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Palestine and Islamic influence on resistance: a response to Mehdi Hasan

Mehdi Hasan, a political journalist, broadcaster and author [Matthew Smith/Flickr]

Suspense created by the uncovering of hidden secrets attracts people, especially when it comes to established facts. Hence, Mehdi Hasan is keen on showing his audience the hidden side of the picture, or confirming that it doesn’t exist if that is the case.

In his Intercept programme, “Blowback”, Hasan wanted to tell us what we should really know about Hamas, which seems to contradict with whatever we already know about the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement. According to the journalist, although Israel has waged three wars against Hamas, the Zionist state actually “helped” to create the movement. He reaches that conclusion primarily by adapting the Israeli narrative. The voice of Hamas was completely missing in his programme; indeed, there was no sign of any impartiality.

Real Palestine vs virtual Palestine

Palestine, implies Hasan, is a secular-nationalist country, and neither religious nor Islamist. The Palestinian national movement was not, he insists, inspired and guided by Islam but by secular nationalism. He seems to have skipped a large part of Palestinian history and is unaware that the first Palestinian armed resistance movement (Al-fida’yyeh) was founded in 1919 by a group of Muslim Ulema, Shaikh Hassan Abussoud, Shaikh Muhammad Yousef Al-Alami, and Shaikh Muhammad Amin Al-Husseini. Another well-known resistance movement by the name of Al-Jihadeyyeh was started by Shaikh ʿIzz ad-Dīn Al-Qassām in the 1930s. The whole Palestinian national movement was then led by yet another Muslim scholar, no other than the Grand Mufti of Palestine, the aforementioned Shaikh Muhammad Amin Al-Husseini. The first chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Ahmad Al-Shuqayri, was the son of Shaikh Asa’d Al-Shuqayri, the Mufti of the Fourth Ottoman Army and member of the Ottoman Parliament.

The founders of Fatah, which Mehdi Hasan describes as a secular movement, were members of the Muslim Brotherhood, such as Khalil Al-Wazir, the head of the Youth Wing of the Palestinian chapter, and others, namely Abdul Fattah Al-Homoud, Salim Azz’non, Muhammad Yousef Al-Najjar, Salah Khalaf, Rafiq Al-Natsheh, Fathi Al-Balaawi, Yousef Omaireh and Kamal Odwan. Even Yasser Arafat was close to the Muslim Brotherhood. In fact, all over the Muslim world, Islam was the main driving force behind resistance movements against colonialism.

Read: Abbas does not want reconciliation with Hamas, claims senior Fatah official

The Muslim Brotherhood itself was established in response to the downfall of the Islamic political umbrella, the Caliphate, by what was regarded as a colonialist conspiracy. One of the main objectives of the movement was to fight the colonial powers. Its founder, Shaikh Hassan Al-Banna, supported liberation movements all over the Islamic world, especially in Palestine.

The role of the Muslim Brotherhood in supporting the Palestinian national movement is well known. Many of the local dignitaries joined the Brotherhood and established branches. It is believed that the first Palestinian branch was established in 1937. The Islamic movement had branches in all major Palestinian cities, including Al-Quds (Jerusalem), Haifa, Nablus and Gaza. Most of the Palestinian leaders either joined the Muslim Brotherhood or enjoyed good relations with it, such as Shaikh Amin Al-Husseini. Its members were very active not only in social work, but also politically, especially in opposing the Zionist movement. Their efforts included the organisation of armed groups locally and in neighbouring Arab countries such as Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Jordan.

It is no surprise that most of the resistance groups that appeared in Palestine, were not only Islamic, by were also founded either by members of the Muslim Brotherhood, or had its support. Many of the founders of Hamas were among those who refused to leave the Muslim Brotherhood and join Fatah when it was founded.

Read: Fatah is ready for ‘armed resistance,’ says senior official

Due to the vicious campaign against the Brotherhood by Gamal Abdel Nasser and the Egyptian media, the structure and the image of the movement were damaged. The leadership of the organisation always felt that they needed more time to recover before embarking on such a dangerous move as initiating a resistance movement.

