The Palestinian Museum Digital Archive

Taken in January 1993, this photograph shows a scene from the daily life of the 416 Palestinians whom the Israeli Occupation Authorities deported to the Marj az-Zuhur town in South Lebanon on 17 December 1992.

What are Israel’s plans in Gaza after October 7, 2023? When and how will the ongoing genocide in Gaza end? These have been the most important questions after Israel resorted to mass atrocity crimes. One of the most critical Israeli claims from the early days of the recent crisis was the complete defeat of Hamas, which also means driving it out of Gaza. But how this would even be possible, one may ask, since Hamas has been controlling Gaza for more than 15 years now and has established itself as the key player in contemporary Palestinian politics. This may come as a surprise to some of the followers of current events. Still, historical analysis reveals that forcing Palestinian movements to flee to neighboring countries has been a policy of Israel since its creation. Previously, it was the PLO. Now, Israel is trying to convince the international community that removing Hamas from Gaza is the only way for permanent peace. Yet, Israel has already attempted to banish Hamas from Palestine before, and the group learned from this experience. We need to refresh our memories to grasp the bigger picture.

Palestinian Politics in Exile

For the last 75 years, Israel has tried almost every policy to defeat Palestinians who are resisting its brutal occupation. As mentioned above, living in exile is something that Palestinian resistance forces are used to. This was the fate of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). At first, they had to take refuge in Jordan to wage attacks on Israel. However, the honeymoon between King Hussein and Yasser Arafat ended with a civil war in Jordan in 1970, notoriously known as the Black September. The second destination of the PLO was Lebanon, where another civil war was about to break out that lasted for 15 years. Israel didn’t want the PLO to settle in Lebanon either. Thus, it invaded Beirut in 1982 and forced the group to a third exile in Tunisia, which became the PLO’s new refuge until the early 1990s. The Oslo Accords, which became public in 1993, allowed the movement to return to the Palestinian territories. As if Israel tried to clear the political arena for the PLO, now, it was the Islamic movement, both Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, that faced exile.

Regionalization of Hamas

In December 1992, Israel apprehended individuals in Gaza and the West Bank and expelled 415 of them affiliated with Hamas and Islamic Jihad from Palestine to South Lebanon. They were located in the town of Marj al-Zuhur, to be precise. During this period, the exiled groups endeavored to contemplate previous errors, peacefully cohabit with divergent viewpoints, and evaluate the current conditions of refugee camps as a prototype of a future Islamist government. Nevertheless, Hamas quickly recognized the significance of foreign nations, particularly those neighboring Palestine, where the Palestinian resistance movement already had grassroots that dated back to the 1970s.

In Lebanon, Hamas would initiate communication channels with Hezbollah, a prominent organization in the country, as well as with Iran, which had enormous ambitions in Lebanon through Hezbollah. In 1992, Lebanon, a country that still tried to heal the wounds of civil war, was an undesirable destination for Hamas to reside in should the organization has had the choice. When the chance to discover a new place emerged, Jordan, another country that also had a significant and pivotal part in Palestine, became prominent. Throughout the 1990s, the Hamas leadership saw this country as the focal point of their activities. Twenty years prior, the PLO would have encountered a contrasting situation. On this occasion, Jordan allowed Hamas, the PLO’s primary adversary, to enter its territory.

Yet, during the 1990s, it became evident that Jordan was an inhospitable and perilous environment for Hamas, too. Throughout the decade, Hamas increased the degree of violence within the borders of Israel, especially as a response to the 1994 mass killing of an Israeli settler, Baruch Goldstein, at the Ibrahimi Mosque. The mentioned attack resulted in the loss of 29 lives and left 125 individuals injured. In response to the Hamas, Israel carried out the targeted killing of Yahya Ayyash, an engineer who is widely recognized as the mastermind behind the attacks in question. Hamas responded by escalating the frequency of its assaults.

While this was the case for the domestic politics of Palestine, on the regional scale, a peace negotiation was taking place between Jordan and Israel. Jordan, which was providing shelter to Hamas, was negotiating a mutually beneficial agreement with Israel, allowing Israel to establish an embassy in its capital, Amman. This also meant that Mossad would be able to operate within Jordan secretly. The tipping point occurred when Israeli operatives made an assassination attempt on Khaled Meshaal, the leader of Hamas’ political bureau, in Amman, Jordan, in 1997. Meshaal’s temporary state of unconsciousness pushed the peace process between Jordan and Israel to a critical juncture. Under the influence of Jordanian persuasion, Mashaal was restored to good health by an antidote supplied by Israel. Simultaneously, Israel consented to the release of Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin to avoid compromising the peace agreement with Jordan. Considering all these developments, both Hamas and Jordan would see that their association has been mutually detrimental and would persist in seeking a new secure area.

Following Jordan, Hamas proceeded to Damascus in 1999, the capital of Syria. Hamas has consistently maintained geographical proximity to the traditional Palestinian areas while seeking refuge outside. Syria had significant strategic value for Hamas, as it maintained strong ties with both Hafez al-Assad and later Bashar al-Assad’s governments. These relationships were particularly crucial for Hamas in terms of establishing connections with Arab public opinion and other international entities. This decade was pivotal for Hamas since it overlapped with the Second Intifada, which commenced in 2000 and lasted over the subsequent five years. During the 2000s, establishing a diplomatic alliance with Syria would inherently include fostering a solid and interconnected bond with Iran as well. Following the 2007 blockade of the Gaza Strip, Hamas sought international backing and subsequently established a robust network of diplomatic alliances. The main objective was to foster strong relationships with nations that speak Arabic. However, Hamas quickly recognized the necessity of securing assistance from major global powers and actively pursued deeper ties with Russia.

The Arab Spring undoubtedly reshaped the social and political dynamics of the entire region, and Hamas inevitably experienced its impact, possibly more intensely than other entities. Following the commencement of the revolt in Syria, Hamas’ choice to align themselves with the revolution resulted in a severance of ties with Syria and Iran. Hamas started to look for new destination points where Turkey and Qatar were the most viable options for the movement.

Lessons of Exile for the Palestinian Resistance

While maintaining its fair share of control inside Gaza, after 2007, leadership in exile taught Hamas a lot about developing diplomatic relations with states as well as strategic communications with different resistance forces whose cadres are also in the neighboring countries. There is an important point that needs to be underlined: it was not only Hamas who experienced Israel’s policy of banishment but other Palestinian groups who are militarily active in Gaza, such as the Islamic Jihad and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) that kept their relationships with Syria and Iran.

From refugee camps in South Lebanon in the 1990s to Jordan, Syria, Turkey, and Qatar, Hamas learned two crucial lessons. First, the movement’s leadership needs to be as close as possible to the historical Palestinian lands, specifically in the countries where the governments are in favor of the movement. Secondly, Hamas studied the history of the failure of the Oslo Accords and the PLO’s role in it. What this means was that the group needed the backing of Palestinian resistance movements with different ideological backgrounds to establish a united front against Israel rather than forcing it to be a monopoly like Fatah. It was a time to bury the hatchet to break the land, sea, and air blockade in Gaza.

Today, more than eight months have passed since October 7, 2023, and we can see this unity of operations between different groups in Gaza, and each of them doesn’t hesitate to endorse the title “al-Aqsa Flood.” Despite Israel’s efforts to propagate what is happening in Gaza as a war against Hamas, the Palestinian resistance is now so intertwined that it is not possible to separate between groups. This can be interpreted as an attempt by Israel to play the “Islamist Radicalism” card to gain the support of its, especially Western, allies; it is, in fact, a “total war” that aims to annihilate what is left of armed Palestinian resistance.