How we created Hamas

A theme of Season 4 of The Wire is the way that we create programs that work, and then let those programs fall apart for lack of political will. (I suppose that's the lesson of "Hamsterdam" in season 3, as well.) Mr. Presbo took a student under his wing, helped him clean up his life, brought him out of the shadows, and then (spoiler alert) he got moved from Mr. Presbo's 8th grade to 9th grade in a different school. Without his support network, including his friends and teacher, he gets lost again, and winds up slinging on street corners. Mr. Colvin's pilot program socializes a few kids, but an obsession with test results rather than social results winds up sending kids back to classrooms, where some go back to disrupting other kids' educations.

I thought of those cases as I read about the open warfare between Hamas and Fatah. Hamas had always been more than a militia, it provided support and social services to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, and I had hoped that, with a modicum of political power, they would be able to do good and complete that transition. The internecine war in Gaza dashed those dreams.

Part of what drove Hamas back to the streets is that so few people were willing to let Hamas try. J.D.'s dismissal of Hamas's leadership as "elected 'government'" is representative of how the US treated the legitimately elected government of a semi-sovereign people. That election, conducted fairly and openly, was a powerful sign of change, and I'm inclined to think we bungled badly by interfering with that government. There was a chance for a transition, a moment when the world could have taken a new course, and we threw it back in the faces of the Palestinian people. As j.d. so aptly notes, our policies have (and will) produce the effect that "Hamas will find itself unable … to do much of anything except its usual activites, which is to kill."

This would be less tragic if Hamas had not been propped up by Israeli and American hard-liners precisely in order to block the possibility of a political resolution to the violence in the Middle East. M. J. Rosenberg explains:

Back when Hamas was just a gleam in Sheik Ahmad Yassin’s blind eye, Israeli right-ringers were implementing a strategy to eliminate the authority of Palestinian moderates by building up religious extremists. These Israelis (some very high in Likud governments) believed that only supplanting Arafat’s Fatah with Islamic fundamentalists would prevent a situation under which Israel would be forced to negotiate with moderates.

It was in 1978 when the government of then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin indirectly assisted the start-up of a "humanitarian" organization known as the Islamic Association, or Mujama. The roots of this Islamist group were in the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is an offshoot, and it soon was flush with funding and political support. The right-wing strategists devised the theory of creating Hamas as an alternative to Fatah because they believed that Muslim Brotherhood types would devote themselves to charity and religious study and passively accept the occupation. They certainly would never put Israel on the spot by offering to negotiate.

Likud governments even deported Palestinian advocates of non-violent resistance (most notably, the Ghandian, Mubarak Awad) at the same time that it was doing everything it could to build the street cred of fanatics who, a few years later, would proclaim themselves Hamas, dedicated to Israel’s elimination.

The pro-Hamas tilt accelerated in 1988 when Yasir Arafat himself announced that he favored the two-state solution and that previous PLO demands that Israel be replaced by Palestine were, in his words “caduq” (inoperative).

An Arafat committed to two-states struck terror in the hearts of the settlers and their allies who were and are determined to hold on to the West Bank forever. Their worst fears were realized when Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres repudiated this craziness and decided to engage with the PLO in order to strengthen it vis a vis Hamas, which was by the time Rabin came to office exceedingly powerful thanks in large part to the Israeli right’s support.

We all know the rest of the story. A young rightist killed Rabin in the belief (a belief indoctrinated in him by rightwing rabbis) that stopping Rabin would stop the peace process. As President Clinton told me in 1997, assassin Yigal Amir was right. Clinton said that unlike almost every other assassin in history, Amir achieved his goal, although not completely.

In this context, it is not difficult understanding how Hamas won the legislative elections in 2006. This is another ugly part of the story. First we demanded that the Palestinians hold elections (Abbas didn’t want them), then we dispatched monitors to certify sure they were “free and fair” which they were, but when we didn’t like the election results we rejected them and promised that the Palestinians would “pay.” Almost immediately Members of Congress rushed to stop almost all forms of aid not just to Hamas-run institutions but to the Palestinian people at large.

