Posts Tagged ‘WSJ’

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Is Islamic Extremism a Problem of Poor Hermeneutics?

March 24, 2009

WSJ – 16 March 2009 – Letters

It is very uplifting and encouraging to hear a bright, progressive Muslim like Tawfik Hamid speak out against the cruelty and unfairness of Islamic extremists (“Islam Should Prove It’s a Religion of Peace,” op-ed, March 9).

As a Jew who wants my children to be able to coexist in peace with all religious peoples of the world, I feel very hopeful knowing there are Muslims who do not hate my people because of our religion.

I welcome the day when we can all live in harmony, in our own unique ways. Mr. Hamid’s statement that better Quranic scholarship would prove that Islam is a religion of peace is very welcome.

God bless his ecumenical plea to his religious community.

Steven Levy
Seabrook, Texas

Kudos to Tawfik Hamid for standing up to the wimps of the world. And congratulations to the Journal for publishing Mr. Hamid’s calling the British government to account for the travesty of justice in denying entry to the United Kingdom of Geert Wilders, a member of the Dutch parliament and creator of the film, “Fitna.” The British government is blaming the messenger, Mr. Wilders, instead of the message, Muslim radicalism.

Only by repeatedly exposing the barbaric practices of Islamic radicalism to the world, such as the stoning of women, will the world stop tolerating such criminal behavior.

By suppressing free speech by banning “Fitna” from being shown in the House of the Lords, the British government unwittingly is condoning and encouraging the Muslim radicals in pursuing their atrocities.

Paul O’Neill
Kansas City, Mo.

Mr. Hamid is certainly correct in exculpating Dutch Parliamentarian Geert Wilders. However, he both tries to say that “everyone did it” and that “better scholarship” would demonstrate Islam to be a religion of peace.

The only basis for Islamic scholarship to interpret the Quran, in addition to the text, is to look to the practices of Mohammed and the first three generations of Muslims. It’s going to be hard to find a basis for more liberal interpretation there. The issue is whether Islam can prove it’s a religion of peace. Mr. Hamid is not calling for better scholarship; he is calling for “different” scholarship: indeed, something beyond even a Reformation.

To date, the most authoritative religious scholar to assert the peacefulness of Islam is George W. Bush.

Stuart L. Meyer
Evanston, Ill.

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Daniel Pearl Anniversary

February 5, 2009

Dear friends,

Please read this two page letter written by Daniel Pearl’s father – on the 7th anniversary of Daniel’s execution.

PLEASE READ THIS NOW.   It is important that you learn and do something about it.

Read Steve Emerson’s letter to us – and let the three people at the bottom of Steve’s letter know how you feel about the way America is failing it’s responsibilities to keep us free.

Don

LETTER FROM STEVE:

I am taking the liberty of sending you an op-ed that appears in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal by Judea Pearl on the commemoration of the 7th anniversary of, his son, Daniel’s execution. It is a most powerful and moving essay: Read and re-read it. And then do something.


Let Bill Moyers know that his purported “evenhandedness” is tantamount to justifying the same terrorism that robbed Daniel Pearl of his life. (email for Moyers below).


Let Jimmy Carter know that his rationalization of Hamas’ actions is no different than defending Nazism (email for Carter below).


Let the New York Times know that its inability to tell the difference between Hamas butchery and the State of Israel is the equivalent of saying that Daniel Pearl’s executioners were blameless (email for the Times below).


Let the Chancellor of UCLA know that the American public will not support taxpayers’ money going to campus-sponsored Hamas hate fests. (email below)


Let the White House, the U.S. Senate and Congress know that the leaders of radical American Islamic groups such as the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) are not welcome in the White House or Congress and should not be legitimized by the FBI, Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security because they refuse to condemn Hamas and Hezbollah by name.

