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Goodbye Gaza Part 2: Who the hell is Hamas?

Damn! Check out the sweet threads on that kid–and he gets to play with mortars! No fair! All I got was lawn darts!Do-gooders? Politicians? Extremists? Rebels? Terrorists?  The answer is: All the Above.  Depending on who you ask of course.  Hello Plaid Friends.  My Hamas-inspired hiatus was due to me working deep deep deep undercover in the Gaza Strip helping secure the release of that reporter-dude named Alan Johnston—whose release was secured by the ruling Hamas government.  And after the free-hostage-celebration ended (and man, those freed hostages seriously know how to party) I remembered that I am way past due on my blog deadline to describe a little about these Hamas cats and their changing role in Gaza.  So read this:

Hamas hopeful after Alan’s release

U.S.: Johnston release will not change world opinion of Hamas

MPs urging engagement with Hamas

The new Hamas spring fashions are in! So sexy!

SO what the hell is a Hamas? Founded in 1987, Hamas was the Gaza Strip branch of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood movement founded in Egypt. Hamas is opposed to the existence of Israel (that’s kind of extreme), and the Hamas charter calls for the eventual creation of an Islamic Republic in place of Israel (extreme, part deux). It is best known outside the West Bank and Gaza Strip for its suicide bombings and other attacks directed against civilians and Israeli military and security forces targets.  It is just such attacks that have earned it the official label as a ‘terrorist organization’ by the US, the EU, Israel, Canada, the UK, and Australia.  So to the US and its staunch lapdogs…um, I mean allies…Hamas is bad, bad, bad oh so fucking bad!  And those countries won’t deal with Hamas, talk to Hamas, or even write a letter to Hamas to tell them how much they fucking hate Hamas. Now that is hate my friends!

Unfortunately for ‘the West’ and its allies, Hamas is something else to a lot of Palestinians and Middle Easterners in general.  It is a political party in the Palestinian territories, and one that has gained popularity in the last few years.  Hamas is the only other real political party option besides Fatah.  Fatah is the main political party in Palestine (see Fatah blog tomorrow) and has been the stronghold of Palestinian political power for years.  Yassir Arrafat was at the helm for decades, and now Mahmoud Abbas is the current leader of the Fatah party, and these guys have essentially been ‘the voice’ for Palestinians forever.  Think of Fatah and Hamas as the Democratic and Republican political parties in the US—except of course that the Republicans don’t have a militant wing of their party that goes out and blows up people and shit….oops…um…my mistake again…bad analogy.

But let’s be real Plaid! They can’t possibly be a real political party! Who the hell would vote for a political party that advocates open violence? Why would anyone in Palestine really want to screw themselves by voting for a terrorist political party? Here’s why: the Fatah movement has increasingly been viewed as ineffective, inefficient, and downright corrupt by a lot of Palestinians.  Lots of people are hungry, unemployed, and desperate.   Many are interested in a change from the Fatah era, which has accomplished little.  On top of that, Hamas actually does a lot of ‘good deeds’ on the ground.  They build and staff hospitals and schools and soup kitchens and a host of other do-gooder stuff that folks on the ground see and benefit from.  That’s the Hamas social wing. Meanwhile, the Hamas political wing advocates a much more hard-core approach to solving the Palestinian/Israel dispute, but is also viewed as much less corrupt and as a real voice for the people.  As such, the Hamas political party has been gaining popularity in the masses, even among those that do not advocate terrorist violence….dammit, that’s what makes them so confusing!…….

Senior Hamas official Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi:

A political party or faction, much like any other party or faction worldwide, Hamas contains a shitload of different viewpoints amongst its members—again, not unlike the Republican or Democratic parties in the US.  There are folks in Hamas who are staunch advocates of solving the Palestinian issue thru the use of force, while other folks in Hamas seek to use only diplomatic political means to solve the problem…there are also members of Hamas who focus only on the social issues of the Palestinian peoples, and others who are just about the grassroots movement on the street to build hospitals and schools.  Are you starting to see the diversity of opinions here?

Dammit I hope so, because that is the only way you can understand their current dilemma.  What has happened over the course of the last decade is that the political and social and militant wings of the Hamas party have kind of parted ways on what to do and how to act.  There has been no singular front; no singular voice of Hamas that speaks for all.  As the social movement in Hamas has struggled to keep up with charitable deeds in an increasingly desperate situation, and the political wing of Hamas has essentially been ignored and shut out of the political process, the militant wing has gained strength within the movement.  In other words, as other options have floundered for the party, the militant guys have gained ground thru their deeds and actions—since no one else can seemingly get anything done, or be taken seriously by ‘the West’. 

