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Saturday, 23 January 2010

Review: Kill Khalid: Mossad’s failed hit ... and the rise of Hamas, Paul McGeough (2009)

Emerging in 1987 in the First Intifada, Hamas – the Islamist Palestinian resistance group – slowly consolidated its power. In the early days it did so with the help of Israel, which was ever eager to undercut its traditional foe: Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organisation.

The rivalry between the two organisations is a constant theme in the book.

Led by men such as Khalid Mishal, who grew up in Kuwait as his family was evicted from Palestine after the 1967 war, Hamas prospered by offering the people a basket of services from prayer halls (mosques) to hospitals, from financial support to rocket attacks and suicide bombers.

It’s salutary to know that Fatah - Arafat’s secular resistance organisation – also emerged in Kuwait.

After training in physics at university, where he became radicalised, Khalid taught at secondary school until he began participating in the organisation of an Islamist resistance movement in 1984.

The book’s title refers to an assassination attempt in 1997 in Jordan – where Khalid was at the time based - by Mossad which involved a group of faux foreigners squirting a strong anaesthetic into Khalid’s ear. The injection was successful but two of the would-be assassins were rounded up by Khalid’s bodyguards and a passing local, and taken into custody.

In the aftermath of the assassination attempt, Jordan’s King Hussein wangled the antidote out of the Israelis. In exchange for the six Mossad agents marooned in Amman, dozens of Palestinian prisoners were released from Israeli jails.

The event helped to cement Khalid’s position as the senior Hamas figure.

It also illustrates how undercover shenanigans by Israel would repeatedly lead to Hamas gains. Later, when Hamas won the Palestinian elections, Israeli and US attempts to arm Fatah would come to nought when its soldiers refused to fight against the new emergent power in the Occupied Territories.

Sunni Hamas, like Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah, enjoyed – and enjoys – immense support from its main constituents: ordinary people.

McGeough’s 417-page history charts the progress of Hamas from its beginnings to its eventual rise to supremacy in Gaza.

The author takes great pains to provide details of the relations between major players in the evolving drama. They are Palestinian, Kuwaiti, Iranian, Jordanian, Syrian, American, Canadian and Israeli. Their struggles meet, here, with the attentions of an accomplished and knowledgeable writer.

The book is highly recommended.

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