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Clearing The Fog

Daniel Horowitz de Garcia
Date Published: 

Hamas: A Beginner’s Guide
By Khaled Hroub
Pluto Press, 2006

In the US it’s too easy to stay confused about Palestine. I know people who can tell you how many diapers Che Guevara went through in his first month of life but couldn’t locate the West Bank on a map. Now I can just give these friends a copy of Hroub’s new book and feel confident they will begin to understand.

Hroub is a veteran author and is currently the director of the Arab Media Project at Cambridge University. Although he has an impressive list of academic credentials, the book is written for the lay person. He uses a question and answer format which allows one to use the volume as a quick reference. I read the book cover to cover and it did feel at times like reading a long FAQ webpage. The reason FAQs are so popular, however, is because people need quick answers to immediate questions. Hroub meets that need. If you’re looking for an extended narrative about Hamas, then you will need to look elsewhere.

Those looking for objectivity should also look elsewhere. Objectivity is a silly lie used to tell more serious lies. Hroub was born in a refugee camp in Bethlehem – he knows what side he’s on. The writing is unapologetically supportive of a free Palestine. But “bias” doesn’t mean uncritical. Hroub does take Hamas to task on its use of violence, specifically on the use of suicide attacks. He acknowledges that the use of suicide attacks has “damaged the reputation of both Hamas and the Palestinian people worldwide.” He then lays out Hamas’ reasoning for this particular use of violence. Hroub devotes a section to Hamas’ use of violence, but I still wanted more. He successfully shows that Hamas doesn’t engage in armed struggle haphazardly, but instead has laid out detailed reasons how, when, and why their attacks happen and how they will stop. He says Hamas is willing to stop all suicide attacks right now if Israel will also commit to stop killing civilians. He also breaks out the numbers of dead on both sides (137 Israeli children killed, versus 998 Palestinian children) showing how lopsided the carnage is.

What I wanted was a deeper analysis of what attacks have brought Hamas and the Palestinian people and what have they failed to bring. In addition to showing that violence against civilians has damaged the global reputation of Palestinians and Hamas, he also explains how the linking of attacks on Israeli civilians to attacks on Palestinian civilians has changed Hamas’ power relationship to Israel. However, at the end of the section, I wanted a fuller exploration of how engaging in armed struggle has affected the overall liberation movement.

Greater detail
For me, the most important lesson from Hroub’s book is that the Palestinian struggle, like all anti-imperial struggle in the Middle East, has moved on an axis between religion and politics. Hroub shows that since the end of the Crusades in 1291, Muslims in the Middle East have always changed the mixture of politics in their religion and vice versa. During the Cold War, as Marxist ideologies dominated liberation struggles, Islamic thought faded into the background but it never went away. With the targeting and destruction of secular opposition groups, today the organizations holding a mass base are those that are overtly religious. Hroub describes this history in the introduction and does a superb job. This alone is worth the price of the book. His section on Hamas and their political victory goes into greater detail of the tension between the Palestinian political support versus religious support for the organization.

Anyone and everyone living in the US with even a smattering of political consciousness would do well to read Hroub’s work. This book cuts through the fog this country drapes over the Middle East. I highly recommend clearing your mind by reading it.