Sunday, October 14, 2007

Hamas - II

The single most important institution in the Nazi murder policy was the Reichsicherheitshauptamt, or RSHA. This acronym, read in Hebrew which mostly doesn't use vowels, sounds as Resha, which means quite simply: Evil. Eerie, isn't it? Yet as far as I know, no single Nazi official ever noticed what the name of their main office meant in the language of the Jews they were so industrially murdering.

But what abut the Hamas activists? Is it possible that any of them knew, at the time of the choice of their name, how ominous the word is in Hebrew?

Actually, I think it's quite plausible that at least some of them did know. Remember, incredible as it may sound today, between 1967 and 1994 - that's 27 years, more than a generation - there was effectively no border between Palestinians and Israelis. For the first 20 years, large numbers of Palestinian men worked in Israel, many as menial laborers, but also as bus drivers, mechanics, hotel receptionists, waiters and so on. They worked alongside normal Israelis, knew them personally, and spoke some Hebrew; some spoke very good Hebrew. During the years of the 1st Intifada, 1987-1993, the many Palestinian strikes and occasional violence launched the slow process in which Israelis replaced Palestinians with Africans or Asians, but this development really got underway in 1994-95, when the Oslo process was accompanied by a sharp increase in terrorism, on the one hand, and on the other hand growing Palestinian sovereignty limited the counter-terrorism efforts of the Israeli security forces. As the Oslo process progressed there was ever less contact between ordinary Israelis and ordinary Palestinians. (Ironic, isn't it?).

Hamas, however, was founded on the second day of the 1st Intifada, in December 1987, at a time when hundreds of thousands of Israelis and Palestinians were in daily contact. The name is an acronym for Harakat al-Mukawama al-Islamiyya, The Islamic Resistance Movement, and the acronym is also a word that means fire, ardor, zeal or fanaticism. It is not a benign word even in Arabic. Frankly, I refuse to believe that none of the founders or their early members or supporters ever made the connection to the Hebrew. Vatimale haaretz hamas, after all, is the reason the world was almost destroyed. It's a sentence any grade-schooler has read.

1 comment:

Lydia McGrew said...

I don't know enough about Middle Eastern languages to know how closely Hebrew and Arabic are related. If the meaning of the word has similarities in Hebrew and in Arabic, perhaps this is entirely natural, given the histories of the languages. ??

Going back a long, long way, Hannibal was Carthaginian, but his name meant "The grace of Baal," just as it would have in Hebrew, where (correct me if I'm wrong) "Hannah" also means "grace." So obviously the language the Carthaginians were speaking over in North Africa was closely related to Hebrew.