HAMAS – Viewed through the lens of class analysis
UCI, May 2008
The transparent corruption of the PA (Palestinian Authority) and its failure to effectively counteract Israeli policies of closure and sanctions amid the growing impoverishment of the Palestinian working class led to the emergence of the Islamic Resistance Movement (better known as “Hamas”) as a competitor for power.
In popular discourse Hamas is depicted as one of two things: either as a national liberation organization providing needed social services among Palestinians or as a nationalist organization calling for the destruction of Israel. These depictions are not mutually contradictory. Hamas is indeed both.
Hamas, which was inspired by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, is a nationalist organization with no revolutionary pretensions. Its primary goal is the “national liberation” of Palestine and not the liberation of the working class. Article 12 of its charter makes this clear:
“According to the Islamic Resistance Movement, nationalism is part and parcel of its religious creed …Whereas other nationalisms consist of material, human, or territorial considerations, the Islamic Resistance Movement’s nationalism carries all of that plus all the more important divine factors …” (Mishal and Sela, 2006: 182; emphasis added).
This nationalism is blended with religion and an anti-Jewish conspiracy theory that reduces modern history to a Jewish plot to take over the world. Article 22 of the Hamas charter details this alleged plot:
“It [the Jewish people or “enemy”] has accumulated huge and influential material wealth, which it devotes to realizing its dream. With this money, it has taken control of the world’s media, such as news agencies, the press, publishing houses, and broadcasting. With this money, it has ignited revolutions in various parts of the world with the purpose of fulfilling its interests and benefiting from them. It [the enemy] stood behind the French Revolution, the Communist Revolution, and most of the revolutions we have heard and hear about, here and there. It is with this money that it has formed secret organizations throughout the world, in order to destroy societies and achieve the Zionists’ interests. Such organizations are the [Free] Masons, Rotary Clubs, Lions Clubs, B’nai B’rith, and others. They are all destructive spying organizations. With this money, it [the enemy] has taken control of the imperialist states and persuaded them to colonize many countries in order to exploit their resources and spread corruption there.
In regard to local and world wars, it has become common knowledge that [the enemy] was behind the [outbreak of] World War I, in which it realized the abolition of the state of the Islamic Caliphate. The enemy profited financially and took control of many sources of wealth, obtained the Balfour Declaration, and established the League of Nations in order to rule the world through that means. The enemy was also behind the [outbreak of] World War II, in which it made huge profits from trading war material and prepared for establishing its state. …
“The imperialistic powers in both the capitalist West and the communist East support the enemy with all their might, in material and human terms, alternating their roles. When Islam is on the rise, the forces of unbelief unite to confront it, because the nation of the unbelievers is one.” (Mishal and Sela, 2006: 190, 191)
According to Article 25 of its charter, Hamas is also anti-communist: “It respects them [other nationalist movements] as long as they do not give their allegiance to the Communist East …” (Mishal and Sela, 2006: 191).
How does an ideology of anti-working class nationalism infused with religion and borrowing copiously from prior anti-Jewish conspiracy theory become popularized and established as a national movement? As with earlier cases of nationalism, the answer is “follow the money”; more precisely, look to those in power and their political interests in fostering such a movement.
As an anti-revolutionary nationalist movement blending religion and racist conspiracy theory, Hamas emerged with the economic and political support of the area’s ruling classes: Saudi, Kuwaiti, and also, ironically, Israeli.
After the oil boom of the 1970s, the upper classes of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait increased their contributions to Islamic charities and social welfare organizations in the Occupied Territories of the West Bank and Gaza “financing a host of Islamic foundations and mosques from which those foundations distributed largesse. In 1967, there were 77 mosques in Gaza; by the outbreak of the [first] intifada , there were 150. Many of these mosques … acted as incubators for Islamic political organizations …”. Funding from Persian Gulf states for Hamas increased after 1990 as they transferred their prior support from the PLO because it sided with Iraq in the crisis over Kuwait. The Muslim charities were quite extensive and produced strong linkages with the local population through organization of “daycare, kindergartens, primary schools, vocational training centers, blood banks, medical clinics, libraries, youth and sporting clubs, and soup kitchens”. The spread of the Islamic charities was also implicitly supported by Israel (Gelvin, 2005: 222, 223).
