Islamic Fundamentalism in the West Bank and Gaza: The Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic Jihad. By: Ziad Abu-Amr, Indiana University Press, 1994 169 pp.

Reviewed by Muhammad Hozien

This book is a revised version of the work in Arabic published at the height of the Intifada by the same author. The title of the book is slightly changed for the worse (perhaps as the market demands it) The work in Arabic was titled "al-Harakah al-Islamiyah...[The Islamic Movement...]" whereas the English book is titled: "Islamic Fundamentalism...". The Author further defends his use of the term "Fundamentalism" by defining the term fundamentalism [sic] as:...describ[ing] the Islamists’ attempt to go back to the fundamentals of Islam in all the spheres of life. (p. X)." However according to the Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data the book is the English version of the Arabic work which would make the title of the book a mistranslation of the Arabic title of the book. One other concern concerning usage in the book the Qur’n is spelled using "Koran" whereas "Muslims" is not spelled as "Moslems" as is the norm in Orientalist literature.

As the subtitle indicates the book discusses the two major Islamic movements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip namely the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic Jihad from their inception till 1990. The author devotes a generous amount of research to events during the Intifada [the Palestinian Uprising against the Israeli occupation authorities in the West Bank and Gaza.] whereas the full potential and presence of these movements materialized.

The book is well researched and documented. It is also an important contribution to the study of Muslim popular movements. The author makes use of first hand sources such as, the literature of the Islamic Movement and personal interviews that he conducted during the Intifada and some recent interviews( circa 1993). Dr. Abu-Amr is an associate professor of political science at Birzeit University in the West Bank who lived during the Intifada.

Dr. Abu-Amr is a pro-PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] secular nationalist and his writing at times reads like warnings -aimed at the PLO and/or Israel- that the Islamic Wave is coming and the West Bank and Gaza are not immune from the winds of change. Apart from the conclusion - that the Islamic Movements in West Bank and Gaza are not a viable alternative to the Palestinian National Movement, namely the PLO- the book is a fair and even handed analysis of the subject at hand.

He correctly diagnoses why the Islamist are gaining a foot hold at the cost of Nationalist but some obvious reasons are surprisingly left out. He mentions that the loss of the bases of the PLO in Jordan and Lebanon weakened the influence of the PLO (p. XV), whereas Islamist cite the development of a clear vision on how to effectively deal with existing problems. Also he cites aid from "influential Palestinian social segments", other Islamic movements in Jordan and the Gulf states, the PLO and Arab governments. Meanwhile he neglects to mention that at this same time the PLO was also receiving funds from many international organizations and governments especially the Gulf states. Palestinans who live and work in the Gulf states were required by law to pay a form of Tax to the PLO.

He goes on to state that the popularity of the Islamic trend as whole in the Arab and Muslim world -i.e. the Iranian revolution and the effectiveness of the Islamic resistance in Southern Lebanon in 1980s. Also the rise in right wing Jewish fundamentalist groups in Israel contributed to the rise in Muslim sympathies. He also cites that the Israeli occupation itself helped to expand the influence of the Muslim movements to play them against Nationalist tendencies. (p. XVI.)

He fails to mention such reasons as that Palestinians have lost trust in the "Current" leadership due to corruption and partisanism. Further in their efforts to "Westernize" or "Modernize" they have insulted and stepped on the "toes" of the cultural traditions and religious sensitivities of the people. Also collaboration with the Israeli’s and the moral laxity of some Palestinians have shyed Nationalist suporters away from "questionable background" of some of the leadership.

When people are in dire straits they will accept help from any outstretched hand to them. The laxity and degradation in the services that are offered by the traditional [Nationalist and secularist included] leadership and the improvement of services that are offered by the Islamist have made the Islamist more popular with the people. The popularity of the Islamist lies not in their rhetoric only but, more importantly, in the services that they offer the masses at large.

The Book has a preface, introduction, four chapters, a conclusion, end notes, bibliography and an index. It is also divided in two main sections for each movement. The first two chapters deal with the history of the Muslim Brotherhood up to the time of the Intifada. The third chapter deals with the Intifada and the formation of Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement). The fourth chapter deals with the Islamic Jihad. Finally the conclusion summarizes the book and brings up to date some of the prominent events that touched these movements up to date (circa 1993) -namely the deportations of Hamas and Jihad leaders by Israeli authorities in Dec. 92 into southern Lebanon.

Chapter one covers the emergence and evolution of the Muslim Brotherhood Society in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Chapter is divided into two parts. The Author uses the war of 1967 as an ideological dividing line in Arab thought and utilizing it to divide the chapter. In the Pre 1967 half He discusses the Foundation of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Post 1967 half of the chapter he discuss the Islamic Reawakening and the establishment of al-Mujama al-Islami (The Islamic Center) in 1973 and the role that it played in laying the ground work for the establishment of Hamas (The Islamic Resistance Movement.)

