This evening in Kill Khalid, I read that Hamas’ first signed statement was issued on December 14, 1987. Interestingly, according to a LexisNexis search that I completed this evening, it was not until March 4, 1988 that Hamas was mentioned by name in an English media outlet.
That first mention came in an Associated Press article by Nicolas Tatro. The piece was titled, “Palestinians: United In the Street, Divided Over Peacemaking.”
Sheikh Bassam Jarrar stabbed the air with his finger and declared that a political settlement with Israel would be "disastrous." The Moslem religious leader said the Koran, Islam's holy book, "forbids recognition of Israel." He argued against cooperating with peace initiatives aimed at ending the three-month uprising in the Israeli-occupied lands.
Jarrar's remarks, criticial of the PLO's policy of seeking a settlement, provoked murmurs of disagreement from men sitting cross-legged along the wall of the mosque in this village 10 miles northwest of Jerusalem. The dispute, reflecting deep political divisions of Palestinians despite the unity they have shown in confronting Israeli soldiers, soon grew into a shouting match.
It cut short the gathering of more than 150 men, an informal town hall-type meeting where the heated exchanges continued outside the mosque under a tree despite a drizzle.
The first to challenge Jarrar, a charismatic speaker aligned with the fundamentalist Moslem Brotherhood, was a middle-aged man in a white headdress, who asked if there wasn't a peaceful alternative to street violence. The 39-year-old preacher left no room for compromise and warned that anyone who recognized the Jewish state would be considered an enemy of Islam.
"We don't have any common language with Israel. We have nothing to demand of them. We are in a state or revolt against Israel. The conflict should continue until victory," Jarrar said, his deep, resonant voice cracking with emotion.
A bearded man in his 20s accused Jarrar of breaking ranks with the Palestine Liberation Organization, which has endorsed an international conference to discuss peace with Israel. "The PLO represents all the people. There is no Islamic trend. There are only Moslems who support the PLO," shouted the young man, a supporter of PLO chairman Yasser Arafat's Fatah organization. "I represent the Islamic trend," said Jarrar, whose full black beard signified his fundamentalist allegiance.
A tall, muscular man rose to disagree with Jarrar's criticism of Syria and the Soviet Union. "We are in need of Syria. There is a PLO delegation visiting Damascus now to create a good atmosphere for fighting Israel We should support an alliance with Syria," he said.
The man, whose comments indicated he was a supporter of the pro-Soviet Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine faction, blamed Jarrar for provoking the dispute. "We have differences, it is true. But we are all supporting the uprising and we should not discuss them now," he said.
Jarrar attacked the PLO position, saying Arafat only had agreed to a conference after losing his independent base in Lebanon, being driven out of Beirut by Israel and out of the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli by Syria.
"It's impossible to have a peaceful alternative while we are in a weak position," Jarrar said. "I will not say there is a possibility of a political solution. It would be disastrous under the current conditions."
The infighting was also reflected in graffitti spray-painted on walls near the mosque.
One slogan attacking the peace mission of Secretary of State George Shultz was signed by the Democratic Front and another anti-occupation slogan by "Hamas," which means fervor in Arabic and is used by the Moslem Brothers, a movement founded in Egypt in 1929 by a school teacher named Hassan Al Banna.
Israeli officials, especially those of the right-wing Likud Bloc, have stressed the Islamic influence in the ongoing riots. They have argued that the fundamentalists threaten Western nations as well as Israel.
The influence of the fundamentalists has grown since the violence began Dec. 8. Islamic groups are especially strong in the occupied Gaza Strip, where there are more refugee camps than in the West Bank and poverty is widespread.
But PLO supporters appear to be in the vast majority in the West Bank, which Israel also seized in the 1967 Middle East war, and even Jarrar said the riots were not an "uprising of the mosques," as he said some Israeli leaders had claimed. "Israel wants to frighten the West by saying the fundamentalists are playing an active role. Israel wants to justify its oppression by saying they are fighting fundamentalists," Jarrar said.
He said the riots had damaged Israel's image in the world, hurt the Israeli economy by robbing it of Arab labor and tourism, and prevented the military government in the occupied lands from imposing new and more harsh measures. "They thought we were sleeping or dead," Jarrar said. "If there is no other benefit of the uprising it is to show that we reject oppression."
If anyone knows of an earlier mention of Hamas, by name, leave a comment or send an email.