by Meir Litvak
Anti-Semitism is a major pillar in the ideology of Hamas (acronym of Harakat al-muqawama al-Islamiyya – Islamic Resistance Movement), a Palestinian national-Islamic movement, which perceives and articulates its conflict with Israel in Manichean and absolutist religious terms. Like most other Islamic movements in the Middle East, Hamas regards the conflict with the latest and most fateful phase of the relentless onslaught waged by western imperialism and culture against Islam since the Crusades. Hamas publications portray the Jews as instruments of the West or, alternatively, as the power that controls and manipulates the West in this war. Concurrently, it views the current struggle as the last link in the war, which the Jews have been waging against Islam since its essence. Consequently, Hamas emphasizes the emphasis on the “Islamic essence” of the Palestinian cause.”
As such, the struggle is portrayed as an unbridgeable dichotomy between two absolutes: a “war of religion and faith,” between Islam and Judaism and between Muslims and Jews, rather than one between Palestinians and Israelis or Zionists.
It is a historical, religious, cultural and existential conflict between the true religion, which supersedes all previous religions, i.e. Islam, and the abrogated superseded religion, Judaism. It is a war between good personified by the Muslims who represent the party of God (Hizballah) against “evil incarnated…. the party of Satan” (hizb al-shaytan) represented by the Jews.1
Justifying the Self and Demonizing the Other
Every conflict involves justification of the Self and the demonization of rivals and enemies, or in Hamas’ case the Jews as the “enemies of God and of humanity.” Such an accusation, in the words of Bernard Lewis, applies to all enemies of Islam since, if according to the Quran the fighters for Islam are fighting in holy war “in the path of God” and for God, then their opponents are fighting against God and are, therefore, his enemies.2 However, such depiction is used more forcefully and more often against the Jews in view of their explicit castigation by the Quran.
Unlike the non-Islamist Palestinian groups, Hamas makes no distinction between Judaism and Zionism, and uses Zionists and Jews synonymously and interchangeably. Judaism is a “religion that stipulates racism and hostility towards others in its books and incites to usurp unjustly Palestine under the slogan of the Holy Land.” Zionism, according to this view, transforms these Jewish ideas into reality. Likewise, terrorism is an integral and inherent pillar of Judaism, which stems from the teaching of the Tora, and it finds its expression in Zionist massacres in Palestine.3
The portrayal of the Jews as powerful archenemies of Islam departs from traditional Islamic depictions of the Jews that are associated with cowardice, degradation and wretchedness. It has become a central element in Hamas’ ideology and an important theme in the writings of all Islamist movements in the Middle East as part of a broader need to explain the current crisis of the Muslim world. It is particularly difficult within this context to explain Jewish or Zionist success vis-a-vis the Muslims since, according to Islamic tradition, the Jews were destined to humiliation and subjugation to Muslims after they had rejected the message of the Prophet. It is one thing to be defeated by a super-power such as the U.S., and a completely different situation to be defeated and ruled by the Jews, who had been an inferior minority in the past under the Muslim empire, and who are a small minority in the modern Middle East. The only way to explain this cognitive dissonance is to magnify the power and evil of the Jews, and thereby help to explain Muslim weakness.4
Modern Anti-Jewish Animosity
The modern anti-Jewish animosity of Islamic movements goes much further than traditional Islam. Although Muslims have always viewed Islam as a superior religion, superseding Judaism, they did not consider Judaism as a heresy, which required eradication, as long as it did not challenge Islam’s rule. Historically, Muslims regarded Christianity as a greater threat than Judaism, and devoted greater attention to it in their polemical literature.5 However, due to the conflict with Israel, Judaism rather than Christianity has become the prime enemy for the Islamist organizations, drawing inspiration from anti-Jewish utterances in the Koran and from modern European anti-Semitism.
