Hamas: voices of diversity

IssueMay 2009
Feature by John Lynes

Hamas features in the European list of terrorist organisations. Is this fair? Hamas, like many other movements in the Middle East, is essentially a political party with a military wing. It is not homogeneous.

I know one Hamas mayor with posters of Gandhi and Martin Luther King in his office. I know others understandably consumed with bitterness. Their supporters are an even more diverse bunch.

Many Palestinian Christians cast their votes for Hamas, an avowedly Islamist group, mainly in protest against the perceived corruption of their rivals.

It is important for British peace activists to recognise this diversity. In the face of the attack on Gaza it is not easy to be a peace advocate in Hamas, so these are the very folks we should be supporting. The prospect for a just peace depends on the balance between the peacemakers and the gunmen on both sides, Palestinian and Israeli.

We sometimes underestimate the influence each side can exert on the other’s politics. Israeli obduracy has fuelled Hamas. Suicide bombers have scared Israelis into supporting repression. The results are reflected in the ballot box on both sides.

Peace comes from talking to our enemies, not just to our friends. There will be no peace in the Holy Land without the participation of Hamas, which was after all chosen by the Palestinian people in the most free election ever held in a Muslim country.

The EU added Hamas to its list of terrorist organisations, under US pressure after 9/11. Has this list outlived its usefulness?

A Brussels-based group is campaigning for Hamas to be withdrawn from the “terrorist” list. They are challenging European election candidates to endorse this commitment.

Peace activists who back that campaign without countenancing violence will be sending a clear message not only to the EU but also to the Americans, the Israelis and, not least, to our friends-in-waiting within Hamas itself.