Steve Emerson

Email addresses for those described above:

Bill Moyers – moyersonpbs@thirteen.org

President Jimmy Carter – carterweb@emory.edu

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block – chancellor@ucla.edu

William Keller, New York Times Executive Editor – executive-editor@nytimes.com

White House Contact form – http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/

Daniel Pearl and the Normalization of Evil


When will our luminaries stop making excuses for terror?

ByJudea Pearl
Wall Street Journal
February 3, 2009

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123362422088941893.html

This week marks the seventh anniversary of the murder of our son, former Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. My wife Ruth and I wonder: Would Danny have believed that today’s world emerged after his tragedy?

The answer does not come easily. Danny was an optimist, a true believer in the goodness of mankind. Yet he was also a realist, and would not let idealism bend the harshness of facts.

Neither he, nor the millions who were shocked by his murder, could have possibly predicted that seven years later his abductor, Omar Saeed Sheikh, according to several South Asian reports, would be planning terror acts from the safety of a Pakistani jail. Or that his murderer, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, now in Guantanamo , would proudly boast of his murder in a military tribunal in March 2007 to the cheers of sympathetic jihadi supporters. Or that this ideology of barbarism would be celebrated in European and American universities, fueling rally after rally for Hamas, Hezbollah and other heroes of “the resistance.” Or that another kidnapped young man, Israeli Gilad Shalit, would spend his 950th day of captivity with no Red Cross visitation while world leaders seriously debate whether his kidnappers deserve international recognition.

No. Those around the world who mourned for Danny in 2002 genuinely hoped that Danny’s murder would be a turning point in the history of man’s inhumanity to man, and that the targeting of innocents to transmit political messages would quickly become, like slavery and human sacrifice, an embarrassing relic of a bygone era.

But somehow, barbarism, often cloaked in the language of “resistance,” has gained acceptance in the most elite circles of our society. The words “war on terror” cannot be uttered today without fear of offense. Civilized society, so it seems, is so numbed by violence that it has lost its gift to be disgusted by evil.

I believe it all started with well-meaning analysts, who in their zeal to find creative solutions to terror decided that terror is not a real enemy, but a tactic. Thus the basic engine that propels acts of terrorism — the ideological license to elevate one’s grievances above the norms of civilized society — was wished away in favor of seemingly more manageable “tactical” considerations.

This mentality of surrender then worked its way through politicians like the former mayor of London , Ken Livingstone. In July 2005 he told Sky News that suicide bombing is almost man’s second nature. “In an unfair balance, that’s what people use,” explained Mr. Livingstone.

But the clearest endorsement of terror as a legitimate instrument of political bargaining came from former President Jimmy Carter. In his book ” Palestine : Peace Not Apartheid,” Mr. Carter appeals to the sponsors of suicide bombing. “It is imperative that the general Arab community and all significant Palestinian groups make it clear that they will end the suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism when international laws and the ultimate goals of the Road-map for Peace are accepted by Israel .” Acts of terror, according to Mr. Carter, are no longer taboo, but effective tools for terrorists to address perceived injustices.

Mr. Carter’s logic has become the dominant paradigm in rationalizing terror. When asked what Israel should do to stop Hamas’s rockets aimed at innocent civilians, the Syrian first lady, Asma Al-Assad, did not hesitate for a moment in her response: “They should end the occupation.” In other words, terror must earn a dividend before it is stopped.

The media have played a major role in handing terrorism this victory of acceptability. Qatari-based Al Jazeera television, for example, is still providing Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi hours of free air time each week to spew his hateful interpretation of the Koran, authorize suicide bombing, and call for jihad against Jews and Americans.

Then came the August 2008 birthday of Samir Kuntar, the unrepentant killer who, in 1979, smashed the head of a four-year-old Israeli girl with his rifle after killing her father before her eyes. Al Jazeera elevated Kuntar to heroic heights with orchestras, fireworks and sword dances, presenting him to 50 million viewers as Arab society’s role model. No mainstream Western media outlet dared to expose Al Jazeera efforts to warp its young viewers into the likes of Kuntar. Al Jazeera’s management continues to receive royal treatment in all major press clubs.

