By Max Jones / ScheerPost Staff Writer
A steady drumbeat of reports have emerged over the years that show Israel boosted Hamas as a means of dividing the Palestinians and preventing peace.
Before Hamas came to power, Israel perceived the PLO as its greatest threat. As Ishaan Tharoor notes in the Washington Post,
“At the time, Israel’s main enemy was the late Yasser Arafat’s Fatah party, which formed the heart of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Fatah was secular and cast in the mold of other revolutionary, leftist guerrilla movements waging insurgencies elsewhere in the world during the Cold War. The PLO carried out assassinations and kidnappings and, although recognized by neighboring Arab states, was considered a terrorist organization by Israel; PLO operatives in the occupied territories faced brutal repression at the hands of the Israeli security state.”
Fundamentalist Islamic groups did not face the same “brutal repression” as the secular PLO at the time.
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Before Israel took control of the Gaza strip, it was run by the Egyptian secular-nationalist government of Gamal Abdel Nasser, who executed Sayyid Qutb, a “leading [intellectual]” of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood — an example of how the Egyptian government dealt with the Muslim Brotherhood/jihad.
Israel, however, saw the fundamentalists in a different way. As the article states, “The Israelis saw Qutb’s adherents in the Palestinian territories, including the wheelchair-bound Sheik Ahmed Yassin, as a useful counterweight to Arafat’s PLO.”
According to Andrew Higgins in the Wall Street Journal, “In Gaza, Israel hunted down members of Fatah and other secular PLO factions, but it dropped harsh restrictions imposed on Islamic activists by the territory’s previous Egyptian rulers.” (emphasis added)
Before the nearly blind quadriplegic cleric Sheikh Ahmed Yassin became the leader of Hamas, he founded the Islamic charity Mujama al-Isalmiya in 1973 (which later became Hamas shortly before the First Infitada). It was later officially recognized by Israel in 1979 as an association despite Sheikh Yassin’s, according to the BBC, “[active involvement] with a Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood,” and his educational origins at al-Azhar university in Cairo, where the Muslim Brotherhood originated.
That same BBC article claimed that “It was [at al-Azhar university in Cairo] that [Sheik Yassin] formed the belief that Palestine was an Islamic land ‘consecrated for future Muslim generations until Judgement Day,’ and that no Arab leader had the right to give up any part of this territory.”
Despite his views, Israel supported Sheikh Yassin. According to Higgins,
“The Muslim Brotherhood, led in Gaza by Sheikh Yassin, was free to spread its message openly. In addition to launching various charity projects, Sheikh Yassin collected money to reprint the writings of Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian member of the Brotherhood who, before his execution by President Nasser, advocated global jihad. He is now seen as one of the founding ideologues of militant political Islam.”
Higgins describes retired Israeli official Avner Cohen’s account of the situation:
“Mr. Cohen, who worked at the time for the Israeli government’s religious affairs department in Gaza, says he began to hear disturbing reports in the mid-1970s about Sheikh Yassin from traditional Islamic clerics. He says they warned that the sheikh had no formal Islamic training and was ultimately more interested in politics than faith. ‘They said, ‘Keep away from Yassin. He is a big danger,’’ recalls Mr. Cohen.”
Despite Sheik Yassin’s clearly hostile views towards the nation, Israel “looked favorably on the paraplegic cleric, who set up a wide network of schools, clinics, a library and kindergartens…Israel also endorsed the establishment of the Islamic University of Gaza, which it now regards as a hotbed of militancy,” according to Higgins.
According to a 1988 US State Department report detailing the origins of Hamas,
“In recent weeks, fundamentalist leaders have given interviews to Israeli publications that would have landed secularist leaders in detention. We believe that, while Israeli forces may be turning a blind eye to Hamas activities, there is insufficient evidence to conclude that Israel is providing active support [to Hamas].”
