Hamas Contained
The Rise and Pacification of Palestinian Resistance
Tareq Baconi


Chapter One

The Rise of Islamic Palestinian Nationalism

On the night of December 9, 1987, a group of men crowded into a small house in the Shati refugee camp, named for its location close to the beachfront (shatt), in the north of the Gaza Strip. The gathering was hosted by Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, a soft-spoken paraplegic man with a long white beard. Yassin was a refugee from the village of al-Jura, near the town currently known as Ashkelon in Israel, which he had fled in 1948.1 His visitors were also refugees from towns and villages now within Israel’s borders. They had come together that night in haste to discuss the events erupting around them. A day earlier, an Israeli army vehicle had crashed into a line of cars carrying Palestinian day laborers commuting from their jobs in Israel back to their homes in the Gaza Strip. The accident had killed four Palestinian men, three of whom were from the Jabalia refugee camp.2 Also located in the northern part of the Gaza Strip, the Jabalia camp, known as the “camp of the revolution,” is one of the largest refugee camps in the Palestinian territories and one of the most densely populated plots of land in the world. Within hours of the accident, the occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem, as well as areas within Israel itself, were awash with protests, demonstrations, and acts of civil disobedience. Spreading from the epicenter of the Jabalia camp, the First Palestinian Intifada, or uprising, had begun.3

The intifada was a spontaneous and seemingly leaderless mass upheaval. Almost overnight, Palestinians collectively took to the streets to protest Israel’s occupying presence within their land. Israel’s occupation had begun twenty years prior, in 1967. Although Palestinians had enjoyed periods of relative prosperity during this time, the occupation itself was premised on the economic subjugation of the territories and the denial to Palestinians of their political rights. Over the course of two decades, Israel had expropriated Arab land; expanded an illegal settlement enterprise that fragmented the Palestinian territories; and maintained a repressive military occupation that routinized human rights violations of Palestinians under its rule, including arrests, deportations, home demolitions, indefinite detentions, curfews, and killings. With the intifada, Palestinians rose to shake off the yoke of military rule. They boycotted Israeli goods and refused to comply with the administrative processes underwriting their oppression, including procedures such as the issuance of ID cards and tax collection by the Israeli authorities.

The image of Palestinian youth hurtling stones at Israeli tanks came to denote the spirit of this period. Over the course of four years, the intifada resembled an anticolonial struggle.4 Protesters clashed with the Israeli army using stones, sticks, and occasionally Molotov cocktails as the Israeli military struggled to quash what was predominantly a civilian uprising. Throughout the territories, decentralized popular committees emerged to organize mass action and shelter the identities of local leaders for fear of reprisals. Demonstrations were soon coordinated clandestinely. Appeals for strikes and instructions for acts of civil disobedience surfaced almost surreptitiously in leaflets left on car windscreens and graffiti sprayed on shop shutters. These memos often carried the imprint of the United National Leadership of the Uprising, a coalition of factions that was created early in the intifada to coordinate activities among the different towns and villages in the occupied territories. The intifada’s leaflets articulated the political goals of the uprising: to achieve independence from Israel’s occupation and establish a Palestinian state.5

Thousands of miles away, the indefatigable Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat watched the spreading protests from his exile in Tunis. Under his guidance, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the official representative of the Palestinian people and effectively the government-in-exile, scrambled to assume a leadership role over this unexpected mass mobilization. Through its offices in Amman and Tunis, the PLO coordinated with local leaders inside the occupied territories to shape the intifada’s trajectory and ensure it remained nonviolent. Simultaneously, and unbeknown to Arafat and the exiled leadership, the men gathered in Sheikh Yassin’s home in Gaza also understood the importance of harnessing this outburst of popular sentiment. Less than a week after the Palestinian streets first exploded with pent-up frustration, on December 14, Yassin and his colleagues published and circulated a leaflet that hailed the eruption of the intifada as a rejection of the bloody years of Israel’s military rule and a reaffirmation of Palestinian perseverance and steadfastness. “Islam is the solution and the alternative” to the current path the Palestinian struggle had taken, the memo read.6 Its authors denounced the PLO for failing to end the occupation as they presented an alternative liberation project. The unusual memo did not yet bear the name HAMAS, the Arabic acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya (Islamic Resistance Movement), also meaning “zeal.”7 Nonetheless, this leaflet marked Hamas’s first appearance within the Palestinian territories and, with it, the first formal indication that a new force had emerged to shape this latest phase of the Palestinian struggle for liberation.

Ancestral Legacies

Led by Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, Hamas’s cofounders viewed the intifada as an opportune time to leverage all the preparation that had been taking place clandestinely for years to create an organization dedicated to “rais[ing] the banner of God over every inch of Palestine.”8 Their leaflets were inconsistently signed at first as the leaders experimented with what to call their nascent organization. Names such as “The Islamic Faction,” “Path of Islam,” and “Islamic Defense” were tried and tested. In January 1988, a few weeks after the intifada had begun, the name HAMAS was finally chosen. Hamas’s creation built on a solid institutional base that had been developed, primarily within the Gaza Strip, over the course of several decades. The new movement was defined as the latest “link in [a long] chain of the Jihad against the Zionist occupation.”9 To bolster Hamas’s standing, the founders reached back to the turn of the century and constructed a rich lineage that could be traced to the early days of the Zionist project.

