The US government officially designates Hamas a terrorist organization. The Hamas Charter is usually cited as one of the main reasons. So I’ve been very curious to learn more about this Charter, available here. It is long and, frankly, poorly drafted because it rambles on and on and on. I still haven’t finished it.
Azzam Tamimi, author of Hamas Unwritten Chapters, says “the current Charter is written in a language that no longer appeals to well-educated Muslims.” A balanced critique of the book is available here.
The Charter was first published on August 18, 1988 and has been frequently cited by Hamas critics as proof of its anti-Semitism and inflexibility. Until the late 1990s, Tamimi says this criticism didn’t concern Hamas leaders much. They were more concerned about addressing Arabs and Muslims inside and out of Palestine, and not worried about what others thought.
Many Hamas leaders now recognize that the fundamental and essential positions expressed in the Charter could be expressed in more universal language, that could appeal to both Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Instead of justifying its statements in religious terms, which may mean little to those who do not share the same faith or the same vision, a new Charter should refer to the historical basis of the Palestinian cause.
In Tamimi’s opinion:
The biggest problem arising from the Charter lies in its treatment of the Jews. Part of the difficulty here is that of the language employed. The average Palestinian refers to Israelis as yahud, which is simply the Arabic word for Jews. Terms such as Zionist or Israeli figure mostly in the writings and conversations of an elite which has received secular education. They are not current in the vocabulary of the common man, and have until recently also been absent from Islamic discourse. When Arabic texts referring to the Israelis as yahud are translated into European languages, they may indeed sound anti-Semitic.
Khalid Mish’al told a Canadian TV journalist that the liberation of Palestine “does not mean that either the Palestinian people, or we in Hamas, want to kill the Jews or want to throw them into the sea as Israel claims.” He expressed his determination to continue the struggle to liberate Palestine and regain the rights of the Palestinians, but denied categorically that there was a war against the Jews. “No, we do not fight the Jews because they are Jews. We fight them because they stole our land and displaced our people; they carried out an aggression. We resist this Zionist project which is hostile.” As for those Jews who do not fight the Palestinians, he said: “I have no problem with them, just as I have no problem with peaceful Christians or peaceful Muslims.” He went on to explain that “if a Muslim were to attack me and steal my land, I have every right to fight back. This applies to all others irrespective of their race, identity or religion. This is our philosophy.”
I have met members of Hamas in Gaza and, just like Democrats and Republicans, I know I can’t judge the “party” by the opinions of a few. But I’m convinced of one thing. The current US policy in the Middle East, and the State Department’s designation of Hamas as a terrorist organization, are counter-productive.
Hamas won a legitimate election in January 2006. And if there was an election today, recent polling indicates Hamas would win big again. So Obama, and Clinton, and all the foreign policy wonks in Washington . . . come out of your offices and see the world as it exists, not as you wish it existed.