Both the Palestinian “resistance” group HAMAS (Harakat al-Mukwama al-Islamiya) and the United Nations fund and run summer camps for hundreds of thousands of Palestinian children each year. Normally, I am thrilled when an organization funds summer camps for children. In the case of the HAMAS summer camps, I am not so thrilled.
In the UN summer camps, the children partake in the sorts of summer camp activities that we would expect in the West. Fun, games, and those arts and craft projects that I always resisted as a child. In the HAMAS run camps, the children receive jihad training, including suicide bombing tactics and lectures on the “72 virgins” afterlife that awaits suicide bombers.
HAMAS’ charter clearly states that their purpose is to remove Israel from all of Palestine and replace it with a Sunni brand of fundamentalist Islamic government. Whereas HAMAS describes itself as an “Islamic fundamentalist” group, I always wonder how self-proclaimed fundamentalists of the oppressive varieties reconcile their fascist politics with what they claim is their religion.
HAMAS is an outgrowth of the Egyptian Islamic Brotherhood, which operated in the Gaza region prior to Egypt’s defeat in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. When Israel took over Gaza in 1967, it took a more liberal view of religious freedom than Egypt had taken, and it allowed Islamic groups to operate openly. Israel (a fundamentalist democratic religious state) saw the groups as a potential non-violent alternative to the secular Palestinian Nationalist groups like Fatah. Fatah is the largest faction of the multi-factioned Palestinian Liberation Organization. Fatah’s stated purposes include the “eradication of the Zionist state.”
Sheik Ahmed Yassin used the opportunity to found the charity group, Mujama al-Islamiya. Though Amehd Yassin’s group did do charity work, in its early years it also directed violence against secular Palestinian groups and anyone with communist leanings. Israel avoided getting in the middle of the infighting within Palestinian organizations, but did its best to confiscate weapons and explosives from Palestinian groups whenever it was able to discover arms caches.
Around the time of the first “intifada” in 1988, Yassin’s group reinvented itself as the Palestinian Resistance, HAMAS. HAMAS did not conduct its first attack against Israel until 1989. That same year, an Israeli court convicted Ahmed Yassin of organizing the kidnapping and murder of two Israeli soldiers.
In the early 1990s, just as HAMAS was gaining a following and demonstrating it’s radical anti-Israeli position, the Palestinian National Authority, led by Yasser Arafat of the Fatah political party in its “no more Soviet funding” reality, was pursuing a more moderate approach in its negotiations with Israel. Once Fatah had received concessions from Israel in the form of control of autonomous areas, it had more to lose than to gain by pursuing a terrorist campaign against Israel. While elements within Fatah continued to pursue terrorist tactics against Israel, the mainstream members tried to form something resembling a legitimate working government. Corruption and incompetency crippled Fatah efforts and, unfortunately, left Palestinians without any real government or the services that normal governments provide or claim to provide. In the power vacuum created by Fatah’s inability to govern, HAMAS grew in popularity.
Unlike Fatah, HAMAS exercised strict internal discipline and gained a reputation for integrity within the Palestinian community. While bribes and corruption remained standard practice for Fatah, HAMAS avoided abusing the Palestinians whose interests it claims to represent against Israel. In the 1990s, with no worthy communist infidels available as targets, HAMAS usually reserved violence for Israelis.
IN 1996, HAMAS conducted a suicide bombing campaign that killed over fifty Israelis. In response, the Fatah-controlled Palestinian National Authority arrested 140 HAMAS members. The arrests slowed down HAMAS, but only temporarily.
In 1999, King Abdullah of Jordan ordered the closing of HAMAS offices in Jordan. HAMAS had grown careless, and was likely responsible for bombings in Jordan.
In 2001, after over a decade of violence by HAMAS, the US State Department finally got around to declaring that HAMAS was a terrorist organization. I wonder if HAMAS chuckled in response.
