Reflections on Hamas
by Rabbi David Zaslow
Reprinted from Washington Jewish Week which printed this Op Ed on
February 2, 2006
The Palestinian people have just elected officials with the level of consciousness of Torquemada in the 16th. century who no more represented real Christianity than Hamas represents real Islam. Nevertheless when I met with Hamas in a small group meeting with Sheikh Yassin in 1998 I was profoundly impressed that while their theo-politics was based on xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and theocratic totalitarianism I found their leaders to be candid and honest. Sheikh Yassin was not duplicitous, compromising, or trying to be polite to his audience of 23 American Jews. He was candid and frank – no Israel; Islamic law must rule; no two states!
What impressed me even more was the group’s idealistic dedication toward social services and the care of the people. I sensed then, as I do now, that the PA’s corruption is just too much for the average Palestinian who have seen literally billions of dollars stolen by Arafat’s family alone. I sensed very little corruption in the Hamas organization who hosted our visit. After all, they are not just a political party, they are a religious group rooted deeply in ideals. I think that’s what Hamas leader Khaled Mash’al might have meant when he said on Al-Jazeera TV after the elections, “We are committed to…the resistance and adhere to its weapons… As for recognizing [Israel] and amending our Charter – Hamas is not the kind of movement that succumbs to pressure…we will not recognize it, no matter how much time passes….” The statement that “Hamas is not the kind of movement that succumbs to pressure” can be understood in terms of religious idealism rather than secular pragmatism that seeks compromise. With Hamas, as with any idealistic, religiously based group, the word compromise is not in the dictionary. The results of the Palestinian election seems to be a protest vote by the people against Fatah’s corruption, but I fear the people are playing with fire. I urge everyone to read the Hamas Charter to learn what Israel and Middle East is up against now. I urge everyone to listen to what they say in the next few weeks and take them at their word – they are not duplicitous politicians like we’ve grown accustomed to who say one thing and then change their minds.
After all my years of study, prayer, hope, disappointment I have come to a sad conclusion. It almost doesn’t matter what Israel does. She can stay in the territories, withdraw from most of the territories, come to an Oslo-like agreement again, keep the status quo. The religious factor is usually skipped over or ignored by many secular peace groups. Why? Because they just don’t get the power of fundamentalism. They get the abuse of it, but not it’s real power. Here’s my sense on Hamas – they are the real deal. They love Allah. They would die for Allah. They will continue to kill for Allah. They are idealists: visionaries, bigots, misogynists at the level of consciousness of the Crusaders in the twelfth century – they envision a whole world that will eventually become Muslim, or subject to Islamic rule. And at the same time they deliver the goods to the people. They are not duplicitous. And they will NEVER NEVER NEVER change their belief that Israel cannot exist. So, sadly, the next move is not on us. Sharon did a brilliant move by getting out of Gaza. He, in effect, said, “Ok, it’s up to you. Stew in your corruption. Elect fanatics. Become democratic. It’s in your hands.”
His next move would have been unilateral withdrawal from a big chunk of the West Bank and I would have supported him 100%. Maybe Kadima will do that now. But, bottom line is that Sharon was intellectually withdrawing from the notion that there is something that Israel can do. Israel can do very little. The Palestinian people must have an uprising from within and demand gay rights, women’s rights, a union movement, pluralism, the right to assemble, the right to protest, and egalitarianism. If they do it, there will be peace and two States. If they do not do it, they will stew in their own self-hatred and continue to scapegoat the Jews. Sharon was saying “Never again” in a new way. I agreed with him. The good news is that the media and many world leaders are describing Hamas in more accurate terms – a terrorist organization with no desire to compromise. What we all need to realize is that they are more than a terrorist organization too – like the Nazis before them they have goals, dreams, ideals, and a visionary view of fulfilling their charitable obligations through effective social service programs – and that’s what’s so alarming
Sha-alu shalom Yerushalayim – for Israel, for Ishmael, for the whole world. I have great hope for the ultimate reunion of Isaac and Ishmael but it just might have to wait a while.
L’shalom – Toward peace,
Rabbi David Zaslow