But for the deliberate actions of Israel’s Shin Bet, internal security police, there would have been no Hamas. This is Israel’s dark and dirty secret. What Uri Avnery, a former member of Israel’s Knesset and veteran peacenik (albeit still a Zionist) speaks about has long been known. Avi Shlaim touched upon it. [The Iron Wall, 459, 2001]. So have other commentators.
This was a time when the United States was backing Islamic Fundamentalism in Afghanistan Anyone remember the James Bond film, Living Daylights, where the Islamic fighter was the hero? No, that’s not surprising, it quickly became out of date as the Islamists proved, as they had been intended to prove, the most useful enemy that US imperialism and Zionism could have.
For years Israel backed Muslim patriarchs against younger nationalists inside Israel. This was particularly marked in the years 1948-66 when Israel's Arab population was under military rule.
Hamas were created as a secular counterweight to secular Palestinian nationalism. This has always been their role. Political religious movements are always reactionary. They use the past, or what they image to be the past, to control the present and preserve the economic and political interests of the clerics and their supporters. Democracy even in its western form is unheard of. The masses can never be trusted. Insteady people should rely on clerics, mullahs and rabbis to ‘interpret’ the word of a non-existent god. Religion, because it is based on faith not reason, is the best means of legitimising repression as Iran today demonstrates.
Below are a number of articles including that of Avnery, How Israel Helped to Spawn Hamas
by Andrew Higgins of the Wall Street Journal, 24 January 2009 and Brendan O’Neill, a libertarian conservative commentator and former writer for LM.
So when Zionists shout out about how wicked and anti-Semitic Hamas is, then the obvious riposte is ‘why did you create it then’?
Uri Avnery’s Column
Shukran, Israel, 31/12/11
IF ISLAMIST movements come to power all over the region, they should express their debt of gratitude to their bete noire, Israel.
Without the active or passive help of successive Israeli governments, they may not have been able to realize their dreams.
That is true in Gaza, in Beirut, in Cairo and even in Tehran.
LET’S TAKE the example of Hamas.
All over the Arab lands, dictators have been faced with a dilemma. They could easily close down all political and civic activities, but they could not close the mosques. In the mosques people could congregate in order to pray, organize charities and, secretly, set up political organizations. Before the days of Twitter and Facebook, that was the only way to reach masses of people.
One of the dictators faced with this dilemma was the Israel military governor in the occupied Palestinian territories. Right from the beginning, he forbade any political activity. Even peace activists went to prison. Advocates of non-violence were deported. Civic centers were closed down. Only the mosques remained open. There people could meet.
But this went beyond tolerance. The General Security Service (known as Shin Bet or Shabak) had an active interest in the flourishing of the mosques. People who pray five times a day, they thought, have no time to build bombs.
The main enemy, as laid down by Shabak, was the dreadful PLO, led by that monster, Yasser Arafat. The PLO was a secular organization, with many prominent Christian members, aiming at a “nonsectarian” Palestinian state. They were the enemies of the Islamists, who were talking about a pan-Islamic Caliphate.
Turning the Palestinians towards Islam, it was thought, would weaken the PLO and its main faction, Fatah. So everything was done to help the Islamic movement discreetly.
It was a very successful policy, and the Security people congratulated themselves on their cleverness, when something untoward happened. In December 1987, the first intifada broke out. The mainstream Islamists had to compete with more radical groupings. Within days, they transformed themselves into the Islamic Resistance Movement (acronym Hamas) and became the most dangerous foes of Israel. Yet it took Shabak more than a year before they arrested Sheik Ahmad Yassin, the Hamas leader. In order to fight this new menace, Israel came to an agreement with the PLO in Oslo.
And now, irony of ironies, Hamas is about to join the PLO and take part in a Palestinian National Unity government. They really should send us a message of Shukran (“thanks”).
OUR PART in the rise of Hizbollah is less direct, but no less effective.
When Ariel Sharon rolled into Lebanon in 1982, his troops had to cross the mainly Shiite South. The Israeli soldiers were received as liberators. Liberators from the PLO, which had turned this area into a state within a state.
Following the troops in my private car, trying to reach the front, I had to traverse about a dozen Shiite villages. In each one I was detained by the villagers, who insisted that I have coffee in their homes.
Neither Sharon nor anyone else paid much attention to the Shiites. In the federation of autonomous ethnic-religious communities that is called Lebanon, the Shiites were the most downtrodden and powerless.
