Questions about Hamas
- "Gaza is a normal place with normal people"
Mohamed Hassan answers your questions about Hamas
INTERVIEW : Grégoire Lalieu & Michel Collon
Many readers reacted positively to our Mohamed Hassan's interview about the Hamas. A lot of people expressed indeed their need of clear, precise and contextual information. So we are going to make with our Middle East specialist a series of interviews "Understanding the Muslim world". Our goal is to give you the keys to understand the issues specific to this region, rich in resources and coveted by the great powers. The next chapter of this folder will be about the Darfur crisis and will be published next month. Elsewhere, some readers asked further questions on the previous interview (see below). Mohamed Hassan answers in a second discussion that closes the first chapter dedicated to the Hamas.
The Hamas is presented as a terrorist and fundamentalist movement. But in a sociological view, what kind of leaders and active militant compose the Hamas?
Mohamed Hassan. What you've got to understand is that Gaza is a normal place with normal people. But, in a new colonial type, Israel doesn't allow the Palestinian economy to develop because it is a real danger for them. Gaza has a really good base of traditional artisans. It's for that reason that Arafat told to the European Parliament: "If you help us, we'll make our country a new Singapore. If you don't, it will be Somalia!" Israel is afraid of that. That's why they stifle the Palestinian economy to keep the monopoly. Gaza is an urban society with very active people: intellectuals, clericals, petite bourgeoisie, women associations, businessmen who work in the import export... All those classes compose the Hamas as a nationalist movement. You've got also peasantry but in a very small proportion. Gaza is indeed one of the most densely populated places in the world so there is not very much land to exploit.
So, the Hamas is composed by all the classes of the Palestinian society. Does it lead to contradictions among the movement?
Mohamed Hassan. Of course it's not perfectly homogeneous but currently, the Hamas is unifying all those people in the resistance. And the main contradiction among the movement is to be more or less radical in that struggle. I know that some Europeans wish that the resistance could be led by a more progressive movement but History is not an exact science. Let me make a comparison with Indonesia. The first anticolonial movement was Sarakat al Islam, an Islamic nationalist movement created in 1920 to fight against the Dutch occupation. In this situation, Lenin sent a Dutch communist, Henk Sneevliet, into Indonesia. When he arrived in Indonesia, he found that young nationalist movement Islamic. What would you do in his position? Henk Sneevliet decided to work with them. He was very wise and patient and turned the movement into a communist movement, which will become the Communist Party of Indonesia, the second biggest communist party in Asia. Patience in politics is essential.
Are there communists in Palestine? Is an alliance with the Hamas possible like the Hezbollah did with the communists in Lebanon in 2006?
Mohamed Hassan. In Palestine and in the other Muslim countries, you need specific communist like the Dutchman; communists with patience, vision, independence of their ideas to develop their tactic on the ground. They don't need what I call some "fax communists", communists who give their orders from the outside. All successful revolutions have been homemade. But some Arab communists are like hot pepper, red on the outside and white on the inside! Every Arab communist must do his job with the base specific to his area. In Palestine, they must find the most democratic elements who want to struggle against the occupation. If it is the Hamas, the communists must be close to them and work with them.
You know, I can have contradictions with my wife, my son, my daughter, my dog and my cat! But all those contradictions are among the family and I must resolve them with discussion and negotiation. But if someone puts a gun on me, that will be a main contradiction! Palestinian communists have to clarify who are their allies and who are their enemies. They can have contradictions with the Hamas and the other parties. They need to clarify it in family because those contradictions are secondary compared to the problem they have with Israel.
You mentioned a resemblance between the Hamas and the IRA, the Irish Catholic movement fighting for the total independence of Ireland. But the IRA never tried to install a religious state. Isn't that point that blocks the Europeans progressives in their support to Hamas?