One of the political forces the Israeli rulers sought to counteract in the 1980s was not simply the PLO whose leader, Arafat, increasingly appeared to Palestinians as a “bourgeois fraud” but the new trade union and community activists in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. These activists had organized about 20 percent of the Palestinian workers into unions. Furthermore, they put forth the view that the Palestinians should not waste time trying to establish a separate nation-state. Rather, they should attempt to integrate themselves into the prevailing system and, sooner or later, the demographic weight of a larger Arab population would turn Israel into a “de facto binational state” (Sachar, 1996: 962). Fearful of this strategy and what it meant for the ethnocratic character of Israel, the National Unity government under Peres and Shamir,
“On the advice of Shin Bet [a branch of the Israeli secret service] … authorized a certain limited enlargement of Moslem [sic] fundamentalist activities in Palestine. The fundamentalists’ program and institutions were directed principally by Hamas, an indigenous, Gaza-based movement …With unofficial Israeli approval now, these right-wing religionists were authorized to build new mosques, Islamic schools and colleges, clinics and infirmaries, and thus presumably to function as a more ‘spiritual’ alternative to Fatah and other PLO factions in Palestine” (Sachar, 1996: 963).
This line of thinking on the part of the Israeli authorities had historical precedents: Zionists spent “substantial sums” to set up the National Muslim societies in 1922 and 1923 as an alternative to the Arab Executive (Lesch, 1979: 51).
The pattern of nationalists collaborating against workers and peasants continued after the establishment of the state of Israel. Fearing the joint Jewish-Arab Israeli Communist Party (Maki),
“the [Israeli] state sponsored public figures such as Archbishop George Hakim as anti-communist leaders. Another sponsored anti-communist was Muhammad Nimr al-Hawari, founder before 1948 of the al-Najjada paramilitary brigades… [that] participated in the fighting against the Zionist militias…Admiring his charisma, Israeli intelligence decided to allow his return to Israel in 1950 as an alternative anti-communist leader. The idea was that Hawari would establish a new Arab popular party.” (Yoav Di-Capua, “The Intimate History of Collaboration: Arab Citizens and the State of Israel”, MERIP Online, May 2007; see also Hillel Cohen, Army of Shadows: Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism, 1917-1948, 2007).
Another precedent, of which Israeli rulers were likely aware, was found across the border in Jordan. When the West Bank was under the control of Jordan in the 1950s and 1960s,
“Amman’s official policy had been marked by a tacit alliance with the Muslim Brothers against both pan-Arab movements and communism” (Mishal and Sela, 2006: 155).
And, shortly after the 1967 war, the Israeli rulers promoted religious organization among Palestinians as a counterweight to the PLO.
“To counter Palestinian nationalism and reduce it to its alleged nonexistence, Ariel Sharon, commander of the southern front in the early 1970s, surreptitiously financed the Muslim Brotherhood and the building of mosques in the Gaza Strip.” (Cypel, 2006: 142)
The old British colonial policy of supporting Islamic groups and their networks of mosques and charities to contain political thought and activism within acceptable anti-revolutionary limits has found its contemporary counterpart in the support of local ruling classes for Hamas. The Saudi, Kuwaiti and Israeli ruling classes would not support Hamas if it was a revolutionary organization seeking to overthrow the existing class structure. The Saudi, Kuwaiti, and Israeli ruling classes would not even support Hamas if it was only trying to unite Arab and Jewish workers into a labor movement. The promotion of nationalist and racist thought has generally served ruling classes well by dividing the working class along ethnic and national lines; and the blending of religion with nationalism increases the power of the national ideology by sacralizing it - that is, by making it holy.
Sylvain Cypel, Walled: Israeli Society at an Impasse, 2005
Yoav Di-Capua, “The Intimate History of Collaboration: Arab Citizens and the State of Israel” MERIP online, May, 2007
James L. Gelvin, The Israel-Palestine Conflict, Cambridge, 2005
Ann Mosely Lesch, Arab Politics in Palestine, 1917-1939: The Frustration of a Nationalist Movement, 1979
Shaul Mishal and Avraham Sela, The Palestinian Hamas: Vision Violence and Coexistence, 2006
Howard M. Sachar, A History of Israel from the Rise of Zionism to Our Time, 1996