IN 2004, HAMAS promoted sexual equality for Palestinian teens when it sent a female suicide bomber to Erez Crossing in Israel. Four Israeli’s were killed, but by then the bombings had become so routine that few Westerners noticed. In March of the same year, an Israeli air strike killed Ahmed Yassin. The next day, Abdel Rantisi was named as the new leader of HAMAS. Three weeks later, he was killed by an Israeli air strike.
HAMAS continued its bombing campaigns with far more regularity than a Palestinian bus schedule. In January of 2006, after a two-year period of regular suicide bombings against Israelis, HAMAS won control of the Palestinian Legislative Council. Fatah claimed vote rigging by HAMAS. HAMAS claimed vote rigging by Fatah. It is the only instance I can recall of them both being right about anything.
On March 29, 2006, the new HAMAS led government was sworn in. The United States and Canada both announced that it would not recognize the HAMAS lead Palestinian government. HAMAS momentarily slowed its bombing campaign against Israel. They were apparently busy hunting down Fatah members and had to forgo their steady diet of murdering Israelis.
In June of 2007 after a week of gun battles, car bombings, and sniper activity, HAMAS took control of Gaza, and Fatah members retreated into Israel. The sight of Fatah thugs running to Israel for protection was ironic to say the least.
IN April 2008, retired US President Jimmy Carter traveled to Syria to meet with exiled HAMAS leader Khalid Meshaal and broker a truce with Israel. He hoped to stop the near constant rocket attacks against Israel in exchange for Israel lifting its partial blockade of Gaza. HAMAS and Israel agreed on a six-month truce. I don’t think the truce lasted six minutes. Israel lifted the blockade, but the rocket attacks and suicide bombings continued.
In the Palestinian controlled West Bank, Fatah still holds sway, but in Gaza, HAMAS maintains control. In late April, HAMAS and Fatah signed an agreement to return to joint government, but they have not, as yet, been able to agree on a leader.
Against this background of murder and mayhem, HAMAS will be running summer camp for Palestinian children. HAMAS has explained that the camps will teach “good Islamic values like Jihad.” That might be the one “value” that HAMAS is qualified to teach children. These are the same children from HAMAS controlled Gaza who lack schools and basic health care. HAMAS is in no position to teach the children how to support civilization, but they are happy to teach them how to blow up a civilization.
In my view, the UN rarely engages in useful activity. In the case of Gaza, they are, in spite of themselves, making a real effort. The UN is attempting to run summer camps for up to 250,000 children in Gaza. Unfortunately, some Gazans don’t appreciate the effort. UN summer camp facilities have already suffered vandalism and attacks by masked men.
HAMAS claims ignorance concerning the daylight attacks on UN facilities in Gaza. The notion that any Palestinian in Gaza would dare to conduct such attacks without HAMAS permission seems to me to be laughable at best. To defy HAMAS in Gaza is suicide and can bring brutal retribution upon ones family. The Palestinian children in the UN camps apparently have little human value to HAMAS.
An Israeli controlled Gaza was an embarrassing inconvenience for Palestinians. Understandably, Palestinians dreamed of a Gaza without Israel. They have it now. Unfortunately for Palestinians, their dream has become a grim nightmare of murder, intimidation, poverty, and hopelessness. Gaza under Israel was unpleasant. Gaza under HAMAS is hell.
HAMAS operates with what it claims is an “Islamic fundamentalist” agenda. If Gaza is a true manifestation of the practice of Islam, then I can only pity Islamic children. If it is not a true example, then it would be useful for “real” Islamic people to make their views known to the world. When a Western commentator associates Islam with violence, Western Islamic groups are quick to loudly protest.
HAMAS has clearly stated that child suicide bombing is an important Islamic value. Is it? Will Muslims in the West take exception to HAMAS’ statements? So far, they have not. Beneath the fetid heap of greed and power politics in Gaza and the West Bank, some essential questions have escaped to the surface. What are the children of Gaza worth to anyone? What do they deserve? Is life under HAMAS what the world can expect from an Islamic fundamentalist government?