I tried hard — really I did — to follow the logic of Andrew Higgins’s prominently displayed Wall Street Journal article, “How Israel Spawned Hamas.” Silly me, here I thought Hamas was a product of the general trend toward religious radicalism which has swept the Muslim world since 1979 with the aid and encouragement of Iran and Saudi Arabia, which are vying with each other for dominance in the House of Islam. Higgins offers a counter-intuitive thesis, to say the least, by blaming Israel for Hamas’s rise. Unfortunately he doesn’t begin to back it up.
Here is what his argument amounts to: Israel was slow to recognize the danger of Islamic radicalism during the early years of its occupation of Gaza and even maintained contacts with some of the founders of Hamas. Higgins writes:
When Israel first encountered Islamists in Gaza in the 1970s and ’80s, they seemed focused on studying the Quran, not on confrontation with Israel. The Israeli government officially recognized a precursor to Hamas called Mujama Al-Islamiya, registering the group as a charity. It allowed Mujama members to set up an Islamic university and build mosques, clubs and schools. Crucially, Israel often stood aside when the Islamists and their secular left-wing Palestinian rivals battled, sometimes violently, for influence in both Gaza and the West Bank.
He goes on to relate:
When it became clear in the early 1990s that Gaza’s Islamists had mutated from a religious group into a fighting force aimed at Israel — particularly after they turned to suicide bombings in 1994 — Israel cracked down with ferocious force. But each military assault only increased Hamas’s appeal to ordinary Palestinians. The group ultimately trounced secular rivals, notably Fatah, in a 2006 election supported by Israel’s main ally, the U.S.
So let me see if I’ve got this straight: Israel erred by not cracking down on Hamas in the 1980s — and it erred equally by cracking down on Hamas in the 1990s. Therefore, the rise of Hamas is Israel’s fault.
As an example of logical reasoning, this is of a piece with the morally cretinous argument which held that the U.S. was responsible for 9/11 either because it supported the Afghan Mujahideen in the 1980s or because it failed to kill Osama bin Laden and his co-conspirators in the 1990s. True, the U.S. committed mistakes in dealing with al Qaeda, just as Israel did with Hamas, but that hardly suggests that either state is responsible for the rise of Islamic radicalism which surely would have happened no matter what Israel or the United States did. I can’t help thinking that poorly thought-out arguments like Higgins’s are an attempt to blame the victims and, by inference, to absolve murderous fanatics of full responsibility for their own actions.