Challenges of the Yeshiva Massacre: Who Hi-Jacked Hamas?
Parts I to III
Part One: Immediate Background
The “Yeshiva Massacre” of March 6, 2008, in Jerusalem perpetrated by a Palestinian terrorist and the immediate praise of this operation by the official Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, as well as widespread street celebrations in Gaza and loudspeaker congratulations from mosques, prompted Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to characterize this highly symbolic massacre as a “defining event.” No-one, however, has offered a public explanation of what it defines.
The portents include what Israel’s Deputy Minister of Defense Matan Vilnai only a few days earlier had advocated in his call for the final solution of a shoah or holocaust against the Palestinians, which may be loosely translated as annihilation. Many Muslims condemned this massacre but treated it as merely another event in the gradual build-up of mutual hostility between the Israeli government and the Palestinian people. This superficial assessment misses the critical symbolic meaning of the massacre and the challenges, as well as potential opportunities for peace, that may follow from it.
The build-up of hostility during the course of the extended Second or “Al Aqsa” Intifada, which began in September, 2000, seven years after the first one, reached critical proportions in January, 2006, when Israel and its supporters refused to recognize the government of Hamas after it came to power when the Palestinian Authority held the first-ever popular elections in Palestine. The subsequent Israeli strategy was to split the Palestinian liberation movement by supporting Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) as the sole negotiating authority, because he was still officially the President of the PA even though his Fatah Party had lost the election. When Hamas overwhelmed the U.S. backed forces of Abbas in June, 2007, the Israelis abandoned Gaza to the elected but now officially dethroned prime minister, Isma’il Haniya, and established Mahmoud Abbas, as head of a rump government in the West Bank, where Israel still has occupation troops.
The corollary strategy was to build the West Bank into a model and thereby undermine the popularity of Hamas so that final status negotiations could be undertaken in a peace deal. President Bush convened a conference in Annapolis on November 27th, 2007, to lay out the guidelines for a two-state solution based on the Roadmap for Peace, which provided for Israel to give up its land acquisitions of 1967 in return for peace and for Palestinian compromise on the final status issues of Jerusalem, borders, refugees and right of return, security, settlements, and water. The very concept of peace, however, was rejected by the Settler Movement and by those Israelis who opposed any compromise in their demand for an exclusively Jewish state. Even those who supported the conference generally viewed it as merely a political move to support Abbas and split the Palestinians.
The de facto strategy in response to the overwhelming popularity of Hamas was to blockade and strangle the Gazans into submission and create widespread suffering sufficient to undermine the authority of Hamas and permit Abbas to regain control. He was thought to be willing to recognize Israel as a state in international law so that the final status issues could be either postponed or pursued in a peaceful atmosphere more conducive to progress.
This strategy backfired badly, because the widespread suffering from the quarantine of an entire people merely radicalized the Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank and provided the radicals in Hamas with the popular support needed to wage symbolic opposition to the occupation of the West Bank and the oppression of Gaza by launching rockets over the border into Israel.
Conspiracy theorists allege that this was the Israeli radicals’ anticipated result so that a final solution based on massive population transfers would become politically possible, as once spelled out in the logically impeccable book by Rabbi Meir Kahane entitled They Must Go. This was the strategy advocated by Ariel Sharon, who was Israel’s prime minister from 2001 to 2006 and once said that the Arabs would not have to be removed by force if the conditions were so arranged as to persuade them to go peacefully.
On February 26th, 2008, a report on such conditions was announced by the United Nation’s newly renamed Commission on Human Rights for consideration by the full commission a month later. This lengthy report, entitled “On the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied by Israel since 1967,” differentiated between “acts of mindless terror, such as acts committed by al-Qa’ida, and acts committed in the course of a war of national liberation against colonialism, apartheid, or military occupation.” This study, which is to be found at http://www.unhchr.ch/huricane/huricane.nsf/(Symbol)/CHR.58.12.En?OpenDocument, enumerated the “indiscriminate killing” of civilians; “extra-judicial” killings; the constant expansion of settlements in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention; the demolition of hundreds of houses; the restrictions on freedom of movement by establishing more than 100 military checkpoints, which has reduced the majority of Palestinians into poverty; the closure and bombing of schools; the detention, interrogation, and degrading treatment of children; and the traumatization of an entire population. This report concludes that Palestinian terrorism is the “inevitable consequence” of Israeli occupation. The main author of this report, John Dugard, analyzed both of the opposing mindsets, but blamed Palestinian acts of terror primarily on Israelis who “do not see Palestinian violence as a response to Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian Territory but rather as terror directed at the very existence of the State of Israel.”