In a letter to the New York Times editor, however, David K. Shipler, the Times’s Jerusalem chief from 1979 to 1984, refuted the claim that Israel did not provide direct support to Hamas. According to Shipler,
“In 1981, Brig. Gen. Yitzhak Segev, Israel’s military governor of Gaza, told me that he was giving money to the Muslim Brotherhood, the precursor of Hamas, on the instruction of the Israeli authorities. The funding was intended to tilt power away from both Communist and Palestinian nationalist movements in Gaza, which Israel considered more threatening than the fundamentalists.”
Adam Raz describes how Netanyahu has financially supported Hamas since his election as Israel’s Prime Minister in 2009:
“For over a decade, Netanyahu has lent a hand, in various ways, to the growing military and political power of Hamas. Releasing Palestinian prisoners, allowing cash transfers, as the Qatari envoy comes and goes to Gaza as he pleases, agreeing to the import of a broad array of goods, construction materials in particular, with the knowledge that much of the material will be designated for terrorism and not for building civilian infrastructure, increasing the number of work permits in Israel for Palestinian workers from Gaza, and more. All these developments created symbiosis between the flowering of fundamentalist terrorism and preservation of Netanyahu’s rule.”
“It’s important to remember that without those funds from Qatar (and Iran), Hamas would not have had the money to maintain its reign of terror, and its regime would have been dependent on restraint. In practice, the injection of cash (as opposed to bank deposits, which are far more accountable) from Qatar, a practice that Netanyahu supported and approved, has served to strengthen the military arm of Hamas since 2012. Thus, Netanyahu indirectly funded Hamas after Abbas decided to stop providing it with funds that he knew would end up being used for terrorism against him, his policies and his people. It’s important not to ignore that Hamas used this money to buy the means through which Israelis have been murdered for years.”
In a Facebook post, Likud MK Galit Distel Atbaryan described Netanyahu’s interest in supporting Hamas:
“We must say this honestly – Netanyahu wants Hamas on its feet, and he is ready to pay almost any incomprehensible price for this. Half the country is paralyzed, children and parents are suffering from post-trauma, homes are blown up, people are killed, a street cat holds a nuclear tiger by the balls.”
In a March 2019 meeting of Likud Members of Knesset, Netanyahu openly admitted Hamas’s usefulness to his political goals:
“Whoever opposes a Palestinian state must support delivery of funds to Gaza because maintaining separation between the PA in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza will prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.”
According to Raz’s article, IDF Gen. Gershon Hacochen stated in an interview with Israeli online magazine Mida in May 2019 that,
“When Netanyahu didn’t go to war in Gaza to defeat the Hamas regime, he basically prevented Abu Mazen from establishing a united Palestinian state…We need to exploit the situation of separation created between Gaza and Ramallah. It’s an Israeli interest of the highest level, and you can’t understand the situation in Gaza without understanding this context.”
In a 2007 cable summarizing an exchange between then Israeli Director of Military Intelligence (IDI), Major General Amos Yadlin, and US Ambassador to Israel Richard Jones, the IDI
“said Israel would be ‘happy’ if Hamas took over Gaza because the IDF could then deal with Gaza as a hostile state. He dismissed the significance of an Iranian role in a Hamas-controlled Gaza ‘as long as they don’t have a port.’”
This cable was recorded two days before the end of the Battle of Gaza, when Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip. Shortly after, Israel placed a land and sea blockade on Gaza — closing its ports to the outside world that would allow residents of the Strip easier access to food, medicine, and fuel.
Despite its intention of creating a Palestinian state, Hamas has arguably provided Israel with ammunition necessary to further its strategic goals since the fundamentalist group’s conception — with support from Israel. First Hamas helped remove power from the secular PLO. Then its government made Gaza the “hostile state” Israel needed to effectively “deal with” it. And now — Hamas’s offensive military operation has granted Israel its reason to commit genocide on and ethnically cleanse what is left of the Palestinian people.
Max Jones is a staff writer and video producer for ScheerPost. A summa cum laude graduate of the University of Southern California, where he studied communications and screenwriting, he is following his post-USC plans to be an independent filmmaker and screenwriter, and a journalist at ScheerPost. He has covered various topics in both his web show Journalists for Sale and writing, focusing most heavily on issues of free speech, information warfare, and foreign policy.