Some American pundits and TV anchors didn’t seem much different from Al Jazeera in their analysis of the recent war in Gaza . Bill Moyers was quick to lend Hamas legitimacy as a “resistance” movement, together with honorary membership in PBS’s imaginary “cycle of violence.” In his Jan. 9 TV show, Mr. Moyers explained to his viewers that “each [side] greases the cycle of violence, as one man’s terrorism becomes another’s resistance to oppression.” He then stated — without blushing — that for readers of the Hebrew Bible “God-soaked violence became genetically coded.” The “cycle of violence” platitude allows analysts to empower terror with the guise of reciprocity, and, amazingly, indict terror’s victims for violence as immutable as DNA.

When we ask ourselves what it is about the American psyche that enables genocidal organizations like Hamas — the charter of which would offend every neuron in our brains — to become tolerated in public discourse, we should take a hard look at our universities and the way they are currently being manipulated by terrorist sympathizers.

At my own university, UCLA, a symposium last week on human rights turned into a Hamas recruitment rally by a clever academic gimmick. The director of the Center for Near East Studies carefully selected only Israel bashers for the panel, each of whom concluded that the Jewish state is the greatest criminal in human history.

The primary purpose of the event was evident the morning after, when unsuspecting, uninvolved students read an article in the campus newspaper titled, “Scholars say: Israel is in violation of human rights in Gaza,” to which the good name of the University of California was attached. This is where Hamas scored its main triumph — another inch of academic respectability, another inroad into Western minds.

Danny’s picture is hanging just in front of me, his warm smile as reassuring as ever. But I find it hard to look him straight in the eyes and say: You did not die in vain.

Mr. Pearl, a professor of computer science at UCLA, is president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, founded in memory of his son to promote cross-cultural understanding.

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National Security Court?

January 28, 2009

National Security Court? We Already Have One

by Bill West
IPT News
January 26, 2009

http://www.investigativeproject.org/article/984

Last week, the Wall Street Journal offered an op-ed article detailing the difficulties facing the Obama Administration in closing the Guantanamo detention center: what to do with those detainees and how to handle terrorism suspects captured in the future on foreign battlefields by our military and intelligence services. The article notes that a possible option to solve these problems would be the Congressional creation of a new “National Security Court.” Such a court would be a hybrid of federal civilian criminal courts, U.S. military courts and the Guantanamo-based military commissions.

This concept has been around for a couple of years now. It was initially proposed by Andrew McCarthy, the former senior Assistant U.S. Attorney in New York who successfully prosecuted Omar Abdel Rahman, the “Blind Sheikh,” as well as the perpetrators of the first World Trade Center attack. The concept appears to have substantial merit. Theoretically, such a court would be able to try cases against terrorist enemy combatants utilizing both overt evidence and, under tightly controlled circumstances, classified intelligence evidence. The creation of a National Security Court would require the proverbial act of Congress.

Some argue such a National Security Court would be a “star chamber” and would fly in the face of traditional American jurisprudence. However, if properly structured and staffed, such a court would go a long way to solve the conundrum of how to deal with enemy combatant terror suspects, many of whom cannot effectively be tried in civilian courts due to the classified nature of key evidence against them. Presumably, within a National Security Court system, defense attorneys would receive appropriate security clearances, and unclassified summaries of classified evidence would be provided to defendants whenever possible. Mechanisms would likely be in place to allow for the secure and, if necessary anonymous, testimony of intelligence agents and their “assets.” Does all this sound a bit too fantastic to really work? It might be a surprise to learn the United States already has a workable, if not working, version of a National Security Court.

The Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (Public Law 104-132) created significant revisions to the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Among those revisions was the creation of Title V of the INA. That provision created the Alien Terrorist Removal Procedures and the Alien Terrorist Removal Court (ATRC). The ATRC was the result of a bi-partisan Congressional effort supported by then-President Bill Clinton. The ATRC changed the nature of potential deportation (removal) adjudication substantially, but in a limited and controlled fashion.