When the blockade of Gaza caused a humanitarian crisis after a week of total lockdown, including curtailment of electricity distribution from Israel, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians broke through the Rafah Crossing into Egypt on January 23, 2008, to buy the essentials of civilized survival. Within a week Egypt and Hamas agreed to close the border again after most of the Palestinians had returned, even though Iran promised to provide unlimited financial support for them to live in exile until they could return to their land free of occupation and free of blockade.
This break-out permitted the Palestinians to let off steam from what had become a pressure cooker, but this successful act of resistance seemed merely to have strengthened the Palestinian will to resist Israeli domination by symbolically launching primitive rockets across the Gaza border into Israel. The issue of rockets against Israel reached a new criticality in February, 2008, when reports came in that the Palestinian radicals had obtained longer range rockets, allegedly from Iran, that could reach the city of Escalon, which has a population of 120,000, several miles north of the Gaza border. In the last four days of February, 2008, Hamas extremists launched 180 rockets and mortar shells into Israel, which caused only one death and 11 injuries but included seven newly introduced rockets that hit Escalon.
In response, during this same period, the Israeli military significantly upped its response to the extremists by launching a major ground force invasion of Gaza on February 27th, the largest such operation since Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005. This offensive killed 126 Palestinians and wounded 400, most of them civilians, while the Israeli armed forces incurred three fatalities. On March 2nd, the Israeli Air Force destroyed the office of Prime Minister Isma’il Haniya, but it was no more successful in assassinating him than the forces of Abbas had been during the internal warfare prior to the expulsion of Abbas from Gaza in June 2007. On March 3, the Israeli forces withdrew after the military spokesman announced that Israel had completed the first phase of its strategy to reduce or eliminate Hamas’s military capabilities.
Part Two: The Two Faces of Zionism
It was against this background that three days later, on March 6th, a Palestinian extremist massacred seminary students at the yeshiva headquarters of the extremist Gush Emunim movement, which since 1967 has been committed to building Jewish ghettos throughout the Palestinian territory as part of a strategy to “transfer” all Arabs from the Holy Land. This movement has developed two faces, just as has Hamas, which point in diametrical opposite directions. Which of these faces finally triumphs will determine the future of the Holy Land and perhaps the future of human civilization.
The modern face of the Settler movement is represented symbolically by the yeshiva headquarters of the Gush Emunim, known as the Mercaz HaRav Seminary, or more simply as The Rav Center, in West Jerusalem’s Kiryat Moshe quarter, which is why the March 6th mass assassination was so significant. The Gush Emunim were a critical force in turning spiritual Zionism into a political movement after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, which was so named because it began on October 6, 1973, when Egypt attacked Israel on the Day of Atonement, the holiest day on the Jewish religious calendar. The Gush Emunim were founded by Rabbi Moshe Levinger in March, 1974, upon the foundation of the original purely spiritual movement of Rebbe Abraham Izaac Kook. Rabbi Levinger was a graduate of Mercaz Harav and became a leader of the Kiryat Arba settlement, which gained eternal infamy when it celebrated the successful massacre of Muslims at prayer by Dr. Baruch Goldstein on February 25, 1994, in the Hebron Mosque within the Cave of the Patriarchs. Twenty-nine of these worshippers were killed and 150 were wounded when Goldstein fired at them from behind with automatic weapons while they were prostrating in prayer. Dr. Goldstein and most of the Kiyat Arba settlers were followers of Meir Kahane, who wrote the political bible of the settlers published under the title They Must Go, referring to all the Arabs, both Muslims and Christians, in Eretz Israel. The Gush Emunim’s settlement arm, Amana, is the political organization representing most of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.
