THE POLITICS OF APOCALYPSE IN THE UNDERGROUND MEDIA OF THE ISLAMIC RESISTANCE MOVEMENT (HAMAS)

A Position Paper for the Center for Millennial Studies
by
Anne-Marie Oliver and Paul Steinberg


The geopsychic center of all the end-time scenarios of the three monotheistic faiths has always been the "Holy Land," particularly Jerusalem--a fact which has not been lost on Israelis and Palestinians of all persuasions and a fact which has played no small part in the overdetermination of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Our work explores the ways in which traditional Islamic eschatological scripts such as Gog and Magog, the One-Eyed Man, the Gharqad Tree, and the Hour were revitalized and politically transvalued to meet the political and psychological demands of the intifada--the Palestinian uprising which began in December 1987 and ended, arguably, with the signing of the Oslo Accords. The renaissance of these scripts was, in many ways, a natural and spontaneous movement, for what they offered was an immediate means by which the crisis then at hand could be framed, contextualized, and understood. Although they were largely presented as immutable, self-fulfilling prophecies, they were, in actuality, constantly being reinterpreted, often in creative ways.

The cluster of intifada-inspired exegeses surrounding the hadith or "tradition of the Prophet" of "the Gharqad Tree" provides a good example of such reinterpretation. The hadith, significantly, appeared early in the intifada in the 1988 mithaq or "covenant" which announced the formation of the Islamic Resistance Movement (HAMAS). Created as a Qur'an-based alternative to the nationalist groups, particularly the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the new movement, its founders hoped, would soon take the lead in the revolution then unfolding. "The seventh subject" of the document is devoted to showing that Hamas, as the militant Palestinian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, is but the latest link in the long chain of jihad waged by the Brothers against "the Zionist invasion"--a chain which includes the "'36 Revolt," a reference to the uprising directed against both the British authorities and the Palestinian Jews in 1936; the War of 1948, and the attacks and incursions following the '67 war. Clenching their argument on the necessity of war, the authors close the section with an eschatological prophecy attributed to Muhammad by the renowned collectors of ahadith, Bukhari and Muslim:

As "the Hour" approaches, Muslims and Jews, according to a related hadith, will be arrayed "east and west"--directions which, not surprisingly, were reinterpreted during the intifada as references to the east and west banks of the Jordan River. The river, of course, is both the natural and legal boundary separating Jordan (east) from Israel (west). By extension, "west" also refers to the Western world, particularly America, with which Israel is allied. As in all eschatological schemas, the Forces of Light will finally prevail in a final, determinative battle. Towards this end, all of creation will turn against the Jews, even the land itself. Their only ally will be the Gharqad Tree, a thorny bush traditionally believed to speak in oracles. Some members of the Islamic Movement in the West Bank and Gaza Strip aver that the esoteric tree currently surrounds Israeli settlements as a protective hedge of natural magic. Others claim that it grows outside the Jaffa Gate of Jerusalem's Old City, the site where Jesus, according to some hadith, will one day kill the Anti-Christ. Still others ascribe a more symbolic meaning to the tree. According to one reading popular during the intifada, the Gharqad Tree represents collaborators, those Palestinians accused of cooperating with the Israeli military authorities, indeed, all the forces of the world which conspire with the Jews against the Muslims.

During the uprising, eschatological scripts such as "the Gharqad Tree" served a variety of functions: 1) They constituted a parallel universe which both mirrored and shaped the intifada. In this universe, the Muslim, the Jew, the collaborator, and the foreigner all acquire allegorical analogues, often fantastic. 2) They served to reinforce and sanctify Palestinian chosen-ness, ownership of the land, and the transcendental centrality of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle. 3) As long-cherished constructs became increasingly demoored from any material base, the signs and wonders of the Last Days served as radical if imaginary objective correlatives of revolution and the death, loss, and massive socio-political upheaval which inevitably accompany it. 4) They constituted a ready-made program for the attainment of redemption, personal and historical, through rather than despite catastrophe. Solidarity was enhanced through fearful visions of ever-greater catastrophe, imminent but perpetually deferred. At the same time, the population was reassured that "God is with us" and that victory would one day be theirs. 5) Such scripts further inculcated fear and distrust in appearances as ideologies in and of themselves while, simultaneously, placing them within a comfortingly familiar transcendental framework. Concomitantly, they served to occlude chance and choice at a time when the future seemed unbearably uncertain for the vast majority of Palestinians.

Copyright 1997 by Anne-Marie Oliver, Paul Steinberg, and the Center for Millennial Studies

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