Yassin was instrumental in linking Hamas’s founding in 1987 with this legacy of jihad from the 1920s. As a twelve-year-old, Yassin was injured in an athletic accident and developed an acute form of quadriplegia. His deteriorating health prevented him from completing his education in Egypt, where he was enrolled at the prestigious al-Azhar University. Upon his return to Gaza, where his family had settled as refugees, he worked as a teacher and an imam and, in the 1950s, joined the Muslim Brotherhood chapter in Palestine. The Muslim Brotherhood had been founded in 1928 in Egypt by Hassan al-Banna, an Islamic thinker who advocated for the Islamization of society.10 Throughout the 1930s, al-Banna grew his organization into an Islamic welfare association where groups of young brothers gathered to study and learn Islamic scripture, lead virtuous lives, build their nation, and safeguard it against Western influence and colonialism. Al-Banna’s vision was to create a modern Islamic society that assimilated Western progress, such as in the sciences, while remaining true to Islamic virtues.11

Although the brotherhood was mainly preoccupied with Egyptian affairs and the British occupation of Egypt, it was also committed to the broader region, with al-Banna viewing Egyptian nationalism as a stepping stone toward pan-Arab and pan-Islamic unity.12 Underpinning this gradualist approach, from national to Arab to Islamic unity, was the belief that Islamic fraternity superseded loyalty to the nation. Therefore, looking eastward, the brotherhood noted with concern the developments taking place within Palestine, which was conquered by the British from the Ottoman Empire during World War One. In 1922, Palestine was made into a British Mandate under the supervision of the League of Nations, which meant that the British were responsible to guide it toward independence.13 This charge conflicted with commitments the British had made to the Zionist movement, which had emerged in Europe at the turn of the century and sought to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine.14 By the 1920s, Jewish immigration into Palestine was increasing against the backdrop of the Russian Revolution and growing European anti-Semitism. The brotherhood viewed Zionist plans in Palestine and expanding Jewish immigration as one of the most tangible threats facing the Muslim world.15

Opposition to Zionism was also gathering pace among the indigenous Arab population of Palestine. Nationalism had slowly begun taking hold in the region as former Ottoman provinces became European colonies. By the time the British Mandate had been instituted, a growing sense of Palestinian nationalism and anti-Zionism had already permeated the elite class of Palestinian urban traders and professionals.16 These leaders demanded that Britain renounce its commitment to Zionism, stop Jewish immigration, and move Palestine toward independence as an Arab-majority county. Rural Palestinians were also objecting to the economic impact of dispossession from their agricultural land by Jewish newcomers.17 The powerful religious establishment, headed by the Mufti of Jerusalem, wielded influence in shaping this nascent nationalism.18 It issued Islamic legal rulings supporting anti-land-sale campaigns to stop Arab landowners from selling their estates to Jewish immigrants, as well as calling for the protection of Islamic holy sites. The Mufti reached out to the international Muslim community as he sought to internationalize the cause of Palestine by hailing the political and religious significance of its Islamic holy places.19 Despite these efforts, the Palestinian political and religious elite were ineffective in quelling the influx of Jewish settlers. Their subservience toward their British patrons, their conviction that they could lobby the British peacefully, and their bitter factionalism prevented them from successfully promoting Palestinian nationalism.20

The failure of the Palestinian leaders facilitated the growth of populist resistance to Zionism within Palestine, led by individuals such as Izz al-Din al-Qassam.21 A popular speaker, al-Qassam had preached against French colonialism around his birthplace of Latakia, a coastal town in modern-day Syria. Al-Qassam called for jihad, a call to arms, against the domineering European powers.22 Facing a death sentence for his role in the failed Syrian resistance, al-Qassam fled southward to Haifa, a Mediterranean city in Palestine, where he soon gathered a following by preaching in mosques. Al-Qassam was critical of the Palestinian elite and the religious institutions. He spoke of the need to pursue the modernization of Muslim society, as well as a stricter adherence to Islamic orthodoxy as a framework for progress.23 From his base in Haifa, al-Qassam resumed the anticolonial struggle that he had commenced in Syria. He roamed throughout northern Palestine, preaching in rural areas to an expanding base of followers composed of predominantly poor and pious peasants. His message centered on the need to support Palestinian nationalism in its struggle against Zionism and colonialism through education, a return to a purer religious life, and jihad.

Al-Qassam presented jihad as a religious responsibility for all Muslims to militarily resist the British Mandate government and Zionism. As one of al-Qassam’s followers explained, “All that pertains to such a jihad is dictated in familiar ayat [verses of the Quran]. . . . ‘This is jihad, victory or martyrdom,’ and such a jihad is one of the religious duties of the Islamic creed.”24 Al-Qassam obtained a decree from the Mufti of Damascus who legitimated the use of violence against the British and the incoming Jewish settlers.25 By making resistance a core duty of faith, al-Qassam popularized the notion of jihad. The Syrian preacher increased his following and began planning clandestine military operations to counter the Zionist threat and wage a war of liberation against the British.26 As al-Qassam was laying the groundwork for resistance to Zionism and British rule in Palestine, the Muslim Brotherhood was expanding its own base of operations in Egypt. By the 1930s, it had developed into a sizable welfare association and had begun making connections with the Mufti of Jerusalem.27

