Amid the latest eruption of violence in Gaza this week, Israel backers are asserting that the Jewish state has the right to defend itself from the terror group Hamas, which has claimed a role in Palestinian protests at the border.
The protests have seen roughly 60 killed and as many as 2,700 injured, and while the Hamas has reportedly admitted that the majority of those killed were militants, there is no such admission regarding the thousands shot and brutalized.
Regardless of one’s views on the hyper-polarized subject, however, one unfortunate detail often goes unacknowledged: Israel is directly responsible for the growth of Hamas.
Brig. Gen. Yitzhak Segev, who served as Israeli military governor in Gaza in the early 1980s, told Pulitzer prize-winner and former New York Times journalist David Shipler that he had helped finance the Islamic movement in Palestine in an attempt to counterbalance the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) and the communist movement. “The Israeli Government gave me a budget and the military government gives to the mosques,” he said, as noted in Shipler’s book, Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land. Shipler clarified:
“That early funding helped nourish the seeds of Hamas and other Muslim movements that used terrorism to undermine the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.”
Segev is not the only Israeli official to highlight the links between Hamas’ origins and Israel. Avner Cohen, who worked as a religious affairs official in Gaza for twenty years, told the Wall Street Journal in 2009 that “Hamas, to my great regret, is Israel’s creation.” From the Wall Street Journal:
“Instead of trying to curb Gaza’s Islamists from the outset, says Mr. Cohen, Israel for years tolerated and, in some cases, encouraged them as a counterweight to the secular nationalists of the Palestine Liberation Organization and its dominant faction, Yasser Arafat’s Fatah. Israel cooperated with a crippled, half-blind cleric named Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, even as he was laying the foundations for what would become Hamas. Sheikh Yassin continues to inspire militants today; during the recent war in Gaza, Hamas fighters confronted Israeli troops with ‘Yassins,’ primitive rocket-propelled grenades named in honor of the cleric.”
According to the same article, David Hacham, an Arab affairs expert who worked for the Israeli military in Gaza in the late 1980s and early ’90s, said:
“When I look back at the chain of events I think we made a mistake…But at the time nobody thought about the possible results.”
Other officials, like Arieh Spitzen, the former head of the Israeli military’s Department of Palestinian Affairs, have downplayed Israel’s role, arguing “political Islam” was already s[reading on its own.
Whatever the extent of Israeli’s culpability, however, the Israeli government’s contribution to Hamas’ growth is now admitted and is markedly similar to the U.S.’ role in birthing another terror group: al-Qaeda. In the 1980s, around the same time Israel was lending support to Hamas to shift the region’s political balance in its favor, the CIA was offering substantial support to the militant mujahideen in Afghanistan. Though the goal was to undermine the Soviet Union’s power in the country, the mujahideen eventually evolved into al-Qaeda, which, like Hamas, remains a violent faction that the U.S. continues to cite as a justification for ongoing military operations.
Though the threats of groups like Hamas and al-Qaeda are thoroughly understood and documented, the trust still placed in governments like Israel and the U.S. to deal with them clearly demonstrates the lack of understanding surrounding the part these governments played in creating them in the first place.