Do words matter?
Should a declaration of principles be taken seriously?
Americans usually accept at face value the language in the country's fundamental documents, such as Thomas Jefferson's revolutionary words in the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
In school, Americans learn that much of the country's history has revolved around sometimes violent efforts to live up to that language, and that American society is destined to keep making the attempt.
If words truly matter, if the intent of a political movement is evident in the words of its core documents, then the bold language in the 9,100-word charter of the Islamic Resistance Movement, better known as Hamas, bode poorly for relations between Palestinians and Israelis. Hamas, a political and clandestine military organization, won a sweeping victory last month in parliamentary elections; that triumph, arguably, made Hamas the dominant power in Palestinian political life.
"Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it," the Hamas charter says in its prelude. It is there quoting Hassan al-Banna, who as founder of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood in 1928 is the Jefferson of modern Islamist parties. The Hamas charter borrows widely but leans heaviest on the Quran. And the charter's anonymous authors tailor its message to address what they believed to be the most pressing issue of the day.
"Our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious," the charter says. "It needs all sincere efforts. It is a step that inevitably should be followed by other steps. The Movement is but one squadron that should be supported by more and more squadrons from this vast Arab and Islamic world, until the enemy is vanquished and Allah's victory is realized."
Sheik Ahmed Yassin planted some of the seeds for Hamas through his preachings in the Gaza Strip in the 1970s. In the mid-1980s, few Israelis took much notice of a Gaza building boom. Gaza - then as now a place of squalid refugee camps blending seamlessly into overcrowded cities - boomed with new mosques.
Israeli officials tacitly supported the boom. Israel saw Islam as a counterweight to the Palestine Liberation Organization. Yasser Arafat's PLO did not recognize Israel as a state; the PLO, proudly secular, carried out brutal attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers.
Islam seemed more conservative, safer, less ambitious.
Hamas took the more radical course of marrying Islamic fundamentalism to Palestinian nationalism. By the outbreak of the first Palestinian uprising, in December 1987, it emerged from the mosques as Gaza's most militant organization.
It is the willing inheritor of much of what the PLO and its dominant political party, Fatah, chose to abandon. Arafat's PLO in 1988 formally acknowledged Israel's right to exist. In 1993, Israel and the PLO signed the Oslo Accords, leading to creation of the Palestinian Authority; Arafat's return to Gaza and the West Bank; and, for a time, hopes for a peaceful, normalized society. Five months before the PLO and Israel accepted the accords, Hamas carried out its first suicide attack.
The PLO relinquished its claims to the territory of Israel, except for Jerusalem. Hamas did not.
"The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf" - a religious trust - "consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgement Day," the Hamas charter says. "It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up. Neither a single Arab country or all Arab countries, neither any king or president, nor all the kings and presidents, neither any organization nor all of them, be they Palestinian or Arab, possess the right to do that."
Fatah became synonymous with the Palestinian Authority, but by the late 1990s the authority became synonymous with corruption, incompetence and a dangerous lack of security. Through its schools, clinics and other social services, Hamas promised dignity and a way forward. Islam was the path, it said, and Islam would lead to the retaking of all the land.
In the second Palestinian uprising, from late 2000 to mid-2003, its campaign of suicide bombings helped inspire bombings by militant groups associated with Fatah. Neither group wanted to appear the less militant. The Palestinian Authority said Israel's decision to withdraw from the Gaza Strip in 2005 was a product of diplomacy; Hamas declared it was the fruit of violence.
By then, Israel had killed many of Hamas' known leaders: Yassin died in a bombing in March 2004. His successor, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, was killed within a month of taking command. Mahmoud abu Hanoud, identified as Hamas' senior commander in the West Bank, was killed in 2001; in what already seems a distant age, Yehya Ayyash, who gained fame as Hamas' chief bomb maker, was killed in 1996.
Not every public statement or decision by Hamas leaders is anchored directly in the charter, as noted last month by the International Crisis Group, a nongovernmental organization that has studied Hamas. But the group noted too that "Hamas leaders with some regularity continue to express views suggesting little has changed."
Some of its leaders said last week that Hamas' election mandate is to improve the lives of Palestinians, not to create an Islamic state. Recognizing Israel, though, or disarmament are not part of the party's plan, they said. Moussa Abu Marzouk, deputy head of Hamas' political arm, told reporters last week in Damascus, Syria, that the United States and Europe "should deal with Hamas as it is."
Excerpts from its charter appear below, as published by Yale Law School's Avalon Project for Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy. This is Hamas as it is, in some of its own words. These are its declarations - including expressions of anti-Semitism that readers may find offensive - and its principles.
