The cold-blooded massacre of over 1,400 people, overwhelmingly Jews, in Israel Oct. 7 by Tehran-backed Hamas was consistent with the Islamist group’s reactionary course since it was established decades ago. Several dozen Thai and Nepalese farmworkers and Bedouin Arabs were also killed. The pogrom was the largest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust.
Hamas’ founding covenant openly says its central goal is the creation of an Islamic state by killing the Jews. That is part of its continuity with the Egyptian-based Muslim Brotherhood. Established in 1928, the Brotherhood seeks to create a pro-capitalist Islamist political movement. Its founder, Hasan al-Banna, openly collaborated with Adolf Hitler and the Nazis in the Second World War.
The first Muslim Brotherhood branch in then Egyptian-ruled Gaza was set up in 1946. It championed the 1948 war launched by five Arab nations to drive out Jews and destroy Israel after it was declared a state. Thousands of Arabs fled, often at the urging of reactionary Arab leaders, or were evicted from their homes in the course of the war. The population in Gaza increased and Palestinians, mostly in refugee camps, soon outnumbered the earlier inhabitants nearly three to one.
The Israeli government occupied the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and the Golan Heights after its defeat of the rulers of Egypt, Syria and Jordan during and after the 1967 Six-Day War.
Sheik Ahmad Yasin became the central figure in the Brotherhood in Gaza and the West Bank in the early 1970s. Like Islamist groups from al-Qaeda to Islamic State, Hamas calls for a theocracy under Sharia Law and the sharp curtailment of the rights of women, and other reactionary measures.
At first the group mostly avoided confrontation with Israeli authorities. In deeply impoverished Gaza it gained support by setting up social clubs, nursery schools, kindergartens and schools. It extended loans to Palestinian university students. Through its domination of mosques and other Islamic institutions it recruited new members.
In 1987 tensions between Israel and Palestinians exploded, and protests swept the West Bank and Gaza. Yasin saw an opportunity to push his Jew-hating program. He established Hamas as an armed branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, seeking to push aside Fatah and other groups and to target Israel more openly.
Hamas became infamous in the 1990s for taking advantage of despair among a layer of Palestinians to recruit suicide bombers who targeted Jewish civilians in Israel.
By 2005 Israel’s rulers decided to pull out Israeli settlements, soldiers and police from Gaza.
No working-class leadership
But there was no working-class Palestinian leadership there. Neither Fatah, Hamas, nor any of the organizations claiming to speak for the Palestinians advanced a course to fight for what was needed — land and water rights for small farmers; industrial development, public works and jobs for workers; and women’s and democratic rights. Instead they promoted resentment of Israel and Jews.
In the first Gaza elections in 2006 Hamas defeated Fatah, a reflection of the rejection of Fatah’s widespread corruption. It has allowed no other elections since. The next year Hamas went further, smashing Fatah in a brief but bloody civil war, and has ruled the territory with an iron fist every since.
All along Hamas has expanded its anti-working-class oppression. When teachers went on strike over nonpayment of wages in September 2006, Hamas had them all fired and replaced with Hamas loyalists.
It soon passed laws banning women from riding on motorbikes or traveling without a male guardian. The “mingling” of men and women who are not relatives is banned and can end up with the men beaten.
Opposition to this reactionary bourgeois regime is ruthlessly suppressed. Protests against the rising cost of living in 2009 and in July this year were broken up by Hamas. Torture of political prisoners in Hamas’ jails is routine.
Killing Jews “from the river to the sea” remains at the heart of Hamas’ program.
To further its aims, the Hamas leadership — in alliance with the counterrevolutionary regime in Iran — cynically sacrifices the lives of working people in Gaza. It launches rockets at Israel from densely populated residential neighborhoods and places its command posts, ammunition dumps and network of underground tunnels — where Israeli and other hostages from its Oct. 7 pogrom are held — underneath schools, apartment buildings and mosques. It hopes Israeli forces will strike them and create civilian “martyrs.” It then uses the loss of life to lobby the United Nations, the Qatari government and others for more funds.
Khaled Mashaal, the central leader of Hamas, admitted on Saudi Arabian TV Oct. 20 that the Oct. 7 attack “was a calculated move.” Mashaal, with no concern for Palestinian lives, said he was “fully aware of the consequences.”
Hamas is the biggest obstacle in the way of working people in Gaza today.