Every time the profile of Hamas rises as a result of some development in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, there is an effort undertaken to repackage Hamas as a moderate organization.1
Right after the Palestinian elections in 2006, Musa Abu Marzuq, the deputy head of the Hamas political bureau, published an op-ed in the Washington Post declaring: “a new breed of Islamic leadership is ready to put into practice faith-based principles in a setting of tolerance and unity.”2 Western writers began asking themselves if Hamas was becoming more moderate.
On April 27, 2014, Mahmoud Abbas’ chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, told the Israeli website Ynet that he did not relate to Hamas as a terrorist organization, defining it instead as a political faction.3 Hamas knew, at times, how to use smooth language and play certain media outlets like a violin, making the case that it was moving along a political path. Fatah spokesmen promoted this line when convenient.
The fact that Hamas was recognized as an international terrorist organization by the U.S., the EU, the UK, Canada, and many others, did not give those seeking to redefine it any pause. Neither did the fact that on May 2, 2011, immediately after U.S. Navy Seals killed Osama bin Laden, Hamas’ prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, condemned the United States (it was Haniyeh who sat in the middle at the joint Hamas-Fatah reconciliation ceremony in the Gaza Strip on April 23, 2014).4 Yet, in recent years, a number of Hamas activities and statements point in the exact opposite direction of those analyses that try to soften the image of Hamas.
First, Egypt became convinced that Gaza-based groups were playing a key role in the terrorist attacks that were escalating in the Egyptian heartland. The Egyptian Interior Minister announced in January 2011 that he had “conclusive evidence” that Jaish al-Islam, a Gaza al-Qaeda affiliate, was responsible for the New Year’s Eve bombing of a Coptic Church in Alexandria that led to the deaths of twenty-four Coptic Christians.5 In the past, Hamas had undertaken joint military operations with Jaish al-Islam, like the 2006 kidnapping of Gilad Shalit. While Hamas and Jaish al-Islam alternated between cooperation and competition in their relations, their involvement demonstrated how the Hamas regime was giving sanctuary to organizations that were directly threatening Egypt.
The connection between terror in Egypt and the Hamas regime became even more apparent this past year. The Egyptian military has become increasingly convinced that Hamas itself has become linked to the global jihadist network that has been flourishing in the Sinai Peninsula. This includes training in the use of explosives and other military preparations that are permitted at Hamas military bases.6 In early 2014, Egypt’s Interior Minister, Muhammad Ibrahim, accused Hamas of providing logistical support for a terrorist operation on December 24, 2013, in Mansoura, in the Nile Delta, that left 16 dead and 130 wounded.7 The target was the local Egyptian Security Directorate. Since that time, a Cairo court outlawed the activities of Hamas throughout Egypt. It also ordered the closure of all Hamas offices as well.8
With respect to Israel, another aspect of Hamas behavior that has not received adequate attention is the increase in genocidal rhetoric against the Jewish people within the Hamas leadership, beyond what is written in the 1988 Hamas Charter, which quotes Hassan al-Bana, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, who said: “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it.”
Sheikh Younis al-Astal is a Hamas member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and, more importantly, heads the Clerics Association of Palestine, the most influential religious institution in the Hamas movement. On March 13, 2008, al-Astal called for a mahraqa (literally, burning, but also holocaust, of the Jews).9 He has since further amplified this theme. Appearing on Hamas-owned Al-Aqsa TV, he explained that Allah punished the Jews by means of the Germans and now “it is the turn of the Islamic nation to punish them once again.”10
In another broadcast just this year on Al-Aqsa TV, aired on March 6, 2014, al-Astal asked: “What is the solution to this gang of people (the Jewish people)? He answered by interpreting a verse from the Koran as meaning: “This indicates that we must massacre them (emphasis added), in order to break them down and prevent them from sowing corruption in the world.”11
Al-Astal has not been alone, for similar calls for genocide have been heard over the last number of years in Hamas mosques. Preaching on Hamas television on July 13, 2008, Muhsen Abu Ita stated outright: “The annihilation of the Jews in Palestine is one of the most splendid blessings for Palestine.”12 Ziad Abu al-Hajj advanced the same themes.13 Importantly, this ideological orientation in Hamas set the stage for its use of mass murder through suicide bombings and its rocket attacks aimed at Israeli population centers, but it has not been condemned by the Palestinian leadership in Gaza or in Ramallah.
This week the PLO leader, Mahmoud Abbas, was reported in the New York Times to have issued a statement calling the Holocaust “the most heinous crime to have occurred against humanity.”14 Ironically, Abbas just embraced a movement – Hamas – that has placed genocidal threats against the Jewish people high on its ideological banner.
* * *
1. Zvika Krieger, “Is Hamas Becoming More Moderate?” The Atlantic, January 19, 2012, http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/01/is-hamas-becoming-more-moderate/251596/; Nathan J. Brown, “The Long Road to a Moderate Hamas,” New Republic, November 18, 2012, http://www.newrepublic.com/article/110277/long-road-moderate-hamas.
2. Mousa Abu Marzook, “What Hamas Is Seeking, Washington Post, January 31, 2006, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/01/30/AR2006013001209.html.
3. Elior Levi and Attila Somfalvi, “Erekat: Hamas Is Not a Terror Organization,” Ynet (Hebrew), April 27, 2014, http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-4513537,00.html
4. Fares Akram, “Hamas Condemns the Killing of Bin Laden,” New York Times, May 2, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/03/world/middleeast/03gaza.html?_r=0
5. “Egypt Blames Gaza Group for Bombing,” Al-Jazeera, January 23, 2011, http://m.aljazeera.com/story/201112311414915283
6. Ehud Yaari, “The New Triangle of Egypt, Israel, and Hamas,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, January 17, 2014, http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/the-new-triangle-of-egypt-israel-and-hamas
7. “Egyptian Interior Minister Accuses Hamas of Supporting Mansoura Attackers,” Ahram Online (Egypt), January 2, 2014, http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/90650.aspx; “15 Dead, 134 Injured in Egypt’s Mansoura Explosion,” Ahram Online (Egypt), December 24, 2013, http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/89902.aspx
8. Yasmine Saleh, “Court Bans Activities of Islamist Hamas in Egypt,” Reuters, March 4, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/04/us-egypt-hamas-idUSBREA230F520140304
9. Jonathan D. Halevi, “The Infiltration of Doctrines Supporting the Genocide of Jews into the Ideology of Hamas,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (Hebrew), March 16, 2008, http://www.jcpa.org.il; “Hamas’ Genocide Ideology,” Palestinian Media Watch, http://www.palwatch.org/main.aspx?fi=584
10. “Hamas MP Sheik Yunis Al-Astal: Allah Punished the Jews throughout History and Will Use the Islamic Nation to Punish Them Again,” MEMRI, June 20, 2012, http://www.memri.org/clip_transcript/en/3484.htm
11. “Hamas MP Al-Astal: We Must Massacre Jews, Impose Jizya Poll Tax on Them,” MEMRI, March 6, 2014, http://www.memri.org/clip_transcript/en/4202.htm
12. Dore Gold, “The UN Gaza Report: A Substantive Critique,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2009, http://jcpa.org/article/the-un-gaza-report-a-substantive-critique/.
14. Jodi Rudoren, “Mahmoud Abbas Shifts on Holocaust,” New York Times, April 26, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/27/world/middleeast/palestinian-leader-shifts-on-holocaust.html.