The Rav Center was chosen by the terrorist ‘Ala Abu Dheim on March 6, 2008, as the arch symbol of oppression and ethnic cleansing because it is the flagship of national-religious yeshivas committed to the establishment of an exclusivist religious state. It is considered to be the first educational center committed to forging both nationalist and religious extremism into the modern phenomenon of radical messianic Zionism. This transformation of its original pre-Holocaust mission from spiritual wisdom and universal justice to political power came about in 1952, when Rebbe Abraham Izaac Kook’s son, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, took over and led this center of higher religious indoctrination until his death thirty years later in 1982.
Ever since the 1967 War, when Israel occupied the West Bank, Mercaz HaRav has been a center of higher education for the Israeli military and the major symbol and shrine of radical messianic Zionism in its war to repopulate Eretz Israel as a divine commandment. For the Palestinians, Mercaz HaRav has been the major symbol of the Naqba, which is their word for the reverse holocaust, a slow motion but determined war by the illegal occupiers to deny them the most elemental human rights in ways that only those who have experienced generations of the most brutal occupation can even begin to comprehend.
Almost entirely unknown to Muslims and Jews alike, however, is the other face of Zionism represented by the real founder of The Rav Center, Rebbe Abraham Izaac Kook, known as the Rav, who rightfully is known by his real students, including the present author, as the world’s greatest spiritual leader of the twentieth century. The Rebbe founded the original Rav Center in 1924 as the first Zionist yeshiva or religious educational center. His purpose, in part, was to counter the political perversion of Zionism by Alexander Herzl and the secular Zionists of his time. He established his yeshiva as what he called “the central world yeshiva” to provide a new yeshiva model integrating traditional Talmud studies with Jewish philosophy, Jewish history, and Jewish literature. It was to be the eventual model for a true university of all knowledge, including the wisdom of Islam, Christianity, and all world religions, similar to the great Islamic universities during the time of his predecessor, the Andalucian Maimonides. These two greatest of all the Jewish leaders in history, Maimonides, who lived in Andalucia from 1138 to 1203 and was known to the Jews as Rabbi Moses ben Maimon or simply as Rambam, and Rebbe Abraham Izaac Kook, known simply as the Rav, symbolized the era of respect and cooperation between Muslims and Jews when for a thousand years they were each other’s most reliable friends.
The great and prophetic vision of the Rebbe was the return of Jews, Muslims, and Christians to the spiritual core of their religions in a process of universal Zionism, wherein Zionism is the return to God, and Israel is the song of God bringing sparks of wisdom, mercy, and love to all peoples. Their spiritual core includes the centrality of justice and the articulation and implementation of its inner essence of love, which demands respect for all Jews and for the Jewish nation, so that all the peoples of the Holy Land can enjoy justice.
The prophetic wisdom of Rebbe Kook provided a framework for understanding the true dynamics of conflict in the world. The suffering in the Holy Land is the result of a conflict between two civilizational paradigms, one the spiritual, which automatically serves as a bridge among cultures, and the other, the secular, which sees material power as the only variable in the world and automatically breeds war.
Conflict has been one theme in the five-thousand-year history of Palestine, but there is another. The primary historical role of the many peoples that melded into the population of Palestine was to serve as a catalyst for religious and cultural enrichment. Their location at the intersection of three of the world’s five continents, and their Semitic languages, which are best suited of all languages to express the subtleties of divine revelation, explains why the common message of the revealed religions was given through prophets in this pivotal part of the world.
The millennia-long history of Palestine reveals that for relatively short and limited periods, Palestine served not as a civilizational conduit but as a block against civilizational interchange and as a source of rivalry and warfare between hostile empires. The destiny of Palestine has been to accelerate both cooperation and clash among civilizations. Today it serves both roles simultaneously, and its future will determine the future of humanity.
Rebbe Abraham Izaac Kook perceived well ahead of his time that justice in the Holy Land, and especially in the ecumenical capital of the world, Jerusalem, is the pivotal issue for all of humankind. His warnings speak universally to all religious communities in all times and places, though their words might be directed in the first instance at their own peoples.
Rabbi Kook left Poland for Jaffa in 1904 to fulfill his vision of peace through compassionate justice by perfecting the Jewish people in their ancient homeland. After the First World War, Rabbi Kook became Chief Rabbi of Palestine and remained in this capacity as the principal Jewish leader in the Holy Land from 1919 until the beginning of the first great Palestinian national-liberation movement in 1935.
