Don't Panic! July 03 2003

Your war questions answered

What is Hamas?

In November 2001, the U.S. declared Hamas a terrorist organization. That's a pretty mean thing to say about someone. Seriously, yo, how do you think we'd like it if people from other countries started saying mean things like that about us? Luckily, that'll never happen.

Politeness aside though, we're right — Hamas is indeed a terrorist organization. It's also the largest Palestinian Islamic fundamentalist group — with an important following and an ever-replenishing fleet of suicide bombers who, for years now, have been blowing up as many Israeli civilians as they can and terrifying the rest in the process.

By the way, did you catch the significance of that first sentence in the prior paragraph? One of our foreign policy pronouncements is actually correct! How about that?

Back when Osama bin Laden was just a beard with a trust fund, Hamas was inflicting terrorist h-e-double-hockey-sticks on Israel. It was founded way back in 1987 during the first Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation — known as the Intifada. Speaking of hockey, the founder of Hamas, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, is wheelchair-bound because of a childhood sports injury. I doubt it was hockey though.

The word Hamas means zeal in Arabic. It also means "That's very funny. I want more" in Spanish. Like USA Patriot Act, Hamas is an acronym. It stands for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya, an Arabic phrase that means Islamic Resistance Movement. I realize that the acronym for that should actually be Hamai. You're gonna have to take that up with them yourself.

The overall stated goal of Hamas is to eradicate Israel and impose Islamic law on Palestine. Don't take my word for it. Hamas' covenant is available online and in English (just Google "Hamas covenant"). It's mostly sanctimonious drivel, but it's really quite enjoyable at points. Article 22, with its claims about how the enemy (meaning Jews) are responsible for the French and Russian revolutions as well as the Lions and Rotary clubs is a standout. Ditto Article 34, which proclaims, "Palestine is the navel of the globe." What does that make the Israelis and Palestinians? The lint?

Hamas started carrying out suicide attacks against Israel in 1993 and continued them throughout the '90s, hoping it would help derail the peace negotiations between Israel and the Arafat-led Palestinian pseudo-government. It did. After the peace negotiations finally fizzled in late 2000 and a second Palestinian uprising began, Hamas and other Islamic terrorists like Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade began stepping up their suicide attacks. The already volatile and violent situation created by Israeli occupation kept getting worse. An attack by one side would "justify" the next attack by the other side. In 2002, there were nearly as many suicide attacks in Israel (59) as there were in the previous eight years combined (62).

Even though the suicide attacks provoke Israeli military responses that inevitably kill lots of Palestinian civilians, Hamas is much more popular now than it was in the early '90s. That's because, in addition to blowing up Israelis (an activity widely viewed among Palestinians as a legitimate response to Palestine civilian deaths caused by Israel), the group also provides Palestinians with badly needed social services such as building and maintaining schools and hospitals as well as providing Palestinians with food and daycare. The corrupt Palestinian National Authority does jack shit by comparison — or whatever the Arabic word is for jack shit.

Hamas is now powerful enough politically that it can scuttle any Israeli-Palestinian peace process by refusing to participate. Being a political force though means that Hamas now more than ever has to consider its political needs — that's one of the reasons why it recently agreed to cease violence against Israelis for 1,000 days. If a peace process that's popular with Palestinians (say that three times fast) gets-a-rollin', Hamas wants to make sure it's on the bus — if only so they can blow it up if they don't like where Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmood Abbas and Yasser Arafat steer it.


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