However, the Israelis outstayed their welcome. It took the Shiites just a few weeks to realize that they had no intention of leaving. So, for the first time in their history, they rebelled. The main political group, Amal (“hope”), started small armed actions. When the Israelis did not take the hint, operations multiplied and turned into a full-fledged guerrilla war.
To outflank Amal, Israel encouraged a small, more radical, rival: God’s Party, Hizbollah.
If Israel had got out then (as Haolam Hazeh demanded), not much harm would have been done. But they remained for a full 18 years, ample time for Hizbollah to turn into an efficient fighting machine, earn the admiration of the Arab masses everywhere, take over the leadership of the Shiite community and become the most powerful force in Lebanese politics.
They, too, owe us a big Shukran.
THE CASE of the Muslim Brotherhood is even more complex.
The organization was founded in 1928, twenty years before the State of Israel. Its members volunteered to fight us in 1948. They are passionately pan-Islamic, and the Palestinian plight is close to their hearts.
As the Israeli-Palestinian conflict worsened, the popularity of the Brothers grew. Since the 1967 war, in which Egypt lost Sinai, and even more after the separate peace agreement with Israel, they stoked the deep-seated resentment of the masses in Egypt and all over the Arab world. The assassination of Anwar al-Sadat was not of their doing, but they rejoiced.
Their opposition to the peace agreement with Israel was not only an Islamist, but also an authentic Egyptian reaction. Most Egyptians felt cheated and betrayed by Israel. The Camp David agreement had an important Palestinian component, without which the agreement would have been impossible for Egypt. Sadat, a visionary, looked at the big picture and believed that the agreement would quickly lead to a Palestinian state. Menachem Begin, a lawyer, saw to the fine print. Generations of Jews have been brought up on the Talmud, which is mainly a compilation of legal precedents, and their mind has been honed by legalistic arguments. Not for nothing are Jewish lawyers in demand the world over.
Actually, the agreement made no mention of a Palestinian state, only of autonomy, phrased in a way that allowed Israel to continue the occupation. That was not what the Egyptians had been led to believe, and their resentment was palpable. Egyptians are convinced that their country is the leader of the Arab world, and bears a special responsibility for every part of it. They cannot bear to be seen as the betrayers of their poor, helpless Palestinian cousins.
Long before he was overthrown, Hosni Mubarak was despised as an Israeli lackey, paid by the US. For Egyptians, his despicable role in the Israeli blockade of a million and a half Palestinians in the Gaza Strip was particularly shameful.
Since their beginnings in the 1920s, Brotherhood leaders and activists have been hanged, imprisoned, tortured and otherwise persecuted. Their anti-regime credentials are impeccable. Their stand for the Palestinians contributed a lot to this image.
Had Israel made peace with the Palestinian people somewhere along the line, the Brotherhood would have lost much of its luster. As it is, they are emerging from the present democratic elections as the central force in Egyptian politics.
LET’S NOT forget the Islamic Republic of Iran. They owe us something, too. Quite a lot, actually.
In 1951, in the first democratic elections in an Islamic country in the region, Muhammad Mossadeq was elected Prime Minister. The Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who had been installed by the British during World War II, was thrown out, and Mossadeq nationalized the country’s vital oil industry. Until then, the British had robbed the Iranian people, paying a pittance for the Black Gold.
Two years later, in a coup organized by the British MI6 and the American CIA, the Shah was brought back and returned the oil to the hated British and their partners. Israel had probably no part in the coup, but under the restored regime of the Shah, Israel prospered. Israelis made fortunes selling weapons to the Iranian army. Israeli Shabak agents trained the Shah’s dreaded secret police, Savak. It was widely believed that they also taught them torture techniques. The Shah helped to build and pay for a pipeline for Iranian oil from Eilat to Ashkelon. Israeli generals traveled through Iran to Iraqi Kurdistan, where they helped the rebellion against Baghdad.
At the time, the Israeli leadership was cooperating with the South African apartheid regime in developing nuclear arms. The two offered the Shah partnership in the effort, so that Iran, too, would become a nuclear power.
Before that partnership became effective, the detested ruler was overthrown by the Islamic revolution of February 1979. Since then, the hatred of the Great Satan (the US) and the Little Satan (us) has played a major role in the propaganda of the Islamic regime. It has helped to keep the loyalty of the masses, and now Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is using it to bolster his rule.
