For many years, Hamas’ Charter of 1988 has ebbed at their minimal legitimacy within the international community. Many advocates in favor of Palestinian independence have found themselves unable to endorse the violence, anti-Semitism and calls for genocide contained within the document.
Recently, in an attempt to rebrand their public image and purge themselves of the aura of a terrorist organization, Hamas released a revised document titled ‘General Principles and Policies’. It served as an affirmation of their ideologies and positions on issues relating to Israel.
Importantly, the document provides an insight into their willingness, or lack thereof, to coexist with an Israeli state:
‘Hamas rejects any alternative to the full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea. However, without compromising its rejection of the Zionist entity and without relinquishing any Palestinian rights, Hamas considers the establishment of a fully sovereign and independent Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital along the lines of the 4th of June 1967, with the return of the refugees and the displaced to their homes from which they were expelled, to be a formula of national consensus[i]’
This is an oxymoron of a policy, requiring intellectual gymnastics to understand both its consistency and logic. Acceptance of a state along the pre-1967 armistice lines denotes a willingness or reluctant acceptance to live alongside an Israeli state, rather than a ‘full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea’. Thus, the two positions (i.e. acceptance of a state along pre-1967 lines and non-recognition of Israel) are incompatible. Their so-called ‘acceptance’ of a state is essentially an acceptance of a starting point from which to appropriate modern-day Israel. Indeed, this was admitted by senior Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahhar in 2011, who referred to the acceptance of the pre-1967 lines as ‘just a phase’ until Hamas has a chance to ‘regain the land, even if we [Hamas] have to do so inch by inch[ii]’. Following this logic, Brazil could hypothetically accept a state in Rio de Janeiro yet maintain the entire territorial integrity of modern-day Brazil. Or, more appropriately, Islamic State could accept a state in Raqqa, Syria yet maintain its ambitions to establish a Caliphate from Spain to Afghanistan.
The revised document also enabled Hamas to discard many of the allegations of anti-Semitism that had plagued them for years. For example, the 1988 Charter contains conspiratorial anti-Semitic accusations of Jewish and Zionist domination of global institutions, as well as insinuations on the malevolence of Jewish people:
‘Writers, intellectuals, media people, orators, educators and teachers, and all the various sectors in the Arab and Islamic world – all of them are called upon to perform their role, and to fulfil their duty, because of the ferocity of the Zionist offensive and the Zionist influence in many countries exercised through financial and media control, as well as the consequences that all this lead to in the greater part of the world[iii]’.
‘The Zionist plan is limitless. After Palestine, the Zionists aspire to expand from the Nile to the Euphrates. When they will have digested the region they overtook, they will aspire to further expansion, and so on. Their plan is embodied in the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, and their present conduct is the best proof of what we are saying[iv]’
‘Israel, Judaism and Jews challenge Islam and the Moslem people. “May the cowards never sleep[v]’
‘The Jews made no exception for women or children. Their policy of striking fear in the heart is meant for all. They attack people where their breadwinning is concerned, extorting their money and threatening their honour[vi]’
‘We should not forget to remind every Moslem that when the Jews conquered the Holy City in 1967, they stood on the threshold of the Aqsa Mosque and proclaimed that “Mohammed is dead, and his descendants are all women[vii]’
However, the original 1988 Charter did not just draw attention to the supposed true aspirations of world Jewry. Rather, they openly advocated for violence and genocide against Jewish people:
‘In face of the Jews’ usurpation of Palestine, it is compulsory that the banner of Jihad be raised[viii]’
‘Arab and Islamic Peoples should augment by further steps on their part; Islamic groupings all over the Arab world should also do the same, since all of these are the best-equipped for the future role in the fight with the warmongering Jews[ix]’
‘Our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious[x]’
‘The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree, (evidently a certain kind of tree) would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews.” (related by al-Bukhari and Moslem)[xi]’
The revised document, rather, is careful to adopt a more palatable tone to the international community regarding Jewish people:
‘Hamas affirms that its conflict is with the Zionist project not with the Jews because of their religion. Hamas does not wage a struggle against the Jews because they are Jewish but wages a struggle against the Zionists who occupy Palestine. Yet, it is the Zionists who constantly identify Judaism and the Jews with their own colonial project and illegal entity[xii]’
Evidently, the term ‘Jews’ has been euphemistically replaced with the term ‘Zionists’. This does not expunge the anti-Semitic sentiments of the revised document, as the same pernicious messages (i.e. a global Zionist plot to annex the Middle East, their disproportionate control of global institutions and military might and the corrupting behaviour of Jewish people) are being transmitted. Importantly, their continued refusal to recognize Israel or the Jewish cultural connections to the land falls within the U.S. State Department’s own definition of anti-Semitism, which hold that ‘denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, and denying Israel the right to exist’ are examples of contemporary anti-Semitism[xiii].
The revised document also presents a major shift in Hamas’ public acknowledgement of its ideological and political affiliation. It makes no mention of The Muslim Brotherhood; the Islamist movement designated as a terrorist organization in Russia, Egypt, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. This is despite the fact that Hamas emerged as an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood[xiv] and is referenced in the original 1988 Charter:
‘The Islamic Resistance Movement is one of the wings of Moslem Brotherhood in Palestine. Moslem Brotherhood Movement is a universal organization which constitutes the largest Islamic movement in modern times[xv]’
Although Hamas has not commented on the Brotherhood’s omission from its new document, it is likely an attempt to garner favor with regional players such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia who, as previously mentioned, have designated the group as a terrorist organization. Egypt’s previous President, Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi, was globally panned for labelling Israelis as ‘blood-suckers’ and Jews as ‘the descendants of apes and pigs[xvi]’.
For those who view the revised document as a step in the right direction at the very least, one might be alarmed at the limited influence of its supposed moderation on Hamas policies. As recently as May 11, 2017, senior Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahhar noted that its revised document did not contradict its founding Charter of 1988:
‘The pledge Hamas made before God was to liberate all of Palestine…The Charter is the core of [Hamas’] position and the mechanism of this position is the document…We have reaffirmed the unchanging constant principles that we do not recognize Israel; we do not recognize the land occupied in 1948 as belonging to Israel and we do not recognize that the people who came here (Jews) own this land[xvii]’
[ii] Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) 2011, ‘Hamas Leader Mahmoud Al-Zahhar Slams PA President for “Aimless Kangaroo-Like” Political Gymnastics and Says: We Will Not Relinquish Any Piece of Palestinian Land’ (Transcript of Excerpts from Television Interview with Hamas Leader Mahmoud al-Zahhar on Dream 1 TV), July 20, viewed 11 May 2017, https://www.memri.org/tv/hamas-leader-mahmoud-al-zahhar-slams-pa-president-abbas-aimless-kangaroo-political-gymnastics-and/transcript
[xii] Hamas 1988, op. cit.
[xiv] Abu-Amr, Z. 1994, Islamic Fundamentalism in the West Bank and Gaza: Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic Jihad, India University Press, United States of America, p. 16
[xv] Hamas 1988, op. cit.
[xvi] Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) 2010, ‘Morsi in 2010: No to Negotiations with the Blood-Sucking Warmongering “Descendants of Apes and Pigs”; Calls to Boycott U.S. Products’ (Transcript of Excerpts from Archival Interviews with Mohammed Morsi, September 23, viewed 14 May 2017, https://www.memri.org/tv/morsi-2010-no-negotiations-blood-sucking-warmongering-descendants-apes-and-pigs-calls-boycott-us/transcript
[xvii] Jerusalem Post 2017, ‘Hamas Says New Document ‘Not a Substitute for Founding Charter’, May 11, viewed 14 May 2017