Hamas

Hamas [Islamic Resistance Movement]) is a Palestinian Sunni-Islamic fundamentalist militant organization. It has a social service wing, Dawah, and a military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. It has been the de facto governing authority of the Gaza Strip since its takeover of that area in 2007. During this period it fought several wars with Israel. Israel, the United States and the European Union classify, either in whole or in part, Hamas as a terrorist organization. This classification is one among various and diverse international positions on the nature of Hamas. Russia, China, and Turkey are some countries who view Hamas in a positive light.

Hamas was founded in 1987, soon after the First Intifada broke out, as an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which in its Gaza branch had been non-confrontational towards Israel, refrained from resistance, and was hostile to the PLO. Co-founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin stated in 1987, and the Hamas Charter affirmed in 1988, that Hamas was founded to liberate Palestine, including modern-day Israel, from Israeli occupation and to establish an Islamic state in the area that is now Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The group has stated that it may accept a 10-year truce if Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders and allows Palestinian refugees from 1948, including their descendants, to return to what is now Israel, although clarifying that this does not mean recognition of Israel or the end of the conflict. Hamas’s military wing objected to the truce offer.

The military wing of Hamas has launched attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers, often describing them as retaliatory, in particular for assassinations of the upper echelon of their leadership. Tactics have included suicide bombings and, since 2001, rocket attacks. Hamas’s rocket arsenal, though mainly consisting of short-range homemade Qassam rockets, also includes long-range weapons that have reached major Israeli cities including Tel Aviv and Haifa. The attacks on civilians have been condemned as war crimes and crimes against humanity by human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch. A 2017 Palestinian Center for Public Opinion poll in the Palestinian territories revealed that Hamas violence and rhetoric against Israelis are unpopular and that a majority of Palestinians would rather Hamas “accept a permanent two-state solution based on the 1967 borders.”

In the January 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, Hamas won a plurality in the Palestinian Parliament, defeating the PLO-affiliated Fatah party. Following the elections, the Quartet (the United States, Russia, United Nations, and European Union) made future foreign assistance to the PA conditional upon the future government’s commitment to non-violence, recognition of the state of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements. Hamas rejected those changes, which led to the Quartet suspending its foreign assistance program and Israel imposing economic sanctions on the Hamas-led administration. In March 2007, a national unity government headed by Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas was briefly formed, but this failed to restart international financial assistance. Tensions over control of Palestinian security forces soon erupted in the 2007 Battle of Gaza, after which Hamas took control of Gaza, while its officials were ousted from government positions in the West Bank. Israel and Egypt then imposed an economic blockade of the Gaza Strip, on the grounds that Fatah forces were no longer providing security there.

Hamas is an acronym of the Arabic phrase حركة المقاومة الاسلامية or Harakat al-Muqāwama al-Islāmiyya, meaning “Islamic Resistance Movement”. The Arabic word ‘hamas’ (حماس) means “courage” or “zeal”. The Hamas covenant interprets its name to mean “strength and bravery”.

Aims

Hamas, as its name (Islamic Resistance Movement) implies, aims to liberate Palestine from the Israeli occupation by resisting it. And according to Hamas armed branch Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades:

To contribute in the effort of liberating Palestine and restoring the rights of the Palestinian people under the sacred Islamic teachings of the Holy Quran, the Sunnah (traditions) of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and the traditions of Muslims rulers and scholars noted for their piety and dedication.

Al-Qassam Brigades aims to liberate all of Palestine from what they describe as Zionist occupation, and to achieve the rights of the Palestinian people that were robbed by the occupation, and it consider itself part of the movement of a project of national liberation.

Leadership and structure

Hamas inherited from its predecessor a tripartite structure that consisted in the provision of social services, of religious training and military operations under a Shura Council. Traditionally it had four distinct functions: (a) a charitable social welfare division (dawah); (b) a military division for procuring weapons and undertaking operations (al-Mujahideen al Filastinun); (c) a security service (Jehaz Aman); and (d) a media branch (A’alam). Hamas has both an internal leadership within the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and an external leadership, split between a Gaza group directed by Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook from his exile first in Damascus and then in Egypt, and a Kuwaiti group (Kuwaidia) under Khaled Mashal. The Kuwaiti group of Palestinian exiles began to receive extensive funding from the Gulf States after its leader Mashal broke with Yasser Arafat’s decision to side with Saddam Hussein in the Invasion of Kuwait, with Mashal insisting that Iraq withdraw. On May 6, 2017, Hamas’ Shura Council chose Ismail Haniya to become the new leader, to replace Mashal.