There was another way we might have gone. We could have welcomed Hamas’s participation in the election as a sign that Hamas was implicitly accepting the Oslo framework (which it was), insisted on the complete cessation of violence, and then used carrots and sticks to encourage the Hamas-run Palestinian Authority to mend its ways. But we offered no carrots, just sticks. And we didn’t even make much of an effort to strengthen Hamas’s arch-enemy, President Mahmoud Abbas, with Congress hastening to impose redundant and insulting conditions even on aid that was to be sent through him.

It was all fun and games, politics as usual. Meanwhile, Hamas looked better and better to a people whose salaries were not being paid, thanks to the US sponsored international boycott of the PA, and whose schools and hospitals were collapsing.

Today it is almost amusing to contemplate the professions of horror on the part of right-wing Israelis (and their neocon friends) who scream “bloody murder” about an outcome they helped effect and actually welcome.

The name of their game was, is, and always will be making sure that Israel has “no partner” with whom to negotiate. Their worst fear is of Palestinians like Mahmoud Abbas who is a credible negotiating partner.

I understand that this is a difficult point to assimilate. But the fact is that the Israeli (and American) right-wingers are rooting for the Palestinian extremists.

Everyone else is rooting for a peaceful two-state solution. A two-state solution is the only way to ensure that Israel can become a place where Jews have a guarantee of safety, at least without resorting to some form of apartheid for non-Jewish residents. Furthermore, the Palestinian state will have to incorporate the supporters of Hamas into the government, because Hamas will be involved in politics through guns or through ballots. In the latter case, there's a chance we could actually build a better world, rather than continuing to tear things apart, as we've seen for the past half-century.

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I love being compared to THE WIRE. You are good. Thanks,

By MJ Rosenberg (not verified) on 20 Jun 2007 #permalink

You have an interesting point of view, but naive. I wonder, have you ever been in Israel? Have you ever witnessed Hamas up close? Take heed before you preach of matters as a distant student. Hamas will never, as you say, "be involved with politics through ballots." Hamas is a force that starves people into loyalty, frightening and stealing from the very people they should be protecting, causing chaos in hopes of removing Jews from the Holy Land entirely.

It is interesting to me how a Jewish man can convince himself that PEACE with a group that wants his whole race extinguished from the face of the Earth is possible. This can only happen in the West and on a college campus..ergo, as far away from reality as possible.
I suggest that this cat Rosenau, look up the Grand Mufti, (a relation of Arafat's) and see the images of him joking around with his friend Adoph Hitler. He will begin to see where all this hatred began AND where it can lead to for the Jewish people. History might not repeat itself but it can rhyme.

Goodness - I'm so glad to realize that we're responsible for the murderous rampages of Hamas. I had no idea we were so powerful! God forbid we should blame the poor, helpless, loving, adherents of the Religion of Peace. It's refreshing to see that we're sheltering our scholarly, guilt-ridden pundits enough that they can evolve arrogant theories free from nasty, uncomfortable reality.

By S R Moore (not verified) on 20 Jun 2007 #permalink

very good article ... you really undestand what the problem is ... wish everybody was as alerted when it comes to this issue

"We want the creation of a Palestinian state in the 1967 boundaries, that is, in Gaza, the West Bank, with East Jerusalem as capital. The PLO remains in charge of negotiations on this point. We promise to respect all past agreements signed by the Palestinian Authority. We want a reciprocal, global, and simultaneous truce with Israel to be put in place."
--Ismail Haniyeh

your piece starts with the standard U.S. government/corporate media formulation of the hamas movement in the palestinian territories as unrepentant fanatics, unworthy of being considered serious negotiating partners in the cause of mideast peace. it's hard not to regurgitate what you read and hear every day.

