitarian” organization. Begin and his right-wing strategists devised the theory of creating Hamas as an alternative to Fatah because they believed such an organization would devote themselves to charity and religious study and passively accept the occupation.
When Hamas captured a majority of Parliament in the January 2006 elections, a victory described by former President Carter as the most transparent and successful electoral process he had observed as a monitor, the West imposed not only financial sanctions on the Hamas government and isolated it politically but pursued an aggressive policy of internal division thereby establishing the conditions for havoc in Gaza.
Gazans are keenly aware that in May 2007 Hamas offered a ten-year truce with Israel in exchange for Israel’s agreement to end the siege of Gaza and the West Bank. Israel did not respond to this offer, nor did it respond to Hamas’ offer to recognize the State of Israel on the ’67 border. Such arrogance, explicitly meant to punish Gazans for the temerity of its electoral will, through the imposition of a decade-long embargo that threatens the health, welfare and safety of its two million residents, has, invariably, toughened resolve and fomented at times reckless and desperate behavior. For more information on Hamas, please refer to my book “Tragedy in South Lebanon: The Israeli-Hezbollah War of 2006.
According to Stanley L. Cohen, in his article Broken Dreams and Lost Years: Israel, Gaza and the Hamas Card, “Israel, because of the Great Return March, seeks to reduce millions of Palestinians who have struggled for generations to little more than unthinking sheep awaiting instructions from Hamas on when or how to express their will or gain their independence. Those with any connection to Palestine, or its long-oppressed people, know all too well that the bars of its prison will never quiet its innate thirst for justice and freedom.”
With each Israeli incursion, Hamas has been the convenient foil for Israel, always claiming the role of victim, never the victimizer, and asserting, as in the case of the Great Return March, to have given a measured, proportionate answer to the menace posed by burning kites, waving flags, a dozen Molotov cocktails and teens with slingshot weapons.
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