When the Israeli Government Loved Hamas

If you write anything critical of Israel’s actions in the West Bank, you’re immediately inundated with letters complaining about Hamas. “Hamas is a death cult,” these letters run. “They’re religious fanatics. They use children as human shields. How can you defend Hamas?” Along these lines, in  a widely noted New York Times op-ed Jeffrey Goldberg argues that the US and Israel should try to strengthen the secular Palestinian party Fatah and work to weaken Hamas.


Yet it’s worth reminding ourselves in the not too distant past, the exact opposite strategy was followed. In the 1970s both the United States and Israel thought that secular left-wing Arab nationalism was a bigger threat than religious fundamentalism. For that reason, Israel worked strongly to empower Hamas and undermine Fatah.


In his 2006 book The Iron Cage, historian Rashid Khalidi describes “the transformation of the Palestinian branch of Muslim Brotherhood and its offsprings, Hamas, from the protégés of the Israeli occupation into Israel’s fierce enemy.” As Khalidi notes, “For well over two decades after the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, Israel …[used] the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoot Hamas in Gaza as a counterweight to the nationalist Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). This reached the point where the Israeli military occupation encouraged Brotherhood thugs to intimidate PLO supporters.”

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The chimera of democratic peace

Suhaib Salem/Reuters)
Smoke from an Israeli air strike rises over the Gaza Strip (Photo: Suhaib Salem/Reuters)

To the governments of Israel and of much of the Western world, the current battle against Hamas in the Gaza Strip is a black and white case of democracy versus terrorism. Israel claims that its sole motivation is the reduction of rocket fire from the territory; defence minister Ehud Barak has declared repeatedly that “our aim is to force Hamas to stop its hostile activities against Israel and Israelis from Gaza, and to bring about a significant change in the situation in the southern part of Israel”. There is no tone of tragedy or sadness in this statement and in others like it, only a stern-sounding bureaucratese meant to evoke a sense of determination and cool professionalism. Yet for those who claim to love democracy, especially for those who claim to see it as the solution to the intractable problems of the Middle East and of the world in general, there is a political tragedy going on, for two democracies are at war. Continue reading