Before the ATRC, all formal deportation cases resided in the Immigration Court system that is rooted in Title II of the Immigration and Nationality Act. That court process requires, for the adjudication of the merits of deportation charges, that the Government present overt evidence in open and adversarial court proceedings. Classified, or secret, evidence can be utilized in Title II Immigration Court proceedings only under very limited circumstances, where it is presented in-camera and ex-parte to the court, for the court to render decisions on certain immigration relief issues. Those relief issues include release from custody in pending deportation proceedings and the various kinds of discretionary relief from deportation, like political asylum.

In contrast, regular Immigration Court proceedings require the underlying substantive deportation charges be proven with overt, publicly scrutinized evidence to which the alien respondent (defendant in deportation cases) and his/her attorneys receive full access. The ATRC, however, changed that process for what was then the significant but small population of aliens suspected of being involved in terrorism and terror support activities. The ATRC process can be invoked only if it is determined – and that determination literally requires a decision by the U.S. Attorney General – that the case cannot be handled in regular Immigration Court proceedings. That situation would virtually always be when key evidence is classified – obtained by intelligence agencies or other highly covert sources.

The ATRC provides mechanisms for classified information to be used as evidence to adjudicate the merits of the underlying deportation charges. That is done, however, under notably limited and tightly controlled procedures. Whenever possible, unclassified summaries of classified evidence are to be provided to the respondent and his/her attorneys. Defense attorneys may be granted security clearances so they can have access to classified evidence and the respondent and his/her attorneys may challenge the evidence against him/her. The judges who sit on the Court are selected by the Chief Justice of the United States (Chief Justice of the Supreme Court), and all the judges receive appropriate security clearances. As previously stated, only cases certified by the Attorney General, after a multi-level and multi-agency review process, can be heard by the Court. There is a specific adversarial process allowed in the court proceedings and special, yet still adversarial, appellate proceedings are permitted.

The ATRC has been in operational existence since about 1997. As noteworthy as this “national security” court for deportation cases might seem, ironically, not one case has been tried before it. In the hue and cry of the late 1990s over the use of “secret” evidence in immigration proceedings, the same Clinton Administration that supported the creation of the ATRC chose the politically expedient avenue of not sending any cases to it. Similarly, if perhaps inexplicably, the Bush Administration did not refer any cases to the ATRC, even after the 9/11 attacks. Even while the Bush Administration and the Congress toiled over the creation of the Guantanamo military commissions, wherein classified evidence could be allowed to prosecute detained enemy combatants who might face the death penalty, no deportation cases were sent to the already duly constituted ATRC.

The inactive ATRC does not mean its underlying concept is without merit. Its lack of utilization is likely more the result of misplaced political correctness at the highest levels of our political leadership. If the creation of a new National Security Court is to be seriously considered, Congress and the new Administration may do well to look at the ATRC as a model. Many of the procedural and operational issues that might relate to a National Security Court have already been addressed with the Alien Terrorist Removal Court.

Bill West is a consultant to the Investigative Project on Terrorism. He retired in 2003 as chief of the national security section for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

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How Israel Helped to Spawn Hamas

January 26, 2009

Moshav Tekuma, Israel

Surveying the wreckage of a neighbor’s bungalow hit by a Palestinian rocket, retired Israeli official Avner Cohen traces the missile’s trajectory back to an “enormous, stupid mistake” made 30 years ago.

“Hamas, to my great regret, is Israel’s creation,” says Mr. Cohen, a Tunisian-born Jew who worked in Gaza for more than two decades. Responsible for religious affairs in the region until 1994, Mr. Cohen watched the Islamist movement take shape, muscle aside secular Palestinian rivals and then morph into what is today Hamas, a militant group that is sworn to Israel’s destruction.