It seems that all Iranian factions – including the opposition – now support the Iranian effort to obtain a nuclear bomb of their own, ostensibly to deter an Israeli nuclear attack. (This week, the chief of the Mossad pronounced that an Iranian nuclear bomb would not constitute an “existential danger” to Israel.)
Where would the Islamic Republic be without Israel? So they owe us a big “Thank you”, too. HOWEVER, LET us not be too megalomaniac. Israel has contributed a lot to the Islamist awakening. But it is not the only – or even the main – contributor.
Strange as it may appear, obscurantist religious fundamentalism seems to express the Zeitgeist. An American nun-turned-historian, Karen Armstrong, has written an interesting book following the three fundamentalist movements in the Muslim world, in the US and in Israel. It shows a clear pattern: all these divergent movements – Muslim, Christian and Jewish – have passed through almost identical and simultaneous stages.
At present, all Israel is in turmoil because the powerful Orthodox community is compelling women in many parts of the country to sit separately in the back of buses, like blacks in the good old days in Alabama, and use separate sidewalks on one side of the streets. Male religious soldiers are forbidden by their rabbis to listen to women soldiers singing. In orthodox neighborhoods, women are compelled to swathe their bodies in garments that reveal nothing but their faces and hands, even in temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius and above. An 8-year old girl from a religious family was spat upon in the street because her clothes were not “modest” enough. In counter-demonstrations, secular women waved posters saying “Tehran is Here!”
Perhaps some day a fundamentalist Israel will make peace with a fundamentalist Muslim world, under the auspices of a fundamentalist American president.
Unless we do something to stop the process before it is too late.
Wall Street Journal, 24 January 2009
Surveying the wreckage of a neighbor's bungalow hit by a Palestinian rocket, retired Israeli official Avner Cohen traces the missile's trajectory back to an "enormous, stupid mistake" made 30 years ago.
"Hamas, to my great regret, is Israel's creation," says Mr. Cohen, a Tunisian-born Jew who worked in Gaza for more than two decades. Responsible for religious affairs in the region until 1994, Mr. Cohen watched the Islamist movement take shape, muscle aside secular Palestinian rivals and then morph into what is today Hamas, a militant group that is sworn to Israel's destruction.
Instead of trying to curb Gaza's Islamists from the outset, says Mr. Cohen, Israel for years tolerated and, in some cases, encouraged them as a counterweight to the secular nationalists of the Palestine Liberation Organization and its dominant faction, Yasser Arafat's Fatah. Israel cooperated with a crippled, half-blind cleric named Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, even as he was laying the foundations for what would become Hamas. Sheikh Yassin continues to inspire militants today; during the recent war in Gaza, Hamas fighters confronted Israeli troops with "Yassins," primitive rocket-propelled grenades named in honor of the cleric.
Last Saturday, after 22 days of war, Israel announced a halt to the offensive. The assault was aimed at stopping Hamas rockets from falling on Israel. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hailed a "determined and successful military operation." More than 1,200 Palestinians had died. Thirteen Israelis were also killed.
Hamas responded the next day by lobbing five rockets towards the Israeli town of Sderot, a few miles down the road from Moshav Tekuma, the farming village where Mr. Cohen lives. Hamas then announced its own cease-fire.
Since then, Hamas leaders have emerged from hiding and reasserted their control over Gaza. Egyptian-mediated talks aimed at a more durable truce are expected to start this weekend. President Barack Obama said this week that lasting calm "requires more than a long cease-fire" and depends on Israel and a future Palestinian state "living side by side in peace and security."
A look at Israel's decades-long dealings with Palestinian radicals -- including some little-known attempts to cooperate with the Islamists -- reveals a catalog of unintended and often perilous consequences. Time and again, Israel's efforts to find a pliant Palestinian partner that is both credible with Palestinians and willing to eschew violence, have backfired. Would-be partners have turned into foes or lost the support of their people.
Israel's experience echoes that of the U.S., which, during the Cold War, looked to Islamists as a useful ally against communism. Anti-Soviet forces backed by America after Moscow's 1979 invasion of Afghanistan later mutated into al Qaeda.
Hamas supporters in Gaza City after the cease-fire.
At stake is the future of what used to be the British Mandate of Palestine, the biblical lands now comprising Israel and the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza. Since 1948, when the state of Israel was established, Israelis and Palestinians have each asserted claims over the same territory.
