Hamas and Civil Society in Gaza : Engaging the Islamist Social Sector

Sara Roy

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Many in the United States and Israel believe that Hamas is nothing but a terrorist organization, and that its social sector serves merely to recruit new supporters for its violent agenda. Based on Sara Roy's extensive fieldwork in the Gaza Strip and West Bank during the critical period of the Oslo peace process, Hamas and Civil Society in Gaza shows how the social service activities sponsored by the Islamist group emphasized not political violence but rather community development and civic restoration.

Roy demonstrates how Islamic social institutions in Gaza and the West Bank advocated a moderate approach to change that valued order and stability, not disorder and instability; were less dogmatically Islamic than is often assumed; and served people who had a range of political outlooks and no history of acting collectively in support of radical Islam.

These institutions attempted to create civic communities, not religious congregations. They reflected a deep commitment to stimulate a social, cultural, and moral renewal of the Muslim community, one couched not only--or even primarily--in religious terms. Vividly illustrating Hamas's unrecognized potential for moderation, accommodation, and change, Hamas and Civil Society in Gaza also traces critical developments in Hamas's social and political sectors through the Second Intifada to today, and offers an assessment of the current, more adverse situation in the occupied territories.

The Oslo period held great promise that has since been squandered. This book argues for more enlightened policies by the United States and Israel, ones that reflect Hamas's proven record of nonviolent community building. In a new afterword, Roy discusses how Hamas has been affected by changing regional dynamics and by recent economic and political events in Gaza, including failed attempts at reconciliation with Fatah.


"This is the most perceptive analysis available not only of the evolution of the social institutions of Hamas, but also of the extraordinary pressures brought to bear on Palestinian society under occupation. Roy's book is leavened by her profound empathy for the lives of ordinary people, and it is suffused by a moral clarity that is rare in works of this level of acuity and scholarly rigor. No one seriously interested in Palestine or Israel can afford to ignore this powerful book."―Rashid Khalidi, author of The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood

"This book is based on extensive research on a topic much talked about, but not seriously studied in the Palestinian context. Roy decisively debunks the conventional wisdom about Hamas, its ideological intransigence, and the way its social institutions are―or as Roy argues, largely are not―linked to its political and military structures. I was deeply moved by the book."―Joel Beinin, author of Workers and Peasants in the Modern Middle East

"This is a terrific addition to our knowledge about Hamas. Roy succeeds in understanding its social activities from the inside out, through the eyes of the people who live them every day. She offers an accurate portrayal of a real, complex, complicated, and evolving organization and movement. Roy knows Gaza probably better than any other American academic."―Glenn E. Robinson, author of Building a Palestinian State: The Incomplete Revolution

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