The rise of Hamas is reminiscent of the plot of Mary Shelley’s Gothic horror novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. It is also reminiscent of the Kaiserreich allowing Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and 30 of his murderous cohorts to travel from Zurich to St. Petersburg (then called Petrograd) in the famous sealed train across Germany in April 1917. (It was not actually “sealed” but granted extraterritorial status.) Winston Churchill later compared Lenin to a “plague bacillus” introduced into a body at precisely the moment it could do the most harm.
In Shelley’s fiction the Creature inevitably destroys its creator. At the end of the Great War the plague bacillus helped destroy its enabler, starting with the Bolshevik-inspired mutiny of German sailors in Wilhelmshaven and Kiel in the fall of 1918. The spirit of civil unrest spread across Germany like wildfire, leading to the proclamation of a republic, the collapse of the field army’s morale, and Kaiser Wilhelm’s hasty flight to Holland. The Central Powers’ defeat may have been inevitable in any event, but the Bolshevik revolution certainly hastened it.
Ever since its establishment in 1987, Hamas has been at the forefront of armed resistance in the occupied Palestinian territories. While the movement itself claims continuous presence in Palestine dating back to the British mandate in 1935 and the establishment in 1946 of the Gaza branch of the Muslim Brotherhood (its mother organization based in Egypt), its rise in the 1990s and in subsequent years owes much to the manipulations of Israeli Intelligence.
Before Hamas (Arabic acronym for Islamic Resistance Movement) established full control over Gaza between 2006 and 2007, Israel had long financed and supported in various other ways the group’s rise as the dominant Palestinian force in the Strip. There is ample evidence from Israeli sources that successive governments in Jerusalem helped build this militant strain of Palestinian political Islam, not only in the form of Hamas but also, years earlier, its Muslim Brotherhood precursors.
The rise of the hardline Islamist movement in Gaza harks back to an uprising by Palestinians that started in 1987—known as the first Intifada—when Israeli leaders decided that the main threat to the country’s security came from the secular Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), led by Yasser Arafat. The Israeli campaign against the PLO in the 1980s ended up enabling the rise of both Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah (“Party of God”) in southern Lebanon. It is particularly noteworthy that the founder of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, was jailed by Israel in 1984 and received a 12 year sentence after the discovery of hidden arms caches, but was released just a year later.
Former Israeli military governor of Gaza, Brigadier General Yitzhak Segev, was quoted by New York Times’ reporter David K. Shipler, in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book Arab and Jew, as saying the government in Jerusalem gave him money to support the Islamists in Gaza. The objective, in the late ’80s and early ’90s, was to prevent what seemed like the growing influence of the PLO and its Fatah party. Segev said that the goal of aiding the Palestinian Islamist movement was to create a “counterweight” to the Arafat’s PLO. Shipler reiterated Segev’s statement in the New York Times on May 17, 2021.
It is noteworthy that Arafat himself referred to Hamas as “a creature of Israel.” It soon became an outright adversary of the PLO, as Israel had hoped, and Arafat understood he could no longer restrain them. Any attempt to do so merely would have eroded his standing because, due to the receding prospect of a two state solution and successive parallel waves of expansion of Jewish settlements all over the West Bank, most Palestinians wanted greater militancy.
Avner Cohen, a former Israeli official who worked in religious and community affairs in Gaza for over 20 years, told the Wall Street Journal in 2009, “Hamas, to my great regret, is Israel’s creation.” As early as the 1980s Cohen wrote a report warning the policymakers not to play the risky game of divide-and-rule in the occupied territories by backing Islamists against secularists. He suggested “focusing our efforts on finding ways to break up this monster before this reality jumps in our face.” Today his words sound prescient.
As late as 2019, Israel’s then as well as the current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu urged support for Hamas, albeit for different reasons. He reportedly saw Palestinian extremism, as embodied by Hamas, as a bulwark against the two-state solution which he adamantly opposed. “Anyone who wants to thwart the establishment of a Palestinian state has to support bolstering Hamas and transferring money to Hamas,” he said at a March 2019 meeting of his Likud Party. “This is part of our strategy—to isolate the Palestinians in Gaza from the Palestinians in the West Bank.”
In other words, only four years ago Israel’s prime minister still believed supporting strong Islamist rule in Gaza would be his bulwark against a two-state, Israel-Palestine solution. That calamitous misjudgment alone should be enough to warrant Netanyahu’s resignation. It was fundamentally tantamount to Germany cultivating Bolshevists in 1917. Netanyahu’s strategy has had tragic consequences for all actors but Hamas itself, and primarily for up to 1,400 Israeli civilians massacred on Oct. 7 as well as the 4,000 Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli reprisals since that date.
In this context it was incongruous for Israel’s President Isaac Herzog to place collective blame on the people of Gaza for the Hamas attacks of Oct. 7. “It is an entire nation out there that is responsible,” Herzog said two days after the attacks. “It is not true this rhetoric about civilians not being aware, not involved. It’s absolutely not true. They could have risen up. They could have fought against that evil regime which took over Gaza in a coup d’etat.”
For a very prominent Jew to blame an “entire nation” for the misdeeds of its regime is scandalous in itself and uncannily reminiscent of the language of Julius Streicher. For Herzog to do so in wanton disregard of Israel’s key contribution to the rise of Hamas is unconscionable. Yes, the “evil” monster has turned on its creator. This phenomenon is known as blowback.
The people of Gaza had Hamas effectively thrust upon them by the Israeli authorities decades ago, yet they are now blamed for not staging an uprising. “When I look back at the chain of events, I think we made a mistake,” David Hacham, a former Arab affairs expert in the Israeli military based in Gaza in the late 1980s, later remarked. “But at the time, nobody thought about the possible results.” Hacham’s assertion is not true—Avner Cohen did think about those results and issued a clear warning at the time—but the leaders’ hubris and groupthink prevailed.
Once President Herzog set the tone, it was duly echoed by Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. He ordered a “complete siege of Gaza” on Oct. 9, and pledged that no electricity, no food, and no fuel would be delivered to the enclave. “We are fighting human animals,” Gallant declared, “and we act accordingly.” In Washington, Senator Lindsey Graham—an inveterate neocon hawk—also called for what arguably amounts to genocide. “We are in a religious war,” he told Fox News a day later. “I’m with Israel. Do whatever the hell you have to do to defend yourself. Level the place.”
The leveling has been in full swing for over three weeks now.
The dehumanizing language coming out of Israel and amplified by its foreign friends is shockingly like the rhetoric heard in Central Europe in the 1930s, the discourse which was systematically preparing the ground for the Jewish Holocaust. The purveyors of such language are probably aware of the score but refuse to acknowledge the unpleasant fact that Hamas is a golem, a monstrous creature from Jewish folklore created from mud and made animate, which escaped his master and turned against him.