The Palestinian cause was for decades led by the PLO, which Israel regarded as a terrorist outfit and sought to crush until the 1990s, when the PLO dropped its vow to destroy the Jewish state. The PLO's Palestinian rival, Hamas, led by Islamist militants, refused to recognize Israel and vowed to continue "resistance." Hamas now controls Gaza, a crowded, impoverished sliver of land on the Mediterranean from which Israel pulled out troops and settlers in 2005.
When Israel first encountered Islamists in Gaza in the 1970s and '80s, they seemed focused on studying the Quran, not on confrontation with Israel. The Israeli government officially recognized a precursor to Hamas called Mujama Al-Islamiya, registering the group as a charity. It allowed Mujama members to set up an Islamic university and build mosques, clubs and schools. Crucially, Israel often stood aside when the Islamists and their secular left-wing Palestinian rivals battled, sometimes violently, for influence in both Gaza and the West Bank.
"When I look back at the chain of events I think we made a mistake," says David Hacham, who worked in Gaza in the late 1980s and early '90s as an Arab-affairs expert in the Israeli military. "But at the time nobody thought about the possible results."
Israeli officials who served in Gaza disagree on how much their own actions may have contributed to the rise of Hamas. They blame the group's recent ascent on outsiders, primarily Iran. This view is shared by the Israeli government. "Hamas in Gaza was built by Iran as a foundation for power, and is backed through funding, through training and through the provision of advanced weapons," Mr. Olmert said last Saturday. Hamas has denied receiving military assistance from Iran.
Arieh Spitzen, the former head of the Israeli military's Department of Palestinian Affairs, says that even if Israel had tried to stop the Islamists sooner, he doubts it could have done much to curb political Islam, a movement that was spreading across the Muslim world. He says attempts to stop it are akin to trying to change the internal rhythms of nature: "It is like saying: 'I will kill all the mosquitoes.' But then you get even worse insects that will kill you...You break the balance. You kill Hamas you might get al Qaeda."
When it became clear in the early 1990s that Gaza's Islamists had mutated from a religious group into a fighting force aimed at Israel -- particularly after they turned to suicide bombings in 1994 -- Israel cracked down with ferocious force. But each military assault only increased Hamas's appeal to ordinary Palestinians. The group ultimately trounced secular rivals, notably Fatah, in a 2006 election supported by Israel's main ally, the U.S.
Now, one big fear in Israel and elsewhere is that while Hamas has been hammered hard, the war might have boosted the group's popular appeal. Ismail Haniyeh, head of the Hamas administration in Gaza, came out of hiding last Sunday to declare that "God has granted us a great victory."
Most damaged from the war, say many Palestinians, is Fatah, now Israel's principal negotiating partner. "Everyone is praising the resistance and thinks that Fatah is not part of it," says Baker Abu-Baker, a longtime Fatah supporter and author of a book on Hamas.
A Lack of Devotion
Hamas traces its roots back to the Muslim Brotherhood, a group set up in Egypt in 1928. The Brotherhood believed that the woes of the Arab world spring from a lack of Islamic devotion. Its slogan: "Islam is the solution. The Quran is our constitution." Its philosophy today underpins modern, and often militantly intolerant, political Islam from Algeria to Indonesia.
After the 1948 establishment of Israel, the Brotherhood recruited a few followers in Palestinian refugee camps in Gaza and elsewhere, but secular activists came to dominate the Palestinian nationalist movement.
At the time, Gaza was ruled by Egypt. The country's then-president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, was a secular nationalist who brutally repressed the Brotherhood. In 1967, Nasser suffered a crushing defeat when Israel triumphed in the six-day war. Israel took control of Gaza and also the West Bank.
"We were all stunned," says Palestinian writer and Hamas supporter Azzam Tamimi. He was at school at the time in Kuwait and says he became close to a classmate named Khaled Mashaal, now Hamas's Damascus-based political chief. "The Arab defeat provided the Brotherhood with a big opportunity," says Mr. Tamimi.
In Gaza, Israel hunted down members of Fatah and other secular PLO factions, but it dropped harsh restrictions imposed on Islamic activists by the territory's previous Egyptian rulers. Fatah, set up in 1964, was the backbone of the PLO, which was responsible for hijackings, bombings and other violence against Israel. Arab states in 1974 declared the PLO the "sole legitimate representative" of the Palestinian people world-wide.
A poster of the late Sheikh Yassin hangs near a building destroyed by the Israeli assault on Gaza.