Instead of trying to curb Gaza’s Islamists from the outset, says Mr. Cohen, Israel for years tolerated and, in some cases, encouraged them as a counterweight to the secular nationalists of the Palestine Liberation Organization and its dominant faction, Yasser Arafat’s Fatah. Israel cooperated with a crippled, half-blind cleric named Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, even as he was laying the foundations for what would become Hamas. Sheikh Yassin continues to inspire militants today; during the recent war in Gaza, Hamas fighters confronted Israeli troops with “Yassins,” primitive rocket-propelled grenades named in honor of the cleric.

Abid Katib/Getty Images

Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder of Hamas.

Last Saturday, after 22 days of war, Israel announced a halt to the offensive. The assault was aimed at stopping Hamas rockets from falling on Israel. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hailed a “determined and successful military operation.” More than 1,200 Palestinians had died. Thirteen Israelis were also killed.

Hamas responded the next day by lobbing five rockets towards the Israeli town of Sderot, a few miles down the road from Moshav Tekuma, the farming village where Mr. Cohen lives. Hamas then announced its own cease-fire.

Since then, Hamas leaders have emerged from hiding and reasserted their control over Gaza. Egyptian-mediated talks aimed at a more durable truce are expected to start this weekend. President Barack Obama said this week that lasting calm “requires more than a long cease-fire” and depends on Israel and a future Palestinian state “living side by side in peace and security.”

A look at Israel’s decades-long dealings with Palestinian radicals — including some little-known attempts to cooperate with the Islamists — reveals a catalog of unintended and often perilous consequences. Time and again, Israel’s efforts to find a pliant Palestinian partner that is both credible with Palestinians and willing to eschew violence, have backfired. Would-be partners have turned into foes or lost the support of their people.

Israel’s experience echoes that of the U.S., which, during the Cold War, looked to Islamists as a useful ally against communism. Anti-Soviet forces backed by America after Moscow’s 1979 invasion of Afghanistan later mutated into al Qaeda.

[Hamas supporters in Gaza City after the cease-fire.] APA /Landov

Hamas supporters in Gaza City after the cease-fire.

At stake is the future of what used to be the British Mandate of Palestine, the biblical lands now comprising Israel and the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza. Since 1948, when the state of Israel was established, Israelis and Palestinians have each asserted claims over the same territory.

The Palestinian cause was for decades led by the PLO, which Israel regarded as a terrorist outfit and sought to crush until the 1990s, when the PLO dropped its vow to destroy the Jewish state. The PLO’s Palestinian rival, Hamas, led by Islamist militants, refused to recognize Israel and vowed to continue “resistance.” Hamas now controls Gaza, a crowded, impoverished sliver of land on the Mediterranean from which Israel pulled out troops and settlers in 2005.

When Israel first encountered Islamists in Gaza in the 1970s and ’80s, they seemed focused on studying the Quran, not on confrontation with Israel. The Israeli government officially recognized a precursor to Hamas called Mujama Al-Islamiya, registering the group as a charity. It allowed Mujama members to set up an Islamic university and build mosques, clubs and schools. Crucially, Israel often stood aside when the Islamists and their secular left-wing Palestinian rivals battled, sometimes violently, for influence in both Gaza and the West Bank.

“When I look back at the chain of events I think we made a mistake,” says David Hacham, who worked in Gaza in the late 1980s and early ’90s as an Arab-affairs expert in the Israeli military. “But at the time nobody thought about the possible results.”

Israeli officials who served in Gaza disagree on how much their own actions may have contributed to the rise of Hamas. They blame the group’s recent ascent on outsiders, primarily Iran. This view is shared by the Israeli government. “Hamas in Gaza was built by Iran as a foundation for power, and is backed through funding, through training and through the provision of advanced weapons,” Mr. Olmert said last Saturday. Hamas has denied receiving military assistance from Iran.

Arieh Spitzen, the former head of the Israeli military’s Department of Palestinian Affairs, says that even if Israel had tried to stop the Islamists sooner, he doubts it could have done much to curb political Islam, a movement that was spreading across the Muslim world. He says attempts to stop it are akin to trying to change the internal rhythms of nature: “It is like saying: ‘I will kill all the mosquitoes.’ But then you get even worse insects that will kill you…You break the balance. You kill Hamas you might get al Qaeda.”