The exact nature of the organization is unclear, secrecy being maintained for fear of Israeli assassinations and to conceal operational activities. Formally, Hamas maintains the wings are separate and independent. Matthew Levitt maintains this is a public myth. Davis argues that they are both separate and combined for reasons of internal and external political necessity. Communication between the political and military wings of Hamas is difficult, owing to the thoroughness of Israeli intelligence surveillance and the existence of an extensive base of informants. After the assassination of Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi the occasional political direction of the militant wing diminished, with field commanders given discretional autonomy on operations.

Consultative councils

The governing body is the Majlis al-Shura. The principle behind the Council is based on the Qur’anic concept of consultation and popular assembly (shura), which Hamas leaders argue provides for democracy within an Islamic framework. As the organization grew more complex and Israeli pressure increased it needed a broader base for decisions, the Shura Council was renamed the ‘General Consultative Council’, elected from members of local council groups and this in turn elected a 15-member Politburo (al-Maktab al-Siyasi) that made decisions at the highest level. Representatives come from Gaza, the West Bank, leaders in exile and Israeli prisons. This organ was located in Damascus until the Syrian Civil War led it to transfer to Qatar in January 2012, when Hamas sided with the civil opposition against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Social services wing

Hamas developed its social welfare programme by replicating the model established by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.For them, charity and the development of one’s community are prescribed by religion, and, at the same time, are to be understood as forms of resistance. In Islamic tradition dawah (lit.’the call to God’) obliges the faithful to reach out to others by both proselytising and by charitable works, and typically the latter centre on the mosques which make use of both waqf endowment resources and charitable donations (zakat) to fund grassroots services like nurseries, schools, orphanages, soup kitchens, women’s activities, library services and even sporting clubs within a larger context of preaching and political discussions. In the 1990s, some 85% of its budget was allocated to the provision of social services. It has been called perhaps the most significant social services actor in Palestine. By 2000 it or its affiliated charities ran roughly 40% of the social institutions in the West Bank and Gaza and, with other Islamic charities, by 2005 was supporting 120,000 individuals with monthly financial support in Gaza. Part of the appeal of these institutions is that they fill a vacuum in the administration by the PLO of the Palestinian territories, which had failed to cater to the demand for jobs and broad social services, and is widely viewed as corrupt. As late as 2005, the budget of Hamas, drawing on global charity contributions, was mostly tied up in covering running expenses for its social programmes, which extended from the supply of housing, food and water for the needy to more general functions like financial aid, medical assistance, educational development and religious instruction. A certain accounting flexibility allowed these funds to cover both charitable causes and military operations, permitting transfer from one to the other.

The dawah infrastructure itself was understood, within the Palestinian context, as providing the soil from which a militant opposition to the occupation would flower. In this regard it differs from the rival Palestinian Islamic Jihad which lacks any social welfare network, and relies on spectacular terrorist attacks to recruit adherents. In 2007, through funding from Iran, Hamas managed to allocate at a cost of $60 million, monthly stipends of $100 for 100,000 workers, and a similar sum for 3,000 fishermen laid idle by Israel’s imposition of restrictions on fishing offshore, plus grants totalling $45 million to detainees and their families. Matthew Levitt argues that Hamas grants to people are subject to a rigorous cost-benefit analysis of how beneficiaries will support Hamas, with those linked to terrorist activities receiving more than others. Israel holds the families of suicide bombers accountable and bulldozes their homes, whereas the families of Hamas activists who have been killed or wounded during militant operations are given an initial, one-time grant varying between $500–$5,000, together with a $100 monthly allowance. Rent assistance is also given to families whose homes have been destroyed by Israeli bombing though families unaffiliated with Hamas are said to receive less.

Until 2007, these activities extended to the West Bank, but, after a PLO crackdown, now continue exclusively in the Gaza Strip. After the 2013 Egyptian coup d’état deposed the elected Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohamed Morsi in 2013, Hamas found itself in a financial straitjacket and has since endeavoured to throw the burden of responsibility for public works infrastructure in the Gaza Strip back onto the Palestinian National Authority, but without success.

Military wing

The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing was formed in either mid-1991 or 1992, under the direction of Yahya Ayyash, a Hamas field-commander and bomb-maker assassinated by Israel in 1996. It was constituted from units associated with the earlier al-Jihad wa Da’wa, an umbrella group that had gathered in militants from various Islamic resistance cells like the Al-Mujahidun al-Filastiniun (Palestinian fighters). established by Salah Shehade in 1986.

The wing takes its name from the prewar militant Palestinian nationalist Sheikh Izz ad-Din al-Qassam, though Hamas cells sometimes refer to themselves as “Students of Ayyash”, “Students of the Engineer”, or “Yahya Ayyash Units”. At the outset, weapons were hard to come by, and the organization began to resort to intermittent kidnappings of soldiers to secure arms and munitions. This approach had been justified two years earlier when, in the wake of the killing of some 20 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces dispersing protestors at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in 1990, Hamas had declared every Israeli soldier a legitimate target.