A good example of this vilification is the Hamas Charter, the movement’s canonical document, which provides a picture of the Jews and Judaism drawn from the notorious anti-Semitic tract, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Article 22, for instance, describes the Jews as controlling the world media with their money and as having established secret organizations throughout the world – such as the Freemasons and Rotary Club – “for the destruction of societies and the fulfilment of the goals of Zionism.” They have “caused revolutions all over the world,” from France in 1789 to Russia in 1917 “in order to fulfil their goal.” Likewise, “with their money, they seized control of the imperialist powers and pushed them to subdue many countries in order to squeeze their resources and spread their corruption.” In addition, Hamas accuses the Jews of fomenting all-important wars in history. Most important, the Jews stood behind the outbreak of World War I, which ‘eliminated’ the Ottoman Empire, the “state of the Islamic Caliphate.” The breakdown of Islamic unity opened the way for the establishment of “the Zionist entity” in Palestine. Likewise, they “were behind World War II, through which they made huge financial gains by trading in armaments, and paved the way for the establishment of their state.”
Of special significance are the wars, which the Jews have waged against Islam from the time of the Prophet. Accordingly, the Jews opposed the Prophet from the moment he arrived in Medina, in a desperate effort to prevent the spread of Islam, rejecting his generous offers and distorting his message. They tried to harm the Islamic umma (nation) and dominate it.”6
Derogatory Descriptions of the Jews
In many of its publications Hamas employs harsh derogatory descriptions of the Jews, often taken from the Koran, such as “blood suckers,” “brothers of apes,” “killers of the prophets,” “human pigs,” and warmongers “the descendants of treachery and deceit,” “butchers.” They are a “cancer expanding” in the land of Palestine, “threatening the entire Islamic world.” They are “spreading corruption” in the land of Islam. “Deceit and usury are stamped in their nature,” and they are all “thieves, monopolists, and usurers.”7
Almost every issue of the Hamas organ, Filastin al-Muslima contains articles enumerating the evil deeds and character of the Jews based on an analysis and exegetes of specific suras (chapters) from the Koran.
Particularly significant, in view of the historical record, are the equations, which Hamas makes between the Jews, the Zionists and the Nazis and the denial of the Holocaust. Hamas argues that Israel’s actions exceed those of the Nazis, and that “the Jews represent Nazism in its most criminal form.”8 Yet, following the Stockholm conference on the Holocaust, held in January 2000, Hamas declared that the conference had:
A Hamas promotional display at a West Bank university
A clear Zionist goal, aimed at forging history by hiding the truth about the so-called Holocaust, which is an alleged and invented story with no basis . . .. The invention of these grand illusions of an alleged crime that never occurred, ignoring the millions of dead European victims of Nazism during the war, clearly reveals the racist Zionist face, which believes in the superiority of the Jewish race over the rest of the nations.9
cAbd al-cAziz al-Rantisi, Hamas leader from Gaza, went further by denying the Holocaust, while simultaneously charging that “the Zionists were behind the Nazis’ murder of many Jews,” with the aim of intimidating and forcing them to immigrate to Palestine. Furthermore, he claimed that the Nazis “received tremendous financial aid from the Zionist banks and monopolies,” prior to their seizure of power and that “this great financial aid helped the Nazis build the military and economic force needed to destroy Europe and annihilate millions.” “When we compare the Zionists to the Nazis,” Rantisi concluded, “We insult the Nazis,” he concluded. 10
Reviewing the life of the late Pope John Paul II, the Hamas weekly al-Risala concluded that his 1998 letter, in which he apologized to the Jews for the Holocaust was his “greatest crime”.11
The perception of the conflict as a religious one brings Hamas to advocate jihad (holy war) as the only way to combat the Jews. Yet, in addition to practical considerations, Hamas endowed the jihad against the Jews with eschatological significance. The messianic element is relegated to secondary importance in the ideology of modern-day Sunni movements. However, because Hamas’ main preoccupation is fighting a national-religious enemy, and possibly as a means to stave off calls for a compromise among the Palestinian masses, it resorts to messianic symbolism. Thus, the jihad against the Jews is a prerequisite for fulfilling God’s promise to establish His rule over the earth. Citing the tradition (hadith) of the Saltbush, the Hamas Charter states that the final hour will not come until the day when the Muslims will fight the Jews and kill them.12
Lest the meaning of this passage remain unclear, Hamas author Mukhlis Barzaq pointed to the fact that the Prophet had killed more Jews than any other infidels during his wars. The Prophet revealed in a “firmly established Tradition” how the Jews should be handled if they betray the Muslims, and he ordered his followers to carry it out without any feelings of sorrow for this “detested group”. He made it clear that the fate of the Jews should be “complete killing, total extermination and eradicating perdition (al-qatl al-tam wal-ibada al-kamila wal-fana’ al-mahiq).” Perhaps equally significant, considering its intended readership, is the editorial in al-Fatih, Hamas’ children’s publication, appealing to the children of Iraq to pray to God and ask him “O God exterminate the Jews the tyrannical the usurpers” (Allahuma, ahlik al-yahud al-zalimin al-mughtasibin).13
Possibility of Change?
