«Lisa van der Hulst lisavanderhulst s0914959 MA Thesis International Studies Prof. mr. dr. Berger January 2015 10380 words Table of Contents ...»
77 Op.cit.:111-2. (Italics not in original.) 21 Could religious ideology have played a role in a decision to back the Sunni Syrian opposition? Hamas’ organizational structure does not facilitate a cleritocracy, because only elections can give someone political authority. On the other hand, Islamic norms and values influence the way Hamas members vote, the subjects they consider important, and the Islamic principles of shūra and ijma‘ legitimate Hamas’ structure. Mosques are an important place for recruiting members and disseminating Hamas propaganda.78 Religious knowledge, piety (which expresses itself in modesty and asceticism, placing community welfare above one’s own and the readiness to die as a martyr) and connections with Islamic institutions enhance the personal authority of a Hamas leader.79 Many interviewees noted that Hamas turned their observance of ‘traditional’ Islam into a more activist-ideological observance, a call to action serving the liberation of Palestine. In this light the liberation of the homeland and its being Islamic is seen as the will of God. Religion therefore defines the borders within which discussion is allowed.80 On the other hand, in Gazan society social life and Islam are intertwined, especially because ‘religious activities’ are among the very few available leisure activities in the small occupied strip.
Also, one of the results of Gunning’s research among Hamas members was that they valued secular political expertise more than religious expertise. Religious arguments were rarely used in policy discussions and official documents.81 Montgomery& Pettyjohn even detect a process of deIslamization: ‘Hamas consciously downplayed its religious agenda as well as its confrontation with Israel, choosing instead to emphasize corruption in Fatah.’82 Research shows that it is not Islamic resurgence, but the high deprivation by generations of Palestinians and the inability of secular nationalism to cope with it, that accounts for the popularity of Hamas.83 Combined with the strong anti-sectarian agenda of Hamas that became clear in the discourse analysis, chances are small that Sunni ideology played a role in Hamas’ choice.
Hamas knows two types of division: the Politburo versus the military wing and the management in Gaza versus the management in exile. Since the 2006 elections the difference between the latter two has become greater.84 The organization needs a management abroad in order to establish international contacts as a political party, because Israel controls all movement between Gaza and the outside world.
The management abroad controls Hamas’ finances and theoretically authorizes violence85, but in practice Hamas’ military wing has from its establishment in 1992 had its own management and its own political allies in the Gaza based management and it has often taken decisions independent from 78 Gunning 2007:122.
82 Montgomery& Pettyjohn 2010:526.
83 Milton-Edwards 1999: 6ff; Knudsen 2005:1383.
84 Gunning 2007:106.
85 Knudsen 2005:1378.
22 the Politburo.86 The Qassam Brigades are not Hamas’ offspring, but originated from the Syrian-born Sheikh Mohammad Izz ad-Din al-Qassam (1882 –1935) and his followers, who already fought Jewish settlers in 1930.87 Leaders of the Politburo like Ahmed Yassin and Abu Shanab used to distance themselves from suicide attacks carried out by the brigades.
‘In a typical statement they would say: “There is no relationship between the political leadership and the Al Qassam Brigades. The political leadership has no interest in forging a connection with the military wing. They have their own leadership and fighters, who plan and execute their attacks and everything related to this aspect.”88 These Qassam brigades, supported by Gaza based leaders like al-Zahar, did not approve of an alliance switch, arguing that ‘the liberation of Palestine comes with arms, not with money.’89 They experienced first-hand how much the resistance owes to Hezbollah, Syria and Iran. Judging from Hamas’ decisionmaking processes, moving the headquarters was probably backed by a majority in the Shura Council, but not necessarily everybody agreed. Source F claims that even within the Politburo many were opposed to the relocation of the headquarters to Doha; the decision was made when some people were not present.90 It also argues that ‘tremendous pressure’ on the Hamas leadership was involved. As with Haniyeh pulling back from the elections, it is possible that a unanimous anti-Assad position was imposed (even if a majority in the Shura Council was against it), for the sake of unity within Hamas.
The partial alliance switch was followed by a number of unfortunate events: the democratically chosen Ikhwan government in Egypt was deposed by the al-Sisi military regime; donor Qatar retreated into a more subordinate role to pro-US Saudi-Arabia; the Syrian opposition fell apart even more and Assad strengthened his position again.91 Indeed, in the words of a Palestinian activist, many Palestinians assert that Hamas made the wrong decision turning their back on Assad and they would recommend Hamas to join Hezbollah’s side, afraid that Hamas loses all its allies.92 Judging from the publications and interviews from the July 2014 war on, Meshaal, Abu Marzouk and al-Hayya too put an effort in repairing the relation with Iran and Hezbollah.