i do not believe, however, that any agreement negotiated with the "moderate" abbas will bring peace, as abbas and and fatah no longer represents the palestinian people. that's precisely why they lost the elections. it hardly matters what the genesis of hamas was. i think it is rightly viewed as nothing but a useful tool for israel and its US patrons (or is it the other way around) to impose a settlement on their terms.

it's unfortunate for the israelis that the time when they could have negotiated their two-state "solution" has probably passed now. and if it takes 500 years, the the region will revert to arab control that existed before the western colonial powers created the current political jurisdictions in the region. at some point there will be no more "israel," and hopefully whoever controls the israeli nuclear arsenal at the time will not proclaim that, if they can't have it, no one will.

just give the arabs time. they've been humiliated for the last couple of centuries, but they won't be made fools of by the west forever.

By little willy (not verified) on 20 Jun 2007 #permalink

Almost every day, I hear of someone being killed, and it doesn't benefit one side or the other; Hamas vs. Fatah, or Israel vs. Palestine. Both sides are dying. The casualties are heavier on the Palestinian side, but both sides continue this conflict. Even if some may favor a conflict between these peoples, many also don't approve. The time will come when peace and the laying down of weapons on both sides may lead to a resolution. Until then, we can only hope that those responsible for any of these deaths will someday wake up to the reality of their actions. How much death has to occur?

By Thomas Kinkade (not verified) on 20 Jun 2007 #permalink

Just want to say thanks to Joshua Rosenau for his article "How we created Hamas". It's a pleasant suprise for me to discover people as young as Joshua Rosenau that are aware of the facts and realities of an important international issue such as the Iraeli/Palestinian conflict. This ongoing 60 year old tragedy has continued as long as it has without any constructive change in our country's policies on that issue thanks mostly to bias and misinformation in our media and perversive influence pro-Israeli special interest groups exert among our political leaders. I fear that only 100 years after the Palestinian/Israel conflict is resolved one way or other will scholars look back and finally admit Israel conducted ruthless ethnic cleansing with our country's support to aquire their land area, just as our forefathers conducted ethnic cleansing and genocidal policies on the original native Americans to aquire our country.

By charles B (not verified) on 20 Jun 2007 #permalink

Nicely put! The Israelis seem to want to bear no responsibilty for the situation that now threats the Middle East and Israel itself.The Palestinian are a beaten people to take away their collective pride as human beings is something worst then death.
The Palestinian should have had a state fifty years ago! So that they would have something to live for, something to build on.Instead the were disinfranchised from a land where they had lived for a thousand years.Now the hates runs so deep that death is the only way to regain there humanity.
It's a sad reflection on a people who survived the worst human tragedy only to inflict the same on another.

By GJohnston (not verified) on 20 Jun 2007 #permalink

What evidence do we have that Hamas has/had any interest in leaving the streets? I know slightly less than stuff-all about the whole situation, so I'm very open to correction, but I'd have imagined that "streets + high places" would be a more attractive end result than just "high places". Why wouldn't Hamas just turn the government into an extension of their existing power base?

"What evidence do we have that Hamas has/had any interest in leaving the streets?"

They ran for and won political office. That shows an interest. Whether it succeeded is a separate matter.

"Hamas will never, as you say, 'be involved with politics through ballots.'"

Ummmmm, they ran for and won political office. That's what the current conflict is about.

Re C. Johnson

"The Palestinian should have had a state fifty years ago! So that they would have something to live for, something to build on.Instead the were disinfranchised from a land where they had lived for a thousand years"

Mr. Johnson apparently has been brain washed into believing that the so-called Palestinians have lived in Palestine for a thousand years. This is the big lie that has been propagated by the Arab world. For Mr. Johnsons' information, the American writer Mark Twain visited Palestine in 1867 and found it almost depopulated. The largest town, Jerusalem was smaller in population then his home town of St. Joseph, Mo., hardly a major metropolis. The fact of the matter is that most of the current population of Palestine has migrated there since the late 19th century, fueled by interest in the area by the great European powers, particularly Great Britain and Germany. Apparently, the Kaiser, for some reason, had a special interest in the area.