Mohamed Hassan. I told you about the Islamic movement in Indonesia. Their maximum program was to kick the Dutch out of Indonesia and to put an Islamic regime. But the movement changed by itself and became later the Communist Party of Indonesia. How will the Hamas evolve? There is no crystal ball to tell us. As I said, History is not an exact science. Hamas has a maximum program but today, its main task is the resistance against the Zionist state. Tomorrow, there could be a combination of several factors such as a new leadership and new ideas that could make the Hamas taking a democratic revolutionary way. The fact is that the progressives who want to take part to the struggle for the Palestinians want to have complete guarantees that everything will be fine. But there is never complete guarantee. Who could have predicted the degeneration of the soviet communist party which had made the first socialist revolution in a country and had supported all anticolonial movements in the world? Nobody expected too that Arafat would negotiate on that particular way the Oslo Accords. So here we are: Hamas is the resistance. I don't support them in their women position, in their economic program or in their fatalistic ideas. I support them for the most important point: they are nationalist resistant fighting on the ground. And who could tell what will be tomorrow? You even got Islamic movements which became pro-imperialist agents like in Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia. Why these people asking about the Hamas don't also ask for those countries?
Amnesty condemned the Hamas for the elimination of some opponents among the Palestinian society after the war. What can you tell us about that?
Mohamed Hassan. Of course, in every war, you can have accidents or excesses. But also a major problem : the infiltrators. A war is not only shooting guns, it's also political. Israel doesn't only attack the Palestinians with bombs, they also attack from the inside, creating internal enemies. With Egypt and Jordan, Israel had put a very sophisticated system of intelligence service. With the help of these countries, Israel wants to crush the Palestinian resistance and the Hamas. With all the money they've got, they can pay traitors. These infiltrators use cellular phone and they call Egypt or Jordan. Then, the information goes to Israel.
Israel wants to cut the head of the Hamas to crush the movement. In order to do that, they must know which house they have to bomb. Something important you've got to know: the first attack of Israel was on the police station of Gaza at a very specific moment: the team swift. That was exactly the particular time when you've got the maximum concentration of policemen at the station. How did Israel know? Through its infiltrators. This is a war, not a party! The Hamas is defending.
Why did the Hamas recently appropriate the aids from the UN?
Mohamed Hassan. I think the Hamas was smart when they did. Let me explain. By the UNRWA and only them, the food and the help came into Gaza and Israel could get tactical information out of that. One important issue is that the Israeli war was ignited the 27th of December on the base that the intelligence knew that there was not a lot of food in Gaza. This is how Israel proceeded: first, they closed the border to make sure that food will not get in; then, they attacked, knowing that the Palestinians couldn't hold out more than ten days. Tsahal bombed the UN depots thinking that without food, the population would turn against the Hamas. But after the twelfth day, the resistance was continuing and Israel stopped to bomb the UN depots. I think that, in the future, the Hamas will not let the food burn again under the Israeli bombs. That's why they want to provide the aid distribution by themselves.
Why does the Hamas still send rockets as Israel use it for its war propaganda and as it leads to the repression of the Palestinian population? Are the "Qassam" useful?
Mohamed Hassan. For a rat, the most dangerous animal is the cat. He doesn't care about a lion or a hippopotamus. And for the cat, the most delicious food is a rat. This is the level in which is situated the logic of the Qassam. The Qassam are a violation of the embargo and a sign of refusing the concentration of the Palestinian people who live in a ghetto. It's a message that oppressed people send:
"We're still alive and we will continue the resistance". It's also a message to the Israeli citizens who believe that the army and the government can guarantee their security. But after sixty years, the security of their nation is not yet guaranteed. There are a lot of citizens who're leaving Israel so the government has a problem with a demographic crisis. That's why they made a big war to crush the Hamas. And in order to have enough Jews and try to resolve the demographic crisis, some Israeli leaders even went to the mountains of Peru! They converted Indians to Judaism and then, they bring them to Israeli border, in the frontline against the enemy. Those Indians received houses and guns. There are the new settlers. The fact is that anybody can live inside Israel except Palestinians!
How can we explain the success of Hamas ?
For a lot of medias, the case seems clear: the Hamas is terrorist, fundamentalist and fanatic. Though, this movement has won the last elections and his popularity increases among the Palestinians. Why? We raised the question to Mohamed Hassan, co-author of Iraq, Eye-to-eye with the occupation, and one of the best Middle-East specialists.
What is really the Hamas?
Hamas is a political movement coming from the Muslim Brotherhood, which is one of the oldest political movements in Egypt. The word "hamas" means awakening, erupting It's an islamo nationalist movement, which we could compare to the Irish catholic nationalist movement. In 1916, the Irish Republican Army has developed against the colonial British occupation. As the Irish were Catholics and the British settlers were Protestants, the occupier tried to make it a religious conflict. Religion can be utilized to mobilize people for a cause.
