Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Understanding Hamas at 25:
Beyond the Tired
Language of the Zionist-Dominated Western Media
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, December 17, 2012
“In a moment of high theatre he dropped to his knees, placed his
lips on the ground and kissed the land he has commanded by proxy”. This is
how Robert Tait of the British Telegraph worded the moment Khalid Misha'al
arrived in Gaza on Dec 07. Tait’s report on what many in Gaza and elsewhere
consider a watershed event in the history of the Islamic movement, was
mostly consistent with (the Zionist-dominated Western) mainstream reporting
on any event concerning the impoverished and besieged Gaza Strip: often
biased, selective and devoid of real understanding or empathy.
reporting on Hamas is doubly provocative, controversial and similar to
political stances towards Hamas. However, in the eyes of Israel, through the
prism of its media and among Israel’s western supporters, Hamas is an
unequaled terrorist organization, sworn to destroy Israel and unlike the
other ‘moderate’ Palestinians – for example, western-backed Palestinian
Authority – it refuses to recognize Israel’s ‘right to exist’. The latter
point was faithfully emphasized by Tait. He, like many others, unthinkingly
or deliberately fails to question the incredulous condition placed on a
relatively small movement as it faces a powerful and habitually brutal
Israeli military occupation.
Hamas’ supporters, on the other hand,
see the 25-year-old movement as the pinnacle of Palestinian resistance; an
iconic organization that unlike leading secular Palestinian factions,
refuses to compromise. To make the point, they cite various battles and
numerous assassinations of Hamas’ leaders, including that of quadriplegic
Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, who was pitilessly murdered by an Israeli missile in
2004. They argue that a movement which is willing to pay this kind of a
price – life itself - for its political and moral stances must be above
suspicion, if not criticism.
However, for many in the left that is
barely enough. The notion that the movement was an outright creation of the
Israeli internal intelligence Shin Bet, has been stable in leftist discourse
for many years. The idea is often accepted without any serious attempts at
qualification or discussion, like many leftist ideals on Palestine and
Each party does its utmost to defend their anti and
pro Hamas arguments.
Pro-Israeli media is anchored in the suicide
bombings line of reasoning, which, again, is selective, lacks context and
conveniently overlooks the fact that thousands of Palestinians were killed
by the Israeli military, even years after Hamas abandoned such tactics.
Hamas supporters reference battles, notwithstanding the Nov 14, 8-day war on
Gaza, where Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other resistance groups, earned what
they perceive as an unprecedented victory against Israel.
also those who, while sympathizing with Palestinian aspirations and
resistance, have a difficult time accepting Hamas’ turnabout regarding
Syria, its suspicious closeness to Qatar, and what they see as shifty and
dubious political style.
Peculiarly, there is a common denominator
between all of these perceptions of Hamas. They all brand the movement using
single, uniform logic, devoid of any accommodating analysis that examines
facts, overt and subtle discourses, and places such intricate phenomena in
larger political contexts. Such a unitary view is of course not unique to
Hamas, but it also applies to everything Palestinian. It is a natural
outcome of media distortions and political bias. Anyone Israel perceives as
an enemy, is instantly dehumanized and presented with crude and inane
language. Social media helps correct the imbalance to a degree, although it
also contributes to the polarization: a Palestinian thus becomes either a
cold-blooded terrorist or a would-be martyr, bad or good, pro-US or
pro-Iran, and so on.
However, an unpretentious analysis requires
breaking away from all the fixed ideas and preemptive conclusions, where
Hamas is neither a violence-driven menace nor a flawless organization with a
perfect track record; neither a brainchild of Israeli intelligence, nor a
political conduit of Qatar.