Like every great spiritual leader, the Rebbe taught that every religion contains the seed of its own perversion, because humans are free to divert their worship from God to themselves. The greatest evil is always the perversion of the good, and the surest salvation from evil is always the return to prophetic origins. Rebbe Kook’s wisdom has been collected in Abraham Isaac Kook, The Lights of Penitence, The Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters, and Poems, translation and introduction by Ben Zion Bokser (Paulist Press: N.Y., Ramsey, Toronto, 1978), published in The Classics of Western Spirituality: A Library of the Great Spiritual Masters under the supervision of Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Fazlur Rahman, Huston Smith, and others. Since the publication of this book thirty years ago, it has been an inspiration not only for the author of the present position paper but for traditionalists in all religions.
Although the fundamentalist Gush Emunim invoke Rebbe Kook as their mentor, they make the sacrilegious error of turning his spiritual teaching into a call for secular nationalism of the most extreme kind. Abraham Isaac Kook’s entire life spoke his message that only in the Holy Land of Israel can the genius of Hebraic prophecy be revived and the Jewish people bring the creative power of God’s love in the form of justice and unity to every person and to all mankind. “For the disposition of the Israelite nation,” he asserted, “is the aspiration that the highest measure of justice, the justice of God, shall prevail in the world.” His mission was to perfect the people and land of Israel by bringing out the “holy sparks” in every person, group, and ideology in order to make way for the advent of the Messiah.
Rebbe Abraham Izaac Kook, like the spiritually aware in every religion, appreciated and spoke through symbols. He would have seen immediately the connection between the massacre of Muslims by Baruch Goldstein and the massacre of Jews by Sami Abu Zuhri during the celebration of Purim. Most of the populist Jews nowadays believe that Purim celebrates how God saves Am Yisrael, whereas, in fact, it also warns that they will be punished. This theme of divine retribution is explicit in the Torah and reiterated over and over again by all of the prophets. Most Purim celebrants read into the Story of Esther the salvation of the Jews wherein God “saves” Am Yisrael in a “hidden manner”. Instead they should consider its deeper meaning: “And God told Moshe, after you die … this nation will leave Me and break My covenant. … And My anger will be kindled against them on that day and I will forsake them, and I will hide My face from them … and many evils and troubles shall befall them. And they will say on that day, these evils are because God is not among us.”
Rebbe Kook warned against and foresaw the growth of “secular Zionism,” which resulted from the assimilationist movement of 19th century Europe and then was compounded by the devastating blow of the holocaust to traditionalist Jewish faith. Thus alienated from their own culture, and vulnerable to modern nationalist demagoguery, a growing portion of the Jewish nation would come to elevate control over physical land to an ultimate value and goal, and therefore to transform the land of Israel into a golden calf.
As a Lurianic Cabbalist, committed to the social renewal that both confirms and transcends halakha, Rebbe Kook emphasized, first of all, that religious experience is certain knowledge of God, from which all other knowledge can be at best merely a reflection, and that this common experience of “total being” or “unity” of all religious people is the only adequate medium for God’s message through the Jewish people, who are the “microcosm of humanity.”
“If individuals cannot summon the world to God,” proclaimed Rebbe Kook, “then a people must issue the call. The people must call out of its inner being, as an individual of great spiritual stature issues the call from his inner being. This is found only among the Jewish people, whose commitment to the Oneness of God is a commitment to the vision of universality in all its far-reaching implications and whose vocation is to help make the world more receptive to the divine light by bearing witness to the Torah in the world.” This, he taught, is the whole purpose of Israel, which stands for shir el, the “song of God.” It is schlomo, which means peace or wholeness, Solomon’s Song of Songs.
But he warned, again “prophetically,” that, “when an idea needs to acquire a physical base, it tends to descend from its height. In such an instance it is thrust toward the earthly, and brazen ones come and desecrate its holiness. Together with this, however, its followers increase, and the physical vitality becomes strikingly visible. Each person then suffers: The stubbornness of seeking spiritual satisfaction in the outer aspect of things enfeebles one’s powers, fragments the human spirit, and leads the stormy quest in a direction where it will find emptiness and disappointment. In disillusionment, the quest will continue in another direction. When degeneration leads one to embrace an outlook on life that negates one’s higher vision, then one becomes prey to the dark side within. The spiritual dimension becomes enslaved and darkened in the darkness of life.”
