Most mainstream accounts of the Palestinian Hamas organization present it as a bunch of rabid fanatics, bent on violence and motivated by an irrational hatred of Jews and the state of Israel. This view is reflected both in the mainstream media and in many books published on the topic.
When we separate propaganda from reality, however, what we find is a group that has taken on the mantle of national resistance against Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands.
Hamas describes itself like this: "The Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) is a Palestinian national liberation movement that struggles for the liberation of the Palestinian occupied territories and for the recognition of the legitimate rights of Palestinians." (1)
In its manifesto in the lead-up to the 2006 elections, it stated: "Our Palestinian people are still living through the phase of national liberation; they have the right to endeavor to regain their rights and end the occupation using all available means, including armed resistance." (2)
It is because of this commitment to the national liberation struggle--and the recognition among Palestinians that Hamas, whatever else it may stand for, refuses to concede on the question of resisting Israeli repression--that the organization has won wide support.
Hamas began to gain a hearing in the late 1980s, when the secular nationalist Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), dominated by the Fatah faction led by Yasser Arafat, gave up on the long-term goal of liberating all of historic Palestine and followed a path of negotiations that resulted in the Oslo Accords of 1993.
The culmination of Hamas' growing support was the January 2006 elections to the Palestine Legislative Assembly, in which Hamas won a majority.
The reason for this victory lies not only in the failure of Oslo and the continued brutality of the Israeli occupation, but also mass disillusionment with the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority. Hamas' steadfast opposition to occupation and constant criticisms of Fatah's compromises, combined with its network of social service and charity agencies, bolstered its image not only among religious Muslims, but also among secularists and Christians.
Despite its victory in free and fair elections, the US and Israel sought to undermine and destroy Hamas. Israel suspended the transfer of tax revenues collected from Palestinians in the amount of $50 million a month. This began the strangulation of Gaza and set off a humanitarian crisis.
While the public strategy involved the collective punishment of the people of Gaza for electing Hamas, Israel and its US ally also undertook a secret operation to overthrow Hamas, funneling arms and money to Fatah fighters to enable them to carry out a coup in Hamas' base in Gaza. Hamas won the battle for Gaza, and Fatah was routed. Yet mainstream accounts of the conflict present Hamas as having launched a coup in order to come to power.
The siege and the latest invasion of Gaza have caused untold suffering, death and misery. But they have not accomplished Israel's aim of fomenting a Palestinian opposition ready to topple Hamas. On the contrary, the group continued to gain influence since the 2006 elections.
The reason for this is simple. When a people lose their livelihood, their homes, their loved ones...