What is Hamas?

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(This article is largely based on information provided by the Counter Extremism Project of the European Council of Foreign Relations, the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, and the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs.)

Hamas is an Islamist militant movement and one of the Palestinian territories’ two major political parties. It governs more than two million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, but the group is best known for its armed terrorist actions against Israel.

Hamas has fired rockets and mortars into Israel since the group took over the Gaza Strip in the mid-2000s. Iranian security officials have said that Iran provided some of these weapons, but that Hamas gained the ability to build its own missiles after training with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and proxies.

In recent years, Israel estimated that Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups in Gaza had about thirty thousand rockets and mortars in their arsenal. Hamas militants have flown balloons carrying incendiary devices toward Israel, which have sometimes caused fires. The group has also carried out incursions into Israeli territory, killing and kidnapping soldiers and civilians.

Prior to the 2023 conflict, Hamas and Israel had their deadliest fighting in 2021, when Hamas fired rockets into Israel following weeks of tensions between Palestinians and Israelis in Jerusalem. During the eleven-day conflict, Hamas and PIJ fired more than four thousand rockets from Gaza, killing ten Israeli civilians and injuring more than three hundred others. During the fighting, Hamas reportedly coordinated with the IRGC and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and used so-called suicide drones along with its usual arsenal of less precise missiles.

In October 2023, Hamas launched a massive surprise attack on southern Israel, killing approximately 1,200 civilians, among them teenagers and babies, and soldiers, and taking dozens more as hostages.

Dozens of countries have designated Hamas a terrorist organization, though some apply this label only to its military wing. Iran provides it with material and financial support, and Turkey reportedly harbors some of its top leaders. (Erdogan aspires to be the next pan Islamic Khalif.)

Hamas is an acronym for “Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya” (Islamic Resistance Movement). It was founded by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, a Palestinian cleric who became an activist in local branches of the Muslim Brotherhood. Yassin established Hamas as the Brotherhood’s political arm in Gaza in December 1987, following the outbreak of the first intifada.

In 1988, Hamas published its charter, calling for the destruction of Israel and the establishment of an Islamic society in historic Palestine. To moderate its image, Hamas published a revised covenant in 2017 that accepted an interim Palestinian state along the “Green Line” border established before the Six-Day War but that still refused to recognize Israel. Hamas recently reverted to the slogan “From the river to the sea”, which implies that all land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea should be owned by the Palestinians and controlled by Hamas. This concept negates the continued existence of Israel and implicitly any “two-state solution”.

Key postulates and concepts of the Hamas Charter read like this:

• “The Islamic Resistance Movement is a distinguished Palestinian movement, whose allegiance is to Allah, and whose way of life is Islam. It strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.” (Article 6)

• “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.” (Preamble)

• “The land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf (a Holy Possession) consecrated for future Muslim generations until Judgment Day. No one can renounce it or any part of it or abandon it or any part of it.” (Article 11)

• “Palestine is an Islamic land… Since this is the case, the Liberation of Palestine is an individual duty for every Muslim wherever he may be.” (Article 13)

• “(Peace) initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement… Those conferences are no more than a means to appoint the infidels as arbitrators in the lands of Islam… There is no solution for the Palestinian problem except by Jihad. Initiatives, proposals, and international conferences are but a waste of time, an exercise in futility.” (Article 13)

• “The Day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims fight Jews and kill them. Then, the Jews will hide behind rocks and trees, and the rocks and trees will cry out: ‘O Moslem, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him.” (Article 7)

• “They (the Jewish Zionists) stood behind the French Revolution, the Communist Revolution and most of the revolutions we hear about… With their money they formed secret organizations – such as the Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, and the Lions – which are spreading around the world, in order to destroy societies and carry out Zionist interests.” (Article 22)

According to a report by the European Union, Palestinian school textbooks are rife with anti-Semitic and violent propaganda against Israel. The report states that the textbooks contain “incitement to hatred and violence and glorification of terrorism”. The textbooks also contain “negative and sometimes dehumanizing characterizations of Israelis and Jews”.

The religious zealotism and anti-Jewish fanaticism of Hamas spill over into child education. Here are some examples of anti-Jewish propaganda in Palestinian school textbooks:

• Study cards for eleventh graders accusing Jews of being “in control of global events through financial power”.

• Assignments instructing seventh graders to describe Israeli soldiers as “Satan’s aides”.

• A textbook chapter imploring Muslims to “liberate” the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

(Hateful Material’: EU Demands Freeze of Palestinian Education Aid Over Antisemitic Textbooks – By Dion J. Pierre)

The European Parliament passed a resolution calling on the European Commission to suspend aid to the Palestinian Authority’s educational system until antisemitic and violent themes are removed from textbooks issued to K-12 students.

