The success of Hamas in Palestine has lessons for people anywhere in the world who are dedicated to revolutionary change.

While each revolutionary movement must have its own specific characteristics if it is not to become a sterile imitation of foreign success – as has happened with the supposedly Maoist “Shining Path”
senderista guerillas in Peru – there are fascinating parallels, for instance, with Ireland.

Fatah”s undemocratic seizure of power on the West Bank, overturning the expressed wish of the people for a less corrupt and more radical response to the Israeli occupation, is reminiscent of the way the ideals of 1916 were abandoned with the establishment of the Irish Free State.

These two books on the matter are complementary. Khaled Hroub”s is shorter – 170 pages as opposed to Zaki Chehab”s 240 – though that does not mean the former is less comprehensive. Both dispose effectively of the stigmatising of Hamas as a “terrorist” organisation – again, another parallel with Ireland”s Sinn Fein – showing how it grew out of the educational work of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who is widely acknowledged as the movement”s founding father and inspiration.

It was also an outgrowth of the Egypt-based Muslim Brotherhood – with which our own Muslim Association of Britain also has ideological links, though it is not strictly true that the organisation was actually set up by the Brotherhood, as suggested by Hroub.

The Brotherhood does not have the sort of monolithic structure that would allow such a decision to be taken. Nor does its general strategy equate with the approach taken by Hamas.

As one of the founders of Hamas told Chehab: “It is like a coalition, not solely attached to the Muslim Brotherhood, but can embrace all Palestinian resistance organisations and their supporters and friends.”

When it was set up just before the first intifada, it was originally called HMS, from the initials of its Arabic name Harakat al-Mokawama al-Islamaya, meaning Islamic Resistance Movement.

This evolved into the name Hamas from the Arabic word for “zeal,” which also linked back to the Muslim Brotherhood slogan, “Rights, Force, Freedom.”

While its Islamist ideology is obvious both from its origins in Yassin”s Friday mosque teaching and its very name, it is by no means sectarian.

As Hroub points out: “Christians and secular people voted for Hamas in various constituencies side by side with Hamas members and exponents.

“Hamas members also supported Christian candidates and won them seats in the parliament. Hamas itself appointed a Christian to its cabinet as the minister of tourism.

“The diverse nature of Hamas”s voters confirmed that people were voting for Hamas as the nationalist liberation movement that promised change and reform on all fronts.”

In fact, it becomes clear that, just as people turned from Fatah to Hamas when the original PLO militancy became tainted with corruption and compromise with the invaders, by refusing to deal with it, the West and its Israeli puppets are actually fostering a more radical, less moderate tendency within the movement.

Controversially, both books deal sympathetically with the question of suicide bombing and, indeed, as I was reading Chehab”s take on the issue, I wondered if I could be held guilty of possessing justifications for “terrorism,” for which hefty prison sentences were being handed down in British courts for material considered to be inflammatory being found on the accused”s computers.

Having mourned with the family of a teenage bomber in Nablus, who had been driven to despair when the Israeli army had targeted him merely because he was close to his uncle, an assassinated Fatah militant, I am aware that it is all too easy for Western liberals to sit on judgement on the way in which Palestinians choose to conduct their struggle.
It is also true that the militarisation of Israeli society means that it is difficult to distinguish civilians from combatants when responding to the Israeli policy of assassinations, often of moderates in the Palestinian liberation struggle.

But I also believe that Gandhi had the right of it when he said, “An eye for an eye will turn the whole world blind.”