When it became clear in the early 1990s that Gaza’s Islamists had mutated from a religious group into a fighting force aimed at Israel — particularly after they turned to suicide bombings in 1994 — Israel cracked down with ferocious force. But each military assault only increased Hamas’s appeal to ordinary Palestinians. The group ultimately trounced secular rivals, notably Fatah, in a 2006 election supported by Israel’s main ally, the U.S.

Now, one big fear in Israel and elsewhere is that while Hamas has been hammered hard, the war might have boosted the group’s popular appeal. Ismail Haniyeh, head of the Hamas administration in Gaza, came out of hiding last Sunday to declare that “God has granted us a great victory.”

Most damaged from the war, say many Palestinians, is Fatah, now Israel’s principal negotiating partner. “Everyone is praising the resistance and thinks that Fatah is not part of it,” says Baker Abu-Baker, a longtime Fatah supporter and author of a book on Hamas.

A Lack of Devotion

Hamas traces its roots back to the Muslim Brotherhood, a group set up in Egypt in 1928. The Brotherhood believed that the woes of the Arab world spring from a lack of Islamic devotion. Its slogan: “Islam is the solution. The Quran is our constitution.” Its philosophy today underpins modern, and often militantly intolerant, political Islam from Algeria to Indonesia.

After the 1948 establishment of Israel, the Brotherhood recruited a few followers in Palestinian refugee camps in Gaza and elsewhere, but secular activists came to dominate the Palestinian nationalist movement.

At the time, Gaza was ruled by Egypt. The country’s then-president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, was a secular nationalist who brutally repressed the Brotherhood. In 1967, Nasser suffered a crushing defeat when Israel triumphed in the six-day war. Israel took control of Gaza and also the West Bank.

“We were all stunned,” says Palestinian writer and Hamas supporter Azzam Tamimi. He was at school at the time in Kuwait and says he became close to a classmate named Khaled Mashaal, now Hamas’s Damascus-based political chief. “The Arab defeat provided the Brotherhood with a big opportunity,” says Mr. Tamimi.

In Gaza, Israel hunted down members of Fatah and other secular PLO factions, but it dropped harsh restrictions imposed on Islamic activists by the territory’s previous Egyptian rulers. Fatah, set up in 1964, was the backbone of the PLO, which was responsible for hijackings, bombings and other violence against Israel. Arab states in 1974 declared the PLO the “sole legitimate representative” of the Palestinian people world-wide.

Heidi Levine/Sipa Press for The Wall Street Journal

A poster of the late Sheikh Yassin hangs near a building destroyed by the Israeli assault on Gaza.

The Muslim Brotherhood, led in Gaza by Sheikh Yassin, was free to spread its message openly. In addition to launching various charity projects, Sheikh Yassin collected money to reprint the writings of Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian member of the Brotherhood who, before his execution by President Nasser, advocated global jihad. He is now seen as one of the founding ideologues of militant political Islam.

Mr. Cohen, who worked at the time for the Israeli government’s religious affairs department in Gaza, says he began to hear disturbing reports in the mid-1970s about Sheikh Yassin from traditional Islamic clerics. He says they warned that the sheikh had no formal Islamic training and was ultimately more interested in politics than faith. “They said, ‘Keep away from Yassin. He is a big danger,'” recalls Mr. Cohen.

Instead, Israel’s military-led administration in Gaza looked favorably on the paraplegic cleric, who set up a wide network of schools, clinics, a library and kindergartens. Sheikh Yassin formed the Islamist group Mujama al-Islamiya, which was officially recognized by Israel as a charity and then, in 1979, as an association. Israel also endorsed the establishment of the Islamic University of Gaza, which it now regards as a hotbed of militancy. The university was one of the first targets hit by Israeli warplanes in the recent war.

