Palestinians today are fleeing Israeli oppression-and seeking statehood-on two paths, the Islamic and the Nationalist. Ironically, they are on a collision course, as the paths are ideologically and politically opposed. For over 20 years the Nationalists led by Arafat have claimed leadership, but, insist radical Islamists: "The Quran is the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people."
In his meticulously researched and documented, as well as clearly and concisely written book, Ziad Abu-Amr, an associate professor of political science at Birzeit University, does not predict which route the Palestinians will ultimately choose. However, the lslamists in less than four years have gained "the kind of credibility, popularity and legitimacy" that the PLO took two decades to earn. Recent PLO failure to create improved living conditions for long-suffering Palestinians has led to disillusionment-and in turn tangible gains for the lslamists. Despite its gains, the Islamic movement faces two major challenges:
First, there's a strong Palestinian secular tradition, with a large number of secular institutions, PLO factions and intelligentsia. Also, Palestine has an active Christian minority, with influential politicians, businessmen, academicians, journalists, community leaders, educators. A Palestinian Christian family, for example, established Birzeit University. Additionally, a large number of Christian schools and kindergartens open their doors not only to Christian but Muslim students as well.
Beyond secular and Christian opposition, the lslamists suffer draconian measures from the Israelis, who are determined to eradicate the movement. In huge police sweeps, the Israelis have arrested and imprisoned or expelled from their homeland most of the lslamists' leaders. In 1989 the Israelis arrested the Islamists' most influential and charismatic leader, Ahmad Yasin-and sentenced him to 15 years imprisonment. In that same year the Israelis imprisoned 260 other Hamas activists. In 1992, the Israelis arrested lslamist activists in "the thousands." With impunity they rounded up the best-known of the leaders-418 of them-drove them to the border of Lebanon and abandoned them in a no-man's land, without food supplies, adequate clothing or housing.
Suffering oppression by powerful military regimes is not new to the Islamists, who in Egypt first joined forces for political power-with the founding of the Muslim Brotherhood Society-almost 70 years ago. Hasan al-Banna founded the Brotherhood, whose purpose was to build an Islamic society by applying Islamic law or the Sharia. Starting in 1928, he soon had a network of sympathizers numbering more than a million Egyptians. In 1935, Abd-al-Rahman al-Banna, brother of the society's founder in Egypt, visited Palestine and with the mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Huseini, formed the Palestinian Brotherhood. Although the Muslim Brothers had been early supporters of Nasser, he moved against them, killing and jailing tens of thousands, and sending their main theoretician, Sayyid Qutb, author of the movement's best known manifesto, "Signposts," to the gallows. Little was heard of the Brotherhood in the Muslim world for some years.
In 1973, Sheikh Yasin, along with other prominent leaders including Ibrahim al-Yazuri, Dr. Abd-al-Aziz Rantisi and Dr. Mahmud al-Zahhar, opened the Islamic Center in Gaza as a front organization for the Muslim Brotherhood. Soon after the spontaneous uprising or intifada, the Brotherhood formed an armed resistance branch, calling it Hamas, an acronym meaning "enthusiasm" or "zeal." Its leaders, in addition to Sheikh Yasin and Rantisi, included these Gaza business and professional leaders: Ibrahim al-Yazuri, Sheikh Salah Shihada, Issa al-Nashshar, Muhammad Shama and Abd-al-Fattah Dukhan. Additionally, to perform violent tactics against Israel, Hamas established a special militant body called Regiments of Izz-al-Din al-Qassam-so named for an early leader of the Palestinian armed resistance. It was the Qassam branch of Hamas that gained worldwide attention for their October 1994 bold kidnapping of an Israeli soldier.
Though Hamas denies it gets money from governments, Abu-Amr writes that "the widespread belief is that Hamas has received money from the governments of Saudi Arabia and some Gulf states. It is also believed that these governments have continued to provide Hamas with financial support after the Gulf War as a way of punishing the PLO for its support of Iraq during the Gulf crisis. The support to Hamas may also be aimed at appeasing the Islamic movements in these countries." Unlike the PLO, Hamas does not possess a complicated or extensive bureaucracy which means that its financial responsibilities are considerably less.
In addition to Hamas, the author deals with a second Islamic group, Jihad, formed in 1980 by a break-away group from the Brotherhood who were frustrated that after more than 50 years the lslamists had not been successful in countering nationalist and secularist trends or preventing humiliation in such defeats as those suffered in the wars of 1948 and 1967. The Jihad founders, including two men from Gaza, Fathi al-Shaqaqi, identified as "one of movement's most important thinkers" and Abd-al-Aziz Auda, "the movement's spiritual leader," found inspiration in the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979. A more secretive organization than Hamas, its members reportedly never hesitate to carry out actions they know in advance are dangerous. Khalid al-Juaidi, a Jihad member who took part in killing two Israelis, said during his trial: "We, the members of the Islamic Jihad Movement, show more interest in death than we do in life. We shall either liberate our land or die bravely in the attempt." While Palestinian Jihad members are Sunni Muslims, they are in agreement with the stance taken by Iran's Khomeini who said all Muslims must work to "eliminate the element of corruption, Israel."
Unlike the Brotherhood, which had its roots in Egypt and has branches in many areas, the special nature of Islamic Jihad lies in its being founded and developed inside the occupied territories. "It does not receive directions from abroad that might contradict reality at home," the author writes.
Hamas and Jihad have certain similarities: both are fundamentalist, both reject the secular nationalist program of the PLO, they both also reject the notion of "liberation first, then ideological commitment" raised initially by the PLO's Fatah movement. Differences between the Brotherhood and Jihad lie not in goals so much as in their operational "styles," Abu-Amr writes, adding that the Brotherhood, now in existence in Palestine some 60 years, has generally been "less militant," while the 14-year-old Jihad movement is "more revolutionary in spirit and style.''