“For Palestine is a sacred Islamic land that has been forcibly seized by the Zionists, and it is the duty of Muslims to conduct a holy struggle to regain it and to expel the invader from it.” –Hamas Introductory Memorandum, Article 7 .
“…exterminate the Zionist germ…” [an 8th grade Palestinian textbook, page 117.]
“We must expel all Israelis from Palestine. Because Israel – there is nothing called ‘Israel’ in the world. The Israelis [came] from Holland, America, Iran.” -a Palestinian child
The most unnerving aspect of propaganda war against Israel as a Jewish state is the indoctrination of young Palestinians by means of a violent mixture of ideologies. One of the key actors in this conflict is the movement Harakat al Muqawamah al-Islamiyya, or Hamas as it is known around the world. The main components in this indoctrination are: 1) Hamas’s official position as stated in its Charter, 2) the infiltration of Hamas ideology into the Palestinian education system and Hamas’s own alternate education system, and 3) the resultant loyal support of jihad-minded children who, once educated in the ideology of Hamas, grow into new Hamas recruits.
With the January 2006 Hamas sweep of the Palestinian elections, Hamas became the dominant force in Palestinian politics; with the June 2007 violent overthrow of Fateh and the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Gaza, Hamas became its own de-facto state. Granted, Israel and Western powers are attempting to counter-balance the Hamas influence by propping up the Fateh-led PA in the West Bank, but even should that effort succeed, it is difficult to imagine Hamas voluntarily releasing its hold on power in Gaza, international pressure and new elections notwithstanding. Furthermore, it is clear from the Hamas Charter as well as from statements of Hamas leaders that the organization will not be content with simply ruling Gaza; Hamas will in fact continue pursuing its goal of exterminating the Jewish population of Israel and replacing Israel with an Islamic state. Children are essential to Hamas’s strategy, as the goal Hamas seeks is not short-term, therefore, new blood is constantly required to fill the ranks today and tomorrow. Moreover, in order for children to be prepared for the kind of struggle envisioned by Hamas, it is necessary, according to Hamas statements, to indoctrinate them in radical, Islamic thinking which portrays Jews as the enemy, and Israel as the land of Palestine, stolen by the Jews. In short, winning the hearts and minds of Palestinian children is the key to Hamas’s strategy. Thus I will focus this paper on Hamas’s educational philosophy as well as on the practical outworking of this philosophy in the day to day lives and education of Palestinian children.
This paper will proceed as follows: Section I will give a brief overview of the circumstances and conditions which gave rise to Hamas; Section II will discuss Hamas’s philosophy and practice of education, as well as give a brief overview of the educational philosophy of Fateh to demonstrate a continuity between the two; and Section III will detail the unconventional educational tools which Hamas uses to supplement its influence over the formal education system, and the impact such tools have on Palestinian children.
Section I: The Roots of Hamas
The Muslim Brotherhood
To understand Hamas, one must first understand its predecessor, the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization which played a key role in the formation of the philosophies and leadership of Hamas. Dr. Abdul Aziz Al Rantisi, the man who replaced Hamas’s first leader, Sheikh Ahmed Ismail Hassan Yassin after his assassination, stated that Hamas was in fact considered by the leadership to be a “branch” of the “global Muslim Brotherhood” [Chehab, 25]. Sheikh Yassin, the founder of Hamas, was himself a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, having joined it while studying at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt [“Sheikh Ahmad Yassin”]. Founded in Egypt in 1928 by Hasan al-Banna, the Muslim Brotherhood primarily concerned itself with Islamic education and social projects. When the “Great Palestine Revolt” began in 1936, the Brotherhood took it upon themselves to supply moral and material assistance to the Palestinian effort by way of a Palestine Piaster contribution drive [Hroub, 12] The basic belief of the Brotherhood which propelled their involvement in Palestinian affairs was its “doctrinaire perspective and faith in the concept of one Islamic nation and the brotherhood of all Muslims and the imperative to engage in jihad for the cause of God” [Hroub, 13]. By the early 1940s, the Muslim Brotherhood had established a formal presence in Palestine under the leadership of al-Banna [“Muslim Brotherhood – Palestine”]. With the support of the Mufti al-Haj Amin al-Husseni and the Brotherhood in Egypt, branches of the Palestinian Brotherhood were setup in most of the Palestinian towns and villages, to the extent that by 1947 there were 38 branches and a membership in excess of 10,000 [Mishal, 16]! The Palestinian Brotherhood concerned itself primarily with “social and cultural activities” but in contrast to their Egyptian counterparts, refrained from active political involvement and violence [Mishal, 16]. Eventually, however, the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood experienced a shift in priorities and soon found its concern for politics and nationalism “overshadowing” its primary focus [Hroub, 17].
