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Liberators or Terrorists? The Origins and History of Israel and Hamas

As the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rages on, much of the focus lately has been on Hamas.

Critics say the group is a terrorist organization that wants nothing but to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth.

Supporters say Hamas, which represents the only organized Palestinian military force, is a coalition of freedom fighters and liberators defending the Palestinian people.

But where did the organization even come from? And how has is it become what it is today?

Hamas militants in training. Click to enlarge

Thinking you can understand the current conflict by looking at only the past few years of its history is like thinking you understand calculus because you passed freshman algebra.

Hopefully, this quick piece can be a pre-cal of sorts for people wanting to really understand the history between Israel and Palestine.

In 1917, Great Britain occupied Palestine during a period of British expansionism. Assisting in the conquest of Palestine was a Jewish military volunteer group known as the Jewish Legion.

This group was comprised primarily of Zionists, Jews who believed that it was God’s will for them to one day return to their ancient homeland (Mt. Zion is located in the heart of Jerusalem).

“Jewish Legion soldiers at the Western Wall after British conquest, 1917.” Click to enlarge (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

In 1920, Palestinian riots led to the formation of a Jewish militia known as the Haganah. The militia was formed by Jews who felt that Britain had no interest in confronting the Arab populations in the region who were expressing their disapproval for the ongoing British occupation.

Between 1919 and 1929, 100,000 more Jews migrated to Palestine. This led to an Arab revolt in the late 1930s, which prompted Britain to pass legislation limiting Jewish migration to the territory.

But World War II and the Holocaust displaced millions of Jews in Europe, and many of them sought a new life in the primarily Jewish British-held areas of Palestine.

Britain found itself in a conflict with the Haganah, who wanted to establish an independent Jewish state, while also trying to deal with the Arabs and Palestinians who were still upset that their traditional lands had been occupied in the first place.

So Britain basically gave up. They said they couldn’t solve any of the problems between the Jews and the Arab Palestinians and pulled out of the area in 1947.

General Sir Evelyn “Bubbles” Barker led the occupying British forces in Palestine between 1946 and 1947. Click to enlarge

Later that year, the UN passed UN Resolution 181, splitting up the Palestinian territory into separate Jewish and Palestinian states.

The resolution was signed without the agreement of the Palestinian Arabs in the region. The United States had promised the Palestinian Arabs that they would be consulted before any decision was reached, but that promise was broken.

So as soon as the resolution was passed, fighting began, with Arab forces attacking Israeli territories that had formerly been part of Palestine before UN Resolution 181.

Israel won that war, thanks in part to weapons acquired secretly from western countries like the United States and France who were sympathetic to the Jewish cause but didn’t want to become publicly involved.

Not only did they hold onto their own territory, they captured 50% of the territory that had been given to the Palestinians under the UN resolution.

The change of territory following UN Resolution 181 and the resultant war. Click to enlarge

In 1964, a number of Arab countries sent representatives to Cairo for the Arab League Summit. The goal of the summit was to resolve inter-Arab conflicts in the region so that the Arab countries could unite in their struggle against what they saw as western imperialism and Israeli aggression.

It was at this summit that the idea for the Palestinian Liberation Organization, or PLO, was born. The stated goal of the PLO was to “liberate Palestine through armed struggle”.

Although the dominant religion in these Arab countries was Islam, the PLO was comprised mainly of secular Palestinian factions (the largest being the Fatah party), who were actually wary of the rise of Islamic extremism.

Arab leaders in front of the Nile Hilton Hotel in Cairo during the Arab League Summit in 1964

Historically, Palestinians have been a religiously tolerant people. For hundreds of years, Muslims, Jews and Christians alike lived peacefully together as fellow Palestinians. The PLO wanted to make sure that this tolerance was preserved.

In fact, the Islamic extremism which is now considered the backbone of Hamas was actually encouraged by Israel itself.

In 1967, Israel fought the Six-Day War against an Arab federation led by Egypt. At that time, the PLO was quickly becoming popular among Arabs in the region, and this worried Israel.

So using PLO guerilla activity as a pretext, Israel took over the Palestinian territory of Gaza and began systematically hunting down members of the PLO and the Fatah party.

