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How Hamas Is Not A Terrorist Organization

Mahmud Hams / AFP / Getty

Whenever the western media condemns something, I take it as a reading recommendation. These privatized propaganda outlets aren’t very sophisticated. They just repeat a word over and over and expect their even less sophisticated viewers to hate it. ‘Hamas’ is just the latest word to stand-in for ‘scary Arabs’, so their corporate overlords can keep looting the place. If you take the 24/7 hate as a reading recommendation, however, you might actually learn something.

I’ll link a few recommendations here, and if you’d like to read along I’ll ‘review’ one book in particular. That book is Paola Caridi’s Hamas: From Resistance To Government (library link), which is the basis for this series. My broad review is that it’s good, read it yourself, but if you’re too lazy, here’s my interpretation. Note that I’m going to serialize this review because it’s detailed.

This is part one, part of a necessary throat-clearing to unclog all the propaganda that has been shoved down it. The first thing we need to debunk is that Hamas is a terrorist organization, which involves debunking the concept and application of the word ‘terrorism’ itself. It’s important to note that only the most terrible countries in the world designate Hamas as a terrorist organization so, you know, consider the source, and read some direct sources yourself.

If you’re not apply for a visa or anything soon, let’s begin.

Reading Recommendations

Having read exactly one book about this I’m hardly qualified to recommend anything, so I’ll share the recommendations my friend Helena Cobban gave me. She covered Hamas quite a bit from 2004 to 2009, and you can read her archives from the Boston Review. You can also read the updated Hamas Charter, which I’ve ‘reviewed’ here. Book-wise, Helena recommended Kill Khalid (about Mossad’s failed hit on the Hamas leader) and Paola Caridi’s Hamas: From Resistance To Government, which is what we’ll discuss here.

Caridi’s Perspective

Caridi’s book starts by asking “which pages and how many pages were dedicated to the families, the farmers, the poor, and the refugees, as well as the technicians and the professionals, who all wave the Hamas flag?” Well, her pages I guess, for an imperial audience at least. People within Palestine and the broader Arab/Muslim world know what they’re thinking, and have a deep philosophy and experience behind it.

Much of Caridi’s work is not explaining the Palestinian perspective as much as unexplaining all the dumb shit that westerners believe. The first question most westerners have is ‘isn’t Hamas a terrorist organization?’ and for most people this is a conversation ender. But not here, if you keep reading.

As Caridi starts her book, “The first answer — the hardest, the most controversial, but also the most clearly backed by both facts and experts — is that Hamas is not a terrorist organization, but rather a political movement that has used terrorism.” Almost any scholar of terrorism will tell you that it’s almost always a political act, one cynically exploited by politicians whenever it suits them. Terrorism is also a tactic, which can change, not some immutable characteristic of the organizations that use it. As Israeli editorialist Tom Segev writes (via Caridi),“Hamas is not a terrorist organization holding Gaza residents hostage: It is a religious nationalist movement, and a majority of Gaza residents believe in its path.”

One thing you’ll note from both of these quotes is that Hamas is herein defined by what it’s not (terrorist) and subtly denigrated for what it is (religious, we’ll get to that next). Hamas is explained against western biases and not on its own terms. It is explained re: western culture and not from within the culture it lives and breathes. I suppose this is necessary for a certain audience, which is half me and most of my readers. If you live in a western media environment, most of the work is unlearning dumb shit rather than learning anything new, per se. So, following the book, let’s face that most taboo of boo!s, the swarthy Muslim terrorists lurking under your bed.

The iron irony of western civilization that only the most offensive people have the right to self-defense, only the people that used nukes should have them, and only the victims of imperial violence need to explain themselves. Palestinians constantly have to explain themselves to westerners, when the west needs to look in a mirror more than anything.

Listening to westerners about human rights or conflict resolution is like taking beauty tips from someone who has never looked in a mirror, and who is in fact butt naked, covered in blood, and has a raging hard-on for war. The first way that westerners colonized us was by killing, but the second was by talking us to death.

The key to liberating yourself is really to stop explaining yourself to the worst people on Earth, who are not listening anyways. This is what Hamas has done, in practice, but as observers we have to go up the ass of the beast, to unsee how we have been conditioned to see. We have to define what Hamas is not, to undo our own dumbassery. Only then can we see what they are, with relative objectivity. This is Caridi’s perspective, in my perspective. As the saying goes, what we ‘assume’ makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’.

Is Hamas A Terrorist Organization? (No)

There are a number of fatal errors in western thinking, which often reduce conversation to pious braying and bullshit. The first is that terrorism is some unique historical evil which justifies killing everybody and every brain cells. The error is thinking that terrorism — which I will define broadly as suicide bombing and/or harming civilians — is necessarily evil and not a necessary evil, common to many political movements. The corollary mistake is saying that ‘terrorist’ is something an organization is, rather than something an organization does, and can just as easily not do, as Hamas has largely stopped since 2005.

