What is Hamas, Really?


Since it became clear that the intention of Israel’s latest military assault on Gaza is to destroy Hamas, various newspapers in the US have printed opinion pieces echoing the Washington line that it is Hamas’ fault that Gaza is being pummeled by Israeli warplanes.  Now, there may be some things one can blame Hamas for, but firing missiles at people and buildings in Gaza from Israeli warplanes is not one of them.  It has been the desire of Tel Aviv and Washington to eradicate Hamas as a political force for a long time.  The military Israeli assault currently going on is but the latest installment in fulfilling that desire.

Just prior to the assault there was a Israeli-enforced blockade on Gaza.  This blockade prevented necessary goods from reaching the people living there.  There was also an Israeli incursion in November that was the culmination of a series of border clashes between Israel and Palestinian gunmen.  These clashes resulted in the deaths of at least 16 Palestinians.  Of course, these occurrences were but a continuation of the low-intensity conflict between Hamas and Israel that in themselves are but a part of the conflict between Israel and Palestine that has continued since 1948.  Hamas is but the most recent organization to represent the militant wing of the Palestinian resistance and, therefore be at the receiving end of Israel’s most violent responses.  At this point in history if Hamas did not resist, there would be no resistance to Tel Aviv’s plans to render the Palestinians completely irrelevant in their own land.  Most Palestinians understand this and are understandably angry at the current campaign in Gaza, no matter which political faction has their allegiance.

Despite the constant presence of Hamas in the news of the western world, most people reading that news know very little about the group. Back in 2006 journalist Khaled Hroub wrote a clear, concise and informative guide to Hamas. Simply titled   Hamas: A Beginner’s Guide the author utilizes a question and answer format to explain the politics and tactics of Hamas, their relationship to and with other Palestinian organizations, Israel and the rest of the world Hroub, a Palestinian supporter of a secular and independent Palestinian state, also examines the role of religion in Hamas’ internal and external politics, as well as the group’s opinion of democracy and theocracy.

The picture presented in these pages is certain to hold some surprises for its English readers. Having been fed anti-Palestinian propaganda for years, the Hamas described here is of a group that understands its religious desires are not what garnered it enough support to win the aforementioned elections. Although Hroub never denies that there are those in Hamas that would like to impose an Islamic state in a free Palestine, his text proves that this is but one element of the Hams organization. Indeed, the organization described in these pages is an organization that listens to its members and, even more importantly, listens to those it wants to represent — the Palestinian people. Given this, Hamas proves to be a surprisingly democratic organization with a degree of political understanding rarely attributed to an Arab or Muslim organization. It is Hroub’s contention that the results of the January 2005 election that gave Hamas a solid majority not only substantiates Hamas’ claim that their positions on the essentially dead Oslo Agreements and the Israeli occupation of Palestine are the predominant positions of the Palestinian people, the aftermath of their victory has also shown that Hamas understands that it is its role as an agent of national liberation (and not its religious agenda) that has the support of the Palestinian majority. In the same way that the Israeli failure to defeat Hezbollah in Lebanon, the current assault will most likely only strengthen this support should Hamas merely  remain intact as an organization once the attacks are over.

As the attack continues in Gaza one wonders if Hamas will respond with a campaign that includes suicide bombings.  These grisly news events are examined in Hamas: A Beginner’s Guide.  Hroub traces their beginnings to the 1994 massacre of Muslim worshipers by Baruch Goldstein in a Hebron mosque. While acknowledging that suicide attacks have cost the Palestinian movement dearly in some quarters of the world, Hroub explains (without endorsing) the Hamas position on these attacks as tactically necessary. At the same time, he notes that Hamas targets only Israeli citizens and soldiers in the Territories and Israel itself. Although this may not be much solace to the western reader, the fact is, as Hroub tries to make clear throughout the book, Hamas considers the Israelis and Palestinians to be in a state of war. Consequently, the tactics of war are what rules Hamas’ military actions.

The intention of Hamas: A Beginner’s Guide is not to gloss over the harsh realities of the Palestinian struggle for freedom. Nor is it the book’s intention to portray Hamas — an important part of that struggle — as a group without imperfections that sometimes engages in reprehensible tactics. This book will certainly not satisfy those whose notion of Hamas is framed solely by the US and Israeli characterization of the group as terrorists. However, for the average reader interested in trying to understand the group’s motivations, philosophy, and plans, Hamas: A Beginner’s Guide is an essential starting point. Furthermore, it might allow those an understanding as to why Israel’s expressed hope to eradicate Hamas and bargain with the Palestinian Authority for a Tel Aviv-Washington imposed peace will most likely fail.  Bare of propaganda either for or against the group, this text is the most fair-minded and balanced piece of literature on Hamas in the English language.

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: rjacobs3625@charter.net










Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

December 01, 2015
John Wight
From Iraq to Syria: Repeating a Debacle
Conn Hallinan
Portugal: the Left Takes Charge
Mike Whitney
Putin’s Revenge? The Fight for the Border
Sami Al-Arian
My Ordeal: One of America’s Many Political Trials Since 9/11
Steffen Böhm
Why the Paris Climate Talks Will Fail, Just Like All the Others
Gilbert Mercier
Will Turkey Be Kicked Out of NATO?
Bilal El-Amine
The Hard Truth About Daesh and How to Fight It
Pete Dolack
Solidarity Instead of Hierarchy as “Common Sense”
Dan Glazebrook
Rhodes Must Fall: Decolonizing Education
Colin Todhunter
Big Oil, TTIP and the Scramble for Europe
Eric Draitser
Terror in Mali: An Attack on China and Russia?
Linn Washington Jr.
Torture and Other Abuses Make Turkey as American as Apple Pie
Randy Shaw
Krugman is Wrong on Gentrification
Raouf Halaby
Time to Speak Out Against Censorship
Jesse Jackson
It’s Time for Answers in Laquan McDonald Case
Patrick Walker
Wake Up Zombie, Kick Up a Big Stink!
November 30, 2015
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Embrace of Totalitarianism is America’s Dirty Little Secret
Omur Sahin Keyif
An Assassination in Turkey: the Killing of Tahir Elci
Uri Avnery
There is No Such Thing as International Terrorism
Robert Fisk
70,000 Kalashnikovs: Cameron’s “Moderate” Rebels
Jamie Davidson
Distortion, Revisionism & the Liberal Media
Patrick Cockburn
Nasty Surprises: the Problem With Bombing ISIS
Robert Hunziker
The Looming Transnational Battlefield
Ahmed Gaya
Breaking the Climate Mold: Fighting for the Planet and Justice
Matt Peppe
Alan Gross’s Improbable Tales on 60 Minutes
Norman Pollack
Israel and ISIS: Needed, a Thorough Accounting
Colin Todhunter
India – Procession of the Dead: Shopping Malls and Shit
Roger Annis
Canada’s New Climate-Denying National Government
Binoy Kampmark
Straining the Republic: France’s State of Emergency
Bill Blunden
Glenn Greenwald Stands by the Official Narrative
Jack Rasmus
Japan’s 5th Recession in 7 Years
Karen Lee Wald
Inside the Colombia Peace Deal
Geoff Dutton
War in Our Time
Charles R. Larson
Twofers for Carly Fiorina
John Dear
An Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Blind
Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism