What do you know about Hamas?
That it’s sworn to destroy Israel? That it’s a terrorist group, proscribed both by the United States and the European Union? That it rules Gaza with an iron fist? That it’s killed hundreds of innocent Israelis with rocket, mortar, and suicide attacks?
But did you also know that Hamas — which is an Arabic acronym for “Islamic Resistance Movement” — would probably not exist today were it not for the Jewish state? That the Israelis helped turn a bunch of fringe Palestinian Islamists in the late 1970s into one of the world’s most notorious militant groups? That Hamas is blowback?
This isn’t a conspiracy theory. Listen to former Israeli officials such as Brig. Gen. Yitzhak Segev, who was the Israeli military governor in Gaza in the early 1980s. Segev later told a New York Times reporter that he had helped finance the Palestinian Islamist movement as a “counterweight” to the secularists and leftists of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Fatah party, led by Yasser Arafat (who himself referred to Hamas as “a creature of Israel.”)
“The Israeli government gave me a budget,” the retired brigadier general confessed, “and the military government gives to the mosques.”
“Hamas, to my great regret, is Israel’s creation,” Avner Cohen, a former Israeli religious affairs official who worked in Gaza for more than two decades, told the Wall Street Journal in 2009. Back in the mid-1980s, Cohen even wrote an official report to his superiors warning them not to play divide-and-rule in the Occupied Territories, by backing Palestinian Islamists against Palestinian secularists. “I … suggest focusing our efforts on finding ways to break up this monster before this reality jumps in our face,” he wrote.
They didn’t listen to him. And Hamas, as I explain in the fifth installment of my short film series for The Intercept on blowback, was the result. To be clear: First, the Israelis helped build up a militant strain of Palestinian political Islam, in the form of Hamas and its Muslim Brotherhood precursors; then, the Israelis switched tack and tried to bomb, besiege, and blockade it out of existence.
In the past decade alone, Israel has gone to war with Hamas three times — in 2009, 2012, and 2014 — killing around 2,500 Palestinian civilians in Gaza in the process. Meanwhile, Hamas has killed far more Israeli civilians than any secular Palestinian militant group. This is the human cost of blowback.
“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 who was based in Gaza in the 1980s, later remarked. “But at the time, nobody thought about the possible results.”
They never do, do they?