Am I defending them for blowing shit up?  Hell no I’m not defending their actions! I’m just trying to explain why the more violent factions within the Hamas party have come to power. Fuck man, they tried the political route—they put up candidates, campaigned for change, got lots of people to vote for them, won the election…and then were politely told to go away and shut the fuck up.  Is it some sort of surprise to other world leaders that Hamas has taken a more violent approach to change, since its other options have been totally shut down?  Oh wait a minute…I’m assuming western leaders know their asses from a hole in the ground. My mistake again.  Let’s move on…

Now you know enough to get to the meat and potatos of the current shit-storm: Since the death of Yasser Arafat, the Fatah movement has lost steam–and the Hamas movement has gained it.  Hamas’s political wing had been entering local/state elections and winning a lot of them, mostly in Gaza, but also the West Bank.  Infighting between these two political factions has gotten nasty in the last few years, resulting in lots more death and destruction—as if this place needed some more.  But now the real shit:

In January 2006, Hamas won a surprise victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections, taking 76 of the 132 seats in the chamber, while the ruling Fatah party took 43.  What’s the big deal about that?  Well, in a parliamentary system, the ruling party of parliament gets to pick the Prime Minister, as well as form the ruling government. (The President is elected by a separate popular vote, like in US) That meant that, quite legally, Hamas was in control and would pick the Prime Minister and be in control of the workings of the Palestinian territory.  Oops!  The Palestinian government was going to be run by a political party labeled as terrorist by Israel and ‘the West’! Oh shit!

When this happened, Israel and all of ‘the West’ refused to recognize any government led by Hamas.  They also pulled all funding from the Palestinian government, in effect immediately bankrupting an already impoverished government (Palestine relies heavily on foreign aid to operate). Dammit! I hate when those pesky democracies vote for people we don’t like! Democracy can be such a pain in the ass for ‘the West’ sometimes!  Why won’t people around the world elect the leaders WE want them to?  Why can’t they understand that WE know what’s best for them?  (Can you sense the smart-ass-ness jumping off the page at you here?) What a fucking joke.

Long story short, the Palestinian parliament was Hamas-controlled but since the world was going to shut them out entirely, Mahmoud Abbas (remember, he is a Fatah guy) kept power until some sort of power-sharing deal could be worked out.  Well, that was 6 months ago and they never worked the shit out.  Hamas got fed up with the process and all hell broke out a few weeks back—Hamas literally, physically and militarily took control of the entire Gaza Strip, their political stronghold from the start.   On June 18, 2007, Palestinian President Abbas issued a decree outlawing the Hamas militia and executive force, and two days later called the group “murderous terrorists.” The Hamas forces that were in real control of Gaza just kind of laughed that decree off. Abbas and the rest of the Fatah government were already safely secure in the West Bank when that mostly meaningless decree was made.

So what we have now is Hamas controlling the Gaza part of Palestine, Fatah controlling the West Bank of Palestine, and the possible end of any future singular state of ‘Palestine’ which contains both these geographic entities.  Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah is still acting head of the West Bank division of Palestine; upon these Gaza events unfolding, every western power recognized him as the rightful ruler of ‘Palestine’ (whatever the fuck that means now.) As such, all diplomatic channels are back open between Abbas and the US, the EU, Israel and others.  All western entities have also promised to give all the previously withheld financial aid to the Abbas governemnt. And only to the Abbas government.

And Hamas? Well, it appears that they may be more fucked than ever.  As all western powers are only recognizing their Fatah rivals in the West Bank, their government in Gaza will remain isolated and poor. But they are quickly moving to change their image in order to be accepted as a legitimate government to the eyes of the world.  Thus, the stories above allude to the Hamas government helping secure the release of the British reporter.  That might help.  But then again it might not.  ‘The West’ is seemingly in no mood to deal with Hamas at all until they change their stance towards the right of Israel to exist, as well as an official renouncement of the use of suicide bombers and other ‘terrorist’ tactics.  Even if Hamas did all that….who knows even then if they would be accepted as a legitimate government in Gaza that the world would talk to and deal with?

I don’t know the answer to that my friends, but I do know a little about how all this will positively affect Fatah, our next topic…

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Well, the battle for the heart and soul of this country is on, but no one outside Burma seems to be able to do a damn thing about it! Why not?

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