The Islamic Resistance Movement: The Movement's program is Islam. From it, it draws its ideas, ways of thinking and understanding of the universe, life and man. It resorts to it for judgment in all its conduct, and it is inspired by it for guidance of its steps.
The Islamic Resistance Movement is one of the wings of Moslem Brotherhood in Palestine. Moslem Brotherhood Movement is a universal organization which constitutes the largest Islamic movement in modern times. It is characterized by its deep understanding, accurate comprehension and its complete embrace of all Islamic concepts of all aspects of life, culture, creed, politics, economics, education, society, justice and judgment, the spreading of Islam, education, art, information, science of the occult and conversion to Islam. ...
The Islamic Resistance Movement is a distinguished Palestinian movement, whose allegiance is to Allah, and whose way of life is Islam. It strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine, for under the wing of Islam followers of all religions can coexist in security and safety where their lives, possessions and rights are concerned. In the absence of Islam, strife will be rife, oppression spreads, evil prevails and schisms and wars will break out. ...
The Islamic Resistance Movement is one of the links in the chain of the struggle against the Zionist invaders. It goes back to 1939, to the emergence of the martyr Izz al-Din al Kissam [a commander in the Arab Revolt] and his brethren the fighters, members of Moslem Brotherhood. It goes on to reach out and become one with another chain that includes the struggle of the Palestinians and Moslem Brotherhood in the 1948 war and the Jihad operations of the Moslem Brotherhood in 1968 and after.
Moreover, if the links have been distant from each other and if obstacles, placed by those who are the lackeys of Zionism in the way of the fighters, obstructed the continuation of the struggle, the Islamic Resistance Movement aspires to the realization of Allah's promise, no matter how long that should take.
The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said: "The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews, when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews."
The Slogan of the Islamic Resistance Movement: Allah is its target, the Prophet is its model, the Koran its constitution: Jihad is its path and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of its wishes. ...
Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement. Abusing any part of Palestine is abuse directed against part of religion. Nationalism of the Islamic Resistance Movement is part of its religion. Its members have been fed on that. For the sake of hoisting the banner of Allah over their homeland they fight. ...
Now and then the call goes out for the convening of an international conference to look for ways of solving the [Palestinian] question. Some accept, others reject the idea, for this or other reason, with one stipulation or more for consent to convening the conference and participating in it. Knowing the parties constituting the conference, their past and present attitudes towards Moslem problems, the Islamic Resistance Movement does not consider these conferences capable of realizing the demands, restoring the rights or doing justice to the oppressed. These conferences are only ways of setting the infidels in the land of the Moslems as arbitrators. When did the infidels do justice to the believers? ...
The day that enemies usurp part of Moslem land, Jihad becomes the individual duty of every Moslem. In face of the Jews' usurpation of Palestine, it is compulsory that the banner of Jihad be raised. To do this requires the diffusion of Islamic consciousness among the masses, both on the regional, Arab and Islamic levels. It is necessary to instill the spirit of Jihad in the heart of the nation so that they would confront the enemies and join the ranks of the fighters.
It is necessary that scientists, educators and teachers, information and media people, as well as the educated masses, especially the youth and sheikhs of the Islamic movements, should take part in the operation of awakening. It is important that basic changes be made in the school curriculum, to cleanse it of the traces of ideological invasion that affected it as a result of the orientalists and missionaries who infiltrated the region following the defeat of the Crusaders. ...
For a long time, the enemies have been planning, skillfully and with precision, for the achievement of what they have attained. They took into consideration the causes affecting the current of events. They strived to amass great and substantive material wealth which they devoted to the realization of their dream.
With their money, they took control of the world media, news agencies, the press, publishing houses, broadcasting stations, and others. With their money they stirred revolutions in various parts of the world with the purpose of achieving their interests and reaping the fruit therein. They were behind the French Revolution, the Communist revolution and most of the revolutions we heard and hear about, here and there. With their money they formed secret societies, such as Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, the Lions and others in different parts of the world for the purpose of sabotaging societies and achieving Zionist interests. With their money they were able to control imperialistic countries and instigate them to colonize many countries in order to enable them to exploit their resources and spread corruption there. ...
Under the wing of Islam, it is possible for the followers of the three religions - Islam, Christianity and Judaism - to coexist in peace and quiet with each other. Peace and quiet would not be possible except under the wing of Islam. Past and present history are the best witness to that.
It is the duty of the followers of other religions to stop disputing the sovereignty of Islam in this region, because the day these followers should take over there will be nothing but carnage, displacement and terror. Everyone of them is at variance with his fellow-religionists, not to speak about followers of other religionists. Past and present history are full of examples to prove this fact.