What is the historical context explaining the rise of the Hamas?
To understand that, we have to take a look to several events. The first one is the six-day war which discredited the Nasserism in 1967. Nasser was an Egyptian president who encouraged an Arabic revolution for independence and development. As Israel inflicted him a severe defeat, his ideology ran out of steam. After he died, Egypt and Israel were again engaged into a conflict with the October war in 1973. Egypt and Syria wanted to take back territories under Israeli occupation. Finally, Egypt and Israel signed an agreement but it created a division in the Arab world between the countries who wanted to accept the Israeli conditions and those who wanted to resist like Syria, Algeria, Iraq Of course, the Palestinian question was crucial in those conflicts and the resistance to Israel drove to the formation of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). This organization was created in order to gather the several movements of resistance to ally their efforts in the struggle against Israel. Before negotiating with this organization at the Oslo accords, Israel considered it as terrorist organization and inflicted it several defeats that can explain the rise of the Hamas.
The first important defeat is the Black September in 1970. The PLO had his headquarter in Jordan where King Hussein made a deal with Israel to brutally crash the Palestinian insurrection. So the PLO was forced to flee to Beirut. The second important defeat comes in 1982. Israel attacked Lebanon and most of the PLO combatants had to move far away from the Palestinian areas and the headquarter of the organization was set in Tunis.
In this particular context, comes the first Intifada in 1987. A popular uprising in reaction to the Israeli occupation which started in Gaza and then touched the whole Palestine. As I said, the PLO was very far away. On the contrary, the Hamas was inside Palestine and took part to the Intifada. That event marks the coming of the Hamas which started in the prisons! Prisons used to be considered as a place of punishment. But after that the resistants of the Intifada were put in jail, things have changed It's in the prisons that the Hamas started to recruit and to develop as an organization. With the Intifada, the Hamas was exposed to the Palestinian opinion, to the Israeli opinion and to the international opinion.
How did the PLO react to the Intifada?
With the Intifada, the PLO was divided in two wings: the strongest one who wanted to continue the resistance and was installed in Tunis and those who wanted to work out a deal. Those ones were hiding and didn't have the courage to defend their opinion until the Oslo Accords where they came up and became stronger. Arafat was a tactician and after the end of the Intifada, in order to bring the PLO in Palestine, he used the different lines of the Palestinian reactions.
What were these lines?
First, you have those who wanted to continue the fight against Israel without concession. Arafat had to marginalize them to obtain something. In the other hand, you've got those who wanted to capitulate, and they lead the Palestinian government today. Finally, you've got the little bourgeoisie who wanted to negotiate for their own profits. Arafat used them to get what he wanted and it drives us to the Oslo Accords (1993). They allowed the PLO to come back in Palestine but except that, it was a great defeat. The Palestinians accepted to get only 22% of their total land! There is no agreement in history that confers to somebody only 22% of what he was demanding! The PLO was no more considered as a terrorist organization and won the recognition of Israel but didn't manage to really improve the situation in Gaza and Cisjordania. Nothing in the agreement was mentioned to stop the Israeli colonization. This fact discredited the Palestinian authority to the population and also explains the success of the Hamas as a movement of resistance. Another important point is that the Palestinian authority, which was receiving money from the West, became corrupted. On the contrary, the Hamas doesn't have this problem. The organization receives money mainly from a charity system. And there is no indication that they put this money in their pocket. As they critic the authority for its corruption, they are very cautious to this problem.
How can you explain the success of the Hamas?
Three factors explain the success of the Hamas. First, the maintaining of the resistance, refusing imposed solution, which correspond to the will of the population. The second point is that the Hamas wants the refugees of 1948 and 1967 to come back. In 1948, after the creation of the Israel state, a lot of Palestinians were pushed out of the territory. With the Six Day War in 1967, around three hundred thousand refugees flew away to Jordan. Today, there are more than six millions of refugees who don't have the right to go back to their land! On the other hand, as a Jewish state, Israel welcomes any Jew from everywhere: Spain, Russia, Ethiopia People who have never been seen in Palestine! The question of the refugees is an important element of the Palestinian demands that the Hamas claim.