Chapter two titled the Muslim Brotherhood and the Palestine Question discuss the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, its strategy, its relationship with the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) and Nationalist organizations up until the outbreak of the Intifada. Here the author claims that the contradictory statements of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood as use of taqiyya [sic] [the concept of concealing true believes in times of danger] (p. 31.) The author also deals with the allegations -a notion some nationalist still hold- of an alleged cooperation between the Israelis and the Muslim Brotherhood fairly He states:

...Israeli authorities deal with the various groups inside the Occupied Territories in ways that serve the interest of Israel. These authorities do not hesitate to strike at any individual or group... Israel's attempts to manipulate the various competing groups do not mean that these groups cooperate consciously or deliberately with the occupation authorities to undermine each other. (p. 36)

This chapter also mentions the clashes between the MB (Muslim Brotherhood) -to be specific Islamic Tendency groups with unofficial ties to the MB- and the PLO -included are pro-PLO and other Nationalist factions- in the Occupied Territories. Some of the major incidents which are discussed such as the clashes at Birzeit University-in the West Bank, at the Islamic University -Gaza Strip, and at an-Najah University -West Bank. Mention is also made to the change in rhetoric of Nationalist Leaders -Namely Arafat- with rhetoric of religious allusions (p. 47.) The question of why did the MB (Muslim Brotherhood) refuse to join the PLO is also dealt with. The MB answer is a laundry list of changes that must take place inside the PLO before the MB is willing to join the PLO (p. 50-51) -the Bulk of which is ideological.

Chapter three covers the Palestinian Intifada of 1987. It covers the causes and catalyst and the Muslim Brotherhood Society and the Intifada. The author summarily dismisses the claims of MB to have started the Intifada. Many in the MB cite as proof of the their claim is the Islamic tendency of the Intifada (p.61.) The Founding of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), its leadership, and its activities are discussed at length. The author mentions that the first leaflet that was issued during the Intifada was by MB leaders. The author correctly counters such nationalist notions that MB joined the Intifada late and under pressure by stating "...the Brotherhoods’ participation has been both extensive and effective" (p. 68.) In addition to the Social Services that the MB provided in the occupied territories it also played a role in arbitration of differences among the populace during the Intifada due to the collapse of the traditional authority. The author also discuss the relationship between Hamas and the UNL (Unified National Leadership) -the Nationalist Answer to Hamas. After the PNC declared the establishment of a Palestinian state in 1988 the author cites examples of moderate MB positions (c.f. p. 76) towards the Occupation:

Clearly, such ideas and positions contradict the traditional Islamic position with regard to ending the conflict with Israel. Perhaps the Intifada was the reason that impelled some Hamas leaders to contemplate "realistic" positions... (p. 77)

There are those who also disagreed with the PNC’s "realistic" positions with various degrees of intensity -namely Dr. Siam Hamas’ representative to the Muslim World League. The author than discusses the charter of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas.) The author cites what he calls "...criteria which would reflect the relative strength and popularity of Hamas.." (P.85.) a summary of this criteria is as follows:

    1. Participation in the Intifada.
    2. The number of Hamas prisoners and detainees in Israeli jails and detention camps.
    3. Political and moral presence.
    4. Change in the National discourse.
    5. A drift towards conservatism.
    6. Sectoral elections. (p. 85-86.)

The author than lists the sources of funding of Hamas -a favorite target of the nationalist who falsely blame Iran and Saudi Arabia for their set backs- and lists them as follows:

    1. Donations collected in the Occupied Territories.
    2. Islamic movements abroad.
    3. Informal donations from other countries.
    4. Governments supportive of Hamas.
    5. The PLO.
    6. Investments. (p. 87-88)

It should be noted that Hamas denies two of the above sources of funding namely support from Governments and the PLO. The author’s final comments are worth noting:

...the Muslim Brotherhood, together with the Islamic Jihad, have established a record of Islamic resistance that can be claimed and drawn upon, and have built a tradition that can be used as a source of inspiration for future generations. (p. 89)

Chapter four covers the Islamic Jihad movement the author traces the Founding of the Islamic Jihad from its roots in the Muslim Brotherhood and the post 1967 period to the formal formation in the 1980’s. That is followed by a discussion of its leadership, its following and the effects of the Israeli prisons on its formation and foundation. A discussion of its ideology and doctrine is dealt with at length followed by a discussion of its strategy vis--vis Palestine. Next he discuss the Islamic Jihad and PLO, Intifada and Hamas. Finally the author makes the following revelation:

Discussions between Hamas and the Islamic Jihad are currently under way to explore the possibility of closer coordination and even unity between the two groups. (p 127)

The source of the above tidbit is a personal interview that the author has made with representatives of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Amman, Jordan in Jan. 1992. It is well worth noting that the author in this well written and engrossing chapter make copious use of personal interviews and first hand sources of the writings of the MB and Islamic Jihad leaders.

In the conclusion the author answers the question of is the Islamic Movement a viable alternative to the PLO? A summary of the author’s arguments as to why the Islamic Movement is not a viable alternative is as follows:

Viability of Islam as an alternative [sic]. (p. 128)

Conservative and Strict Social outlook worry's some Christians and secularist. (p. 128)

Few Leadership figures and the issue of the Dec. 92 deportations of 418 Hamas and Jihad leaders by the Israeli authorities. (p. 129)

Islamic movement is not a homogenous whole, e. g. Hamas and Jihad, also Hamas’ ties to the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood. (p. 129)

Issues of democracy and pluralism. If and when Islamist take power will they allow for a pluralistic government or will they just create a theocratic state? (p. 130)

Reluctance of Islamist to work with the PLO, e.g. Hamas’ refusal to join the PNC. (p. 131)

Agenda of the International Islamic Movement may change its current focus from Palestine to some other hot spot? (p. 135)

The above is nothing but a rehashing of Nationalist ideology that question the whole idea of Islam as an alternative to any situation and not only to the Palestinian National problem. Abu-Amr offers no new insight as to why the Islamic Movement is not a viable alternative. The rest of the conclusion deals with the reasons why Hamas was not affected by the Gulf war as badly as the PLO.

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