To combat the PLO’s secular influence in the region, Israel began encouraging Islamic activism in Palestine. One of the biggest beneficiaries of this Israeli policy was a man named Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who was the head of the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza at the time.

Sheik Ahmed Yassin

In 1973, Yassin established the Islamist group Mujama al-Islamiya. The organization was officially recognized as a charity by Israel  in 1979.

Yassin used the organization to establish mosques and Islamic schools in Gaza, as well as a library. But Yitzhak Segev, an Israeli official who served as governor of Gaza in 1979, says that he had no illusions about Yassin’s real intentions.

Segev had personally witnessed an Islamist movement in Iran which eventually led to a military coup that toppled the democratically elected Prime Minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953. The coup cleared the way for the Shah of Iran (the country’s highest-ranking Muslim cleric) to take power.

Men celebrating the military coup in the streets of Iran’s capital city of Tehran in 1953. Click to enlarge (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

He and other Israeli officials worried that the same would soon happen in Gaza, but because of the tensions in the region at the time, they were reluctant to speak out, fearing they would be accused of being enemies of Islam.

So Segev said nothing. In 1984, Israeli intelligence got word that Yassin’s group was stockpiling weapons in a Gaza mosque. They raided the mosque and arrested Yassin, who claimed the weapons were meant for use against secular Palestinian groups like the PLO, not for use against Israel.

He was released from jail a year later, and continued to spread Mujama’s influence in Gaza. Then, in 1987, he established Hamas with six other Palestinians as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The first leaflet they distributed blamed Israeli intelligence for undermining the social fabric of young Palestinians in order to recruit Palestinian “collaborators”.

But despite this harsh language, Israel continued to focus on the Fatah party and the PLO, even meeting with senior Hamas officials as part of “regular consultations” that they held with Palestinian officials not linked to the PLO.

Mahmoud Zahar was one of the Hamas leaders who met with Israeli officials in the early days of the organization’s existence (Photo: AFP)

It wasn’t until Hamas kidnapped and murdered two Israeli soldiers in 1989 that Israel started to pay attention to the group.

In response to the kidnappings, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) arrested Yassin and deported 400 Hamas activists to an Israeli-occupied region of South Lebanon.

During its time in South Lebanon in the early 90s, Hamas built a relationship with the Lebanese jihadist group Hezbollah and established its military division, the al-Qassam Brigades.

Throughout the early 90s, the al-Qassam Brigades carried out numerous attacks and suicide bombings on Israel. However, Hamas was centered in Lebanon and Jordan at the time, making it hard for Israel to eliminate them.

In 1993, Israel and the PLO agreed to the Oslo Accords, which established the Palestinian Authority as a governmental body to represent the Palestinians. This helped stem some of the violence the region experienced in the early 90s.

Isreali Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat agree to the Oslo Accords in 1993. The U.S. played a major role in brokering the deal. Click to enlarge (Photo: AP)

Then, in 1997, a failed Israeli assassination attempt on a Hamas leader in Jordan and the resulting political fallout led to the release of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who had been put in jail for life for the murders of the Israeli soldiers in 1989.

2000 brought about a renewal of the bloody conflict, with a surge in Hamas suicide bombings prompted by the growing number of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian-controlled territory of the West Bank.

In 2004, Yassin offered a military truce to Israel, asking for the establishment of a Palestinian state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem in exchange. Israel turned down the truce, and Yassin was killed by a targeted air strike two months later.

In 2006, Hamas became entrenched in the Palestinian government. Though the group had boycotted the Palestinian presidential election a year before, they decided to take part in the legislative elections in 2006. They did remarkably well, wining 76 of the 132 available seats (Fatah won 43).

Results from the 2006 elections. Click to enlarge

The relationship between Hamas and Fatah has always been rocky. Skirmishes have broken out between the two factions on countless occasions. At one point, Israeli intelligence even informed Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas that Hamas was planning to assassinate him.