The Muslim Brotherhood, led in Gaza by Sheikh Yassin, was free to spread its message openly. In addition to launching various charity projects, Sheikh Yassin collected money to reprint the writings of Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian member of the Brotherhood who, before his execution by President Nasser, advocated global jihad. He is now seen as one of the founding ideologues of militant political Islam.
Mr. Cohen, who worked at the time for the Israeli government's religious affairs department in Gaza, says he began to hear disturbing reports in the mid-1970s about Sheikh Yassin from traditional Islamic clerics. He says they warned that the sheikh had no formal Islamic training and was ultimately more interested in politics than faith. "They said, 'Keep away from Yassin. He is a big danger,'" recalls Mr. Cohen.
Instead, Israel's military-led administration in Gaza looked favorably on the paraplegic cleric, who set up a wide network of schools, clinics, a library and kindergartens. Sheikh Yassin formed the Islamist group Mujama al-Islamiya, which was officially recognized by Israel as a charity and then, in 1979, as an association. Israel also endorsed the establishment of the Islamic University of Gaza, which it now regards as a hotbed of militancy. The university was one of the first targets hit by Israeli warplanes in the recent war.
Brig. General Yosef Kastel, Gaza's Israeli governor at the time, is too ill to comment, says his wife. But Brig. Gen. Yitzhak Segev, who took over as governor in Gaza in late 1979, says he had no illusions about Sheikh Yassin's long-term intentions or the perils of political Islam. As Israel's former military attache in Iran, he'd watched Islamic fervor topple the Shah. However, in Gaza, says Mr. Segev, "our main enemy was Fatah," and the cleric "was still 100% peaceful" towards Israel. Former officials say Israel was also at the time wary of being viewed as an enemy of Islam.
Mr. Segev says he had regular contact with Sheikh Yassin, in part to keep an eye on him. He visited his mosque and met the cleric around a dozen times. It was illegal at the time for Israelis to meet anyone from the PLO. Mr. Segev later arranged for the cleric to be taken to Israel for hospital treatment. "We had no problems with him," he says.
In fact, the cleric and Israel had a shared enemy: secular Palestinian activists. After a failed attempt in Gaza to oust secularists from leadership of the Palestinian Red Crescent, the Muslim version of the Red Cross, Mujama staged a violent demonstration, storming the Red Crescent building. Islamists also attacked shops selling liquor and cinemas. The Israeli military mostly stood on the sidelines.
Mr. Segev says the army didn't want to get involved in Palestinian quarrels but did send soldiers to prevent Islamists from burning down the house of the Red Crescent's secular chief, a socialist who supported the PLO.
'An Alternative to the PLO'
Clashes between Islamists and secular nationalists spread to the West Bank and escalated during the early 1980s, convulsing college campuses, particularly Birzeit University, a center of political activism.
As the fighting between rival student factions at Birzeit grew more violent, Brig. Gen. Shalom Harari, then a military intelligence officer in Gaza, says he received a call from Israeli soldiers manning a checkpoint on the road out of Gaza. They had stopped a bus carrying Islamic activists who wanted to join the battle against Fatah at Birzeit. "I said: 'If they want to burn each other let them go,'" recalls Mr. Harari.
A leader of Birzeit's Islamist faction at the time was Mahmoud Musleh, now a pro-Hamas member of a Palestinian legislature elected in 2006. He recalls how usually aggressive Israeli security forces stood back and let conflagration develop. He denies any collusion between his own camp and the Israelis, but says "they hoped we would become an alternative to the PLO."
A year later, in 1984, the Israeli military received a tip-off from Fatah supporters that Sheikh Yassin's Gaza Islamists were collecting arms, according to Israeli officials in Gaza at the time. Israeli troops raided a mosque and found a cache of weapons. Sheikh Yassin was jailed. He told Israeli interrogators the weapons were for use against rival Palestinians, not Israel, according to Mr. Hacham, the military affairs expert who says he spoke frequently with jailed Islamists. The cleric was released after a year and continued to expand Mujama's reach across Gaza.
Around the time of Sheikh Yassin's arrest, Mr. Cohen, the religious affairs official, sent a report to senior Israeli military and civilian officials in Gaza. Describing the cleric as a "diabolical" figure, he warned that Israel's policy towards the Islamists was allowing Mujama to develop into a dangerous force.
"I believe that by continuing to turn away our eyes, our lenient approach to Mujama will in the future harm us. I therefore suggest focusing our efforts on finding ways to break up this monster before this reality jumps in our face," Mr. Cohen wrote.