Rebbe Kook warned eighty years ago that “the irruption of spiritual light from its divine source on uncultivated ground yields the perverse aspect of idolatry. It is for this reason that we note to our astonishment the decline of religious Judaism in a period of national renaissance.” “Love of the nation,” he taught, “or more broadly, for humanity, is adorned at its source with the purest ideals, which reflect humanity and nationhood in their noblest light, but if a person should wish to embrace the nation in its decadent condition, its coarser aspects, without inner illumination from its ancient, higher light, he will soon take into himself filth and lowliness and elements of evil that will turn to bitterness in a short span of history of but a few generations. This is the narrow state to which the community of Israel will descend prior to an awakening to the true revival.”
“By transgressing the limits,” Rebbe Kook prophesied, the leaders of Israel may bring on a holocaust. But this will merely precede a revival. “As smoke fades away, so will fade away all the destructive winds that have filled the land, the language, the history, and the literature.” Always following his warning was the reminder of God’s covenant. “In all of this is hiding the presence of the living God. It is a fundamental error for us to retreat from our distinctive excellence, to cease recognizing ourselves as chosen for a divine vocation. We are a great people and we have blundered greatly, and, therefore, we suffered great tribulation; but great also is our consolation. Our people will be rebuilt and established through the divine dimension of its life. Then they will call out with a mighty voice to themselves and to their people: “Let is go and return to the Lord! And this return will be a true return”.
At the same time, professed Rebbe Kook, who always sharply defended the validity of both Christianity and Islam as religions in the plan of God, “the brotherly love of Esau and Jacob [Christians and Jews], and Isaac and Ishmael [Jews and Muslims], will assert itself above all the confusion [and turn] the darkness to light.”
Unfortunately, all great spiritual leaders, like all the prophets in the Abrahamic religions, have been rejected by those who could not understand their message. For this reason the greatest of the spiritual leaders have always been controversial. In every religion there have always been extremist movements that resort to a range of distortions in understanding scripture and in reporting what its leaders have or have not said. These range from ultra-literalist interpretations of authenticated texts to far-fetched symbolism in understanding them. The quotations in this position paper are from the Rebbe’s authenticated writings. A large body of controversial reports and speculation has developed, however, over the decades among self-styled Jewish fundamentalists that point in a diametrically opposite direction. These must be evaluated in light of the overall message of the Rebbe’s entire life.
One of the most hotly debated issues is whether Jewish souls are superior to souls of the goyem (non-Jews). This mirrors the widespread belief by extremist Sunnis in Saudi Arabia that the Shi’a have no souls at all. A modern-day example of this extreme trend, if taken literally, is Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the “Lubovitcher Rebbe” who headed the Chabad movement and wielded great influence in Israel as well as in America. He wrote that, “The difference between a Jewish and a non-Jewish person stems from the common expression: ‘Let us differentiate.’ Thus, we do not have a case of profound change in which a person is merely on a superior level. Rather, we have a case of ‘let us differentiate’ between totally different species. This is what needs to be said about the body: the body of a Jewish person is of a totally different quality from the body of [members] of all nations of the world. … A non-Jew’s entire reality is only vanity. It is written, ‘And the strangers shall guard and feed your flocks’ (Isaiah 61:5). The entire creation [of a non-Jew] exists only for the sake of the Jews…” http://www.middleeastbooks.com/html/books/shahakmezvinsky.html.
Because of his enormous hold on the Jewish imagination in America, Rebbe Schneerson received a Congressional Medal of Honor from the United States in a bill passed by unanimous consent honoring the Rebbe for his “outstanding and lasting contributions toward improvements in world education, morality, and acts of charity”.
In order to bring Rebbe Abraham Isaac Kook into line with this view of Jewish superiority over non-Jews, some modern-day followers cite his alleged statement, quoted in The Land and the Lord, Chapter 5, “The Range of Disagreement within Jewish Fundamentalism”, http://www.middleeastbooks.com/html/books/shahakmezvinsky.html: “The difference between a Jewish soul and souls of non-Jews—all of them in all different levels—is greater and deeper than the difference between a human soul and the souls of cattle.”