Ayyash, with a degree in electrical engineering, quickly improved Hamas’s strike capacity by developing IEDs and promoting the tactic of suicide bombings. By the time of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, Hamas’s laboratories had devised a primitive form of rocketry, the Qassam 1, which they first launched in October 2000, carrying a 500 gram warhead with a throw range of 4 kilometres. Both propellant and the explosive were manufactured from chemical fertilizers, though TNT was also tried. Over the next five years of the conflict, a 3-kilogram-warhead-armed version with a strike range of 6–8 kilometres, the Qassam 2, was also produced and in an incremental rise, these rocket types were fired towards Israeli settlements along the Gaza Strip: 4 in 2001, 35 in 2002, 155 in 2003, 281 in 2004, and 179 in 2005. By 2005, the Qassam 3 had been engineered with a 12–14 kilometre range and a 15 kilo warhead. By 2006, 942 such rockets were launched into southern Israel. During the War with Israel in 2008–2009, Hamas deployed 122-mm Grad rocketry with a 20–40 kilometre range and a 30 kilogram warhead and a variety of guided Kornet antitank missiles. By 2012 Hamas had engineered a version of the Fajr-5 rocket, which was capable of reaching as far as Tel Aviv, as was shown after the assassination of Ahmed Jabari in that year. In the 2014 war its advanced rocketry reached Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa. Hamas deployed its increasingly sophisticated rocketry to replace its martyrdom operations.

While the number of members is known only to the Brigades leadership, Israel estimates the Brigades have a core of several hundred members who receive military style training, including training in Iran and in Syria (before the Syrian Civil War). Additionally, the brigades have an estimated 10,000–17,000 operatives, forming a backup force whenever circumstances call for reinforcements for the Brigade. Recruitment training lasts for two years.

The group’s ideology outlines its aim as the liberation of Palestine and the restoration of Palestinian rights under the dispensations set forth in the Qur’an, and this translates into three policy priorities:

To evoke the spirit of Jihad (Resistance) among Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims; to defend Palestinians and their land against the Zionist occupation and its manifestations; to liberate Palestinians and their land that was usurped by the Zionist occupation forces and settlers.

According to its official stipulations, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades’ military operations are to be restricted to operating only inside Palestine, engaging with Israeli soldiers, and in exercising the right of self-defense against armed settlers. They are to avoid civilian targets, to respect the enemy’s humanity by refraining from mutilation, defacement or excessive killing, and to avoid targeting Westerners either in the occupied zones or beyond.

In practice, Hamas altered its approach restricting actions to ‘legitimate military targets’ by extended them to Israeli civilians after 7 years. Though between 1996 and 2001 it generally refrained from targeting Israeli civilians, it adopted sporadic suicide bombings in the wake of the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre, when an Israeli settler in military fatigues, Baruch Goldstein, shot dead 29 Muslims at prayer in 1993. After the Al Aqsa revolt, the Brigades were behind most of the suicide bombings in Israel, a measure it defended as a form of “reciprocity”.

Down to 2007, the Brigades are estimated to have lost some 800 operatives in conflicts with Israeli forces. The leadership has been consistently undermined by targeted assassinations. Aside from Yahya Ayyash (January 5, 1996), it has lost Emad Akel (November 24, 1993) Salah Shehade, (July 23, 2002), Ibrahim al-Makadmeh, (March 8, 2003) Ismail Abu Shanab, (August 21, 2003) Ahmed Yassin (March 22, 2004) and Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi,( April 17, 2004).

After Israel arrested hundreds of its members in May 1989, Hamas regionalized its command system to make its operative structure more diffuse, and minimize the chances of being detected. The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades groups its fighters in 4–5 man cells, which in turn are integrated into companies and battalions. Unlike the political section, which is split between an internal and external structure, the Brigades are under a local Palestinian leadership, and disobedience with the decisions taken by the political leadership have been relatively rare.

Although the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades are an integral part of Hamas, the exact nature of the relationship is hotly debated. They appear to operate at times independently of Hamas, exercising a certain autonomy. Some cells have independent links with the external leadership, enabling them to bypass the hierarchical command chain and political leadership in Gaza. Ilana Kass and Bard O’Neill, likening Hamas’s relationship with the Brigades to the political party Sinn Féin’s relationship to the military arm of the Irish Republican Army. quote a senior Hamas official as stating: “The Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigade is a separate armed military wing, which has its own leaders who do not take their orders from Hamas and do not tell us of their plans in advance.” Matthew Levitt on the other hand argues vocally for the idea that Hamas’s welfare institutions act as a mere façade or front for the financing of terrorism, and dismisses the idea of two wings as a ‘myth’. He cites Sheikh Ahmad Yassin stating in 1998: “We can not separate the wing from the body. If we do so, the body will not be able to fly. Hamas is one body.”