In October 1935, the threat of the Zionist forces in Palestine was confirmed. The discovery of a secret arms shipment in the Jaffa harbor affirmed to the Palestinians that the Jewish settlers in their midst were arming their militias for an eventual confrontation to take control of Palestine. As the influx of Jewish immigrants had expanded, the possibility of losing their homeland had become a distinct threat for Palestinians. Almost overnight, protests erupted throughout Palestine and swept other major Arab urban centers, including Amman, Cairo, Damascus, and Baghdad.28 Alongside other groups in Palestine, al-Qassam sprang into action. He took to the hills around Haifa, where he gathered his followers and carried out incursions against British Mandate forces and Jewish settlers. His efforts were sporadic at best, however, and barely took off. Within less than a month, after only a few sabotage attacks, al-Qassam and his group were ambushed by members of the Palestine police force, as the British colonial police were known. In the ensuing battle, al-Qassam was shot and killed.

Al-Qassam’s funeral in November 1935 gave voice to the anger and immense frustration felt by the Palestinians at the never-ending swell of Jewish immigration and the unyielding hold of British colonialism. A Syrian preacher who had used Haifa as his base for waging an anticolonial struggle, al-Qassam unexpectedly became one of the most prominent early martyrs in the name of the Palestinian national struggle.29 His death became a rallying call and, by the spring of 1936, had paved the way for the Arab Revolt, a sweeping protest that set Palestine ablaze in a popular and armed uprising against both Zionism and British colonialism. The revolt involved general strikes as well as significant violence between the Palestinians, the Mandate forces, and the Jewish settlers.30

Driven by a groundswell of support that had been expanding for close to two decades, the Arab Revolt made surprising gains in its first two years.31 Outside Palestine, it was felt heavily within the Muslim Brotherhood’s rank and file in Egypt, particularly among those with close connections to Palestine.32 The organization rallied its leadership behind the cause as it mobilized to contribute to propaganda, pamphleteering, and fundraising in support of the Palestinians.33 The revolt also provided the impetus (some would say excuse34) for the commencement of the brotherhood’s militarization, as it prompted an internal decision to establish a military wing called the “Special Section.”35 Initially a clandestine development, the Special Section recruited and trained young brothers in jihad for the defense of Islam, and a number of those brothers participated as volunteers in the revolt. This shift expanded a militant ethos within the organization at the time, with jihad and the attendant glory of martyrdom being elevated into central tenants of the brotherhood through both formal and informal training.36

The early success of the revolt in Palestine compelled the British to bolster their military power to quash the uprising. By the end of the second year, with the deployment of one hundred thousand troops, the British military surge began showing signs of success and the rebellion was crushed by 1939, marking a historic milestone in the Palestinian struggle. The force that the British used against the Palestinians effectively decimated their fighting power and ensured their defeat in the confrontation with the Jewish paramilitary units a decade later.37 After the revolt had subsided, the brotherhood continued to send missions to Palestine to spread the group’s message and provide military training to civilians, ostensibly to prepare them for an expected future confrontation.38 By 1943, it had established a sister organization in Palestine called the Makarem Society, and by 1945 it had inaugurated the first official Muslim Brotherhood branch in Jerusalem. There were about twenty-five branches in Palestine by 1948. These brotherhood posts, which were subject to the control of the Cairo headquarters, entailed a total active membership of between twelve and twenty thousand brothers.39 With al-Qassam’s populist legacy of anticolonial jihad and the expansion of the Muslim Brotherhood into Palestine, the foundation from which Sheikh Yassin would begin building his vision decades later was effectively cemented.

Fatah and the PLO

It was only after World War Two that the battle for Palestine resumed. In 1944, the Jewish settlers launched an armed campaign against the British troops, seeking to force their departure and to compel Britain to allow for the expansion of Jewish immigration into Palestine.40 Broke, frustrated by the Zionist attacks, and unable to align its conflicting commitments to Palestinians and Zionists, Britain turned the issue of Palestine over to the newly formed United Nations. In November 1947, the UN General Assembly issued a “Partition Plan” calling for the partition of Palestine into an Arab state and a Jewish state and setting a deadline for the termination of the British Mandate. The proposed partition allocated 56 percent of Palestine to the Jewish community, which formed about one-third of the population at the time.41

The Palestinian leadership rejected the partition of Palestine as well as Zionist aspirations in their land, as they always had, on the grounds that the indigenous Arab majority had the right to self-determination in their own homeland. They sought to prevent the implementation of the United Nations’ recommendation.42 The imminent end of the British Mandate and the international commitment to the creation of a Jewish homeland after the horrors of the Holocaust all coalesced to precipitate violent clashes between Palestinians and Jewish settlers. From the end of 1947, days after the announcement of the partition plan, through May 1948, Palestine was in the throes of a civil war.43 In March strongly armed and highly motivated Zionist forces began systematically invading Palestinian villages and towns and forcefully expelling their residents. By the spring of 1948, before the British troops had departed, more than three hundred thousand Palestinian refugees had fled or been ousted from their homes. Over the course of these months, the Muslim Brotherhood offices in Palestine mobilized with a call to resistance for the protection of the Islamic holy places.44 The brotherhood in Egypt also openly recruited volunteers to cross the borders and fight to “save Palestine.”45 Although militarily negligible and numbering around 1,500, these volunteers were reportedly most active around Gaza, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem, as well as against Jewish settlers in the Negev Desert.46

