What's Behind The Killing of Yassin?
by Amer Jubran
March 22, 2004
The assassination of Sheik Ahmad Yassin has become a dramatic event at the international level. Why him? Why now? How could Israel benefit from killing a 67 year old crippled man by using a high-tech “Apache” helicopter, killing a man who was not hiding, who, despite previous attempts to assassinate him, attended to his daily life and routines for all to see? Who could benefit from this murder?
Sheik Yassin was the spiritual leader of Hamas. He guided the politics of Hamas, but he was also experienced in finding common ground and resolving issues with opposing sides. For example, he proposed numerous times for a halt on all attacks against civilians, both Palestinian and Israeli. He indicated clearly that an Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian land occupied in 1967 could be a solution to the conflict if Israel accepted that Palestinian refugees could return to their land. He proposed a plan to maintain security, in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, contingent upon Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. And, last summer, he approved a truce with Israel in response to the so-called Road Map “peace plan.” Many in Hamas considered Yassin a pragmatist.
An indication of the importance of Hamas is the hostility and violence it inspires in the US and Israel. Evidence of this is the use of American attack helicopters and guided missiles to assassinate Hamas members and leadership, the US listing Hamas as an international terrorist organization, and pressure by the US on its allies and client regimes to deal with Hamas as terrorist. This singling out has taken place even though Hamas never carried out a military or political action outside the boundaries of historic Palestine.
Why has Hamas been singled out? The answer is the Israeli-US blanket charge of "terrorism" -- Hamas is blamed with carrying out lethal attacks against Israeli innocents. But this answer ignores the entire Israeli occupation of Palestine, the long history of Israeli oppression and its consequences, and the reality of the political shift in both the region and the rest of the world in favor of Hamas and the culture of resistance which Hamas exemplifies.
Hamas has its roots in the Muslim Brotherhood movement in the Arab World. During the sixties, seventies and eighties, the Palestine chapter of the Brotherhood focused a great deal on building a solid Muslim society, and very little on confronting the occupation. Palestinian public opinion reflected loyalty to the Palestine Liberation Organization, which was divided among nationalists and leftists. The Brotherhood and the PLO showed little acceptance of each other. Often, they were in confrontation, to the point where Israel in the late seventies to mid eighties proposed to arm the Brotherhood. Israel saw a good opportunity to encourage a Palestinian civil war that would finish off whatever resistance was left after its invasion of Lebanon in 1982. To Israel, this would be an extension of Palestinian factional fighting in Tripoli in 1983. Israel started to target the base of Palestinians belonging to the PLO, and left the Brotherhood alone.
Historically, Israel has acted in accordance with the global strategy of the US to bend religious and political energies in the Arab and Muslim worlds toward opposition to “the communist threat.” Afghanistan in the eighties was a clear example. Indeed, the Brotherhood drafted many volunteers into Afghanistan, one of whom became an important agent in supplying volunteers to the war -- Dr. Abdullah Azzam, who was a partner with Osama bin Laden during the war in Afghanistan and was assassinated there in 1988.
Within the Palestinian Brotherhood, there was growing discontent among a large number of both senior and rank-and-file members for the Brotherhood not fighting the Israelis immediately. Such discontent resulted in the break-off group, Palestine Islamic Jihad, led by Dr. Fatehi El-Shiqaqee. The direction of this new entity was alarming to Israel, which carried out an assassination of Dr. El-Shiqaqee in the Mediterranean island of Malta in 1986.
At times, the Israelis arrested members of the Islamic Jihad and threw them in prison. Israel hoped to create rivalry and confrontation. Instead, it politicized and radicalized Brotherhood members such as Sheik Ahmad Yassin, Dr. Abdul Al-Aziz El-Rantisi, Salah Shehadah, and Yehya Ayyash, who went on to become prominent leaders of Hamas.
By 1987, the first Intifada started against the occupation. It was a major uprising which the majority of Palestinians subscribed to, including the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood. A major shift developed among this constituency from building an ideal Muslim society to confronting the Israeli occupation. The Brotherhood came to be called the Hamas Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement.
Since its inception in 1988, Hamas filled a political void left by the retreating PLO. The PLO shifted its program from military resistance to negotiation with Israelis based on a mutual interest in peace and the recognition of each other. Hamas and Jihad refused to sign on. They insisted on the rights of Palestinians and continued to reject the colonial settler state. Furthermore, they vowed to carry on with military resistance against Israel.
In 1993, the PLO signed the Oslo Accord with Israel, and Hamas declared the presence of its armed wing -- Eiz-Eldeen Al-Qassam Brigades. The Palestinians saw betrayal and defeat in the PLO’s action.
Later, the Palestinian Authority joined forces with Israel to crush Hamas, especially after Hamas started to deliver lethal attacks, with humans carrying explosives into the heart of Israel. These attacks, which began in the mid-nineties, were called “terrorism” by the Israelis, and “martyrdom” by the Palestinians.