This quote is part of a raging battle among Jewish fundamentalists that has been explored by modern scholars in an extensive literature, including the same book that quotes the Rebbe’s alleged statement that non-Jews have the souls of cattle or at least have beastial souls compared to the elevated souls of Jews. On pages 2-3 of the 49-page Chapter Five, “Range of Disagreement within Jewish Fundamentalism” in the book The Land and the Lord we find the following introductory analysis:
“In fact, the work of both Kooks has been subject to a wide range of interpretation within the fundamentalist movement. The debate over the Yamit debacle [the evacuation in 1982 of the Israeli settlement just south of Gaza, which was established after the 1967 Six-Day War in accordance with the terms of the 1979 Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty] entailed intricate discussions of what Tzvi Yehuda [the son of Rebbe Kook who took over the movement in 1952 and ruled it until his death in 1982] had said about the issue in an effort to agree on what he would have said had he lived to the time of the evacuation. A prolonged and fervid debate took place in 1984 and 1985 over whether the Jewish terrorist underground represented a distortion of the Kooks’ message or an expression of it. The extraordinary range of interpretation among those seeking the ‘authentic’ teaching of the Kooks is also exemplified in the contrasting views of Eleazar Waldman and Yisrael Yaacov Yuval regarding Abraham Isaac Kook’s attitude toward war and its relationship to the redemption process. Waldman quotes Orot as alluding to the biblical book Song of Songs, which Jewish mystics considered an allegory of love between God and the people of Israel pertaining to the messianic age. Waldman quotes Rav Kook as follows:
When war breaks out, the power of the Messiah is aroused. The time of the nightingale has arrived; she sings in the boughs. The wicked ones disappear from the world, the earth is perfumed, and the voice of the turtle-dove is heard in our land.
“‘On the one hand,’ comments Waldman, ‘war is accompanied by destruction and death, on the other hand, it increases the power of the Messiah. . . . Unfortunately it is still impossible to achieve the completion of Redemption by any means other than war.’
“In sharp contrast to this view that Rav Kook sanctioned war as necessary to Israel’s efforts to advance the redemption process, Yuval learns from Orot about ‘the dangers inherent in extremist nationalism.’ He quotes from that same source as follows:
…until such happy times as it will be feasible to conduct an independent national policy without recourse to vicious and barbaric practices . . . it is not in the interest of Jacob to wield sovereignty, when this entails wholesale bloodshed and ingenuity of a sinister kind.
“More broadly, the rabbis of Gush Emunim legitimize their opinions on the basis of their interpretation of both halacha and aggadah (the major rabbinic glosses and commentaries on the halacha). In addition to key biblical passages, the writings of Maimonides and of the scholar and mystic Rabbi Moshe Ben Nachman, or Nachnianides (1194-1270), are cited more often than any other sources by both rabbis and religious fundamentalist laymen to validate particular positions within their universe of discourse.
“As noted in chapter 2 above, Maimonides’ discussion of messianism was designed to discourage thinking about apocalyptic matters. By stipulating that only earthly political success by religiously observant leaders – not mystical intuition or reputations for miraculous behavior – could validate action to advance the coming of the Messiah, Maimonides hoped to make redemptionist-oriented activity virtually impossible. But Zionism’s success in ending the Exile for at least part of the Jewish people, and the establishment of Jewish rule over most of the Land of Israel, has, ironically, made his ‘practical’ approach to messianism a legitimizing resource of enormous importance for Gush Emunim rabbis seeking authentication of their efforts to ‘push the end.’ The prominence of Nachnianides as an authority is even more understandable in light of the principles with which he is most closely associated: that the Land of Israel is ‘equal in weight to all the commandments put together’, and that all the commandments were taluyot ba aretz (tied to and dependent on the Land of Israel).
“The significance of these sources for the communication of transcendental imperatives is expressed not in precise agreement on what they mean, but in the extent to which they are used to articulate and justify quite different positions on questions of importance within the fundamentalist movement.”