Brig. General Yosef Kastel, Gaza’s Israeli governor at the time, is too ill to comment, says his wife. But Brig. Gen. Yitzhak Segev, who took over as governor in Gaza in late 1979, says he had no illusions about Sheikh Yassin’s long-term intentions or the perils of political Islam. As Israel’s former military attache in Iran, he’d watched Islamic fervor topple the Shah. However, in Gaza, says Mr. Segev, “our main enemy was Fatah,” and the cleric “was still 100% peaceful” towards Israel. Former officials say Israel was also at the time wary of being viewed as an enemy of Islam.

Mr. Segev says he had regular contact with Sheikh Yassin, in part to keep an eye on him. He visited his mosque and met the cleric around a dozen times. It was illegal at the time for Israelis to meet anyone from the PLO. Mr. Segev later arranged for the cleric to be taken to Israel for hospital treatment. “We had no problems with him,” he says.

In fact, the cleric and Israel had a shared enemy: secular Palestinian activists. After a failed attempt in Gaza to oust secularists from leadership of the Palestinian Red Crescent, the Muslim version of the Red Cross, Mujama staged a violent demonstration, storming the Red Crescent building. Islamists also attacked shops selling liquor and cinemas. The Israeli military mostly stood on the sidelines.

Mr. Segev says the army didn’t want to get involved in Palestinian quarrels but did send soldiers to prevent Islamists from burning down the house of the Red Crescent’s secular chief, a socialist who supported the PLO.

‘An Alternative to the PLO’

Clashes between Islamists and secular nationalists spread to the West Bank and escalated during the early 1980s, convulsing college campuses, particularly Birzeit University, a center of political activism.

As the fighting between rival student factions at Birzeit grew more violent, Brig. Gen. Shalom Harari, then a military intelligence officer in Gaza, says he received a call from Israeli soldiers manning a checkpoint on the road out of Gaza. They had stopped a bus carrying Islamic activists who wanted to join the battle against Fatah at Birzeit. “I said: ‘If they want to burn each other let them go,'” recalls Mr. Harari.

A leader of Birzeit’s Islamist faction at the time was Mahmoud Musleh, now a pro-Hamas member of a Palestinian legislature elected in 2006. He recalls how usually aggressive Israeli security forces stood back and let conflagration develop. He denies any collusion between his own camp and the Israelis, but says “they hoped we would become an alternative to the PLO.”

A year later, in 1984, the Israeli military received a tip-off from Fatah supporters that Sheikh Yassin’s Gaza Islamists were collecting arms, according to Israeli officials in Gaza at the time. Israeli troops raided a mosque and found a cache of weapons. Sheikh Yassin was jailed. He told Israeli interrogators the weapons were for use against rival Palestinians, not Israel, according to Mr. Hacham, the military affairs expert who says he spoke frequently with jailed Islamists. The cleric was released after a year and continued to expand Mujama’s reach across Gaza.

Around the time of Sheikh Yassin’s arrest, Mr. Cohen, the religious affairs official, sent a report to senior Israeli military and civilian officials in Gaza. Describing the cleric as a “diabolical” figure, he warned that Israel’s policy towards the Islamists was allowing Mujama to develop into a dangerous force.

“I believe that by continuing to turn away our eyes, our lenient approach to Mujama will in the future harm us. I therefore suggest focusing our efforts on finding ways to break up this monster before this reality jumps in our face,” Mr. Cohen wrote.

Mr. Harari, the military intelligence officer, says this and other warnings were ignored. But, he says, the reason for this was neglect, not a desire to fortify the Islamists: “Israel never financed Hamas. Israel never armed Hamas.”

Roni Shaked, a former officer of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, and author of a book on Hamas, says Sheikh Yassin and his followers had a long-term perspective whose dangers were not understood at the time. “They worked slowly, slowly, step by step according to the Muslim Brotherhood plan.”