Following the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, a few Hamas activists in the West Bank voiced the possibility of future coexistence with Israel and the need to reconsider some of Hamas ideological tenets. While the possibility of changes in Hamas’ ideology and attitudes should not be excluded, these views represent a very small minority within the movement’s ranks. Moreover, shifts of attitudes and consciousness are usually slower than political or economic changes.
Concurrently, the harsh expressions made by Hamas should not be dismissed as mere rhetoric, as they serve to inculcate a state of mind among the movement’s activists and followers as well as to socialize a younger generation of Palestinians. The horrors of the Twentieth Century have proved too often that extreme word leads to extreme deeds.
1. Ibrahim Quqa to al-Anba (Kuwait), 8 October 1988; “Hiwar shamil maca qiyadat Hamas,” Filastin al-Muslima [FM], April 1990; Ila Filastin, February 1990; Nida al-Aqsa, January 1989.
2. Bernard Lewis, “The Roots of Muslim Rage,” The Atlantic Monthly, September 1990, pp. 47-60.
3. FM, “Hiwar,” April 1990.
4. For the spread of anti-Jewish sentiments in the Arab world, Bernard Lewis, Semites and Antisemites: An Inquiry into Conflict and Prejudice (New York: W.W. Norton, 1986); Rivka Yadlin, An Arrogant Oppressive Spirit: Anti-Zionism as Anti-Judaism in Egypt (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1989).
5. Bernard Lewis, The Jews of Islam (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1981), p. 33.
6. FM, “Hiwar,” April 1990.
7. See Handbills nos. 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 14, 16, 31, 33, 65, 78, 87 in Shaul Mishal with Reuven Aharoni, Speaking stones: communiqués from the Intifada underground (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1994).
8. The Hamas Charter (numerous editions), articles 20, 31. Other such statements include: “the Nazism of the Jews encompasses all of them,” “the Nazi Jews,” “Jewish Nazism,” “Nazi Zionism,” in Handbills nos. 5, 6, 8, 11, 12, 13, 14, 25, and 65.
9. Reuven Paz, ‘Palestinian Holocaust Denial,’ The Washington Institute: Policy Watch Number 255, 21 April 2000. The original article appeared in Arabic in Hamas official website, Palestine-info.org, and was not translated to English, presumably because the editors realized it could harm Hamas reputation among non-Arabs.
10. Hamas weekly al-Risala (Gaza), 21 August 2003. See similar claims in FM, September 1996.
11. Al-Risala, 7 April 2005.
12. Hamas Charter, articles 13, 9, and 7. According to Islamic tradition the Jews will flee from the Muslims on that day and “when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees, the stones and trees will say O Moslems, O slave of God, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the gharkad tree, (saltbush) would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews.”
13. Barzaq, Al-wacd min al-Khaybar ila al-Quds in Palestine-info.org, chapter 8; al-Fateh, no. 8 in www.al-fateh.net.