Hamas Without the Hatred

Hamas has been the bogeyman in establishment circles of the Global North for more than two decades. Hamas has also been one of the more successful manifestations of the movement against Israel’s occupation and siege of Palestine in the history of that resistance. Each of these sentences explains the other. It doesn’t matter whether one supports Hamas or its actions; their truth lies in the history of Hamas and its ongoing importance in the history of the Palestinians and the world. Given the vitriolic hatred of Hamas (and arguably the Palestinian resistance) in many of the governments in the Global North—and the repetition of that vitriol in the media that props up those governments—it has never been easy to get an honest picture of the organization.

One exception to this lack of objective information is the book from Paolo Caridi titled Hamas: From Resistance to Regime. Originally published in Italian in 2009, the text was updated in 2013 (when it first appeared in English) and 2023. The most recent edition appeared before the October 7, 2023 Hamas attack in southern Israel and the massive and bloody military response by Israeli military forces that continues as of this writing. The book, which has been roundly attacked in much of the Israeli media, presents Hamas as a movement founded in emotion and developed in conflict that has continued to modify its organizational and public approach as the situation in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza has changed. The group’s relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood is discussed as are its origins among the refugees of the Nakba and their descendants. The role of women and the changes in the Hamas leadership regarding this and other cultural elements are presented. The author briefly explains the rumors of Israeli government support for Hamas. What she discloses is that Tel Aviv considered Hamas’ charitable and social welfare activities useful, but when Hamas began its overtly political activities those considerations disappeared.

Hamas internal debates are discussed, as are its differences with Fatah and the Palestinian Authority. As anyone who has paid attention knows, it was those latter differences which have spilled out into the streets and resulted in the civil war between Hamas and Fatah after Hamas won the 2006 elections in Gaza. In her discussion of the elections and the armed conflict that follows, Caridi reminds the reader of the US and Israeli anger at the Hamas victory. In a direct contradiction of these two governments’ celebration of the democratic electoral process the Oslo Agreements were supposed to bring to the Occupied Territories, both governments rejected the Hamas victory and encouraged the armed conflict that resulted. The text tells how “no one wanted the elections…except for George W. Bush,’ whose war on Iraq was disintegrating into a multi-sided civil war with US forces in the middle. He wanted to prove the US could bring its version of democracy to the Middle East. When Hamas won in what were called the most democratic and free elections many observers had ever monitored, Washington could not believe it. So, they instantly rejected the results and, in doing so, rejected the will of the people of Gaza. The war between the Palestinian factions began soon afterwards.

The history told in this text is dense and complicated. One aspect of the organization not understood by most observers is the decision-making process used by Hamas. Succinctly stated, the group uses a process that is known as democratic centralism. This process, which is familiar to many leftists due to its use in some of their organizations, especially communists, is a process which involves debate among every cadre and other groupings in an organization. In Hamas, the four main constituencies are Gaza, the West Bank, the prisons and its membership abroad. The results of the local debates and discussions among these constituencies are then reported to committees higher up in the organizational hierarchy, ultimately reaching what amounts to a central committee. This committee accumulates the various points in the discussions and comes up with a final decision based on the earlier debates and the central committee’s understanding of the politics and the situation. The decision they make is then accepted and carried out by the rest of the organization. The strength of this decision-making process is in its closeness to the people and the fact that once a decision is made, all members will help put the decision into practice. At the same time, the political and military wings are independent of each other. As Caridi reveals, this approach is used when considering armed actions, electoral participation, social welfare work and almost every other aspect of Hamas’ public actions.

There are two things which are consistent throughout the history told here. The first is Washington’s ongoing manipulation of the so-called peace process, the Oslo agreements and subsequent negotiations with the intent of preventing a Palestinian state in any sovereign and viable form. Its incessant attempts at destroying Hamas (and arguably its political support) are instrumental to the current slaughter of Palestinians. The other is Tel Aviv’s even greater resistance to a just peace with the people whose lands they continue to steal and occupy. While these truths are well-known among those who oppose the occupation, the rational manner of the author’s relating these historical facts will hopefully encourage more people to accept them as the actual history of the occupation.

When I began reading this book I wasn’t sure whether Hamas would still exist when the review was published. The fact that it continues to keep Israeli forces under fire (together with other Palestinian resistance forces) is a testament both to its capabilities and support. As Israel and Washington work together in a slaughter which reeks of genocide and many of the world’s governments sit helplessly by, the desire of the Palestinian people for their liberation is expressed both through their stamina and the resistance currently led by Hamas. The fact Hamas continues to fight the occupiers and their backers is testament to the text’s essential fact: at this point in time Hamas is the strongest, most effective and leading element of the Palestinian resistance movement.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com