I can smell the stink of swelling pride exuding from Josh Rosenau with his moral superiority and grandiose sense of enlightenment. It's obvious that those pesky righwing rabbi's have it all wrong! Any biologist can figure out 3000 years of biblical reality reality with just the New York Times, Noam Chomsky and enough time spent on the toilet.
Matter of fact, I do believe Daniel Pearl had a similar understanding, but then again, he wasn't hiding in Kansas.

By Levi Yitzhaq Garbose (not verified) on 20 Jun 2007 #permalink

Levi, I'm sure it's all so much clearer from California. Perhaps ad hominems and vague references to murdered journalists (and figures in forthcoming films) are appropriate there, but here we look for evidence. I've offered mine, without reference to Chomsky or the New York Times, let alone arguing over interpretations of the Bible. Keep the schoolyard threats where they belong.

I wonder if Mr Rosenau has any credible evidence to support his claim that the Israeli right supported Hammas initially. I doubt it. But even if they did, it is not unusual that political realities force a change of allegiance. You just have to remember that we, the US, have supported Bin Laden and the mujaheddin before they turned against us, same for Saddam Hussein.
As far as Mr Johnson, he is obviously ignorant of historical facts: the palestinians have a state called Jordan. The UN divided the land between Israel and Jordan one state for the jews and the other for the arabs, including palestinians. The majority of Jordan's population is palestinian.

Very convenient that you forget the King David Hotel bombing when you speak of ruthless methods used to achieve political ends. If I may; Mr. Rosenau's point isn't that Hamas isn't guilty, but that no other players in the tragedy are innocent.

The size of the population is irrelevant to the fact that people were pushed off of their land without due process or intent of compensation.

Thanks for an objective article Josh!

By Dan Richard (not verified) on 20 Jun 2007 #permalink

I do think that the hard liners have vested interest in keeping up the terrorist attacks. They give them an excuse to demonize all their politically moderate opponents.

Re Dan Richard

Mr. Richard apparently has a reading comprehension problem. The issue at hand was the claim by Mr. Johnson that Palestinians who had lived in Palestine for centuries had been uprooted from their land. I merely produced a counterclaim that Mr. Johnsons' claim was contradicted by the facts. The issue of the morality of one group of newcomers displacing another group of newcomers is an entirely separate issue. However, if we are going to go down that road, then we have to consider the claims of other such displacees. For instance, Native Americans and Sudetenland Germans, both groups who, unlike the Palestinians, had dwelled in their respective lands for centuries before they were sidplaced by newcomers.

This post by Rosenau is very naive. If George Bush would heeded two years ago the warninings by Middle East experts about the dangers of carrying out "democratic" elections in the Palestinian territories, the Palestinian land and population would not be splitted today. Hamas, Hezbullah and Al Kaida are all organizations with one goal: spreading the rule of Islam, while eliminating all the infidels. Assigning them any other goal is ignoring the long history of the Middle East.

For Josh, you better travel to the Palestinian authority territories and see for yourself how the Palestinians in authority positions treat their own poeple, the beating, the robbing, the killing. Why do you think hundreds of Palestinians from Gaza are gathering at the Israeli border crossing these days, seeking help and protection from their archenemy? Why do you think they are running away from the Hamas poeple who are in complete control of Gaza, where they can and should carry out their social mission rather than launching rocket attacks against Israel? Israel moved out of Gaza two years ago, evacuating dozens of Israeli settlements and thousands of Israeli settlers, doing exactly what the Palestinians were demanding all along. In return, Hamas increased the frequency of attacks on Israeli towns, while reneging on the social duties they promised to the poeple who elected them.

By S. Rivlin (not verified) on 21 Jun 2007 #permalink


Reading comprehension problem? Who is the one who thinks that Mark Twain visited Palestine with a random, un-cited claim? Mark Twain is a pen-name for Samuel Clemens, so speaking of facts.... Oh yes, we should consider the claims of the the native Americans who were displaced, but that's a different issue! You have provided no facts, so please stick to the topic at hand.