On May 14, 1948, the British Mandate officially expired. Upon the withdrawal of the last British troops from Palestine, the Jewish community declared the establishment of the State of Israel. This prompted Arab countries around Palestine to intervene on the side of the Palestinians, effectively turning the civil war into an interstate conflagration. Israel ultimately emerged victorious, capturing 78 percent of the land of Palestine, significantly more than had been allocated to it under the UN Partition Plan. The 1948 war, known as the “War of Independence” by Israel and “al-Nakba,” or the catastrophe, by Palestinians, marked the independence of Israel, a watershed moment when the Zionist project became a political reality. For the Palestinians, this was a point of rupture, an unthinkable catastrophe which marked the disappearance of their homeland. About half the Palestinians from the land that had become Israel lost their homes and property and were scattered through force and violence into the remaining bits of Palestine and throughout the region. The fabric of Palestinian society and economy was entirely decimated.

The scale of the refugee calamity was staggering, as estimates rose to more than seven hundred thousand refugees.47 Recognizing the extent of the problem, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 194 on December 11, 1948, stressing that “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date.” This resolution firmly established the right of return for Palestinian refugees. Israel, however, promptly closed its borders and prevented any such return. Instead, it seized the lands and homes of the refugees and designated these as property to be used for Jewish-only settlement. Unable to return after the war, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians languished in refugee camps in the remaining 22 percent of Palestine that came under Jordanian and Egyptian control. East Jerusalem and the West Bank were annexed by Jordan, and the Gaza Strip fell under Egyptian administration. Other refugees fled to Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and farther afield.

By the summer of 1948, therefore, the Muslim Brotherhood branches in Palestine had been divided between Israel, Jordan, and Egypt.48 In East Jerusalem and the West Bank, under Jordanian rule, the Muslim Brotherhood focused solely on its welfare agenda and Islamization mission.49 Within Gaza, its experience was more tumultuous. Gaza had been forced to accommodate close to two hundred thousand refugees, more than double its population of eighty thousand inhabitants, in densely populated refugee camps, creating a humanitarian crisis and economic distress. The concentration of refugees and their proximity to their homes, now on the Israeli side of the armistice line, made the Gaza Strip an active spot for incursions into Israel by a range of insurgent movements as well as individuals and families seeking to return to their homes. Alongside social regeneration projects, the brotherhood in this coastal enclave established military training camps to support armed missions aimed at the liberation and return of the Palestinian homeland.50

One of the people who passed through these training camps, albeit not as an official member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was Yasser Arafat. Born in Cairo in 1929 to a Gazan father and a Jerusalemite mother, Arafat spent most of his childhood in Egypt.51 During and after the 1948 war, Arafat engaged in small-scale armed operations against Israel from Gaza in the hope of turning the fortunes of the dispossessed Palestinians. Early after its creation, the Israeli state adopted an aggressive strategy for dealing with Gaza, implementing harsh retaliatory tactics in response to these armed incursions or attempts by refugees to return to their homes. Deterrent actions included operations such as those carried out by Unit 101, under the leadership of a young Israeli officer named Ariel Sharon, which entailed a wide range of operations including invading refugee camps and massacring civilians.52 Until 1955, Egypt systematically disarmed Gaza’s population in a bid to prevent sporadic skirmishes from Gaza into Israel, in the fear that Egypt would be pulled into a confrontation with Israel. This left Gazans defenseless in the face of Israeli aggression. Persistent failure to control the Palestinian operations, however, resulted in more heavy-handed efforts by Israel to reoccupy the Gaza Strip and pacify its population by force through raids, military operations, incursions into refugee camps, and public executions.53

By this time, Egyptians—alongside millions of Arabs—were looking to a rising Egyptian leader who would have an indelible impact on the political map of the region. President Gamal Abdel Nasser was a staunchly secular and deeply charismatic individual who won over Arab masses. His electric speeches served as a clarion call for unity rooted in Arabness, rather than Islam, and constructed a shared identity for the diverse inhabitants of the region. People throughout the Middle East looked to Nasser as the savior that would unite the Arab world against colonial forces, as well as against the Zionist reality that had taken root within Palestine. Nasser’s deep secularism manifested itself domestically in repressive policies that aimed to crush the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Gaza. Against Nasser’s iron fist and the rising tide of secular pan-Arabism, the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood dwindled and its support base was depleted.54 In Gaza, the brotherhood was driven underground, and the few military bases it had established there were effectively dismantled. As the brotherhood’s reach diminished, it shifted its focus back to its core, Islamization, in its belief that a righteous Islamic society must be nurtured before Western intervention could be successfully confronted. During this time, young members such as Ahmad Yassin, who had returned from Cairo where he was unable to complete his studies due to his injuries, continued to partake in the brotherhood’s clandestine social, religious, and educational services from private homes and mosques.55

Yasser Arafat had left Gaza by then and settled in Kuwait, where he worked as an engineer and actively engaged in planning the Palestinian struggle for liberation alongside other students and young professionals. These emerging young leaders witnessed how Nasser’s pan-Arabism was shaping Palestinian nationalism. Throughout the 1950s, Nasser’s appeal led to the emergence of organizations that placed the cause of Palestine within the fold of pan-Arabism, as both the catalyst for Arab unity and the litmus test for the success of Arab nationalism.56 Arafat, however, challenged Nasser’s vision as well as that of the Muslim Brotherhood. He worried about the elision of the Palestinian struggle by regional politics and about making Palestine’s liberation contingent on either Arab unity, as Nasser’s pan-Arabism advocated, or on the revival of a pan-Islamic virtuous society, as the Muslim Brotherhood did.

