Patrick Murphy: Israel's role in creation of Hamas demonstrates how today’s problems begin with yesterday’s decisions

Patrick Murphy

Patrick Murphy

Patrick Murphy is an Irish News columnist and former director of Belfast Institute for Further and Higher Education.

Whatever your opinion on the current Palestinian-Israeli conflict, you have presumably based it on facts.

However, there is one fact of which you may not be aware (and which the Western media has largely ignored), which may offer a deeper understanding of what is happening and why.

That fact is that Israel helped to create Hamas. Yes, you read that correctly. Hamas is largely a product of the Israeli government. It is just another example of political decision-making which comes back to bite those who try to control events in their own interests.

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American academics call it “blowback”. While they have identified several examples in US foreign policy, we can point to one in Ireland as well.

Welcome to the world of political own goals.

From the 1960s the Palestinians were represented by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) led by Yasser Arafat. It was a secular organisation seeking to create a socialist Palestinian state.

However, Israel believed it could strengthen its position by splitting the Palestinians (a tactic it probably learned from observing Britain’s role in Ireland).

So it backed an organisation known as Mujama al-Islamiyah, led by a disabled Muslim cleric, Sheikh Yassin. Israel officially recognised it as a charity, supporting it to raise funds for schools, clinics, a library and kindergartens. As a friend, Yassin was treated in Israeli hospitals.

Israel aimed to use Islam to offset the strength and popularity of the PLO. The PLO’s Marxism was seen as a greater threat than Islam. The engineered rift between the secular and the religious turned Palestinians against each other.

By 1987 the increasingly popular Muslim charity had evolved into Hamas, following an intafada (uprising) against Israel. Hamas denounced the PLO’s recognition of Israel and began military action to establish a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank.

General Yitzhak Segev, Israeli military governor in Gaza in the early 1980s, told the New York Times that he helped finance the Palestinian Islamist movement as a “counterweight to the secularists and leftists” of the PLO, led by Yasser Arafat (who called Hamas ‘a creature of Israel’).” General Segev even admitted funding Hamas himself with Israeli taxpayers’ money.

As a result, the well-funded, sectarian Hamas edged out the PLO (echoing how the IRA here edged out the civil rights movement.)

In 2006, Hamas won an electoral majority in Gaza and following a civil war, drove the PLO out. (The PLO today is represented by The Palestinian Authority which oversees the West Bank, under Israeli military control.)

Realising its mistake with Hamas, Israel killed its “friend”, Sheik Yassin, with a rocket fired from a helicopter in 2004, as he sat in his wheelchair. It imposed a permanent siege on Gaza, with appalling consequences, which reached new levels of inhumanity this week.

The US made similar mistakes in Russian-occupied Afghanistan by arming the mujahideen rebels who later became the Taliban. Former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook wrote that in “a monumental miscalculation”, Osama Bin Laden was also armed by the CIA to wage war on the Soviets.

Nearer home, in 1970 three Fianna Fáil ministers were among those charged with conspiracy to smuggle arms for the newly formed Provisional IRA. Although all were acquitted, some claimed that a plot was official Irish government policy.

The claimed aim was to support the armed struggle in the north, but it was mainly to offset the left-wing policies of the IRA in the 1960s. As in Palestine, Marxism was the enemy. When the IRA split, Fianna Fáil supported the Provisionals whose political descendants today are Sinn Féin.

In an Irish blow-back, SF may well replace Fianna Fáil in the next Dublin government.

The moral of the story is that planning a future in your own interests does not always work the way you intended. In politics, as in life, today’s problems began with yesterday’s decisions.

Israel might like to acknowledge this and there are others on both sides of the Atlantic who might like to join them.