By Dan Richard (not verified) on 21 Jun 2007 #permalink

Josh. Agree. Everyone who thinks your views are naive should open their eyes and look at what US policy has wrought. Hold on for the predictable and inevitable AIPAC onslaught.

Re Dan Richard

1. The fact that Mark Twains given name was Samuel Clemons is of no relevance to the argument. Any more then Abu Mazans' given name is Mahmoud Abbas is relevant to anything (or the fact that Abu Amar was the pseudonym of Yasir Arafat relevant to anything).

2. Mark Twains' (aka Samuel Clemons) described his journey to Palestine in a book entitled, "The Innocents Abroad." published in 1881. A new edition was produced in 1997 by the New American Library. I would suggest that Mr. Richard appraise himself of the facts before commenting.

3. The following quote is taken from the text of Twains' book, "[a] desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds-a silent mournful expanse....A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action....We never saw a human being on the whole route....There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of the worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.

4. I don't know if Mr. Richard is a US resident but for his information, I am and have no intention of returning the land on which my house sits to Native Americans or anybody else.

Revere: I think that onslaught has arrived and abated. A lot of light, but no heat in the end. I see demands for evidence offered in the main post, debates over minutiae of a satirical novel, and a lot of effort at avoiding the actual issues at hand.

Elections are not the problem, they are the solution. The elections revealed frustration by the Palestinians, the didn't cause them. Blocking the elected government from acting on that frustration simply pushed that anger toward a different outlet.

I don't doubt that Palestinians are trying to get out of the PA. The PA has seen its aid cut, and its ability to develop industry has been hampered by Israeli and Group of Four policies. The solution is not to deny people their elected leadership, or to deny them access to funds. The solution is to help them develop their economy (BTW, this is also my response to complaints about Latin American immigration to the US).

Israelis and Palestinians can each point to horrific things that the other has done and use those bad acts to justify current bad acts. Gandhi was right "An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind."


Your response is still very naive, if for no other reason then for the fact that you are fed by selective information (from sources on both sides of the issues). As long as you are a casual observant from afar of the history and the events of this troubled region, your understanding of the issues is similar to our president's understanding of the history and the events in this region i.e., minimal!!!

By S. Rivlin (not verified) on 23 Jun 2007 #permalink

Rivlin, you must really get peeved at astronomers, since they study things from much further away than I am from Israel. Distance has its drawbacks, but has the merit of giving perspective.

Our president's problem is that he doesn't gather information, or at least only gathers information that his toadies know he wants to hear. I don't fall into that same category. Assuming that anyone who doesn't agree with you must not know anything about the topic is a surefire way to repeat Bush's error.

MJ Rosenberg (quoted above) was part of AIPAC during the time he describes above. He has taken a different position as he watched events and gathered data, which is a sign of intellectual maturity. I had not heard the history he presented before, and found it interesting.

You dismiss it by saying it is naive, without actually addressing the substance. Maybe I am naive, but you haven't given me any reason to think I am. I think it is naive to think that the problem in the PA is a government that mistreats the populace and to simultaneously claim that democracy will have bad results. Democracy is how you replace a bad government with a better one.


By "afar" I meant that you are not involved regularly with the topic and thus your knowledge suffers big holes. The number of players participating in the mess that is now taking place in Gaza is much larger than Hamas, Fathah and Israel. Iran, as a weapon supplier, Egypt as a blind border guard who lets those weapons through the border, Russia, a player whose interest is to promote failure of American policies in the ME and a strong supporter of Hamas (Russia was the only major country to welcome reprisentatives of Hamas even before the elections in the PA and the only major European country that do not recognize the new emergency Palestinian government). Democracy does not work for all societies. It sure does not work in the Muslim world. The number of Muslim democracies can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Of course, there are multiple reasons for that, but whatever they are, the Western world has never been able to figure out why it is and as a result, has never been successful in establishing a democracy in the Muslim world. I suspect that big factors are the inability of Muslim societies to accept equality (among individuals and among the sexes) and the long history of tribal power struggles and value systems that are opposite to our democratic value system.