Instead, inspired by nationalist movements that had multiplied in the age of decolonization and by contemporary liberation struggles in Algeria, Vietnam, and elsewhere, Arafat advocated a distinctly nationalist vision limited specifically to the liberation of Palestine from Zionism. In 1959, alongside a number of other students, Arafat launched Fatah, the Palestinian National Liberation Movement.57 Fatah’s vision of liberating Palestine effectively entailed waging armed struggle to dismantle what it saw as the colonial state of Israel and reverse the injustices that Palestinians had suffered. This included, primarily, allowing the Palestinian refugees to return to the homes from which they had fled or been expelled. Fatah’s creation precipitated an early rift with the Islamic members of the Palestinian national movement, and was regarded bitterly by the Muslim Brothers in Gaza who had enjoyed friendly relations with Arafat prior to his departure to Kuwait. Those members believed that the absence of a distinctly Islamic agenda, what they perceived as a form of “secularism,” would prevent Fatah from serving the Palestinian cause or achieving its nationalist goals, as they remained committed to their principles of Islamization.58

Fatah’s rank and file was composed of fedayeen, armed fighters who sacrificed themselves in the name of the Palestinian cause. Inspired by Third World anticolonial movements, Fatah’s fedayeen waged insurgencies against Israel from Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and the West Bank.59 Fatah raids were few in number and had a limited impact on Palestinians. Nonetheless, host countries tried to suppress Fatah and other insurgent groups, as they had a destabilizing effect on the region, often leading to heated skirmishes between Palestinian guerilla fighters and the Israeli army, which carried out punishing reprisals. These scuffles threatened to embroil host countries in direct confrontation with Israel. Nasser in particular sought to avoid such a war until the Arab world was fully prepared. Five years after Fatah was created, Arab leaders convened to discuss ways in which to manage the Palestinian liberation struggle that was unfolding on their territories. In 1964, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was established, in many ways to act as a tool to control the insurgent factions.60 The PLO was an umbrella organization that drew into a single framework all the different Palestinian factions that had come into being. Understanding the PLO to be a tool for the Arab regimes to restrain the Palestinian factions and to foil the notion of “independent” Palestinian nationalism, Fatah and other small guerrilla factions refused to join.

Efforts to manage regional instability, however, were ultimately unsuccessful and failed to prevent an escalation that would irreversibly alter the history of the modern Middle East. On June 5, 1967, President Nasser in Egypt mobilized his ground forces in the demilitarized Sinai Peninsula in response to Israeli threats toward Syria, and closed the straits of Sinai to Israeli shipping. Even though Israel understood Egypt’s immediate troop deployment to be defensive in nature, it decided to strike first with a surprise attack against Egypt’s forces. Catching its neighbor off guard, Israel managed to almost entirely destroy Egypt’s air force while it languished on the ground. Jordan and Syria were drawn into the battle, opening up several fronts with Israel. But the Arab forces were unable to reverse Israel’s preemptive advantage. Over the course of six days, Israel destroyed and pushed back the Arab forces, vastly expanding the territory under its control and creating another wave of hundreds of thousands of refugees.61 While in 1948 Israel had seized 78 percent of what had been Palestine, it now conquered the remaining 22 percent. East Jerusalem was formally annexed into Israel, a move that has not been recognized by the international community. The West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as well as the Syrian Golan Heights and the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, were placed under Israeli military rule, without formal annexation.

By the end of the sixth day, on June 11, 1967, Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, had formally begun. The swift defeat of the Arab forces laid to rest Nasser’s vision of Arab unity. The small guerilla factions that had commenced sporadic and ineffective operations against Israel before 1967 suddenly emerged as a powerful alternative to pan-Arabism. Fatah’s insurgency imbued the dispossessed and broken Palestinian refugees with agency, pride, and direction. As Fatah’s ranks swelled with fedayeen, Palestinians celebrated a growing number of military operations and upheld the self-sacrifice of fighters as the highest price to be paid in serving the struggle.62 Fatah rapidly became a revolutionary symbol, and in 1969 Yasser Arafat wrested the chairmanship of the PLO from the control of the Arab regimes.63 Under his leadership, Palestinians developed a national political identity and embarked on processes of state-building in exile through a revolution that was aimed at return to the homeland.64

The liberation of Palestine through military means, to secure the right to self-determination and the right of return, was central to the Palestinian revolution. “Our correct understanding of the reality of the Zionist occupation confirms to us that regaining the occupied homeland cannot happen except through armed violence as the sole, inevitable, unavoidable, and indispensable means in the battle of liberation.”65 Fatah’s statement goes on to describe the necessity of dismantling the “colonial base . . . of the Zionist occupation state” and asserts that its intellectual, social, political, military, and financial elements have to be destroyed before the Palestinian homeland can be liberated.66 Steadfastness, perseverance, and sacrifice were key for survival in what was seen as being a long-term battle.