The Muslim Brotherhood never stopped being active in Palestinian society, and it was one of the strongest political and social movements. It was active in universities, community organisations, labour unions and syndicates, and above all amongst the people. Yet, after years of internal debate, and after the PLO and Fatah were dealt a serious blow by Israel in Lebanon in 1982 — which endangered the whole Palestinian national movement — the mood within the Brotherhood began to change.

In 1983, Shaikh Ahmed Yassin — described by Mehdi Hasan as “a half blind, disabled Palestinian cleric” — decided along with other Muslim Brotherhood leaders to build up an armoury of weapons. They were caught by the Israeli occupation authorities and jailed in 1984. Shaikh Ahmed, who was a well-known orator and prominent community leader in the Gaza Strip, was released in a prisoner exchange deal the following year.

Gradually, more people within the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine were convinced that it was time to launch a full-fledged resistance movement, but they were waiting for the right moment. This arrived in late 1987, when three Palestinians were run over by an Israeli truck driver. This incident represents the beginning of the first Intifada (Uprising); it was followed soon after, in mid-December 1987, by the first communique from the Islamic Resistance Movement, which became known as Hamas from the Arabic letters for h, m and s.

Is it true that Israel helped Hamas?

It is almost certainly true that Israel tried to manipulate the national Palestinian movement by turning its factions against each other, but it largely failed. There is no document or testimony, even among those used by Hasan in his “Blowback” programme, which state openly that Hamas received direct help from Israel. He quotes Yasser Arafat, who was a bitter rival of the movement, to “prove” his point, but to what extent should his allegation be taken seriously? This applies even more to the Israelis and the Americans who declared open war on Hamas.

Palestinians gather at Al-Katiba Square during an event held to mark the 30th anniversary of Hamas, on 14 December 2017 in Gaza City, Gaza [Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency]

Moreover, Mehdi Hasan failed to explain to his viewers that the Israelis as an occupying force in the Gaza Strip and West Bank were responsible, according to international law, for the safety and well-being of the people living in the occupied Palestinian territories. The Israelis had a legal duty to provide for their social needs, including schools, mosques and other community institutions. Under the occupying force, the Palestinians had to obtain permits from the Israeli Military Authority; they had to get permission for everything from a burial to building a university. It was practically impossible, therefore, for Shaikh Yassin to register a civil society organisation in 1978 and in just five years build a huge network that represented a real threat to Fatah. Shaikh Ahmed actually built on the heritage of the Muslim Brotherhood. Furthermore, having its own community organisations was and is not restricted to Hamas; all of the other Palestinian factions had and have their own civil institutions under occupation, including Fatah.

Hamas and Daesh

Mehdi Hasan came to a shocking conclusion; that all Islamists are the creation of colonial powers. He alleged that the problem in Palestine is not the Israeli occupation and its policies, but Hamas, which is not, in his eyes, a liberation movement. Hasan believes that it is another anti-Semitic, nihilistic Islamic militant group that opposes the pragmatic and peace-oriented Fatah.

Read: Hamas preparing for a post-Abbas era

Hamas, we should remember, won the only free and fair Palestinian elections to be held, in 2006, gaining more than 57 per cent of the seats in the Palestinian parliament, the Legislative Council. This made it the largest political movement in Palestine by far. Undermining the main political and resistance movement in Palestine by giving viewers the impression that Hamas is no different to Daesh in that both are creations of foreign forces, strikes a direct blow to the Palestinian national movement and the aspirations of the people of Palestine to live in freedom.

Hamas did not come about in a vacuum; it is the resistance manifestation of the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood. In that sense, Hamas is much older than Fatah. What was missing from Mehdi Hasan’s message was that Hamas was clever not be dragged into direct conflict with other Palestinian factions, even when the main body of the Palestinian Authority worked closely with the Israeli occupation authorities to destroy the movement in Gaza and the West Bank. Hasan’s conclusions could be said to be part of the same nefarious efforts.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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