For decades, policymakers and analysts in Washington and Jerusalem viewed Hamas as a relatively moderate political group, capable of engaging in pragmatic dialogue. Despite their disturbing charter, which outlined their apocalyptic objectives, Hamas was considered a minor player in the complex landscape of the Middle East. Many saw them as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, with extreme rhetoric that could be understood within the context of “resistance movements”. Consequently, the belief was that their behavior could be influenced through a combination of incentives and deterrents.
However, recent events have shattered this illusion. A reporter who visited the Gaza Strip in 2014 recounts how he, like many others, believed that the reality on the ground was more nuanced. While the Hamas-controlled region was marked by a sense of isolation and militarism, he also observed signs of normalcy and ordinary life. The daily struggles for survival coexisted with moments of tranquility and even beauty. It seemed inconceivable that this place could house a group capable of inflicting immense suffering on innocent civilians.
Yet, this perspective was a failure of imagination and understanding. The Gaza Strip under Hamas was not merely a place where extremists had adapted to a harsh reality. It was a launching pad for an extreme vision of a purified world – a utopia that justified their ruthless actions. The international expert community, including senior figures in government and academia, also fell prey to these misconceptions. Many believed that Hamas had accommodated itself to the constraints of reality, thus reducing the chance of widespread violence.
Elliott Abrams, a former deputy national security adviser, admitted that this view was widely held among experts. The general understanding was that while Hamas may have sought control over the West Bank, their ultimate goal was not the destruction of Israel. Instead, they aimed to create as much violence and terror as possible to establish their rule and influence. Even individuals who had encountered Hamas members privately were deceived by their seemingly pragmatic posture. There was a belief that a political solution could be reached, despite differences in opinion.
This mistaken perception extended to high-ranking officials and institutions. The notion of engaging in dialogue with Hamas officials was even suggested by a former State Department official. The Council on Foreign Relations published a profile of Khaled Mashal, then the head of Hamas’ politburo, painting him as a charismatic and legitimate political actor. These examples illustrate how deeply embedded the misconception was across the international stage.
In light of recent events, it is clear that Hamas has duped the world with their dual persona. As the truth about their true nature and intentions emerges, it is imperative to reassess our understanding of this group. The tragic consequences of failing to comprehend the depths of their extremism have been witnessed firsthand. Moving forward, the international community must strive for a more accurate assessment of Hamas and their goals to prevent further suffering.
1. What is Hamas?
Hamas is an Islamic fundamentalist political organization that governs the Gaza Strip. It was established in 1987 and is considered a terrorist group by several countries.
2. What are the goals of Hamas?
Hamas’ charter, adopted in 1988, outlines their objective of establishing an Islamic state in all of historic Palestine and replacing Israel. They also advocate armed resistance against Israeli occupation.
3. How did Hamas deceive the international community?
Hamas projected a dual persona, presenting themselves as a pragmatic political actor capable of engaging in dialogue, while secretly pursuing extremist objectives and carrying out acts of violence.
4. Why did experts and policymakers misjudge Hamas?
Experts and policymakers often underestimated the true nature of Hamas due to a combination of factors, including a failure of imagination, a focus on short-term goals, and misinterpretation of their actions and public statements.