Declaring Jihad

In 1987, several Palestinians were killed in a traffic accident involving an Israeli driver, triggering a wave of protests that became known as the first Intifada, Mr. Yassin and six other Mujama Islamists launched Hamas, or the Islamic Resistance Movement. Hamas’s charter, released a year later, is studded with anti-Semitism and declares “jihad its path and death for the cause of Allah its most sublime belief.”

Israeli officials, still focused on Fatah and initially unaware of the Hamas charter, continued to maintain contacts with the Gaza Islamists. Mr. Hacham, the military Arab affairs expert, remembers taking one of Hamas’s founders, Mahmoud Zahar, to meet Israel’s then defense minister, Yitzhak Rabin, as part of regular consultations between Israeli officials and Palestinians not linked to the PLO. Mr. Zahar, the only Hamas founder known to be alive today, is now the group’s senior political leader in Gaza.

In 1989, Hamas carried out its first attack on Israel, abducting and killing two soldiers. Israel arrested Sheikh Yassin and sentenced him to life. It later rounded up more than 400 suspected Hamas activists, including Mr. Zahar, and deported them to southern Lebanon. There, they hooked up with Hezbollah, the Iran-backed A-Team of anti-Israeli militancy.

Many of the deportees later returned to Gaza. Hamas built up its arsenal and escalated its attacks, while all along maintaining the social network that underpinned its support in Gaza.

Meanwhile, its enemy, the PLO, dropped its commitment to Israel’s destruction and started negotiating a two-state settlement. Hamas accused it of treachery. This accusation found increasing resonance as Israel kept developing settlements on occupied Palestinian land, particularly the West Bank. Though the West Bank had passed to the nominal control of a new Palestinian Authority, it was still dotted with Israeli military checkpoints and a growing number of Israeli settlers.

Unable to uproot a now entrenched Islamist network that had suddenly replaced the PLO as its main foe, Israel tried to decapitate it. It started targeting Hamas leaders. This, too, made no dent in Hamas’s support, and sometimes even helped the group. In 1997, for example, Israel’s Mossad spy agency tried to poison Hamas’s exiled political leader Mr. Mashaal, who was then living in Jordan.

The agents got caught and, to get them out of a Jordanian jail, Israel agreed to release Sheikh Yassin. The cleric set off on a tour of the Islamic world to raise support and money. He returned to Gaza to a hero’s welcome.

Efraim Halevy, a veteran Mossad officer who negotiated the deal that released Sheikh Yassin, says the cleric’s freedom was hard to swallow, but Israel had no choice. After the fiasco in Jordan, Mr. Halevy was named director of Mossad, a position he held until 2002. Two years later, Sheikh Yassin was killed by an Israeli air strike.

Mr. Halevy has in recent years urged Israel to negotiate with Hamas. He says that “Hamas can be crushed,” but he believes that “the price of crushing Hamas is a price that Israel would prefer not to pay.” When Israel’s authoritarian secular neighbor, Syria, launched a campaign to wipe out Muslim Brotherhood militants in the early 1980s it killed more than 20,000 people, many of them civilians.

In its recent war in Gaza, Israel didn’t set the destruction of Hamas as its goal. It limited its stated objectives to halting the Islamists’ rocket fire and battering their overall military capacity. At the start of the Israeli operation in December, Defense Minister Ehud Barak told parliament that the goal was “to deal Hamas a severe blow, a blow that will cause it to stop its hostile actions from Gaza at Israeli citizens and soldiers.”

Walking back to his house from the rubble of his neighbor’s home, Mr. Cohen, the former religious affairs official in Gaza, curses Hamas and also what he sees as missteps that allowed Islamists to put down deep roots in Gaza.

He recalls a 1970s meeting with a traditional Islamic cleric who wanted Israel to stop cooperating with the Muslim Brotherhood followers of Sheikh Yassin: “He told me: ‘You are going to have big regrets in 20 or 30 years.’ He was right.”

[History of Conflict Between Israel and Hamas]

Write to Andrew Higgins at andrew.higgins@wsj.com