Finances and funding

The Israeli government funded Hamas in the early 1980s as part of a “divide and rule” strategy: to sew division among the Palestinian population by fueling the fringe Islamists and thus to forestall the ascendancy of Fatah and communist parties. In the early 1980s, Brigadier General Yitzhak Segev was the Israeli military governor of Gaza, who explained that “The Israeli government gave me a budget,” some of which was given “to the mosques”. “Hamas, to my great regret, is Israel’s creation,” according to Avner Cohen, Israeli religious affairs official who served for over 20 years in Gaza, who said he wrote an official report warning his government superiors against backing Palestinian Islamists against secularists.

At the 1993 Philadelphia conference, Hamas leaders’ statements indicated that they read George H. W. Bush’s outline of a New World Order as embodying a tacit aim to destroy Islam, and that therefore funding should focus on enhancing the Islamic roots of Palestinian society and promoting jihad in the occupying territories.

Hamas’s budget, calculated to be roughly US$70 million (2011), is derived in large part (85%) from foreign, rather than internal Palestinian, sources. Only two Israeli-Palestinian sources figure in a list seized in 2004, while the other contributors were donor bodies located in Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Britain, Germany, the United States, United Arab Emirates, Italy and France. Much of the money raised comes from sources that direct their assistance to what Hamas describes as its charitable work for Palestinians, but investments in support of its ideological position are also relevant, with Persian Gulf States and Saudi Arabia prominent in the latter. Matthew Levitt states that Hamas also taps money from corporations, criminal organizations and financial networks that support terror, and is believed to engage in cigarette and drug smuggling, multimedia copyright infringement and credit card fraud. Vittori states that, more than other similar organizations, it is particularly careful about keeping resources for its militant, political and public works activities separate. The United States, Israel and the EU have shut down many charities and organs that channel money to Hamas, such as the Holy Land Foundation for Relief. Between 1992 and 2001 this group is said to have provided $6.8 million to Palestinian charities of the $57 million collected. By 2001 it was alleged to have given Hamas $13 million, and was shut down shortly afterwards.

About half of Hamas’s funding came from states in the Persian Gulf down to the mid 2000s. Saudi Arabia supplied half of the Hamas budget of $50 million in the early 2000s, but, under U.S. pressure, began cut its funding by cracking down on Islamic charities and private donor transfers to Hamas in 2004, which by 2006 drastically reduced the flow of money from that area. Iran and Syria, in the aftermath of Hamas’s 2006 electoral victory, stepped in to fill the shortfall. Saudi funding, negotiated with third parties like Egypt, remained supportive of Hamas as a Sunni group but chose to provide more assistance to the PNA, the electoral loser, when the EU responded to the outcome by suspending its monetary aid. Iran in the 1980s began by providing 10% of Hamas’s funding, which it increased annually until by the 1990s it supplied $30 million. It accounted for $22 million, over a quarter of Hamas’s budget, by the late 2000s. According to Matthew Levitt, Iran preferred direct financing to operative groups rather than charities, requiring video proof of attacks. Much of the Iran funding is said to be channeled through Hezbollah. After 2006 Iran’s willingness to take over the burden of the shortfall created by the drying up of Saudi funding also reflected the geopolitical tensions between the two, since, though Shiite, Iran was supporting a Sunni group traditionally closely linked with the Saudi kingdom. The US imposed sanctions on Iran’s Bank Saderat, alleging it had funneled hundreds of millions to Hamas. The US has expressed concerns that Hamas obtains funds through Palestinian and Lebanese sympathizers of Arab descent in the Foz do Iguaçu area of the tri-border region of Latin America, an area long associated with arms trading, drug trafficking, contraband, the manufacture of counterfeit goods, money-laundering and currency fraud. The State Department adds that confirmatory information of a Hamas operational presence there is lacking.

After 2009, sanctions on Iran made funding difficult, forcing Hamas to rely on religious donations by individuals in the West Bank, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. Funds amounting to tens of millions of dollars raised in the Gulf states were transferred through the Rafah Border Crossing. These were not sufficient to cover the costs of governing the Strip and running the al Qassam Brigades, and when tensions arose with Iran over support of President Assad in Syria, Iran dropped its financial assistance to the government, restricting its funding to the military wing, which meant a drop from $150 million in 2012 to $60 million the following year. A further drop occurred in 2015 when Hamas expressed its criticisms of Iran’s role in the Yemeni Civil War.

In 2017, the PA government imposed its own sanctions against Gaza, including, among other things, cutting off salaries to thousands of PA employees, as well as financial assistance to hundreds of families in the Gaza Strip. The PA initially said it would stop paying for the electricity and fuel that Israel supplies to the Gaza Strip, but after a year partially backtracked. The Israeli government has allowed millions of dollars from Qatar to be funneled on a regular basis through Israel to Hamas, to replace the millions of dollars the PA had stopped transferring to Hamas. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explained that letting the money go through Israel meant that it couldn’t be used for terrorism, saying “Now that we are supervising, we know it’s going to humanitarian causes”.