From their bases in host countries, factions within the PLO, including Fatah, carried out cross-border attacks into Israel and planned spectacular operations that targeted Israelis around the world. Debates about the killing of Israeli civilians unfolded against the backdrop of a broader global reckoning with the role of violence in anticolonial liberation struggles. The rise of the Global South and the necessity of using force was situated in a context where violence and terror underpinned the control of the colonial masters. Palestinian fighters justified killing Israeli civilians as a necessary response to Israeli aggression against Palestinian civilians and as a much-needed deterrent against future Israeli expansion. Purposeful ambiguity about the civilian nature of Israeli victims was also constructed; given that nearly all Jewish men and women served in the military, how did one distinguish soldiers from civilians?67

The PLO’s revolution had a liberating effect on the Palestinian psyche. But its practical ability to achieve its stated goals of liberation and the creation of a Palestinian state was less obvious. Given the power disparity with Israel, it became clear even as early as the 1970s that liberation through armed struggle was unlikely. Nonetheless, the PLO’s revolution persisted as a means of asserting Palestinian identity, developing political legitimacy, and broadcasting the Palestinian plight globally.68 For an American administration in the midst of the Cold War, and its view that the Palestinians were allied with the USSR, the PLO’s actions were branded as international terrorism and all forms of diplomatic engagement with the group were banned.69 The PLO’s revolutionary tactics also had severe repercussions on the group’s relations with its host countries within the Arab world. In 1970, the PLO was expelled from its base in Jordan and moved to Lebanon.70 In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon, then in the throes of a civil war, and ousted the PLO, which had become a “state within a state” inside the country.71 The Palestinian leadership was exiled to Tunis, where its ability to maintain the insurgency against Israel and to lead the Palestinian struggle now had to contend with geographic distance from its homeland.


1. For a biography of Yassin, see Jawada, Asma al-Sheikh; and Adwan, Al-Sheikh Ahmad Yassin.

2. Vitullo, “Uprising in Gaza,” 46, in Lockman and Beinin, Intifada.

3. For more on the First Intifada, see Abu-Amr, “The Palestinian Uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip,” 384–405; Jarbawi, Al-Intifada wa al-Qiyada al-Siyasiyya fi al-Diffa al-Gharbiyyeh wa Qita Ghazza; and Schiff and Ya’ari, Intifada.

4. Said, “Intifada and Independence,” 20, in Lockman and Beinin, Intifada.

5. Abu-Amr, “Palestinian Uprising,” 389.

6. As translated in Hroub, Hamas, 265.

7. Tamimi, Hamas, 55.

8. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Hamas’s charter are based on the translation in Hroub, Hamas, 267–91.

9. Maqdsi, “Charter of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) of Palestine,” 124.

10. Esposito, The Islamic Threat, 130–34. For more on the early years of the Muslim Brotherhood, see Mitchell, The Society of the Muslim Brothers; Wickham, The Muslim Brotherhood; Kandil, Inside the Brotherhood; and Lia, The Society of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt. For more on al-Banna, see Commins, “Hasan al-Banna (1906–1949),” 125–54, in Rahnema, Pioneers of Islamic Revival; and El-Awaisi, “Emergence of a Militant Leader,” 46–63.

11. Commins, “Hasan al-Banna,” 133–44.

12. El-Awaisi, “The Conceptual Approach of the Egyptian Muslim Brothers towards the Palestine Question, 1928–1949,” 227–30; Commins, “Hasan al-Banna,” 137–39; and Harris, Nationalism and Revolution in Egypt, 164–65.

13. For more on Palestine under the British Mandate, see Segev, One Palestine, Complete; and Tessler, A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 185–269.

14. For more on Zionism, see Brenner, Zionism; and Laqueur, A History of Zionism.

15. Lia, Society of the Muslim Brothers, 162–73; El-Awaisi, “Conceptual Approach of the Egyptian Muslim Brothers,” 225–44; Porath, In Search of Arab Unity 1930–1945, 152–54; and Jankowski, “Egyptian Responses to the Palestine Problem in the Interwar Period,” 1–38. For brotherhood accounts of the centrality of Palestine, see Badr, Al-Tareeq illa Tahrir Filisteen; and Ghanem, Watha’eq Qadiyat Filisteen fi Malafat al-Ikhwan al-Muslimeen 1928–1948.

16. See Khalidi, Palestinian Identity; and Muslih, The Origins of Palestinian Nationalism.

17. See Porath, The Emergence of the Palestinian Arab National Movement, 80–109; Hirst, The Gun and the Olive Branch, 15–108; and Shafir, Land, Labor and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 1882–1914.

18. Nafi, Arabism, Islamism and the Palestine Question 1908–1941, 16; and Piscatori, “Imagining Pan-Islam,” 201–19, in Valbjørn and Lawson, International Relations of the Middle East. Anti-Zionism was not limited to the Muslim community. Many of the anti-Zionist publications were owned by Christians. Ayalon, The Press in the Arab Middle East, 95–101.

