Recent events in the Gaza Strip have pushed Hamas into a position of power, which has been unprecedented since January 26, 2006 when election results were announced. Those elections saw the terrorist group officially becoming the head of the Palestinian parliament. Hamas evolved as the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Developments since June 15 this year, when Hamas took the Gaza strip by force, have happened in line with the recommendations in a document entitled “The Project”.
The Project was the name given to a 14-page document in Arabic, discovered on November 7, 2001, at the Swiss home of Muslim Brotherhood member and terrorist financier Youssef Moustafa Nada of the Al Taqwa Bank. The “Project” document, which was dated December 1, 1982, contains 12 major points, detailing a strategy for conquest of the West. Youssef Nada claimed not to know who wrote the document, though it was widely suspected to be the handiwork of Said Ramadan, son-in-law of Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Before discussing the particular strategies outlined in the “Project” document, it is relevant to examine some bizarre politicking that has emerged from the case of the kidnapped journalist Alan Johnston. On March 12, 2007, BBC employee Johnston was kidnapped by a group calling itself Jaysh-e-Islam or the Army of Islam. For three years previously, Johnston had been reporting from the Gaza Strip, employing the pro-Islamic bias for which the BBC has become famous. For 114 days, Johnston was held captive. Last month, Johnston appeared on a video, wearing an explosive belt and sounding very stressed. Weeks before they took the Gaza Strip by force, Hamas capitalized on the situation by publicly calling for Johnston’s release.
Johnston was finally released on the morning of July 4, and immediately Hamas claimed responsibility for the journalist’s release. Johnston was handed over to Hamas operatives who chanted his name, and was then presented to Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas in Palestine. At his home, Haniyeh decorated Johnston with a sash in Palestinian colors, and gave him a model of the Dome of the Rock and a Palestinian lapel badge. Hamas publicly proclaimed its involvement in freeing the journalist.
The commanding political leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, said from his base in Syria: “From the outset, we committed ourselves to securing his release. I entered into discussions with British officials, shared information and gave assurances of our concerted efforts to secure Alan’s release.” Meshaal frequently represents Hamas at meetings with foreign governments. The freeing of Alan Johnston was a publicity coup for Hamas.
On the day of Johnston’s release, a group of 20 members of the British parliament tabled a motion calling for Hamas to be rewarded with official recognition. In the aftermath of the January 2006 election results, Palestinian political funding was drastically cut by the Quartet (the EU, U.S., UN and Russia). The British “early day motion” was set forward by Richard Burden, MP for Birmingham Northfield. He is a member of the International Development Agency
The motion (Number 1841) was supported by a motley crew of mostly leftist MPs, and noted “particularly that Alan Johnston himself has acknowledged the pivotal role played by Hamas in condemning the kidnapping and securing his release; believes that this shows why the international community’s support for Mahmoud Abbas as the legitimate President of Palestine should not preclude contact with Hamas, why the Quartet should support the reconciliation between different Palestinian parties that will be crucial to a successful peace process between Israel and Palestine and why this is further evidence that peace results from discussions between enemies as well as friends.”
The release of one journalist, albeit a welcome measure in itself, was seen by some UK politicians to absolve Hamas of more than a decade of bloodshed against Israeli civilians. British MPs, exposed to the BBC’s uncritical coverage, were denying one certain fact – that Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah leader of the Palestinian authority, had been working to the same end since the time Johnston was captured. The Hamas publicity machine led to other politicians clamoring for the terrorist group to gain political legitimacy. The new Foreign Secretary in Gordon Brown’s cabinet, David Miliband, has offered praise to Hamas for its involvement in the release. In parliament Miliband “fully acknowledged the crucial role” of Hamas in securing Johnston’s freedom, and hinted at the prospect of future negotiations, provided Hamas recognized Israel’s legitimacy.
While politicians praised Hamas in the UK parliament, a similar reaction infected members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. MEPs also moved to suggest that Hamas could soon be given its own legitimacy, even though it still insists that Israel should be destroyed. Among these “useful idiots” for Hamas was MEP Liz Lynne, who said: “Let us hope that this is the start of a new phase in the Middle-East and will persuade the European Union and other international bodies to start talking to Hamas, because only through dialogue can we achieve a long-lasting peace”. Unsurprisingly a communist MEP, Kyriacos Triantaphyllides from Cyprus, suggested the freeing of Johnston might initiate “a new beginning” in the Middle East.
Triantaphyllides said: “We now need to analyze the terms under which his [Johnston’s] surrender was made possible in order to elaborate the possibility for confidence-building measures in the Gaza strip in the near future…. A first step has been made today. Let this be the step of a new beginning.”
The terrorist group has no intention of ripping up its Hamas Charter which vows to annihilate Israel, so such statements are politically naive, and potentially dangerous.
Johnston’s kidnapping had already led Britain to abandon its previous resolutions against negotiating with Hamas. On April 5 this year, the British consul general in East Jerusalem, Richard Makepeace, traveled to Gaza for talks with Ismail Haniyeh. This was the first time that a Western diplomat had met with the Hamas leader since the 2006 parliamentary elections led to a diplomatic and political embargo. The meeting was about Johnston, but set a precedent of giving Hamas legitimacy, incurring condemnation from Israel.
The politically advantageous response to Hamas’ over-publicized role in the freeing of Alan Johnston has led to the terrorist group’s leadership authorizing talks about the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was abducted in Gaza last year. The talks with Israel on negotiating Shalit’s freedom are to be led by Hamas prisoners, and will involve a reciprocal deal whereby Palestinian prisoners should be released. Islamil Haniyeh said on July 4: “As the case of Alan Johnston has ended, we hope that the case of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit may end too in an honorable deal that would secure the release of our hero prisoners from Israeli jails.”