History

Gaza Islamic roots and establishment of Hamas

Hamas rose as an offshoot of the Gaza Mujama al-Islamiya branch of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which had been actively encouraged by Israel to expand as a counterweight to the influence of the secular Palestine Liberation Organization and had since 1973 been quiescent and non-confrontational towards Israel. Aside from developing Islamic charities to provide humanitarian assistance to Palestinians, it emphasized social justice (adala) and the subordination of the world to the sovereignty of God (hakmiyya). Hamas was founded in 1987, soon after the outbreak of the First Intifada, the first popular uprising against the Israeli occupation. Creating Hamas to participate in the revolt was regarded as a survival measure to enable the Brotherhood itself, which refused to fight against Israel, to hold its own against other competing Palestinian nationalist groups. By forming a military wing distinct from its social charity organizations, it was hoped that the latter would be insulated from being targeted by Israel. Co-founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin was convinced that Israel was endeavouring to destroy Islam, and concluded that loyal Muslims had a religious obligation to destroy Israel. The short term goal of Hamas was to liberate Palestine, including modern-day Israel, from Israeli occupation. The long-term aim sought to establish an Islamic state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.

Hamas Charter (1988)

The foundational document, the Hamas Charter (mīthāq ḥarakat), is dated August 18, 1988, and contains both antisemitic passages, characterizations of Israeli society as Nazi-like in its cruelty, and irredentist claims that have never been revoked despite what some observers say are later policy changes in the organization regarding Israel and the Jews. It declares all of Palestine waqf property endowed by God to Muslims, with religious coexistence under Islam’s wing. The charter rejects a two-state solution, envisaging no peaceful settlement of the conflict apart from jihad. It states that the movement’s aim is to

raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine, for under the wing of Islam followers of all religions can coexist in security and safety where their lives, possessions and rights are concerned’ (Article 6)

and adds that, ‘when our enemies usurp some Islamic lands, jihad becomes a duty binding on all Muslims’, for which the whole of the land is non-negotiable, a position likened, without the racist sentiments present in the Hamas charter, to that in the Likud party platform and in movements like Gush Emunim. For Hamas, to concede territory is seen as equivalent to renouncing Islam itself.

Decades down the line, Hamas’s official position changed with regard to a two-state solution. Khaled Mashaal, its leader, has publicly affirmed the movement’s readiness to accept such a division. When Hamas won a majority in the 2006 Palestinian legislative election, Haniyeh, then president-elect, sent messages to both George Bush and Israel’s leaders asking to be recognized and offering a long-term truce (hudna), along the 1967 border lines. No response was forthcoming.

Mousa Marzook said in 2007 that the charter could not be altered because it would look like a compromise not acceptable to the ‘street’ and risk fracturing the party’s unity. Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal has stated that the Charter is “a piece of history and no longer relevant, but cannot be changed for internal reasons”. Ahmed Yousef, senior adviser to Ismail Haniyeh, added in 2011 that it reflected the views of the Elders in the face of a ‘relentless occupation.’ The details of its religious and political language had not been examined within the framework of international law, and an internal committee review to amend it was shelved out of concern not to offer concessions to Israel, as had Fatah, on a silver platter. While Hamas representatives recognize the problem, one official notes that Arafat got very little in return for changing the PLO Charter under the Oslo Accords, and that there is agreement that little is gained from a non-violent approach. Richard Davis says the dismissal by contemporary leaders of its relevance and yet the suspension of a desire to rewrite it reflects the differing constituencies Hamas must address, the domestic audience and international relations. The charter itself is considered an ‘historical relic.’

In March 2006, Hamas released its official legislative program. The document clearly signaled that Hamas could refer the issue of recognizing Israel to a national referendum. Under the heading “Recognition of Israel,” it stated simply (AFP, 3/11/06): “The question of recognizing Israel is not the jurisdiction of one faction, nor the government, but a decision for the Palestinian people.” This was a major shift away from their 1988 charter. A few months later, via University of Maryland’s Jerome Segal, the group sent a letter to U.S. President George W. Bush stating they “don’t mind having a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders”, and asked for direct negotiations: “Segal emphasized that a state within the 1967 borders and a truce for many years could be considered Hamas’s de facto recognition of Israel.”