By 1954, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was outlawed by the Nasir regime and forced underground, which had a tremendous impact on the Palestinian Brotherhood. As a result, members concluded that neither the traditional approach of the Brotherhood, nor the name itself was tenable given the circumstances in Egypt, thus a new paradigm was needed if Palestine was to be ‘liberated’ [Hroub, 25]. In 1957, Khalil al-Wazir (Abu Jihad) wrote a memorandum to the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Gaza Strip in which he outlined a plan for creating a separate but affiliated organization that was more secularly oriented and which had as its goal the liberation of Palestine by means of armed conflict [Hroub, 25-26]. This new organization would be tasked with preparing for such conflict as well as executing the armed struggle once it completed its preparations [Hroub, 26]. Despite the fact that the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood gave this recommendation a cold reception, those who proposed it worked surreptitiously to promote and recruit for this new organization, with the end result that in 1958-1959, the Palestine National Liberation Movement, or Fateh as it is better known, was birthed [Hroub, 26]. Eventually, the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood and Fateh grew apart philosophically. During the years between the Khalil al-Wazir’s memorandum and the establishment of Hamas in 1987, the Palestinian Brotherhood stepped back from the nationalist liberation efforts and concentrated on its “organizational, pedagogical, and proselytizing activities” [Hroub, 27-28]. Fateh, by contrast, moved into the nationalist liberation void and eventually came to represent the hope for liberation in the minds of Palestinians by its participation in armed struggle and “championing” the Palestinian cause [Hroub, 28]. Fateh’s strategy was to “seize the military initiative” so as to “drag” the armies of the Arab nations into the fight [Hroub, 27].
In 1964, the Arab League created the Palestine Liberation Organization, or PLO as it is commonly referred to. In 1968, Fateh joined the PLO and quickly came to dominate the organization to such a degree that the organization effectively controlled politics in the West Bank and Gaza until 2007 [“Al-Fatah”].
The 1967 war played an important role in the evolution of liberation thought. The stunning defeat of Egypt and other Arab powers led the Palestinian political thinkers to conclude that reliance on Arab military support in the quest to ‘liberate’ Palestine was a losing proposition. Instead, they concluded that if they were to succeed in their pursuit of ‘liberation’ they would have to provide the solution themselves [Hroub, 29]. Interestingly, the results of the 1967 war did not cause the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood to abandon its educational and passive social efforts in favor of armed struggle, and this facilitated Fateh’s ascension to the position of primary actor in the Palestinian national struggle. The Brotherhood, however, did launch a “mosque building phase” between 1967 and 1975 during which they not only built mosques, but also made efforts to “mobilize, unite, reorient, and consolidate the faith of a new generation so as to prepare it for the confrontation with Zionism” [Hroub, 30]. In this effort, the Brotherhood seems to have succeeded. University students as well as high school students rallied to the cause, with the result that Islamic societies appeared and spread so quickly that they became a competitive threat to similar PLO- associated student groups [Hroub, 31]. Whereas the years from 1967 to 1975 were characterized by the rapid building of mosques, the period from the mid seventies to the late eighties was characterized by the building of social institutions such as “Islamic student societies, clubs, and charitable societies” which became the center for Islamic youth gatherings [Hroub, 31].
1976 is a pivotal year in the story of Hamas. It was then that Sheikh Yassin established an Islamic Society based on the principles of the Muslim Brotherhood; two years later it was determined that a larger, more organized institution was required, so in 1978, Sheikh Yassin founded the Islamic Compound [Chehab, 19]. According to its license granted by Israel, the Islamic Compound was to focus its efforts on sports; however, according to Sheikh Yassin himself, the organization was “spreading the message of Islam, memorizing the Qur’an, and building mosques, schools, and clinics” [Chehab, 20-21]. The Islamic Compound, ostensibly a charitable organization, even had its own military wing, the Mujahideen Falastine which was established in 1982 [Chehab, 21].
