Newsletter : 6fax0326.txt
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Publisher\Editor Don Canaan
March 26, 1996 V4, #56
All the News the Big Guys Missed
Who and What is Hamas?
By Adam Phillips (VOA-Washington)
Earlier this month, the Palestinian Authority announced the arrest
of three more Hamas leaders as part of its continuing crackdown on
the militant Islamic Palestinian group. Hamas has claimed
responsibility for a series of devastating suicide bombs that have
killed or maimed well over 100 Israelis thereby casting grave doubt
on the future of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Hamas is dedicated to destroying the peace process between the
Israeli and Palestinian people and ultimately seeks the abolition
of the State of Israel itself. But according to Gudrun Kramer,
a professor of Islamic studies at Bonn University in Germany, there
is more to the Hamas agenda than this.
"Hamas is very much an expression of Palestinian nationalism, the
fight against the occupation, and the striving for some kind of
what they think is an authentic framework of society and the state.
They express themselves in Islamic terms, and they of course select
those verses from the Koran that fit into their interpretation and
world view. They are one way of interpreting the Islamic heritage
and the Koran. They are by no means the strongest one. But of
course for Israelis living within Israel, they are a danger."
Kramer says that what makes Hamas members especially dangerous is
their certainty that "God is on their side."
"That gives them this sense of self-righteousness and assertiveness
as well. Their political concepts are more interesting than one
thinks. But it is not very immediate for them, not very imminent
and urgent. What really characterizes them is their struggle
against Israel. That really is their major concern, which also
distinguishes them from Islamic movements in other Muslim countries
such as Egypt, where the fight against Israel is much less central
It is one of the Middle East's enduring ironies that the peace
process is threatened by the Hamas brand of religiously-motivated
violence when both Palestinian and Israeli societies are largely
secular. But many observers point out that economic hardship --
and the fact that Hamas was excluded from the Oslo negotiations --
also accounts for much of Hamas' current strategy and its
grassroots support among Palestinians.
"Many are people are frustrated [and desperate]. Their economic
situation is miserable. They have no direction to look for, and
Hamas offers that direction...The issue is inclusivity, which is
how we call it in our field or in conflict resolution. Do we find
a solution that includes all the parties or we include [only] some
of them and have a deal between Peres and Arafat only?"
Mohammed abu-Nimer, a native Palestinian, is a professor of Middle
Eastern studies and conflict resolution at Guilford College in
Greensboro, NC. He credits Hamas' social and educational programs,
combined with Palestinian impatience over the pace of independence,
for its following in the West Bank -- not its adherence to Islam
"As a political party, they provide an infrastructure of economic
welfare and support for their followers. On the other hand, when
Arafat claims that here is some sort of independence and some sort
of direction for a state, Hamas can claim exactly the opposite and
say what we ended up with is more tighter control, more seclusion
and basically surrounding us with the Israeli military who
basically built a huge prison out of Gaza and the West Bank.
It remains to be seen whether compromise might become a part of the
Hamas agenda. Although Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres has
guardedly welcomed Arafat's crackdown on Hamas extremists, many
Israelis have been enraged by the suicide bombings and the carnage
they caused. Similarly, the temporary closing of the West Bank by
Israel threatens to radicalize a once-moderate Palestinian public
that depends on the Jewish state for its jobs and trade.
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