In an April 2008 meeting between Hamas leader Khaled Mashal and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, an understanding was reached in which Hamas agreed it would respect the creation of a Palestinian state in the territory seized by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War, provided this were ratified by the Palestinian people in a referendum. Hamas later publicly offered a long-term truce with Israel if Israel agreed to return to its 1967 borders and grant the “right of return” to all Palestinian refugees. In November 2008, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh re-stated that Hamas was willing to accept a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, and offered Israel a long-term truce “if Israel recognized the Palestinians’ national rights”. In 2009, in a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Haniyeh repeated his group’s support for a two-state settlement based on 1967 borders: “We would never thwart efforts to create an independent Palestinian state with borders [from] June 4, 1967, with Jerusalem as its capital.” On December 1, 2010, Ismail Haniyeh again repeated, “We accept a Palestinian state on the borders of 1967, with Jerusalem as its capital, the release of Palestinian prisoners, and the resolution of the issue of refugees,” and “Hamas will respect the results [of a referendum] regardless of whether it differs with its ideology and principles.”

In February 2012, according to the Palestinian authority, Hamas forswore the use of violence. Evidence for this was provided by an eruption of violence from Islamic Jihad in March 2012 after an Israeli assassination of a Jihad leader, during which Hamas refrained from attacking Israel. “Israel –– despite its mantra that because Hamas is sovereign in Gaza it is responsible for what goes on there – almost seems to understand,” wrote Israeli journalists Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel, “and has not bombed Hamas offices or installations”.

Israel has rejected some truce offers by Hamas because it contends the group uses them to prepare for more fighting rather than peace. The Atlantic magazine columnist Jeffrey Goldberg, along with other analysts, believes Hamas may be incapable of permanent reconciliation with Israel. Mkhaimer Abusada, a political scientist at Al Azhar University, writes that Hamas talks “of hudna [temporary ceasefire], not of peace or reconciliation with Israel. They believe over time they will be strong enough to liberate all historic Palestine.”

1990s

Hamas carried out its first attack against Israel in 1989, abducting and killing two soldiers. The Israel Defense Forces immediately arrested Yassin and sentenced him to life in prison, and deported 400 Hamas activists, including Zahar, to South Lebanon, which at the time was occupied by Israel. During this time Hamas built a relationship with Hezbollah. Hamas’s military branch, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, was created in 1991. During the 1990s the al-Qassam Brigades conducted numerous attacks on Israel, with both civilian and military victims. In April 1993, suicide bombings in the West Bank began. After the February 1994 massacre by Baruch Goldstein of 30 Muslim civilians in a Hebron mosque, the al-Qassam Brigades began suicide attacks inside Israel.

In December 1992 Israel responded to the killing of a border police officer by deporting 415 leading figures of Hamas and Islamic Jihad to Lebanon, which provoked international condemnation and a unanimous UN Security Council resolution condemning the action. Although the suicide attacks by the al-Qassam Brigades and other groups violated the 1993 Oslo accords (which Hamas opposed), Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat was reluctant to pursue the attackers and may have had inadequate means to do so. Some analysts state that the Palestinian Authority could have stopped the suicide and other attacks on civilians but refused to do so. According to the Congressional Research Service, Hamas admitted to having executed Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israeli authorities in the 1990s. A transcript of a training film by the al-Qassam Brigades tells how Hamas operatives kidnapped Palestinians accused of collaboration and then forced confessions before executing them. In 1996, Yahya Ayash, the chief bombmaker of Hamas and the leader of the West Bank battalion of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, was assassinated by the Israeli secret service.

In September 1997, Israeli agents in Jordan attempted but failed to assassinate Hamas leader Khaled Mashal, leading to chilled relations between the two countries and release of Sheikh Yassin, Hamas’s spiritual leader, from Israeli prison. Two years later Hamas was banned in Jordan, reportedly in part at the request of the United States, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority. Jordan’s King Abdullah feared the activities of Hamas and its Jordanian allies would jeopardize peace negotiations with Israel, and accused Hamas of engaging in illegitimate activities within Jordan. In mid-September 1999, authorities arrested Hamas leaders Khaled Mashal and Ibrahim Ghosheh on their return from a visit to Iran, and charged them with being members of an illegal organization, storing weapons, conducting military exercises, and using Jordan as a training base. Hamas leaders denied the charges. Mashal was exiled and eventually settled in Syria. He fled to Qatar in 2012 as a result of the Syrian civil war.

Second Intifada

Al-Qassam Brigades militants were among the armed groups that launched both military-style attacks and suicide bombings against Israeli civilian and military targets during the Second Intifada (also known as the Al-Aqsa Intifada (Arabic: انتفاضة الأقصى‎, Intifāat El Aqa; Hebrew: אינתיפאדת אל-אקצה‎, Intifādat El-Aqtzah), which began in late September 2000. This Palestinian uprising against Israeli rule in the occupied territories was much more violent than the First Intifada. The military and civilian death toll is estimated at 5500 Palestinians and more than 1100 Israelis, as well as 64 foreigners. A 2007 study of Palestinian suicide bombings during the second intifada (September 2000 through August 2005) found that about 40 percent were carried out by the al-Qassam Brigades.

