looks at the real history and politics of the organization the mainstream media smears as a band of fanatics and terrorists.
MOST MAINSTREAM accounts of the Palestinian Hamas organization present it as a bunch of rabid fanatics, bent on violence and motivated by an irrational hatred of Jews and the state of Israel. This view is reflected both in the mainstream media and in many books published on the topic.
When we separate propaganda from reality, however, what we find is a group that has taken on the mantle of national resistance against Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands.
Hamas describes itself like this: “The Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) is a Palestinian national liberation movement that struggles for the liberation of the Palestinian occupied territories and for the recognition of the legitimate rights of Palestinians.”
In its manifesto in the lead-up to the 2006 elections, it stated: “Our Palestinian people are still living through the phase of national liberation; they have the right to endeavor to regain their rights and end the occupation using all available means, including armed resistance.”
It is because of this commitment to the national liberation struggle—and the recognition among Palestinians that Hamas, whatever else it may stand for, refuses to concede on the question of resisting Israeli repression—that the organization has won wide support.
… HAMAS TODAY is a different organization than the one that was founded in 1987.
For instance, its 1988 charter makes little effort to distinguish between an anti-Zionist and an anti-Jewish stance. Yet the experience of fighting against the occupation and for national liberation transformed the organization—in 1990, it published a document stating that its struggle was against Zionists and Zionism, and not Jews and Judaism.
As Khaled Hroub, author of Hamas: A Beginner’s Guide, wrote in 2000:
Hamas’ doctrinal discourse has diminished in intensity since the mid-1990s. And references to its charter by its leaders have been made rarely, if at all. The literature, statements and symbols used by Hamas have come to focus more and more on the idea that the core problem is the multidimensional issue of usurpation of Palestinian land, and the basic question is how to end the occupation. The notion of liberating Palestine has assumed greater importance than the general Islamic aspect (my italics).
This does not mean that Hamas has ceased to be an Islamist party. Its day-to-day activities still involve a strong religious dimension. It devotes time and energy to educating its membership in its particular interpretation of Islam, to leading daily prayers and to fighting “vice” in the streets.
At certain times, Hamas members have intervened to stop what the organization defines as “immoral” behavior, such as partying, drinking alcohol, not wearing the hijab, mixed swimming and so forth. One such incident occurred in 2005 in Gaza, when a Palestinian women was killed and her fiancé beaten up after they were found in his car at a beach.
Hamas’ position on women is reactionary; it sees them as primarily responsible for the home and family life. While it has repeatedly insisted that it will not force women to wear the hijab—and has, for the most part, carried through on this—there is an indirect pressure exerted on women to follow Hamas’ views on veiling, if they wish to seek their help.
Women can join Hamas, but their realms of activity are limited to charities and schools. They are largely invisible, and not one woman has occupied a leadership position in the organization since 1987. While a limited number of women have carried out suicide attacks, that task is assigned primarily to men.
Nevertheless, it bears underling that Hamas is not as reactionary as the Taliban. It doesn’t prohibit women from operating outside the family sphere. Thirteen of the 66 Hamas candidates who ran for election in 2006 were women. Yet despite seven winning their seats, only one woman was included in the cabinet—and, predictably, she was put in charge of women’s affairs.