Despite their past differences, however, Abbas announced in March of 2012 that Fatah and Hamas were on the same page. He told Al-Jazeera,

“We agreed that the period of calm would be not only in the Gaza Strip, but also in the West Bank… We also agreed on a peaceful popular resistance [against Israel], the establishment of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders and that the peace talks would continue if Israel halted settlement construction and accepted our conditions.”

Feb. 23, 2012: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (right) with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (left) at a meeting between Fatah and Hamas in Cairo. Click to enlarge (Photo: UPI/ Mohame Hams)

But this declaration of unity is seeming pretty hollow now.

Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah have proposed a number of ceasefires between Israel and Palestine during this latest flare-up of the conflict, but Hamas has refused the deals, demanding that Israel move its citizens out of settlements in Palestine if they want a ceasefire.

One of the reasons that Hamas was able to gain so much political power in the mid-2000s was that Palestinians had become fed up with the corruption of the Palestinian Authority (led by the Fatah party) by the time the 2006 elections rolled around.

Unfortunately, the added political power that Hamas gained when they took over Palestinian politics that year led to the same corruption that the Palestinian people had tried to get rid of by voting the Palestinian Authority out of power.

Dorothy Peskin is an Israeli analyst who recently released a detailed report about Hamas corruption in Gaza. She put it this way:

“With multi-million land deals, luxury villas and black market fuel from Egypt, Gaza’s (Hamas) rulers made billions while the rest of the population struggles with a 39 percent poverty level and 40 percent unemployment.”

Hamas leader Khaled Mashal is rumored to be in control of more than $2.6 billion dollars of Hamas assets, according to a source in Jordan

The average Hamas fighter today may truly believe in the Palestinian liberation cause, but power and influence almost always lead to corruption.

In my opinion, the leaders of Hamas have shown that they are more interested in maintaining their own power, influence and wealth than in actually helping the Palestinian people. Their strategy of maximizing civilian casualties by firing rockets from heavily-populated areas is just one example.

However, we must also recognize that Israel played a big role in establishing Hamas in the first place because of their fear of the secular Palestinian Liberation Organization.

An American intelligence report discussing relations between Israel and Hamas was recently published by the news leak website Wikileaks.

In the leaked document, dated September 23, 1988, U.S. intelligence officials say,

“Many in the West Bank believe that Israel actively supports Hamas, in its effort to split the Palestinian nation and weaken the Intifada.”

The document also notes that although Israel was arresting a number of Palestinians at the time, very few were members of Hamas. The document went so far as to say,

“We believe that not only does Israel turn a blind eye on Hamas activity, but even supports it.”

You reap what you sow. There are countless examples of countries supporting groups that end up coming back to bite them in the ass (the U.S.-trained mujahideen are a good example).

The bottom line is that there are no clear cut good guys or bad guys in this conflict, just lots of historical wounds that are still festering today. I just hope this history helped you make a little more sense of it all.

“Concrete Facts” and “Irrefutable Evidence” Aren’t Needed to Add Someone to the Terrorist Watch List

Recently, I reported on the rapidly growing terrorist watch list in the United States. In the past 5 years, the government has been adding names to the list at an increasingly fast pace, peaking last year with 468,749 names being added.

Well, it seems part of that ridiculously high number may be explained by a new set of counterterrorism guidelines that were quietly implemented last year.

The Intercept is an online media outlet founded earlier this year by the man who broke the Snowden story, Glenn Greenwald, after he left The Guardian. Recently, they obtained a copy of a 166-page document from the National Counterterrorism Center called the “March 2013 Watchlisting Guidance”.

The document outlined new guidelines for adding names to the terrorist watch list. One of the key sections outlined how to establish “reasonable suspicion”. The new guidelines state that,

“Although irrefutable evidence or concrete facts are not necessary, to be reasonable, suspicion should be as clear and as fully developed as circumstances permit.”

One of the charts in the report. Click to enlarge

This basically means that the Counterterrorism Center can place any individual, foreigner or American, on the terrorist watch list without any real evidence.

This “irrefutable evidence or concrete facts are not necessary” clause also allows the Center to designate individuals as members of specefic terrorist organizations without any evidence that they are actually connected.