The last point which contributed to the success of the Hamas is the elimination within the Palestinian community of the elements used by Israel, corrupted people, to bring information. A few ones were eliminated physically but most of them - delinquent people, alcoholics or drug dealers - were reintegrated by the social program of the Hamas. So the information doesn't circulate anymore. This is very important. Israel had made a corrupted society where everybody was against everybody and they exploited that to build an information network and have a control over the Palestinian resistance. This is a typical colonial mentality that the British also had applied in Northern Ireland. Nothing new. But the Hamas crushed that network and it's a big success against Israel.
Some people say Israel deliberately favored the rise of the Hamas. Is it true?
Absolutely not! There is no evidence on that. Israel tolerated Hamas, hoping interpalestinian conflicts. They wanted to weaken the PLO and the Fatah. But they didn't expect the quality, the ability and the organization of the Hamas to develop in such a way. Every colonial power always considers his subjects as naïve children.
How an Islamist movement went on so popular in Palestine?
Under the occupation of Gaza and the Palestinian areas, there is no possibility for the Palestinian people to openly discuss or have a vision about their future except in the mosque or in the university. Of course, the Hamas was already active on the first place. But they also then started, as any political group, to become dominant in student organizations. The market is open for every party! So the Hamas recruited brilliant young students who were well considered in the society because of their dedication or their honesty. It was easy for the group to convince them because they both want resistance. No big secret about it! Hamas spoke what was in the heart of the population. With the most combative, the most intelligent and the most highly educated elements of the society, Hamas became a big organization.
How did the Palestinian authorities react to the evolution of the Hamas?
Authorities have been involved into corruption and a lot of scandals. Even Palestinian journalists have condemned them for that. Arafat was a kind of arbiter between the several factions and once he died, the contradiction between Hamas and Fatah became antagonistic. Israel exploited those disagreements and managed to use the Fatah to cut the popularity of the Hamas in the political view. They were thinking that Hamas wouldn't accept to participate to elections so they organized it quickly. Everybody was surprised that the Hamas took part to those elections but nobody was really worried as they were thinking that the Hamas would come with a very limited dogmatic way of thinking and would be defeated by the major party. Against all expectations, the Hamas made a coalition and presented a flexible image, very far away from a fundamentalist organization. In fact, they wish an Islamic state but the reality is different.
Will the Hamas put an Islamic regime in Palestine or not?
Well, an Islamic regime is the maximum program of the Hamas but they couldn't apply it because on the ground, the organization is based on a patriotic movement. We've got to consider the fact that after the brutal Israeli war in Gaza, not only the Hamas was fighting but all the patriotic forces on the ground, including Fatah. This aggression has unified Palestinian people.
Can the Hamas change into a more progressive movement in alliance with other movements?
Yes, they can, because of the Israeli aggression. The idea that the Hamas will create a society based on an Islamic pattern of production is an illusion. It's impossible. In many ways, the Hamas looks like the Hezbollah, which says: « Lebanon is a country with a big diversity. We're just representing a fraction of it and our aim is to build with all the Lebanese progressives a national independent economy. » Finally, I would draw your attention over the fact that nobody asks the question of Islamic state for some countries like Saudi Arabia for example!
What is the social economic program of the Hamas?
Their project is a capitalist economy with an important state intervention. Let me notice than now, even the European conservatives want a state intervention. If you look at Iran, it's an Islamic state where you've got state intervention. But they refuse the domination from outside and want the wealth from the oil to be distributed. About the Hamas, you've got to know that it's not mostly his social program which had seduced the Palestinians but the fact that this movement embodies the resistance. And today, the resistance is the most important thing for the Palestinians.
What is the role of the woman according to the Hamas?
Their vision of the woman on paper and in the reality is different. Let me explain. In Palestine, the situation is very difficult. The women have to work to win their own bread and raise their children. Hamas could never forbidden women to work and force them to go back home. Except a few rich countries with oil, nobody thinks like that in the Arabic world. How could Hamas put out of the society more than 50% of the most active elements of the Palestinian community? In fact, some people in the West believe that the women could be controlled as passive subjects and think they've got no brain!