‘Even the pro-Qatar wing recently acknowledged Zahar’s position. The politburo’s second deputy, Moussa Abu Marzouk said that Iran was the major player in “supporting the preparations for al-Asf alMaakoul operation, through which the Palestinian Resistance faced the occupation using Iranian missiles as well as a locally-made rocket system simulating the Iranian one.” “The current vision adopted by the Shura Council and some members of the political bureau requires that Hamas improve its relations with Iran in order for matters to return to how they were,” the Hamas sources reiterated.’93 Still, we cannot account for the fact that the international community is under the impression that Hamas as a whole officially switched affiliations. Gunning’s research is also relevant in this respect.
86 Gunning 2007:115; Hovdenak 2009:64; Frankel 2012:60-1;
87 Chehab 2007:39-50.
90 The Politburo consists of 10 to 20 people most of whom are not residing in Gaza. (Hovdenak 2009:65.) 91 Abu Khalil 2013.
92 Personal communication with a Palestinian activist, Bethlehem, December 2013.
23 He refers to other cases in which Hamas released contradictory public statements and comes up with several reasons. First, Hamas appeals to different audiences who want to hear different things. Second, the abovementioned tensions between different factions of Hamas may play a role. Third, for security reasons decisions are often taken clandestinely, so that leaders can easily interpret a Shura decision in a way that suits them. Fourth, due to restriction of movement not all members of the Shura Council can meet, which makes it difficult to hold public debates and to be aware of individual opinions.
Finally, according to the Resistance Axis, dividing them is advantageous to the West and therefore it may be a media and political strategy.
24 Conclusion and discussion
Out of the three categories of connectedness, references to physical cooperation appear most frequently in the narratives and representations by members of Hamas and Hezbollah. Spiritual interconnectedness was often referred to in materials published by Hezbollah both before and since the Syrian war, but not in materials published by Hamas. Hamas’ and Hezbollah’s sameness regarding their main problem and solution, the means to reach this and their other ‘constant positions’ is striking.
With regard to an interruption of physical cooperation, Hamas sources are contradictory. According to some, like al-Zahar (A) and Meshaal (B12), the relation with Hezbollah and Iran never changed.
‘There were contacts before and after the Gaza war, the communication was between us and the Iranians and Hezbollah, and this is not a new thing, there is no rupture of relations between us and them.
However in the last two years there were some differences in the positions towards the direction of some issues, among them the Syrian issue. But the relation with Iran and Hezbollah was ongoing and there it continues. Our battle with the Israeli occupation unites us.’94 Others, like Abu Marzouk (B7) and al-Hayya (E), claim that there was a temporary decrease on the level of physical cooperation (including financial aid, weapon transactions, military training) with Hezbollah and Iran. Regardless, physical cooperation intensified around the July 2014 war on Gaza, probably since this reminded the parties of who the real enemy is.
‘The relation with Iran is affected by what happened in Syria. We tried to isolate our different positions on it, and to keep the relation with Iran according to its known standard, but the relationship is affected, and we are trying to repair what is damaged from it, a service for our people and our cause, as well as the relation with Hezbollah in Lebanon.’95 Therefore it is likely that at least part of Hamas’ leadership in exile decided to support the Syrian opposition. Another part of Hamas, particularly the Gaza-based wing and the military wing, views the Axis of Resistance as more important than the Sunni states, that have done little to stop Israel. The relation between the Qassam Brigades and the Resistance Axis has remained good all the time.96 Hezbollah views the Western-backed opposition in Syria as another wave of imperialism. The Syrian war therefore became an extension of Hezbollah’s ideology of resistance. Supporting Assad is a form of resistance, more so because the Assad government has always joined the resistance against Israel.
Indeed, my own neorealist hypothesis, inspired by mainstream media and Western political analyses, is part of the enemy’s strategy to divide and rule the Middle-East, according to Hezbollah. Therefore their very connectedness with Hamas is part of Resistance.
Whereas most literature on Hamas and Hezbollah does not use the perspective from within, in my research I have tried to focus on how Hamas and Hezbollah view each other, (which logically includes
25 the way they view themselves) to the extent that this is possible for a Western researcher. This was done by basing my analysis largely on narratives and representations by insiders. However, there are a number of limitations that must be taken into account. Firstly, in order to present the research to this Western audience, the data are interpreted by me, and therefore a Western bias that I am unaware of may have influenced the interpretation. Secondly, it was not possible to use only primary sources (accounts by Hamas and Hezbollah members themselves) as the organizations published very little on their alleged split. I managed to supplement the primary data with interviews by journalists. Still, the validity of the data would have been greater if I had conducted interviews myself, because I did not have the opportunity to ask all the relevant questions for this research. Finally, we must take into account that what Hamas and Hezbollah publish on their official websites does not necessarily match what different members of the organizations really think about each other. More research in the form of interviews is needed in order to establish a multidimensional insider view of the relations between the two.
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