The immediate trigger for the uprising is disputed, but a more general cause, writes U.S. political science professor Jeremy Pressman, was “popular Palestinian discontent [that] grew during the Oslo peace process because the reality on the ground did not match the expectations created by the peace agreements”. Hamas would be the beneficiary of this growing discontent in the 2006 Palestinian Authority legislative elections.

In January 2004, Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin said that the group would end armed resistance against Israel in exchange for a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and east Jerusalem, and that restoring Palestinians’ “historical rights” (relating to the 1948 Palestinian exodus) “would be left for future generations”. On January 25, 2004, senior Hamas official Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi offered a 10-year truce, or hudna, in return for the establishment of a Palestinian state and the complete withdrawal by Israel from the territories captured in the 1967 Six-Day War. Al-Rantissi stated that Hamas had come to the conclusion that it was “difficult to liberate all our land at this stage, so we accept a phased liberation”. Israel immediately dismissed al-Rantissi’s statements as insincere and a smokescreen for military preparations. Yassin was assassinated on March 22, 2004, by a targeted Israeli air strike, and al-Rantisi was assassinated by a similar air strike on April 18, 2004.

2006 presidential and legislative elections

While Hamas boycotted the 2005 Palestinian presidential election, it did participate in the 2005 municipal elections organized by Yasser Arafat in the occupied territories. In those elections it won control of over one third of Palestinian municipal councils, besting Fatah, which had for long been the biggest force in Palestinian politics. In its election manifesto for the 2006 Palestinian legislative election, Hamas omitted a call for an end to Israel, though it did still call for armed struggle against the occupation. Hamas won the 2006 elections, winning 76 of the 132 seats to Fatah’s 43. Seen by many as primarily a rejection of the Fatah government’s corruption and ineffectiveness, the Hamas victory seemingly had brought to an end 40 years of PLO domination of Palestinian politics.

Following its electoral victory, Hamas assumed the administration of the Gaza strip and introduced radical changes. Writing in Foreign Affairs, Daniel Byman stated that

After it took over the Gaza Strip Hamas revamped the police and security forces, cutting them 50,000 members (on paper, at least) under Fatah to smaller, efficient forces of just over 10,000, which then cracked down on crime and gangs. No longer did groups openly carry weapons or steal with impunity. People paid their taxes and electric bills, and in return authorities picked up garbage and put criminals in jail. Gaza-neglected under Egyptian and then Israeli control, and misgoverned by Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat and his successors-finally has a real government.’ 

In early February 2006, Hamas offered Israel a 10-year truce “in return for a complete Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories: the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem,” and recognition of Palestinian rights including the “right of return”. Mashal added that Hamas was not calling for a final end to armed operations against Israel, and it would not impede other Palestinian groups from carrying out such operations. After the election, the Quartet on the Middle East (the United States, Russia, the European Union (EU), and the United Nations) stated that assistance to the Palestinian Authority would only continue if Hamas renounced violence, recognized Israel, and accepted previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements, which Hamas refused to do. The Quartet then imposed a freeze on all international aid to the Palestinian territories. In 2006 after the Gaza election, Hamas leader sent a letter addressed to George W. Bush where he among other things declared that Hamas would accept a state on the 1967 borders including a truce. However, the Bush administration did not reply.

Legislative policy and reforming the judiciary

Stress the separation between the three powers, the legislative, executive and judicial; activate the role of the Constitutional Court; re-form the Judicial Supreme Council and choose its members by elections and on the basis of qualifications rather than partisan, personal, and social considerations … ; enact the necessary laws that guarantee the neutrality of general prosecutor … [and] laws that will stop any transgression by the executive power on the constitution.

Public freedoms and citizen rights

“Achieve equality before the law among citizens in rights and duties; bring security to all citizens and protect their properties and assure their safety against arbitrary arrest, torture, or revenge; stress the culture of dialogue … ; support the press and media institutions and maintain the right of journalists to access and to publish information; maintain freedom and independence of professional syndicates and preserve the rights of their membership”.

Hamas–Fatah conflict

After the formation of the Hamas-led cabinet on March 20, 2006, tensions between Fatah and Hamas militants progressively rose in the Gaza strip as Fatah commanders refused to take orders from the government while the Palestinian Authority initiated a campaign of demonstrations, assassinations and abductions against Hamas, which led to Hamas responding. Israeli intelligence warned Mahmoud Abbas that Hamas had planned to kill him at his office in Gaza. According to a Palestinian source close to Abbas, Hamas considers president Abbas to be a barrier to its complete control over the Palestinian Authority and decided to kill him. In a statement to Al Jazeera, Hamas leader Mohammed Nazzal, accused Abbas of being party to besieging and isolating the Hamas-led government.