Some of those who reported on Meshaal’s
visit to Gaza, emphasized the militant or religious symbols that awaited him
upon arrival. He was “greeted by a throng of hundreds of chanting supporters
– some armed to the teeth with Kalishnikovs and rocket propelled grenades,”
wrote Tait right in the first paragraph. Others highlighted his ‘wish’ to
one day die a ‘martyr’ in Gaza (AFP). Once again, such reporting confounds
terms with deep cultural references – as in his willingness to pay the
ultimate price for his beliefs. Interestingly, Meshaal was in fact all but
dead in an Israeli assassination attempt at his life in Amman, Jordan in
1997, another fact conveniently omitted from many reports.
inception, Hamas has grown in every pertinent way. Its very first statement
was a true depiction of the inexperience of the movement at the time and the
nature of the relationship that governed ill-fated Palestinians and the rest
of the Arab world: “It’s our duty to address the word to the Arab rulers,
and particularly to the rulers of Egypt, the Egyptian army and the Egyptian
people, as follows: What has happened to you, O rulers of Egypt? Were you
asleep in the period of the treaty of shame and surrender, the Camp David
Since then, the political landscape has been repeatedly
altered. While Hamas’ own evolution had itself impacted some of the change –
for example, its decision to participate in the legislative elections in
2006, its conflict with Fatah, and its handling of the situation in Gaza
since then – much of the transformation, especially in the last two years
has not been of its own making.
As violence flared in Syria, Hamas
attempted to develop a unique neutral position which failed. The political
schisms in Syria proved impossible to navigate and the June 2012
assassination of Kamal Ghanaja, a Hamas mid-level leader in Damascus was the
bloody culmination of that failure.
Fearing that Hamas’ anxiety
would lead to further closeness to Iran – especially as the political score
in tumultuous Egypt is yet to be settled - a major campaign, led by Qatar
was initiated to sway Hamas from Iran, which was a major source of support
to Hamas and other Palestinian factions. The push to influence Hamas was
topped by a late October visit to Gaza by Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani,
emir of Qatar. It was then that Hamas' Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh
declared that the siege was over, only to be reminded three weeks later by a
massive Israeli war that it was not. However, deterring Hamas backfired and
Israel soundly lost that battle. In the process there were new discoveries
that the resistance in Gaza was much more resourceful than previously
Days after Gazans celebrated the defeat of Israel’s war
objectives, several billboards thanking Iran for its help of the resistance
were erected in Gaza. It was perhaps Hamas’ (and the Islamic Jihad) way of
sending a clear message that it will continue to play by its own rules, that
it is a member of no camp, that its allegiance remains to principles and not
to governments or funds. Interestingly though, the billboards were not
Now that Meshaal has visited Gaza and was greeted by a large
number of Palestinians, the movement seems to operate with greater clarity
and confidence than any other time in the last two years. “Politics without
resistance has no meaning,” he said soon after arrival. The statement is
rife with meanings and suggestions.
At 25, Hamas has morphed in its
status and importance, and within that prominence lays its strengths and
weaknesses. In order to maintain a level of power and to safeguard its
political evolution, it has no other option but to become even more
dependent on other parties, Egypt notwithstanding, whose prospects for
stability are receding by the day.
The Israeli prescription of
understanding everything Palestinian, including Hamas, no longer suffices.
Western journalists need to take notice of that complex reality and quit
stereotyping and cataloging Palestinians using the same old language. There
is more to understanding such issues than a tired division between good guys
and others “hell-bent on the destruction of Israel.” Hamas should be
understood properly within its local context, and then in relations to all
of its surroundings, including Israel.
25-years later, Hamas is
still understood within limited confines of an ever-redundant discourse
obsessed with Israel’s security, and later with an imagined Iranian threat.
A new understanding is desperately required, one that is sensible enough to
take into account the uniqueness of the Palestinian narrative itself,
Palestinian history, the struggle and rights, as opposed to Israel’s
security - the cornerstone of western media reporting on Palestine and the
– Ramzy Baroud (
www.ramzybaroud.net ) is an internationally syndicated columnist and the
editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom
Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London).