Mr. Harari, the military intelligence officer, says this and other warnings were ignored. But, he says, the reason for this was neglect, not a desire to fortify the Islamists: "Israel never financed Hamas. Israel never armed Hamas."
Roni Shaked, a former officer of Shin Bet, Israel's internal security service, and author of a book on Hamas, says Sheikh Yassin and his followers had a long-term perspective whose dangers were not understood at the time. "They worked slowly, slowly, step by step according to the Muslim Brotherhood plan."
In 1987, several Palestinians were killed in a traffic accident involving an Israeli driver, triggering a wave of protests that became known as the first Intifada, Mr. Yassin and six other Mujama Islamists launched Hamas, or the Islamic Resistance Movement. Hamas's charter, released a year later, is studded with anti-Semitism and declares "jihad its path and death for the cause of Allah its most sublime belief."
Israeli officials, still focused on Fatah and initially unaware of the Hamas charter, continued to maintain contacts with the Gaza Islamists. Mr. Hacham, the military Arab affairs expert, remembers taking one of Hamas's founders, Mahmoud Zahar, to meet Israel's then defense minister, Yitzhak Rabin, as part of regular consultations between Israeli officials and Palestinians not linked to the PLO. Mr. Zahar, the only Hamas founder known to be alive today, is now the group's senior political leader in Gaza.
In 1989, Hamas carried out its first attack on Israel, abducting and killing two soldiers. Israel arrested Sheikh Yassin and sentenced him to life. It later rounded up more than 400 suspected Hamas activists, including Mr. Zahar, and deported them to southern Lebanon. There, they hooked up with Hezbollah, the Iran-backed A-Team of anti-Israeli militancy.
Many of the deportees later returned to Gaza. Hamas built up its arsenal and escalated its attacks, while all along maintaining the social network that underpinned its support in Gaza.
Meanwhile, its enemy, the PLO, dropped its commitment to Israel's destruction and started negotiating a two-state settlement. Hamas accused it of treachery. This accusation found increasing resonance as Israel kept developing settlements on occupied Palestinian land, particularly the West Bank. Though the West Bank had passed to the nominal control of a new Palestinian Authority, it was still dotted with Israeli military checkpoints and a growing number of Israeli settlers.
Unable to uproot a now entrenched Islamist network that had suddenly replaced the PLO as its main foe, Israel tried to decapitate it. It started targeting Hamas leaders. This, too, made no dent in Hamas's support, and sometimes even helped the group. In 1997, for example, Israel's Mossad spy agency tried to poison Hamas's exiled political leader Mr. Mashaal, who was then living in Jordan.
The agents got caught and, to get them out of a Jordanian jail, Israel agreed to release Sheikh Yassin. The cleric set off on a tour of the Islamic world to raise support and money. He returned to Gaza to a hero's welcome.
Efraim Halevy, a veteran Mossad officer who negotiated the deal that released Sheikh Yassin, says the cleric's freedom was hard to swallow, but Israel had no choice. After the fiasco in Jordan, Mr. Halevy was named director of Mossad, a position he held until 2002. Two years later, Sheikh Yassin was killed by an Israeli air strike.
Mr. Halevy has in recent years urged Israel to negotiate with Hamas. He says that "Hamas can be crushed," but he believes that "the price of crushing Hamas is a price that Israel would prefer not to pay." When Israel's authoritarian secular neighbor, Syria, launched a campaign to wipe out Muslim Brotherhood militants in the early 1980s it killed more than 20,000 people, many of them civilians.
In its recent war in Gaza, Israel didn't set the destruction of Hamas as its goal. It limited its stated objectives to halting the Islamists' rocket fire and battering their overall military capacity. At the start of the Israeli operation in December, Defense Minister Ehud Barak told parliament that the goal was "to deal Hamas a severe blow, a blow that will cause it to stop its hostile actions from Gaza at Israeli citizens and soldiers."
Walking back to his house from the rubble of his neighbor's home, Mr. Cohen, the former religious affairs official in Gaza, curses Hamas and also what he sees as missteps that allowed Islamists to put down deep roots in Gaza.
He recalls a 1970s meeting with a traditional Islamic cleric who wanted Israel to stop cooperating with the Muslim Brotherhood followers of Sheikh Yassin: "He told me: 'You are going to have big regrets in 20 or 30 years.' He was right."