On June 9, 2006, during an Israeli artillery operation, an explosion occurred on a busy Gaza beach, killing eight Palestinian civilians. It was assumed that Israeli shellings were responsible for the killings, but Israeli government officials denied this. Hamas formally withdrew from its 16-month ceasefire on June 10, taking responsibility for the subsequent Qassam rocket attacks launched from Gaza into Israel.

On June 25, two Israeli soldiers were killed and another, Gilad Shalit, captured following an incursion by the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Popular Resistance Committees and Army of Islam. In response, the Israeli military launched Operation Summer Rains three days later, to secure the release of the kidnapped soldier, arresting 64 Hamas officials. Among them were 8 Palestinian Authority cabinet ministers and up to 20 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, The arrests, along with other events, effectively prevented the Hamas-dominated legislature from functioning during most of its term. Shalit was held captive until 2011, when he was released in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners. Since then, Hamas has continued building a network of internal and cross-border tunnels, which are used to store and deploy weapons, shield militants, and facilitate cross-border attacks. Destroying the tunnels was a primary objective of Israeli forces in the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict.

In February 2007 Saudi-sponsored negotiations in Mecca produced agreement on a signed by Mahmoud Abbas on behalf of Fatah and Khaled Mashal on behalf of Hamas. The new government was called on to achieve Palestinian national goals as approved by the Palestine National Council, the clauses of the Basic Law and the National Reconciliation Document (the “Prisoners’ Document”) as well as the decisions of the Arab summit.

In March 2007, the Palestinian Legislative Council established a national unity government, with 83 representatives voting in favor and three against. Government ministers were sworn in by Mahmoud Abbas, the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, at a ceremony held simultaneously in Gaza and Ramallah. In June that year, renewed fighting broke out between Hamas and Fatah. In the course of the June 2007 Battle of Gaza, Hamas exploited the near total collapse of Palestinian Authority forces in Gaza, to seize control of Gaza, ousting Fatah officials. President Mahmoud Abbas then dismissed the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority government. and outlawed the Hamas militia. At least 600 Palestinians died in fighting between Hamas and Fatah. Human Rights Watch, a U.S.-based group, accused both sides in the conflict of torture and war crimes.

Human Rights Watch estimates several hundred Gazans were “maimed” and tortured in the aftermath of the Gaza War. 73 Gazan men accused of “collaborating” had their arms and legs broken by “unidentified perpetrators” and 18 Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel, who had escaped from Gaza’s main prison compound after Israel bombed the facility, were executed by Hamas security officials in the first days of the conflict. Hamas security forces attacked hundreds Fatah officials who supported Israel. Human Rights Watch interviewed one such person:

There were eight of us sitting there. We were all from Fatah. Then three masked militants broke in. They were dressed in brown camouflage military uniforms; they all had guns. They pointed their guns at us and cursed us, then they began beating us with iron rods, including a 10-year-old boy whom they hit in the face. They said we were “collaborators” and “unfaithful”.

They beat me with iron sticks and gun butts for 15 minutes. They were yelling: “You are happy that Israel is bombing us!” until people came out of their houses, and they withdrew.

In March 2012 Mahmoud Abbas stated that there were no political differences between Hamas and Fatah as they had reached agreement on a joint political platform and on a truce with Israel. Commenting on relations with Hamas, Abbas revealed in an interview with Al Jazeera that “We agreed that the period of calm would be not only in the Gaza Strip, but also in the West Bank,” adding that “We also agreed on a peaceful popular resistance [against Israel], the establishment of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders and that the peace talks would continue if Israel halted settlement construction and accepted our conditions.” Progress has stalled, until an April 2014 agreement to form a compromise unity government, with elections to be held in late 2014.

Hamas Charter (1988)

  • Article 7 of the Hamas Covenant provides the following quotation, attributed to Muhammad:

The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree (evidently a certain kind of tree), would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews.

  • Article 22 states that the French revolution, the Russian revolution, colonialism and both world wars were created by the Zionists or forces supportive of Zionism:

You may speak as much as you want about regional and world wars. They were behind World War I, when they were able to destroy the Islamic Caliphate, making financial gains and controlling resources. They obtained the Balfour Declaration, formed the League of Nations through which they could rule the world. They were behind World War II, through which they made huge financial gains by trading in armaments, and paved the way for the establishment of their state. It was they who instigated the replacement of the League of Nations with the United Nations and the Security Council to enable them to rule the world through them. There is no war going on anywhere, without having their finger in it.

  • Article 32 of the Covenant refers to an antisemitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion:

Today it is Palestine, tomorrow it will be one country or another. The Zionist plan is limitless. After Palestine, the Zionists aspire to expand from the Nile to the Euphrates. When they will have digested the region they overtook, they will aspire to further expansion, and so on. Their plan is embodied in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and their present conduct is the best proof of what we are saying.

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