Sunday, August 16, 2009

Battle Shows There Are Worse Things Than Hamas

Big news this weekend out of the Gaza Strip. Hamas, the ruling government of Gaza, got into a day-long gun battle with Jund Ansar Allah (which translates into: "Warriors of the Companions of God") an al-Qaeda-inspired militant organization, that left more than 20 people dead.

The fighting started when Jund Ansar Allah's leader, Sheikh Abdel-Latif Moussa used Friday's prayer services in the Gazan city of Rafah to declare the "the birth of an Islamic emirate" in the city, basically seceding from Gaza and pledging his loyalty to Osama bin Laden. That was enough for Hamas, which sent in their troops and fought a pitched battle against Jund Ansar Allah in and around the Rafah Mosque they used as their headquarters. In the end, Jund Ansar Allah was defeated after a long gun fight, its leader Sheikh Moussa was dead, according to some reports from Hamas, after blowing himself up with a suicide bomb vest, killing a Hamas negotiator in the process.

Much of the coverage of the Hamas/Jund Ansar Allah battle focused on two things: one, speculation that Hamas is losing control over Gaza following last January's three-week battle with Israel, and that extremist groups are growing in popularity among Palestinians; and two, that Hamas' crackdown against Jund Ansar Allah shows that the group is unwilling to accept any challenges to their authority in the Gaza Strip.

But I think the story points to something else - that there are worse alternatives than having Gaza run by Hamas. Israel is dead set against having any part of the Palestinian Territories run by Hamas and they've opposed any attempts to form a coalition government between Hamas and Fatah, the Palestinian faction that runs the West Bank. So far the international community (namely the US) hasn't pushed for a Hamas/Fatah unity government either. And there's no denying that Hamas has launched terrorist attacks against Israel (notably the crude, ineffective rockets their forces fired into Southern Israel by the dozens, prompting last January's conflict with Israel). Hamas claims these are all acts against an enemy occupying their lands that they are, in effect, 'freedom fighters'.

By contrast, the folks allied with Jund Ansar Allah are hardcore Islamic Jihadists; sharing the same 12th-century worldview as their spiritual head, bin Laden. Sheikh Moussa's goal was to see Gaza put under sharia law, many of his followers sported the long beards and headdresses you see on Taliban jihadis in Afghanistan, and, according to Hamas, Jund Ansar Allah were behind a series of recent attacks in Gaza against music shops and a wedding party - all things they deemed "un-Islamic" (not to mention attempting to launch a suicide bomb attack on horseback against Israel a few months ago).

In that light, it seems like it would be much better to deal with Hamas, a group with a clear goal behind their actions - a Palestinian homeland - than it would be to deal with groups like Jund Ansar Allah, who are nothing more than nihilists seeking the destruction of everything they deem "against Islam". In fact, two weeks ago Hamas' leader, Khaled Meshal announced his group would accept a Palestinian State based on the borders as they existed in 1967, before the Six Day War that led to Israel's occupying the West Bank and Gaza.
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