By Brendan O'Neill 12 February 2007
In the bloody street struggle between Hamas and Fatah for control of the Palestinian territories—a civil war in all but name—Israel is firmly pinning its hopes on a Fatah victory. It sees its old enemies in Fatah as far preferable to Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist and whose members still occasionally blow themselves up on streets and buses inside the Jewish state.
Fatah has been a thorn in Israel’s side for over 40 years. It is the largest group in the Palestine Liberation Organization, and its name is a reverse acronym of the Arabic title Harakat al-Tahrir al-Watani al-Filastini, which literally translates “Palestinian National Liberation Movement.” But Israel is ready to overlook all that and is making moves toward its old secular, nationalist opponents—“Arafat’s men”—in an attempt to isolate what it sees as the cosmically minded religious extremists of Hamas.
When British Prime Minister Tony Blair publicly supported Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas in December and promised to donate £13 million to Fatah, he won the fulsome praise of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who thanked Blair for his “good and interesting ideas” and agreed that it is time for “moderate [Palestinian] elements to be strengthened.” To this end, Olmert hinted that more than $700 million in tax receipts currently being withheld from the Palestinian Authority on the grounds that the money might end up in the coffers of Hamas could be released if a friendlier Fatah-led government were in control. This was seen by many as Israel giving the green light to Fatah to continue facing down Hamas. According to the military wing of Hamas, Fatah has even passed details of Hamas’s “military projects” to Israel so that Israeli forces can more efficiently deal with Hamas militants.
But there is something bitterly ironic in Israel’s support for Fatah against Hamas—and it should be a lesson to governments everywhere that meddle in other states’ affairs. In the past, Israel supported Hamas against Fatah. Indeed, in the 1970s and 80s, Israel played a not insignificant role in encouraging Hamas’s emergence in the belief that such an Islamist group might help rupture support for the mass nationalist movement of Fatah. Twenty years later, Israel has switched sides, hoping that it can encourage Fatah to see off Hamas. It wants “moderate” Palestinians to take on the “extremist” Palestinians it helped create. Like America and Britain before it—both of whom have supported and armed Islamist movements in the Middle East in attempts to undermine secular nationalist parties—Israel is learning the hard way that it is one thing to let radical Islamists off the leash but quite another thing to rein them back in again. If you make monsters, you shouldn’t be surprised if they come back to bite you.
Hamas first emerged in 1987. It was formed from various charities based in the Palestinian territories with links to the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement born in Egypt in the 1920s from which many of today’s radical Islamic sects, including al-Qaeda, have sprung. Israel allowed these Islamic charities to gain strength and influence in Palestinian areas, hoping that they would counter the influence of secular Palestinian resistance movements. Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas until his death by Israeli air strike in 2004, formed Hamas as the military wing of his group the Islamic Association, which was licensed by Israel 10 years earlier. During that period, when there was open conflict between Israeli forces and Palestinian nationalists, Israeli officials gave the nod to and even indirectly funded the establishment of Islamic societies in the West Bank and Gaza that might weaken the Palestine Liberation Organization. Martha Kessler, a senior analyst for the CIA, has said, “[W]e saw Israel cultivate Islam as a counterweight to Palestinian nationalism.” The very Islamic groups “cultivated” by Israel in the 1970s became Hamas in the 1980s, which went on to become Israel’s biggest nightmare in the 1990s. It remains so today.
After the Six Day War of 1967, Israel began administering the West Bank, Gaza, and the Sinai Peninsula. Where the Arab nationalist forces that had previously controlled these areas were hard on Islamist activists, rightly judging them to be enemies of secular nationalism, Israel was much more lenient, even permissive in its attitude towards the Islamists. One of the first actions taken by Israel after its victory in the 1967 war was to release from prison various Muslim Brotherhood activists, including Ahmed Yassin, future founder of Hamas. Yassin and others had been jailed by the Egyptian authorities after the Muslim Brotherhood tried to assassinate Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, the anti-colonialist and pan-Arabist who considered political Islam a threat and an anachronism and was fairly unforgiving in his treatment of its practitioners. Israel, by contrast, sensing that such radical Islamists might be helpful in undermining Arab nationalists like the Nasser-influenced Fatah in the Palestinian territories released the Islamists from their cells and encouraged them to take root in Palestinian society.
