By Sandhya Ravishankar
This is Part 3 of the Understanding Israel-Palestine series
Read Part 1 and Part 2 here
In May 1947, around the time the nation of Israel was being carved out of the Arab-inhabited Palestine, Muslim Brotherhood founder Hasan al-Banna wrote a long letter to King Faruq I, the monarch of Egypt and Sudan. The letter titled Toward the Light, made no bones of al-Banna’s Islamist theory, which had by then gained enormous popularity.
In this letter, which was also printed and shared widely across the country, al-Banna wrote:
“The leadership of the world was at one time entirely in the hands of the East, then it fell to the West after the rise of the Greeks and Romans. After that, the Prophetic eras of Moses, Christ, and Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon them all) brought it back to the East for a second time, but then the East fell into its long sleep, and the West enjoyed a new rebirth.
It was Allah’s Sunnah which does not fail to manifest itself and the West inherited leadership of the world. But lo and behold! It was tyrannical and unjust, insolent, misguided, and stumbling blindly, all it requires is a strong Eastern power to exert itself under the shadow of Allah’s banner, with the standard of the Qur’an fluttering at its head, and backed up by the strong soldiers of unyielding faith; then you will see the World living under the tranquility of Islam, and on the lips of everyone will be the following slogan:
‘Praise be unto Allah who guided us to this. for truly we would not have been guided if Allah had not guided us.’ (Surah-al-A’raaf (7), ayah 43)’
This is not in the least a product of the imagination: It is no other than the true verdict of history.”
In fact, well before this letter was written, between 1936 and 1939 itself, the Muslim Brotherhood began to collect funds for Palestine to support the Arab “strike” for the first time (Page 15-16, The Society of the Muslim Brothers, by Richard Paul Mitchell, Oxford University Press, 1969).
What al-Banna wrote inspired generations of Muslims to come.
One, in particular, would turn these ideas into a violent dogma, commanding thousands of youngsters to terror and war.
Meet Ahmad Yassin
In 1936, Ahmad Yassin was born into a family of farmers in the small village of al-Jura in Palestine. In 1948, the family was forced to flee with hundreds of thousands of other Palestinians to the Gaza Strip, when the United Nations carved out the Jewish state of Israel from its territories.
The Israeli Army razed villages like al-Jura with bulldozers. Yassin grew up in the rough and impoverished lanes of Gaza.
When he was 16, Yassin was wrestling with a friend when he had a fall and broke his neck. He became a quadriplegic, confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
Yassin, however, put his innate curiosity and charisma to use. He was a good student and soon got a seat at Cairo’s Ain Shams University to study English. He did not last for more than a year though, as he ran out of funds to continue his studies.
It is in Cairo that Yassin encountered the Muslim Brotherhood and returned to Gaza with his head full of the teachings of al-Banna.
Ahmad Yassin got a job as a school teacher in Gaza, teaching Arabic and English, preaching at the local mosques outside of his work hours. He began to organise the youth in Gaza for charitable work, a cause that earned him respect and goodwill. So well known was he, that Israel even donated to Yassin’s charity in the 1960s and 1970s.
Yassin got married and fathered 11 children.
However, towards the late 1970s and the early 1980s, as Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) backtracked and even recognised the state of Israel, Ahmad Yassin was furious. He believed that Israel must be wiped out and that the entire land “from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean sea” should be taken back by the Palestinian people. In effect, he wanted the map to be changed to what it was before 1947.
As Yassin saw Arafat as weakening in the struggle, he decided to amass arms and turned his charitable organisation into a militia. In 1983, Yassin was arrested by the Israeli authorities for possessing arms and for creating an underground militia. He was released a couple of years later as part of a prisoner swap between Jordan and Israel.
In 1987, Ahmad Yassin gave a name to that militia – Hamas.
Yassin came to the fore after this, ordering suicide bombings of Israeli soldiers and civilians and leading the violent Palestinian resistance that followed. It was also under his command that Hamas and Fatah fighters clashed in the streets of Gaza, the former emerging triumphant.
Despite going back to prison in 1989, Yassin continued to issue commands from jail for suicide bombings and other acts of terror. After eight years, he was released, frail, in poor health but still determined to continue the fight.
In the 1990s, Hamas emerged as the definitive force in Palestine, as they launched a fresh wave of attacks on Israel. Taking a leaf from the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas also ran soup kitchens and a variety of charities, which endeared them to the people of Gaza and West Bank.
In September 2003, Yassin survived an attempt on his life.
In March 2004, an Israeli drone marked Ahmad Yassin with an invisible laser as he was being wheeled out of a mosque after finishing the early morning prayer. Israeli choppers fired three Hellfire missiles, killing Yassin instantly, along with nine others.
In death, Yassin became a martyr for the Palestinian cause and Hamas got stronger. In 2006, Hamas surprised global watchers by sweeping the elections held in Gaza.
In the next part, we look at the ancient claim over land by the Israelis.