Sunday, August 12, 2007

Inside Hamas: Book Review in Pakistani Press

BOOK REVIEW: Hamas: weapon of those without hope by Khaled Ahmed
Daily Times, August 12, 2007

Inside Hamas: The Untold Story of Militants, Martyrs and Spies
Author: Zaki Chehab; Publisher: IB Tauris 2007

In 2006, after Hamas had won the elections in Palestine, the US cut off its diplomatic relations with the newly formed government and Israel declared war on it, kidnapping its ministers although seven out of the cabinet of 24 were PhDs from the US. In the days that followed the Palestinians were engulfed by an internecine conflict in which PLO President Mahmoud Abbas’s men fought street battles with the Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh’s men, thus giving reprieve to Israel for the umpteenth time in its war with the Arabs.

Hamas — dedicated to non-recognition and undoing of Israel — has been dubbed terrorist together with Al Qaeda, Hizbollah and LTTE of Sri Lanka. Zaki Chehab, a leading Arab journalist who is political editor of the London-based newspaper Al Hayat, has gone back to his birthplace in East Jerusalem and travelled to Gaza to trace the history of Hamas as the organisation of the Palestinian Arabs living in Gaza with low levels of education and greater adherence to Islam as it radiated from the great Ikhwan movement of Egypt. He also delves into the life of Sheikh Yassin, the founder of Hamas, who was assassinated by Israel in 2004 in revenge for ten Israelis killed at the southern Israeli port of Ashod by two Hamas suicide-bombers a fortnight earlier.

Sheikh Ahmad Ismail Hassan Yassin was born in 1938 and suffered spine damage while wrestling with a friend which made him paraplegic for the rest of his life. He ‘compensated’ for his disability with a remarkable intellectual ability to learn and communicate the message of Islam. Yassin went to Al Azhar like most great Islamists of Palestine and returned home to found an Islamic Society in Gaza in 1976. He registered it with the Israeli government. Excited by the prospect of creating a religious counter to secular PLO, Israel accepted Yassin’s approach through a Gaza leader who favoured the Camp David Accord and Egypt’s recognition of Israel.

Author Chehab confirms Israel’s midwife’s role in the birth of Hamas. (Defence minister Yitzhak Rabin who issued the license to Hamas was asked to explain in the cabinet and he answered curtly, ‘to undermine the PLO’). Yassin named the new organisation Harkat al Mokawama al Islamiya in 1987. Here the word mokawama means resistance on the part of Islam but its acronym Hamas also means something that Yassin realised only later. It means ‘zeal’! Jihad in Pakistan borrowed the word harkat from here and dropped the more familiar South Asian word tehreek for ‘movement’.

The big milestone in the Palestinian struggle was the intifada of 1987. The PLO claimed it but it was started by Hamas in the refugee camp of Jabaliya in Gaza when a local man stabbed an Israeli to death, an event that was avenged by the Israelis through the ramming of a truck that killed four Arabs. The leadership of intifada was taken over by a more popular Yasser Arafat of the PLO, tilting the two organisations into rivalry, something that Yassin handled with his usual caution and restraint.

With time it was Hamas that was seen by Israel as the bigger enemy. In 2004, an operation personally overseen by Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon dropped three camera-guided missiles that killed Sheikh Yassin and his daughter as they were going for the morning prayer. Israel’s actions in Gaza made sure that there were leaders enough to take over from where the Sheikh had left off. In fact, Gaza was to produce the man who was to change the destiny of Pakistan in the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

That man was Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, born in West Bank in 1941 and active in Gaza as a religious scholar who was to write the Constitution of Hamas. He led the Palestinian Ikhwan after a PhD in fiqh from Al Azhar and after friendship with Syed Qutb and the blind sheikh of Egypt, Omar Abdul Rehman now doing time in an American jail for trying to blow up the World Trade Centre in 1993.

Azzam taught in Saudi Arabia where he stayed in an apartment of the Ladens, then came to Peshawar to lead the jihad against the Soviets. He was killed mysteriously in Peshawar in 1989 along with his sons after disagreeing with Al Zawahiri over the nature of jihad and, according to some researchers in Pakistan, after preferring Ahmad Shah Massoud over Hekmatyar. His votaries in Pakistan include chief of Harkatul Mujahideen, Fazlur Rehman Khaleel, and Jamaat Dawa’s Hafiz Said.

The most dangerous challenge faced by Israel from Hamas are the Qassam rockets, named after Ez Ed Din al Qassam (b.1882), a peripatetic Islamic scholar inspired by Al Azhar and chief mufti Muhammad Abduh of Egypt. (Gaza’s spiritual connection with Egypt is traced to the fact that Gaza belonged to Egypt till Israel took it in 1967.) Qassam was Syrian to begin with but finally settled in Palestine where he looked after and taught children belonging to Arabs ousted by the Israeli land grab. He became judge of Haifa’s sharia court in 1930 because of his religious authority. His uprising against the British killed him in 1935 along with his Qassam fighters, raising him to the status of a Hamas saint.

The Egyptian connection of Hamas, and the leadership of people like Azzam, should have brought Hamas close to Al Qaeda but it apparently has not, as the book explains: ‘The interests of both the mainstream Palestinian population and the more extreme groups including Hamas are very simple: the return of their land and the formation of their own state. Al Qaeda on the other hand has a more nebulous interest which includes the unlikely establishment of a Caliphate, the elimination of Western interests from all Muslim lands and a full blown conflict of civilisations’. (p.196) *

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