According to Robert Dreyfuss, author of the enlightening and exhaustive book Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam, political Islamism grew exponentially as Israel took control of the Palestinian territories:
Starting in 1967, the Israelis began to encourage or allow the Islamists in the Gaza and West Bank areas, among the Palestinian exiled population, to flourish. The statistics are really quite staggering. In Gaza, for instance, between 1967 and 1987, when Hamas was founded, the number of mosques tripled from 200 to 600. And a lot of that come with money flowing from outside Gaza, from wealthy conservative Islamists in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. But, of course, none of this could have happened without the Israelis casting an approving eye upon it.
It is from these Islamist roots that Hamas emerged in 1987. Dreyfuss continues
There’s plenty of evidence that the Israeli intelligence services, especially Shin Bet and the military occupation authorities, encouraged the growth of the Muslim Brotherhood and the founding of Hamas [in Palestinian territories].
Indeed, according to former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Charles Freeman, Shin Bet—the Israeli counter-intelligence and internal security service—knowingly created Hamas: “Israel started Hamas. It was a project of Shin Bet, which had a feeling that they could use it to hem in the PLO.”
A former senior CIA official recently told UPI that Israel’s duplicitous support for the Islamist groups that subsequently became Hamas was “a direct attempt to divide and dilute support for a strong, secular PLO by using a competing religious alternative.” Dreyfuss agrees, pointing out how useful it was for Israel that an Islamist movement in the Palestinian territories antagonized, in some cases violently, the mass Fatah outfit:
The Hamas organization was a bitter opponent of Palestinian nationalism and clashed repeatedly with the PLO and with Fatah, of course. And there were armed clashes on university campuses in the 1970s and 1980s, where Hamas would attack the PLO, the PFLP [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine], the PDFLP [Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine], and other groups, with clubs and chains. This was before guns became prominent in the Occupied Territories.
In allowing the emergence of radical Islamism, Israel was following in the footsteps of successive British and American governments and their policy of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Indeed, the Muslim Brotherhood itself, midwife to Hamas, is a creation of British colonialism. In the 1920s, the British, then the colonial rulers of Egypt, helped set up the Muslim Brotherhood as a means of keeping Egyptian nationalism and anti-colonialism in check. Dreyfuss describes the original Muslim Brotherhood as an “unabashed British intelligence front.” The mosque that served as the first headquarters of the Brotherhood, in Ismailia, Egypt, was built by the (British) Suez Canal Company. In the 1930s and 1950s, with Britain’s knowledge and tacit approval, the Brotherhood both challenged anti-colonial parties within Egypt and spread to other parts of the Near and Middle East, setting up branches in Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine, where under the “approving eye” of Israel from the late 1960s to the 1980s, it eventually mutated into Hamas. Following Gamal Abdel Nasser’s rise to power in 1954, both the British and Americans viewed the Brotherhood as a useful weapon against secular nationalism and communism. In his book Sleeping With the Devil, former CIA officer Robert Baer describes the “dirty little secret” in Washington in the early 1950s, namely that “the White House looked on the Brothers as a silent ally, a secret weapon against—what else?—communism.”
Al-Qaeda itself, that most radical and obscure of Islamic sects, springs from the Muslim Brotherhood. Osama bin Laden is heavily influenced by the thinking of Sayyid Qutb, a radical member of the Brotherhood. The Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s second-in-command and currently the public face of al-Qaeda in its occasional grainy videos and crackly audio recordings, was first radicalized by the Muslim Brotherhood before moving on to the more radical Islamic Jihad group in 1979 and subsequently fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. Indeed, in both intellectual and physical terms, al-Qaeda has benefited from Western intervention in Middle Eastern affairs. It takes its intellectual inspiration from the Muslim Brotherhood, that group supported by both American and British intelligence in the early and middle 20th century, and it was physically forged in the heat of the Afghan-Soviet War, a conflict largely facilitated by American, British, and Saudi support for the Mujahideen.
In playing the same game as the Brits and Americans—the “devil’s game”—Israel created its own gravediggers. Israel’s encouragement of Hamas’s emergence to counter secular nationalism represented an attack on the idea of popular and secular democracy, so it is not surprising that Hamas retains its somewhat extreme religious leanings and suspicion of traditional politics.
From Egypt to Palestine to Afghanistan, the explicit aim of Western and Israeli support for radical Islamism has been to isolate, weaken, and ultimately destroy popular political movements that very often were based on Western ideas of democracy and progress. Israel is now trying to rein in the consequences of its earlier actions by encouraging Fatah to take on Hamas, which is a recipe for further conflict and division in the Palestinian territories.