Surprisingly enough, the guidelines are officially labeled as unclassified, meaning that the public is technically able to view them.

However, both the Bush and Obama administrations have fought to keep the watch-list criteria a secret. In a recent example, Attorney General Eric Holder went so far as to invoke the state secrets privilege to avoid disclosing the criteria (he was defending the government from a lawsuit brought by a number of Muslims who were placed on the no-fly list with minimal supporting evidence).

News of these new guidelines comes just a day after UK’s official counter-terrorism watchdog said that Britain’s new definition of terrorism, “could catch political journalists and bloggers”.

You can check out all 166 pages of the “March 2013 Watchlisting Guidance” here. Read a full report on the document’s full contents in this exclusive piece from The Intercept.

Visualizing Just How Fast People’s Names Are Being Added to the Terrorist Watch List

Lung cancer is the most common and most deadly form of cancer, accounting for 27% of all cases. This year, an estimated 224,210 Americans will be diagnosed with lung cancer.

Almost all of us can probably think of a family member or friend who has been affected by the disease in some way.

Keep that in mind when you read this next stat: last year, the U.S. government added 468,749 to the terrorist watch list. That’s more than double the number of people who will be diagnosed with lung cancer this year.

He has a hyper-speed sleigh powered by reindeer which are clearly genetically altered and he is able to go down every chimney in the world in one night. Definitely going on the watch list

Here’s another way to think about it. Last year, the most sold car in the U.S. was the F-150, selling 521,515 units.

Imagine 9 out of every 10 people who bought a new F-150 last year was put onto the terrorist watch list and you get an idea of just how quickly names are being added.

On average, more than 1,284 names were added to the watch list every day last year. And that number has only been rising in the past couple of years. In 2009, 227,932 names were added to the database. In fiscal 2010 it was 250,847. In 2012, it was 336,712.

In the past five years, more than 1.5 million names have been added to the list. To be added to the list, authorities must have, “a reasonable suspicion to believe that a person is a known or a suspected terrorist.”

Some of the United States’ most wanted terrorists

About 99% of the names submitted to the list are accepted, prompting many to criticize the system for being extremely loose with its classifications.

The figures were revealed in a hearing in Virginia on Friday involving a case from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) which challenges the Constitutionality of the no-fly list.

Gadeir Abbas is a lawyer for the CAIR. Following the hearing, he said,

“There aren’t 1 million people who are known or suspected terrorists. This suggests the standard the government is applying is wildly loose.”

In their defense, counterterrorism officials pointed out that names are regularly removed from the list as well. As of August 2013, there were about 700,000 names on the list.

Read the full story from Yahoo here.

The Latest from the Middle East: Terrorists, Rebels and the Geopolitical Clusterf***

I’ll try to make this as quick as I can.

Yesterday, we reported on how the new emergent terrorist group ISIS captured Iraq’s second largest city on Tuesday and stole nearly half a billion dollars from the central bank there. All this week the group has been advancing towards Baghdad, taking a number of towns along the way.

ISIS's advance towards Baghdad. Click to enlarge (Courtesy of The New York Times)
ISIS’s advance towards Baghdad. Click to enlarge (Courtesy of The New York Times)

Then early this morning, reports came out that the Syrian government, which the United States is trying to overthrow by backing largely Jihadist rebels (the Syrian government calls them terrorists), is coordinating with the Iraqi government (which was put in by, and is still heavily backed by the U.S. government) to fight against Jihadist rebels/terrorists in Iraq.

Are you still following? Feel free to read that last part again- I had to read it at least five times myself. Ok, ready? Let’s continue.

Amidst all of this ridiculousness, Iran (one of the U.S.’s biggest political foes) has offered to help it’s former sworn enemy, Iraq, and its biggest political foe (the U.S.), to fight against the Jihadist rebels/terrorists of ISIS as well.

It’s interesting how quickly all of these countries were able to put their political differences aside as soon as there was a common enemy.

On top of this already massive mound of geopolitical shit, the Daily Beast just reported that ISIS has been funded for years by wealthy donors in Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia: three of the U.S.’s closest allies in the middle east.

Welcome to the geopolitical clusterf***. My brain hurts.