The battle of the quotes may be all-encompassing in the lives of those whose very identity depends on winning it, but quotes from Jewish fringe groups tell us no more about Judaism than statements, genuine and otherwise, by Osama bin Laden can tell us about Islam. The same discussion could be held about the founding of the Muslim Brotherhood by the Sufi-oriented Hassan al Banna and his confrontational successor, Syed Qutb. They had the same goals of what Christians would call “salvation in the face of an evil world,” but their means were diametric opposites, one by self-purification and universal education and the other by political revolution and brute force in a clash of civilizations.
Unfortunately, Jewish extremists in their pursuit of their own religious state have managed to convince most Muslims that Rebbe Abraham Isaac Kook supported fundamentalist extremism and that any form of faith-based reconciliation in pursuit of a single Abraham Federation for the Holy Land is and always must be nothing but a bad dream. This is what is called a self-fulfilling prophecy, part of what in Islamic terms is called istidraj, which is the downward slide from truth to error until at some point there is no return. Fortunately, however, there is the opposite of istidraj, namely, yusra, which is divine facilitation of the dreams of those who are committed to the Qur’anic wisdom that, “The Word of your Lord is perfected and fulfilled in truth and in justice” (Surah al An’am 6:115).
Part Three: The Two Faces of Hamas
Like Zionism, Hamas and its ideological inspiration, the Ikhwan or Muslim Brotherhood, both have two faces, one of which hides its origins and threatens its future as a work of God. The assassination of religious students in the HaRav yeshiva by ‘Ala Abu Dehein from Jerusalem’s Jebel Mukaber quarter on March 6, 2008, symbolized a new level of resistance to Israeli expansionism through the coordination of disparate fronts. Assassin ‘Ala was a member of Palestinian Hamas, as was his entire Sunni family, but he took orders from a group known as the Free Men of Galilee, which was inspired by the Lebanese Shi’ite organization, Hizb Allah.
Ever since Israel became bogged down in its invasion of Lebanon and the United States became bogged down in its invasion of primarily Shi’ite Iraq, the formerly mortal enemies within the Islamic umma have begun to dream that together they can defeat the unconquorable. In its most radical phase under Syed Qutb the most hated enemy of the Muslim Brotherhood and its branches in other countries was not America but Persian Shi’ism. The official Saudi view encourages this hostility, as do many policy makers in America, but the centuries-long mutual fear and enmity that have pitted Muslims against each other no longer dominates in the “Muslim street.”
The dream of conquest through violence was not always the dominant trend in either Sunni or Shi’a Islam. In fact, until the American invasion of Iraq it was becoming marginalized as the real extremists left the mainline resistance movements and formed splinter groups like Al Qa’ida. The Palestinian Hamas itself, one of several organizations throughout the Muslim world that have adopted the name Hamas for their own resistance movements, is perhaps a weathervane for the general dynamics of resistance against oppression.
The history of the Palestinian Hamas, which stands for Harakat al Muqawama al Islamiya, or “Movement of Islamic Resistance,” is instructive, especially its transformation from its origins as a religious and spiritual movement in 1983 into a political and eventually a military organization.
This paralleled the earlier trend in its associated movement, the Ikhwan al Muslimun or Muslim Brotherhood. This older movement was initiated by Hassan al Banna, who emerged in Egypt from a family of Sufi scholars to found a tariqa in 1928 at the age of 22 dedicated to purifying and Islamifying Muslims and their corrupt societies through education. His execution for this effort in 1949 sparked a radicalization of his followers and paved the way for his successor, Syed Qutb, to transform what Hassan al Banna had started into a militant revolutionary movement dedicated to seizing political power through a strategy of creative destruction in a clash of civilizations.
The Palestinian Hamas had a similar history. Most pundits assume that it originated as a militia at the beginning of the First Intifada, which erupted spontaneously on December 8, 1987, from a boiling over of grievances and lasted until it gradually petered out six years later in 1993, only to be restarted as the Second or Al Aqsa Intifada when Ariel Sharon “visited” the Al Aqsa Mosque on September 28, 2000, with a body-guard of one thousand riot police, precisely at the high point of a campaign by both radical Evangelical Christians and radical Jews to demolish Al Aqsa and replace it with a Jewish temple.
Traditionalist Muslims share the same wisdom with traditionalist Jews that every religion contains the seed of its own perversion and that the greatest evil is always the perversion of the good. Like all the traditionalists in every religion, they also know that the surest salvation from evil is always the return to prophetic origins.