Behind the Lies

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Review of "Hamas: A Beginner's Guide", Khaled Hroub, Pluto £11.99

The US propaganda effort to discredit the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) was stepped up enormously after Hamas won the legislative elections for the West Bank and Gaza Strip in January 2006.

Having an anti-US party running the Palestinian Authority was the last thing the US "democratic plan for the Middle East" was meant to do. Overwhelmingly the Western media portrayed Hamas as the "terrorist organisation" that the US and Israel had deemed it to be.

But what is the "real" Hamas and how was it able to win last year's election? Khaled Hroub's Hamas: A Beginners Guide answers precisely those and other questions about the Islamist organisation.

Hroub shatters the myths surrounding Hamas in an accessible format. Each chapter starts with a set of questions - covering the party's historical development, political and social policies, and its attitude towards Israel and the West - that easily navigates the reader through particular topics.

Hroub explains how Hamas grew from its inception in 1987 after the start of the first Intifada (although it existed before then as part of the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood). Hamas uses Islam as its main term of reference but it is a pragmatic party that fights militarily for the liberation of Palestine and also reaches into every aspect of society.

Education, poverty relief and social welfare are key aspects of its work on the ground - not a utopian vision of establishing an Islamic state.

Perhaps the biggest reason that Hamas won the elections, Hroub thinks, is their efficient grassroots work that has helped hundreds of thousands of Palestinians out of poverty.

The obvious reason Hamas was elected was because of rampant corruption inside the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), and the PLO's inability to defend Palestine against further encroachments by Israel. Hamas genuinely enjoys wide support, it did not mysteriously snatch electoral victory from the PLO and its military wing, Fatah, as the media would have us believe.

It is ludicrous to argue, Hroub says, that Palestinians would allow a party that did not deliver on its promises to run their government. Nor would Palestinians let Hamas get away with undemocratic practices. Hroub explains this in a chapter that focuses on tearing apart the Western picture of Hamas as inherently undemocratic. Palestinian society is deeply politicised and keeps a close eye on what Hamas is doing with its first go at running the territories.

Hroub's guide is a very timely and important book because it gives readers the facts about Hamas as an organisation, its cadre and outlook, that are needed to argue with those portraying Hamas as an Islamist organisation bent on destroying Israel and spreading a global jihad.

It also gives a fairly nuanced picture by pointing to some of Hamas's weaknesses - its reluctance to discuss a one-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians and its lack of female candidates. Unfortunately the sections on Hamas's attitude towards Palestinian women generally, and its relationship with the left, are not as well explored.

But on the whole the guide helps to open a debate about Hamas and the current situation in Palestine. It should be read by everyone who wants to make up their own mind about the organisation, as it crushes misconceived ideas as presented by the imperialists and their allies.

Khaled Hroub's article about Palestine in this issue of SR can be found here.