One could engage in endless debate about the ethics behind these attacks, but this would not change three facts:
1.The attacks are a reaction to the violent history involved in the birth and maintenance of the state of Israel. Tanks, attack helicopters, and F-16’s have for a long time have been used to subdue a Palestinian society that objects to the loss of its rights and the brutality and humiliation of the Israeli occupation. Israel, armed and racist, believes it has right on its side, provided by God, and backed up by US power. It believes might makes right.
After fifty years of conflict with Israel, the Palestinians failed at all levels of appealing their cause before the International court of law, the United Nations, and the human rights community. Israel tightened the borders and attacked defenseless civilians with its full military capacity. All of the violence was absorbed by Palestinian society, which sought a way to express its outrage and act in self-defense against it.
2. The attacks bring a heavy cost to Israel’s security -- its economic, military, and political foundations.
3. The attacks are based on ideology, politics, and honor -- which makes them hard to stop. So far all efforts by Israel to do so have failed. In fact, such efforts increase the attacks.
Though in the past Hamas received support from Iran and Saudi Arabia, support from Saudi Arabia stopped when Hamas became a militarized faction in the early nineties, and Iran, seeking to improve its relations with the US, stopped most of its support after September 11, 2001. In response, Hamas developed self-sustaining financial resources. Its funding comes from donations from the general public.
The leadership of Hamas is not corrupt. The standard of living of its members is equal to that of the majority of its impoverished constituents.
Today Hamas Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement is the most important faction in the Palestinian political arena. Its standing is based on its resources, constituencies, sacrifices, religious identity, political clarity, and membership base. Also, Hamas provides social programs and services to the poor and victimized in Gaza and the West Bank. This includes schools, housing, health care, social welfare, and mentor support to many individuals and families.
Furthermore, Hamas has a unique organizational structure of a political leadership and a loose network of autonomic cells which operate separately, but support political and military wings. While the leadership is exposed and in the open, the network remains secret. The leadership appears to be politically less radical than the network and acts as a front. Israel’s policy of targeting and assassinating Hamas leaders has forced all decision-making on strategy, daily business, and military action into the hands of the network.
Unlike Fatah, the faction of Arafat, Hamas is unified in its political goals and strategies. Fatah has different political wings that pull in different directions according to monetary and political support. There is the Israeli-American direction, represented by Dhalan, Rejoob, Abu Mazen, Nabil Sha’ath, and Nabil Amr; and the Palestinian direction represented by Al-Aqsa Brigades, and Arabic client regimes in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. Finally there is Arafat playing in all of these directions to secure the continuance of his regime.
Despite large blows delivered by Israel, Hamas continues to grow. It has effectively taken the initiative away from the Israelis, who become reactive to whatever Hamas dictates on the ground. When he was elected, Ariel Sharon promised to bring an end to the Intifada in less than a hundred days. It is more than three years since then, and no end to the Intifada in sight. Israel’s position today is much weaker on every level -- above all, morally. Israeli society is at its lowest point. Its biggest loss is the recent shift in international opinion, which now sees the Palestinians as the underdog, and Israel as the aggressor.
Besides relying on outright murder, Sharon’s strategy in dealing with the resistance is completely bankrupt. Already losing his right wing base of power, the last thing Sharon needs is to be humiliated with a defeat by the resistance. Following his failure to destroy the stronghold of Hamas in Gaza, Sharon decided on unilateral withdrawal from Gaza under his own plan of “disengagement” with the Palestinians. But the US disapproved the withdrawal plan , fearing it would be a repeat of Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in May, 2000 under the relentless attacks of Hezbollah. For the US, it is of the utmost importance not to acknowledge the success of anyone, anywhere, who adopts armed resistance.
The US uses Israel to demonstrate its military might in order to suppress the Arabic masses. Now, the US is clearly suffering from the heroic resistance in Iraq. The easy occupation of Iraq projected by Richard Perle has turned into a hard and unending nightmare for the US, which now faces two options in Iraq: withdrawal and losing everything, from oil to control of the world; or staying and bleeding to death.
Israel has learned the hard way through the last two years that any assassination it carries out will bring retaliation by the Palestinian resistance, especially Hamas. Each time an assassination is carried out, Israel awaits the explosion, as in a game of Russian roulette. Public polls show a majority of Israelis are concerned about the assassination policy.
However, the decision is not theirs. It belongs to Uncle Sam, who is desperate in Iraq. In recent weeks, there has been alot of talk about Bush’s failure in “combating terrorism” and winning in Iraq. One article in the US mainstream media was desperately titled, “We do not want to stand alone!” A blame game is developing in the US over Iraq, and Bush needs to divert attention away from it. The assassination of Sheik Ahmad Yassin has stirred the whole region and produced an aftershock around the globe. It promises to generate a new cycle of violence which will divert the public’s attention away from the story that most concerns the US at this point – the story of the Iraqi resistance.