Factual errors undermine new book on Hamas

16 March 2012

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There is no shortage of books in English about the Palestinian political party and Islamic resistance movement Hamas. This latest effort is by Italian journalist Paola Caridi, who has lived in the Middle East since 2001.

Published in this reworked edition later this month, Caridi’s Hamas: From Resistance to Government draws on much of the previous literature, combining it with the author’s original interviews with Hamas leaders and activists such as Mahmoud Zahhar, Musa Abu Marzouq, Ahmed Yousef and Osama Hamdan (although the lack of interviews with top leaders Ismail Haniyeh and Khaled Mashaal is a deficiency).

Caridi gives a historical overview of the roots of the Hamas movement going all the way back to Sheikh Izzeldin al-Qassam in the 1930s and further. The book is more or less chronological, focusing on Hamas’ Muslim Brotherhood origins (a welcome contribution to the literature, as the movement is on the rise regionally). There are some attempts at more creative writing in the style of Israeli journalist Amira Hass, setting the scene where an interview in Gaza may have taken place, for example.

Ignoring the historical reality

Caridi’s major theme is how Hamas has “moderated” itself by moving more and more towards party political work and away from violence. This is all very well (almost a statement of the obvious), but her approach is far too dichotomous, ignoring the historical reality that many national liberation groups have taken a dual “gun and ballot box” approach. “Reality, concreteness and pragmatism paradoxically co-exist with the military wing,” she writes (24), dismissing the idea military action could ever be realistic.

There is almost no attempt to understand, analyze or critique Hamas’ military strategy. To Caridi, it is all lumped together as “terrorism.” She constantly uses this word to describe armed resistance of all kinds, never once using it to describe Israeli massacres and war crimes.

To be fair, she does make it clear Hamas did not use the tactic of suicide bombings until after the 1994 Hebron mosque massacre, when the Israeli-American Zionist terrorist Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 Palestinian civilians (139-42).

The book is fundamentally flawed in other crucial ways. The most consistently grating of these is how Caridi constantly, throughout the whole book, refers to the Gaza events of June 2007 as a “Hamas coup” against the Palestinian Authority — when Hamas won the majority of seats in the 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council elections. The truth, as has been well established, is that an attempted coup took place in June 2007 by Fatah-aligned forces in Gaza (backed by the US and Israel) against the elected government, which was in the end defeated by Hamas’ armed wing.

So it’s a surprise that her account of the events between Hamas’ January 2006 election victory and the final collapse of the Hamas-Fatah national unity government in June 2007 is actually fairly solid. She recounts the US-Israeli conspiracy against the elected Palestinian Authority: “[US Army General Keith] Dayton was in charge of a $59 million assistance program … [aimed at] re-arming Fatah and training the Presidential Guard” (255).

However, the biggest single error in the book is on page 267, where Caridi discusses “Hamas’s ultimate decision to break that truce” in Gaza in 2008. Since it’s well known it was Israel which broke that ceasefire by attacking Gaza in November, this is inexcusable. Again, she is disproven by her own evidence — on the very next page, in fact. But those newer to the material may still come away with the wrong impression.

Utilizing typical propaganda terminology

She also utilizes typical Israeli propaganda terminology. Israel merely “arrests” while Palestinians “kidnap” Israeli soldiers (e.g. 114). “[A] young Israeli corporal, Gilad Shalit, was kidnapped” for no apparent reason (235). She fails to mention the infamous Gaza beach massacre only two weeks previously, when Israeli shelling wiped out almost the entire Ghaliya family during their picnic. She also fails to mention that Shalit was a tank gunner stationed on the Gaza border, likely involved in such Israeli war crimes.

Israeli murders of Palestinians politicians, activists and fighters are “spectacular” (127, 155) examples of “targeted assassination” (161). Palestinian armed resistance groups, on the other hand, only engage in irrational and bloody “terrorism” which are only “considered to be spectacular from the point of view of Hamas’ military wing” (164).

While the cognitive dissonance between her research and her analysis is often frustrating, some of the reporting here is valuable. But for anyone looking for the definitive account of the Islamic resistance movement, this isn’t it.

Asa Winstanley is a journalist based in London who has lived and worked in occupied Palestine. www.winstanleys.org

Image of Hamas: From Resistance to Government
Manufacturer: Seven Stories Press
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Price: $24.95