In the early 1980s, a rival to the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood emerged: Saraya al-jihad al-Islami, or Islamic Jihad, formed by members of the Brotherhood who broke away due to its refusal to actively challenge the Israeli occupation. Islamic Jihad was, in fact, a “marriage between Islam and the gun” [Hroub, 32]. The unique threat Islamic Jihad posed to the Brotherhood was that, unlike the PLO membership, members didn’t have to lay aside their Islamic identity to join [Hroub, 32]. It was at this point, the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood began to feel the pressure building for change; they were faced with the choice of whether or not to continue to prioritize social development and the Islamic education of the society, or to concentrate on the aggressive struggle to ‘liberate Palestine’ [Hroub, 33]. The answer to this question came with the arrest of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin and associates in 1984 for possession of weapons and planning military action; armed resistance was the direction the Brotherhood would pursue, and to this end they established a small, secret military group tasked with weapons procurement and military planning [Hroub, 33]. It was at the same general time as the start of the Intifada that the Brotherhood rationalized their philosophical shift by arguing that both building a grounded Islamic society and armed resistance were achievable simultaneously, and that in fact they should be addressed simultaneously [Hroub, 35-36]. This rationalization bears directly on the establishment of Hamas.
The Birth of Hamas
The emergence of Hamas is inextricably linked to the first Intifada. As the December 8, 1987 outbreak of violence approached, the Brotherhood began issuing statements in the name of various new movements: Harakat al-Kifah al-Islami (the Islamic struggle movement), Al-Murabi’un ‘ala Ard al-Isra’ (the vigilantes of the land of the Prophet’s midnight journey) and Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyya (the Islamic Resistance Movement)- Hamas [Hroub, 38-39]. The name ‘Hamas’ is derived from HMS, the acronym for the organization’s Arabic name, and means “zeal” which is significant in that the founders of Hamas, in choosing “zeal”, sought to capture the “virtues of the Muslim Brotherhood slogan: ‘Rights! Force! Freedom!’” [Chehab, 23]. There is another reason for choosing the name ‘Hamas’- a rather ironic reason: according to Abdul Fattah Dokhan, a founder of Hamas, “the name Hamas was less threatening”- they wanted a name that would not imply to the Israelis that the organization was militant [Chehab, 23-24].
December 9, the day after the start of the Intifada, the Brotherhood’s Political Bureau met and decided that the time was right to put their ideological shift into action and begin to focus on confrontation with Israel. The members of the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood who were at this meeting became the new leaders of Hamas: Sheikh Yassin, the head of the Brotherhood’s Political Bureau in Gaza, became Hamas’s “founding father and spiritual leader” and Sheikh Salah Shehadeh was put in charge of Hamas’s first military wing [Hroub, 35]. Other Brotherhood members at this meeting who formed the cadre of Hamas leadership were ‘Abdul ‘Aziz al-Rantisi, Muhammad Sham’ah, ‘Isa al-Nashshar, ‘Abdel Fattah Dukhan and Ibrahim al-Yazuri [Hroub, 39]. At this meeting, the new leaders issued the first official statement of Hamas, in which the organization made clear both its goals and methodology: “the Intifada of our steadfast people in the occupied land constitutes a rejection of the occupation and its oppression” and they further stated “our people know the right path- the path of sacrifice and martyrdom – and would inform the world that the Jews were committing Nazi-style crimes against our people and would drink from the same cup” [Hroub, 40].
Hamas’s ‘social action theory’ was similar to that of the Brotherhood in terms of how best to build an Islamic society and ‘liberate’ Palestine [Hroub, 234]. This policy had two main thrusts: first, the struggle against occupation requires a “fortified society”, and second, properly ‘fortifying’ a society can only be accomplished be means of religious (Islamic) education and a “commitment to Islam” [Hroub, 234-235].
As a direct descendant of the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas’s social agenda included building a social infrastructure with institutions such as mosques, classes for Islamic education, orphanages, schools, relief agencies…etc [Hroub, 235]. It is the educational aspect of this social infrastructure which will be discussed in Sections II and III.