19. Nafi, Arabism, Islamism, 95. This was a revival of ideas which had been floated in 1922 regarding the prospect of making Palestinian holy places central to the global Muslim community. See Porath, Emergence of Palestinian Arab National Movement, 8–13; Kupferschmidt, The Supreme Muslim Council; Mattar, The Mufti of Jerusalem; and Freas, “Hajj Amin al-Husayni and the Haram al-Sharif,” 19–51.

20. For more on factionalism and Palestinian classes, see Khalaf, Politics in Palestine; Pappé, The Rise and Fall of a Palestinian Dynasty; Seikaly, Men of Capital; and Hourani, “Ottoman Reforms and the Politics of the Notables,” 83–111, in Hourani, Khoury, and Wilson, The Modern Middle East.

21. Sanagan, “Teacher, Preacher, Soldier, Martyr,” 317–19. For biographies of al-Qassam, see Lachman, “Arab Rebellion and Terrorism in Palestine 1929–1939,” 53–101, in Kedourie and Haim, Zionism and Arabism in Palestine and Israel; and Nafi, “Shaykh ‘Izz al-Dīn al-Qassām,” 185–215.

22. The term “jihad” has a complex genealogy, and its definition as “holy war” is a modern—and somewhat reductive—one. See Kendall and Stein, Twenty-First Century Jihad.

23. Al-Qassam’s worldview was likely informed by his education at al-Azhar University and his exposure to Islamic reformist thinkers such as Rashid Rida and Jamal al-Din al-Afghani. For more, see Porath, Emergence of Palestinian Arab National Movement, 298; Kerr, Islamic Reform, 15–16; and Sanagan, “Teacher, Preacher,” 326–28. For more on the Islamic reformers, see Rahnema, Pioneers of Islamic Revival.

24. As quoted by one of al-Qassam’s followers. Johnson, Islam and the Politics of Meaning in Palestinian Nationalism, 42.

25. Lachman, “Arab Rebellion and Terrorism in Palestine,” 63.

26. Porath, Emergence of Palestinian Arab National Movement, 137. Clandestine preparations were made in Haifa by the Young Men’s Muslim Association for military operations. Other organizations included the Green Hand in Acre, Safed, and Nazareth; Holy War in Jerusalem; and the Black Hand in northern Palestine. Morris, Righteous Victims, 126.

27. Lia, Society of the Muslim Brothers, 93–128; and Wickham, Muslim Brotherhood, 20–46.

28. Nafi, “Shaykh ‘Izz al-Dīn al-Qassām,” 211.

29. Johnson, Islam and the Politics of Meaning, 53–56; and Porath, Emergence of Palestinian Arab National Movement, 183–84. Zuaiter, Al-arakah al-waaniyyah al-filasiiniiyyah 1935–1939, shows how al-Qassam fused Islamist and nationalist elements of the Palestinian movement.

30. For more on the revolt, see Swedenburg, Memories of Revolt; and Stein, “The Intifada and the 1936–39 Uprising,” 64–85.

31. For more on Arab-Jewish tensions pre-revolt, see Cohen, Year Zero of the Arab-Israeli Conflict 1929.

32. See Gershoni, “The Muslim Brothers and the Arab Revolt in Palestine, 1936–1939,” 367–97.

33. The brotherhood formed a committee called the General Central Committee to Aid Palestine, headed by al-Banna. Efforts were ineffectual. See Abu-Amr, Islamic Fundamentalism in the West Bank and Gaza, 23–53; Lia, Society of the Muslim Brothers, 235–47; Mitchell, Society of the Muslim Brothers, 15–18; and Mayer, “The Military Force of Islam,” 101, in Kedourie and Haim, Zionism and Arabism in Palestine and Israel.

34. Al-Husaini, The Moslem Brethren, 140; Ramadan, Al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun wa al-Tanzim al-Sirri, 71–72; Yasin, Hamas, 17; and Lia, Society of the Muslim Brothers, 235–47.

35. Lia, Society of the Muslim Brothers, 162–73. For a personal view on the Special Section, see Ramadan, Al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun, 37–53.

36. Mitchell, Society of the Muslim Brothers, 205–8; and Lia, Society of the Muslim Brothers, 180–81.

37. See Kelly, “The Revolt of 1936,” 28–42; and Khalidi, The Iron Cage, 105–40.

38. Lia, Society of the Muslim Brothers, 251.

39. For more on supervision from Cairo, see Mayer, “Military Force of Islam,” 103–6. For membership base, see Abu-Amr, Islamic Fundamentalism, 3.

40. Morris, Righteous Victims, 161–81.

41. Tessler, History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 259.

42. For more on the Palestinian rejection, see Khalidi, “Revisiting the UNGA Partition Resolution,” 5–21.

43. For more on the 1948 war, see Morris, Righteous Victims; Shlaim, The Iron Wall; and Khalidi, All That Remains.

44. Milton-Edwards, Islamic Politics in Palestine, 40–41.

45. Mitchell, Society of the Muslim Brothers, 56; and Ramadan, Al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun, 74–75. For a personal account from volunteers, see Sabbagh, Al-Taswib al-Amin li-ma Nasharahu ba‘d al-Qadah al-Sabiqin ‘an al-taniim al-khaa lil-Ikhwaan al-Muslimiin.