Of course, there are cultural differences between the Arabic world and the West. These differences are not well understood because of some clichés. Let me give you an example. In western bookshops, there are hundred of magazines with naked women, blondes with big breast... Nobody says it is disgusting and that the women on the covers should not been considered this way. But when someone sees a woman wearing a headscarf, he speaks about oppression! There is a kind of hypocrisy in the West. For example, in Indonesia, the regime is installed since 1965 after a putsch marked by the massacre of a million of communists. Most of the women now wear a headscarf. But nobody speaks about them because this country produces oil and is aligned with the West.
Why is the Hamas rejected in Europe?
Islam is not well received in Europe, which identifies itself to the Christianity. There is a real rejection of the Islam contribution to the development of the western civilization. So, as an Islamic group, the Hamas is not well considered. But why does someone who's against the Zionism have a problem with the Hamas? And why does the same person, who supports the Irish cause, have no problem with a catholic organization? The cultural difference explains that and we can observe that phenomenon. I'm just coming back from Egypt and I could observe that when you cross the Mediterranean Sea, you change of world, you change of way of thinking. I don't blame the Europeans. They are marked by their education and the mediatic propaganda. We are in a system where we always have to identify some enemies to justify our existence. I think we must put things in perspective.
For me, as a Marxist living in a western country, I have of course some contradictions with the Hamas and the Hezbollah. I regret that the resistance is led by a movement taking an inspiration in Islam, but that is so. And for the moment, those contradictions are secondary. On the other hand, I'm totally opposed with people like Abbas or Moubarak, who are laics but who serve the United State. I'm reading the news in Arab, I know the situation over there and I see the contradictions from a different point of view than the European left.
Why does the European left not (openly) support the Palestinian resistance?
The problem with the European left is that she refuses to make a big alliance against the imperialism, because of the Hamas, the women with headscarf and all sorts of pretexts. In fact, they accept to get involved in the big alliance of the Christians against the Islam. They go into the "civilization war" set in motion by American ideologists. They are more influenced than they believe. Why did the European left not get worked up when the Christian Phalangists slaughtered in Lebanon? For my part, as a laic, I've supported the Irish resistance against the British occupation and if those Irish are Catholics, it doesn't disturb me. In fact, the problem with the Europeans is that they have been educated in a civilization that has prejudices against the Jews and the Muslims.
Why is the Palestinian question so crucial for the USA ?
Palestine is a very small place and became yet one of the biggest stakes in the world for two reasons. First, the settler state created has to be defended by imperialism powers, US and Great Britain, to be the most dominant element the Middle East. This is a way to crush the revolutionary democratic movement in the region. If you crush the Palestinian issue, you prevent an alliance of the Arab world with all the lines of resistance in Iraq, Lebanon, At the time of the Shah, Iran was doing the police in the region. The United States had installed a military dictatorship to serve their interests in the region. After Iran, it is Israel. One of the most demonstrative examples of this practice is the revolution in northern Yemen in the 60's. Some officials, helped by Egypt to install a democratic republic in northern Yemen, led a coup. The cheick who was ruling Yemen ran away in Saudi Arabia. The Britains organized troops against the republic to crush the Arab nationalist movement and soldiers, trained by Israel, were involved to fight against the liberation forces. Israel was or is also participating as militias in Salvador, Sri-Lanka, Colombia, In fact, wherever United State is involved, Israel is involved.
The second reason is the importance of Jerusalem as a holy city. It's the second important place for Islam. So this point mobilized all the Muslims in the world. Jerusalem is also important for the Christian Palestinians. Israel won't leave it. It would be considered as a victory for the Palestinian and the Islam. And of course, Jerusalem is a strategic place, on the border between Israel and the Cisjordania. So the question of that city is an important element considering the perpetual expansion of Israel. In fact, that state has no define border. They even don't have a constitution so they've got the possibility to go on with the expansion.
By butchering Gaza, what is the message that Israel wants to send ?
The message is "Israel will be there forever, even with the nuclear weapon. We can impose you what we want".
Will it work?
No because on the other side, there are combatants with an ability to sacrifice, something that the Israelis have lost. With this attack, Israel didn't obtain something on the feature. And the Hamas will get out reinforced. Even in Cisjordania, people are saying that if they were elections, they would vote for that party. In fact, those who resist always win.
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