Don’t take my word for it. This is Henry Siegman, former president of the American Jewish Congress, writing in the London Review of Books in 2009 (via Caridi):

Siegman states that“it is too easy to describe Hamas simply as a ‘terror organization’. It is a religious nationalist movement that resorts to terrorism, as the Zionist movement did during its struggle for statehood, in the mistaken belief that it is the only way to end an oppressive occupation and bring about a Palestinian state.”

Siegman’s own ‘mistake’ is assuming that Hamas thought terrorism was the only way to end the oppressive occupation. Suicide bombing was simply a period of Hamas’s activity, not a full stop. Indeed, Hamas has only started the tactic in 1994 and largely abandoned it by 2005.

Regarding the start, Hamas politburo (abroad) member Moussa Abu Marzouq said their terrorism was a response to settler-colonial violence. As he said in 2002, “Hamas was actually not the first group to resort to these operations. Israel began these operations when the Israeli terrorist [Baruch] Goldstein dashed to al-Khalil Mosque and killed 27 [actually 29] people there while they were praying inside the mosque.” He continued in that interview, describing the different periods of Hamas activity, all of which were responsive both to Palestinian demands and Israeli atrocities (including freelancers like Goldstein). Again (as always), via Caridi:

Abu Marzouq offers a kind of periodization of Hamas’s armed struggle:

- The first two years (until 1989), without resorting to military operations;
- Then, (until 1993), clashes with “light arms against Israeli soldiers,” operations defined by the then head of the politburo as a “popular demand” in order to react to the killing of the boys who threw the stones in the 1987 revolt.
- Then, when the Israelis began to “face Palestinian civilians with weapons… we could have done nothing but to answer with the same weapon.” An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

Of course, why Hamas started suicide bombing was not really relevant after the third or fourth café they blew up. The point of a tactic of killing civilians (which Empire and Israel often do!) is whether it helps reach a strategic goal, in this case liberation from the carbon crusaders. The proof is in the blood pudding, so to speak. And at some point, terrorist acts stopped working for Hamas, as they became aware of.

Ahmed Youssef — who Caridi describes as a moderate Hamas leader within Gaza — wrote to the leadership in 1998 “advising that suicide operations be stopped, and that given the reactions these had triggered around the world, another method of opposing the Israelis should be found.”

Indeed, Hamas always seemed to view terrorism tactically and symmetrically. As Caridi said,“Hamas proposed to remove civilians from the conflict on three separate occasions. All three proposals were rejected by Israel.” In the end they (or more specifically, the al-Qassam military wing) largely just stopped, unilaterally.

Aside from the attack against the commercial district of Dimona in February 2008, which was believed by the Israelis themselves to have been carried out by splinter groups, the commitment that had been made by the Islamist movement at the beginning of 2005 to end the series of terrorist attacks had been adhered to the the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades.

Terrorism was clearly a tactic within a larger strategy of resistance, and those tactics simply changed, as tactics do. As Caridi continues.

Once that particular “strategy of tension” was over, Hamas’s armed wing appears to have restricted itself to a classic military posture, so to speak, or at least to one rooted in conventional military tactics. Specifically, it resorted to to elements: the launch of Qassam rockets, and the establishment of the Executive Force as a full-fledged military body.

And this is precisely what we see in 2023 (note that the book was published in 2009 and the translation in 2012). What Caridi did not and could not see was how military al-Qassam would come to be (thanks muchly to Iranian technology). Hamas today is a more professional army than the Israeli Occupation Forces. The so-called terrorists are methodically sniping Israeli officers while the IOF maniacally kills Palestinian civilians in hospitals, refugee camps, and homes.Terrorist is as terrorist does, and Hamas simply doesn’t ‘do’ terrorism anymore.

Conclusion Of This Part

Thus you need to disabuse yourself of the dumbassery around the term ‘terrorism’, which is frequently used to absolutely massacre civilians in response, on the assumption that colored people are incapable of feelings like ‘terror’ and must be put in their place. Broadly, calling something a terrorist organization when it hasn’t really done it in decades is wrong, and the term terrorism itself is colored, so consider the source. If the worst people in the world are condemning something, I generally take it as a recommendation, unless proven wrong.

To understand Hamas, you need to understand the limited ≈10 year use of terrorism as a tactic, and then understand that it’s nearly 20 years later and things (and tactics) have changed. That’s the first propaganda baggage we need to unpack, but we’re not done. Next we’ll discuss why the dismissal of Hamas as a religious organization is wrong, and a form of imperialism in and of itself. Clear your cache and I’ll continue in a few.