Iraq’s New Major Terrorist Group Just Stole Half A Billion Dollars

As the United States has ramped down their military presence in Iraq, the militant groups have been ramping up their attacks.

One of these groups, ISIS, which stand for The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams, is proving to be particularly dangerous. The group captured the city of Falluja, just 40 miles west of Iraq’s capital of Baghdad, back in January, and currently control much of northern Iraq.

Fighters from the militant group have also been aiding the rebels fighting against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. Their eventual goal is to create an islamic state across the Syrian-Iraqi border.

ISIS's advance towards Baghdad. Click to enlarge (Courtesy of The New York Times)
ISIS’s advance towards Baghdad. Click to enlarge (Courtesy of The New York Times)

This past Monday (6/10/2014) ISIS forces struck the city of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city with nearly 700,000 people. The ISIS attack was unexpected and swift: many of the U.S.-trained Iraqi police forces and troops fled their posts in the face of the advancing militants, some even abandoning their uniforms, according to the Washington Post.

The next day, Mosul’s regional governor announced that the militants had looted the city’s central bank, stealing 500 billion Iraqi dinars (equal to $429 million) in cash. The terrorist group also seized a large amount of gold bullion from the bank.

According to the International Business Times, this makes ISIS now the world’s richest terrorist group. Aside from the cash and gold, the militants also seized a considerable amount of U.S.-supplied military weapons and military equipment. They also freed 1,000 inmates from Mosul’s central prison.

ISIS began after a number of hyper-extreme Al-Qaeda members were kicked out for being too violent. The group is led by the fiery Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, a former top man in the Al-Qaeda hierarchy.

The only two known photos of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The one on the left is from his detention five years ago. The one on the right is more recent (Courtesy of DailyMail)

Interestingly enough, Abu Bakr was in American custody just five years ago, at Camp Bucca military detention center in Iraq. Camp Bucca was closed in 2009, however, and sometime after that, Abu Bakr was released.

The details are unclear, but one theory posited by The Telegraph is that he was released and amnestied along with thousands of other prisoners as the U.S. prepared to pull out of Iraq.

Whatever the case may be, ISIS, with Abu Bakr at its head, is becoming increasingly powerful, with a significant presence in both Syria and Iraq now.

A picture posted to Twitter showing ISIS forces in Syria with captured American humvees

However, it seems that many of the Iraqis fleeing Mosul actually prefer the militants over their own government, which they see as corrupt and non-existent when it comes to the problems of the actual Iraqi citizen.

ISIS is taking advantage of this, promoting themselves as the alternative to Iraq’s corrupt government. Despite their reputation for violence against American troops and Iraqi government forces, the group has been fairly gentle with Mosul’s civilians. One woman, asked if ISIS had been harming residents, said,

“No, no, no. On the contrary, they are welcoming the people.”

A police officer from Mosul who abandoned his post after seeing the Iraqi troops flee voiced the worries of many Sunni’s in Mosul: that Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is targeting the Sunnis (Sunnis and Shiites are the two major islamic denominations):

“Maliki wants to end the Sunnis. Can you tell me how many Shiites are arrested on terror charges? Almost all those in prison are Sunnis. He is targeting us. I want to go back to Mosul, but we are afraid we’ll see another Falluja.”

Two boys stand beside a burnt-out car in Mosul while the fighting rages not far off (Image: Reuters)

With no reason to trust the Iraqi government, which has proved it can’t even protect citizens in its second largest city, Iraqi citizens have to be realistic about their options- often times tolerating the militants offers the best chance of survival

But don’t be fooled though. ISIS’s Mr. Nice Guy routine probably won’t last for very long.

They recently distributed a leaflet in Mosul, which detailed a number of new rules to be implemented in the coming days, including forbidding alcohol and cigarettes and requiring women to, “stay home and not go out unless necessary.” It also stated that anybody working with the government would be killed unless they sought “repentance.”

And yesterday, the terrorist group tweeted this picture of a decapitated Iraqi police officer, with the caption: “This is our ball. It’s made of skin #WorldCup”

Courtesy of the Daily Mail

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