Such a demand is nothing short of blackmail, the same blackmail issued when Corporal Shalit was first kidnapped on June 25 last year. When Shalit was kidnapped by militants at only 20 years of age, both Hamas and the “Army of Islam” claimed responsibility. The “Army of Islam” – the same group that kidnapped Alan Johnston – later claimed that Hamas alone was responsible for detaining the Israeli soldier. Reuters claims Hamas, the Popular Resistance Committees and the Army of Islam worked together to capture Corporal Shalit, whose health is now deteriorating.
So who is the Army of Islam, and were they really acting in defiance of Hamas’ leadership by kidnapping Alan Johnston? The “Army of Islam” has membership connected to a local clan from the Sabra district of Gaza, the Dogmush (Dughmush) family. Its leader is Mumtaz Dogmush. At the end of June, Hamas shot dead a member of the Dogmush clan, and in retaliation, the Army of Islam kidnapped nine Hamas students. On July 2, the Army of Islam’s spokesman was kidnapped. On July 3, a day before Johnston’s release, Hamas flooded Sabra with gunmen, and the following day Mumtaz Dogmush had talks with Ahmad Jabari, leader of Hamas’ military wing. The nine Hamas students were released, and Hamas also released four Army of Islam hostages. Shortly after this, Johnston was freed.
That, at least, is the official version of events. Mumtaz Dogmush had called an Islamic cleric, and the cleric told both factions that kidnapping was “un-Islamic”. Behind the official account, there appear to have been deals, which have been denied by both Hamas and the Army of Islam. It is alleged by Ma’an news agency that the Army of Islam was paid $5 million as part of the deal, and also they were given the right to keep their weaponry. According to Palestinian sources, it was further agreed by Hamas to give a million Kalashnikov bullets to the Army of Islam, and also a promise that their spokesman would be released.
Publicly, the Dogmush clan stated that it would be allowed to keep its weapons and would gain official legitimacy as a Palestinian faction. An official from Hamas countered: “There is a decision by Hamas to confiscate the weapons of all clans and gangs in the Gaza Strip. It’s only a matter of time before the Dughmush clan is also disarmed.” The same official described the Army of Islam as “nothing but a group of gangsters operating under the cover of Islam,” and claimed that the group had demanded $2 million an a plot of land from the Palestinian Authority.
Mumtaz Dogmush, his brother Mu’taz, and another Army of Islam member, Ahmed Mathloum, are all wanted by Hamas for killing members of the group since 2005. It appears that part of the deal to free Johnston may have been to waive the warrants for these three individuals.
There have been claims made that the UK government has agreed to release the Al Qaeda spokesman in Europe, Jordanian national Abu Qatada, who is currently held at Full Sutton jail near York. Mumtaz Dogmush had apparently threatened to kidnap more British citizens in Gaza if Qatada is not freed. Palestinian informants claimed Qatada is scheduled to be freed in six month’s time.
From his base in Syria Khaled Mashaal, overall leader of Hamas, asserted: “Palestinians will continue to make every sacrifice until we gain our freedom. In that endeavor, we are ready to work with all who wish to pursue our people’s just aims. We look to Britain’s new prime minister, Gordon Brown, to begin a constructive new chapter in our relationship.” He condemned the car bomb attacks in Britain, stating: “We could not be clearer: Hamas will not accept nor tolerate anyone exploiting the sacred cause of the Palestinian people to commit acts of murder and carnage around the world.”
Jeremy Bowen, a BBC reporter, claimed, “The release of Alan Johnston shows that Hamas is responsible, and powerful. It hopes to make itself impossible to ignore – and vital to engage.”
Behind the current surface veneer of statesmanship that has appealed to British media commentators and politicians alike, Hamas is still a criminal enterprise, engaging in kidnapping, extortion and using threats and acts of violence. At least a hundred Palestinians, mostly from rival group Fatah, were killed when Hamas took over the Gaza Strip on June 15. This happened despite the fact that Hamas agreed to a deal in January for power sharing with Fatah.
Within the Gaza Strip, Hamas operatives continue to act like Mafiosi from the time of Prohibition. Tarek Asfour was a Fatah activist in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza strip. While media attention was focused on the Johnston affair, on July 1 Asfour had nails hammered through his feet by Hamas operatives. Members of the Al Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, came to his home to confiscate his gun. When no gun was found, he was “punished.” When the Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported on this event, it received threats from Fawzi Barhoum, the spokesman for Hamas. Barhoum claimed that if the agency continued to criticize Hamas, then it would be on the receiving end of a campaign of defamation.
It would be easy to explain away such behavior in terms of gangsterism, like the fictional Don Corleone clan trying to gain political and religious legitimacy for their “business,” and silencing those who would stymie their plans. Hamas is on the brink of gaining political legitimacy with Britain at least, after a wilderness period of more than a year. If Britain can be persuaded to recognize Hamas, then the EU could be expected to follow suit, despite Hamas murdering 2,000 Israeli civilians and enacting a military coup in the Gaza Strip. But this analysis is too simplistic. Hamas has been operating a tighter long-term strategy, and despite the fawning reactions of some politicians, Alan Johnston was a mere pawn in a calculated game plan. As the Palestinian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas has acted in concordance with the codes laid out in the 12 “points of departure” described in the 14 page Brotherhood document known as “The Project”.
In Part Two, I will describe these strategies in detail.