One additional point that you have ignored in your post is the fact that Hamas was created by Yasser Arafat himself as a way to maintain his mock negotiations with Israel, while continuing sending into Israel suicide bombers and carry on with the second Intifada. You may say that the Golem has overtaken its creator.

In principal, nothing has changed in the ME over the past 60 years. Most Arabs and Arab countries are still interested in the demise of Israel and the Jews. There are those who believe that the driving force behind this hatred is envy. I think it is much more complex than that. Nevertheless, fighting the Zionists in Israel and/or promoting their destruction has alway been a rallying cause for all Muslim countries and poeple. Blaming Israel for fighting those who are bent on her destuction is either naive or devious. However, if you believe that a democracy in Iraq will defeat Muslim terrorism, I can understand why you believe that Hamas should allow to govern the PA with the blessing of Israel, even if Hamas does not recognize Israel right to exist.

By S. Rivlin (not verified) on 24 Jun 2007 #permalink

How did democracy in Iraq get dragged into this? Actually, how do you know how involved I am in the issue? I don't write about it a lot, in no small part because I find that it is impossibly to discuss it without people dragging in everything including the kitchen sink. Just because I didn't mention Russia by name (though they are part of the Group of Four, which I have mentioned several times), or didn't mention Iran, and didn't recite every detail of the history of Hamas does not mean I am unaware of those aspects of the problem, or am not interested in them. I was writing about a particular point that deserves some discussion on its own. I don't care for discussions consisting of recitations of every instance where people with views other than their own were wrong, or attributing malice to people simply on the basis of their disagreeing about the nature of a conflict with no clear answers and no clear right and wrong. Everyone involved has done wrong and has been wronged. I don't care about that, I care about solving it.

Democracy is not religious, ethnic or racial. It works, and, as Churchill said, it is better than the alternatives. Democracy in the PA will produce a better outcome for the PA than any other form of government would. A democracy for Iraq will produce a better outcome for Iraq than any other form of government.

To suggest that the situation in and around Israel has not changed in 60 years is, to borrow a phrase, naive. There have been a series of peace accords, with varying levels of success. Saudi Arabia has demonstrated a willingness to open relations and negotiations with Israel. The outlines of a two-state solution are coming into view. Yes, there is still violence and animosity, and yes, Jerusalem and the right of return still appear unsolvable. But that represents many fewer unsolvable things than seemed to exist only a decade ago. Whatever the rhetoric might be, the practice in the Arab world, including the PA, has shifted from a denial of Israel's right to exist to an acceptance that it does exist and always will.

Consider the comments of Abbas last December (originally delivered in Arabic to a Palestinian audience):

In the past, they said: "Under no circumstances will we accept a state, unless it includes all of Palestine, because Palestine is a land of Islamic endowment." Fine. This doesn't work. I can say: "We demand all of the land," and you will applaud me. This doesn't work. This doesn't work. This doesn't work. There is a reality -- either you acknowledge it, or you will get crushed.

That he would say such a thing in Arabic to Palestinians and still retain any political support at all is a dramatic change, one well worth celebrating. If you respond by pointing out how other people haven't changed, or that Abbas has also said less conciliatory things, I would simply reply: "This doesn't work." Demonizing Abbas, or even Hamas, doesn't work. Hamas is more than just terrorists (though it does encompass terrorists). It is a political force, and the way to bend political opponents to your will is to bring them so close to you that their futures are tied to your own, and their only success can come through you. Abbas is prepared to forge that bond, as are many surrounding states. The dismissive ways of the past don't work. Change is not only possible, but necessary.

To say otherwise is not only naive, it's detrimental to the safety of Israel, and therefore the Jewish people.