46. The brothers’ involvement in 1948 remains a contested issue in terms of the number of fighters and the impact on the battlefield. See Abu-Amr, Islamic Fundamentalism, 2–3; Sabbagh, Al-Taswib al-Amin, 68; Ahmad, Al-Nuqat fawqa al-huruf, 187; Abu Bakr, Hamas, 11–18; and Ramadan, Al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun, 74–75.

47. For more on the refugees, see Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947–1949. For contemporary reporting, see Shay Hazkani, “Catastrophic Thinking: Did Ben-Gurion Try to Rewrite History?,” Haaretz, May 16, 2013.

48. Abu-Amr, Islamic Fundamentalism, 4–9; and Milton-Edwards, Islamic Politics, 36–73.

49. Milton-Edwards, Islamic Politics, 55–64. For more on the brotherhood in Jordan, see Cohen, Political Parties in the West Bank under the Jordanian Regime, 1949–1967.

50. During the period 1949–52, the brotherhood had no legal presence in the Gaza Strip, and operated through an organization called Jami‘yyat al-Tawhid. Filiu, Gaza, 82.

51. For more on Arafat, see Aburish, Arafat; Hart, Arafat; and Hussein Agha and Ahmad Samih Khalidi, “Yasser Arafat: Why He Still Matters,” The Guardian, November 13, 2014.

52. Filiu, Gaza, 85; and Landau, Arik, 20–46. These tactics were also carried out in the West Bank and include the infamous Qibya massacre. See Morris, Israel’s Border Wars, 1949–1956; and Khalidi and Caplan, “The 1953 Qibya Raid Revisited,” 77–98.

53. For more on relations between Gaza, Egypt, and Israel during this time, see Filiu, Gaza, 73–106; Journal of Palestine Studies, “A Gaza Chronology, 1948–2008,” 98–100; and Filiu, “The Twelve Wars on Gaza,” 52–60. For more on the administrative reality in Gaza during this time, see Feldman, Police Encounters; and Feldman, Governing Gaza.

54. For more, see Milton-Edwards, Islamic Politics, 42–56; and Zollner, “Prison Talk.”

55. Tamimi, Hamas, 36.

56. For more on the early phase of Palestinian nationalism, see Baumgarten, “The Three Faces/Phases of Palestinian Nationalism, 1948–2005,” 25–37; and Sayigh, Armed Struggle and the Search for State, 25–143.

57. For more on Fatah, see Khalidi, Iron Cage, 140–82; Abu-Fakhr, “Al-Harakka al-Wataniyya al-Filastiniyyeh al-Mu‘sira,” 77–81; and Cobban, The Palestinian Liberation Organisation, 21–35.

58. Hroub, Hamas, 25–36. For a personal account of this resentment, see Gosheh, The Red Minaret, 83–115. Fatah is viewed by the Islamic parties as a “secular” nationalist movement, as it does not have an Islamization agenda or seek the creation of an Islamic state. Nonetheless, conferring the label of “secular” on Fatah is contested given that its leaders openly identify as pious Muslims. Similarly, while Hamas is often described as “Islamic,” its leaders often protest that this appears to preclude the fact that it is also a nationalist movement. Author interviews, Hamas leaders, Gaza, 2015. For more on Fatah and Islam, see Johnson, Islam and the Politics of Meaning, 59–96.

59. See Chamberlin, The Global Offensive, 14–43; and Sayigh, Armed Struggle and the Search for State, 95–143.

60. For more on the founding of the PLO, see Sayigh, Armed Struggle and the Search for State; Shemesh, The Palestinian Entity 1959–1974; and Cobban, Palestinian Liberation Organisation.

61. For more on the 1967 war, see Segev, 1967; Louis and Shlaim, The 1967 Arab-Israeli War; and Laron, The Six Day War. This defeat was arguably set in motion following the 1956 Suez crisis. See Khalidi, “Consequences of the Suez Crisis in the Arab World,” 535–51, in Hourani, Khoury, and Wilson, Modern Middle East.

62. For more on martyrdom and self-sacrifice within the Palestinian national movement, see Khalili, Heroes and Martyrs of Palestine; and Pearlman, Violence, Nonviolence, and the Palestinian National Movement.

63. For more on the PLO’s revolution, see Chamberlin, Global Offensive. For more on Palestinian politics during this time, see Said, The Politics of Dispossession; and Jamal, The Palestinian National Movement.

64. Sayigh, “Armed Struggle and State Formation,” 17–32.

65. Fatah, 1967, in Sayigh, Armed Struggle and the Search for State, 212.

66. Ibid. For contemporary studies of Israel as a form of settler-colonialism, see Veracini, Israel and Settler Society; Norris, Land of Progress; Wolfe, “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native,” 387–409; and Robinson, Citizen Strangers. For more on the competing impulses of Zionism’s nationalist and colonialist hues, see Penslar, “Is Zionism a Colonial Movement?,” 90–111, in Katz, Leff, and Mandel, Colonialism and the Jews.

67. Sayigh, Armed Struggle and the Search for State, 214.

68. Ibid., 667–70.

69. For more on US-PLO relations before and after the PLO’s recalibration toward diplomatic engagement, see Yaqub, Imperfect Strangers; and Khalil, “The Radical Crescent.”

70. Journal of Palestine Studies, “The Palestinian Resistance and Jordan.”

71. See Khalidi, Under Siege; Brynen, Sanctuary and Survival; and Hirst, Beware of Small States.