Sunday, January 11, 2009

Understanding Hamas

From news reports, one gets the impression that Hamas is some kind of grassroots, terrorist cadre that has infiltrated the towns and homes of Palestinians in the Gaza strip. That may be partly true. But this synopsis (and others to come) gives a somewhat fuller explanation and brief history of the political party, how it evolved and its interactions with Israel.

It is terse and leaves out the many complexities. But for those who are curious about Hamas, it's a beginning.

Hamas is one of the two main Palestinian political groups. Since June 2007 it has been in de facto control of the Gaza Strip, after seizing power from the Fatah party in a series of bloody clashes.

Hamas derives its name from an acronym for the Arabic words ''Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya," which translates into English as the Islamic Resistance Movement. It was founded in 1987 during the first Palestinian uprising with its roots in Muslim Brotherhood politics in Gaza and became more active in the second Palestinian uprising which started in 2000.

The groups' 9,000-word charter, written in 1988, includes a description of the struggle for Palestine as a religious obligation, saying the land is an endowment that cannot be abandoned.

It recognizes the fact of Israel but refuses to recognize its right to exist, and has been responsible for many of the deadliest suicide attacks in Israel.

But the social programs that were the group's initial focus made the group widely popular among ordinary Palestinians -- it created centers for health care, welfare, day care, kindergartens and preschools along with programs for widows of suicide bombers. In January 2006, facing a divided Fatah, the party created by Yassir Arafat, Hamas won a decisive victory in parliamentary elections.

After Hamas took office, it faced increasing turmoil. Israel withheld tax revenues it collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, and Western assistance to the Palestinian government was cut off until Hamas renounced violence and agreed to recognize Israel. After months of negotiations, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyah of Hamas and President Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of Fatah, agreed in March 2007 to form a national unity government in an attempt to end the Palestinians' international isolation. The pact did not succeed in restoring the flow of aid and did not last. Clashes between the two groups steadily escalated until gunmen loyal to Hamas took control of Gaza.

Hamas now was in sole control of a territory, but one of the poorest in the world, and conditions in Gaza quickly went downhill. Israel sealed off its borders, causing businesses to wither. Hamas remained defiant, and increased the rate of rocket attacks against border communities within Israel. For months, what followed was a steady cycle of Gazan rockets, Israeli retaliation, more rockets and more Israeli raids.

By June 2008, Hamas and Israel were both ready to reach some sort of accommodation, and the six-month truce was declared, although never formally defined.

Their job, the Hamas officials said, was to stop the rocket attacks on Israel not only from its own armed groups, but also from others based in Gaza, including Islamic Jihad and Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades.

It took some days, but they were largely successful. Hamas imposed its will and even imprisoned some of those who were firing rockets. But the goods shipments, while up some 25 to 30 percent and including a mix of more items, never began to approach what Hamas thought it was going to get. Israel said it planned to increase the shipments in stages, and noted that the rockets never stopped completely.

After the truce lapsed on Dec. 19, rocket firing stepped up quickly, with more than 60 rockets and mortar shells falling on Israeli border towns on Dec. 24 alone. On Dec. 27, Israel began a sweeping campaign of airstrikes across Gaza, targeting not only military installations but at the infrastructure of Hamas’s control. On Jan. 3, 2009, Israel opened a ground war, sending tanks and troops across the border into Gaza.

1 comment:

tater said...

it appears that the rockets into Israel are because they are so poor in Gaza and that's the only way they can send an S.O.S. ? I don't really get it, obviously! I don't think Israel is responding in a helpful or humanitarian way, but they feel attacked (and are!) and afraid.