The resolution, “deplores the problematic and hateful material in Palestinian school textbooks and study cards which has still not been removed” and noted that the content is influencing a rise in terrorist activity among Palestinian teenagers.

Hamas first employed suicide bombing in April 1993, five months before PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo Accords. The historic pact established limited self-government for parts of the West Bank and Gaza under a newly created entity called the Palestinian Authority (PA). Hamas condemned these accords, as well as the PLO’s and Israel’s mutual recognition.

In 1997, the United States designated Hamas a foreign terrorist organization. The movement went on to spearhead violent resistance during the second intifada, in the early 2000s.

Hamas leaders established a presence in Qatar after falling out with their previous host, Syria, when Palestinian refugees participated in the 2011 uprising that preceded the Syrian Civil War. Ishmail Haniyeh, Chief of Hama’s Political Bureau, has been operating from Doha, Qatar, since 2020, because Egypt restricted his movement into and out of Gaza. Some senior Hamas figures operate out of the group’s offices in Turkey. Marwan Issa and Mohammed Deif command Hamas’s military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. Saleh al-Arouri reportedly heads Hamas’s Lebanon branch. He also took over the group’s West Bank leadership following internal elections that took place in 2021. Israeli forces assassinated the militia’s founder, Salah Shehadeh, in a 2002 air strike.

As a designated terrorist entity, Hamas is cut off from official assistance that the United States and European Union (EU) provide to the PLO in the West Bank. Historically, Palestinian expatriates and private donors in the Persian Gulf provided much of the movement’s funding. In addition, some Islamic charities in the West have channeled money to Hamas-backed social service groups, prompting asset freezes by the U.S. Treasury. Gaza’s economic situation was already dire before Hamas’s 2023 assault on Israel, and the ensuing war is almost certain to exacerbate the extreme poverty of its residents.

Egypt and Israel largely closed their borders with Gaza in 2006–07, restricting the movement of goods and people into and out of it. The two countries maintain a blockade today, cutting off Gaza from most of the world. This forces more than one million Gazan Palestinians (Arab Muslims) to rely on international aid. Israel has allowed Qatar to provide hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance through Hamas. Other foreign aid generally reaches Gaza via the PA and UN agencies. For years after the blockade began, Hamas collected revenue by taxing goods moving through a sophisticated network of tunnels that circumvented the Egyptian crossing into Gaza. This brought staple food, medicine, fuel, construction materials, and cash, but also arms, explosives, rockets, and ammunition into Gaza.

After Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi took power in 2013, Cairo adopted a hostile attitude toward Hamas, which it saw as an extension of its chief domestic enemy, the Muslim Brotherhood. The Egyptian army shut down most of the tunnels breaching its territory while it waged a counterterrorism campaign against a branch of the self-proclaimed Islamic State on its side of the border, i.e., on the Sinai Peninsula. However, in 2018, Egypt began to allow some commercial goods to enter Gaza through its Salah al-Din border checkpoint. As of 2021, Hamas reportedly collected upward of $12 million per month from taxes on Egyptian goods imported into Gaza.

Today, Iran is one of Hamas’s biggest benefactors, contributing funds, weapons, and training. Iran currently provides approximately $100 million annually to Hamas, the Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and other Palestinian groups designated as terrorist organizations by the United States. Iran was quick to praise Hamas’s assault on Israel in late 2023 and to pledge its continuing support for the terror group.

Turkey has been another backer of Hamas – and a critic of Israel – following President Erdogan’s rise to power in 2002. Though Turkey insists it only supports Hamas politically, it has been accused of also funding Hamas’s terrorism, including through aid diverted from the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency.

Hamas has been the de facto authority in Gaza since shortly after Israel’s withdrawal from the territory in 2005. The following year, Hamas won a majority of seats in the PA’s legislature and formed a government. It earned votes for the social services it provided and as a rejection of the incumbent Al Fatah, which many voters perceived as having grown corrupt at the helm of the PLO.

The outcome was unacceptable to Al Fatah and its Western backers, and the party ousted Hamas from power in the West Bank. In Gaza, Hamas routed Fatah’s militias in a week of fighting, resulting in a political schism between the two Palestinian territories. Palestinians have not voted for a legislature since 2006, nor for a president since 2008.

Hamas took over the remnants of PA institutions in the strip, it established a judiciary and put in place authoritarian institutions. In theory, Hamas governs in accordance with the sharia-based Palestinian Basic Law but it has generally been more restrictive than the law requires, including by controlling how women dress and enforcing gender segregation in public.

The watchdog group Freedom House found in 2020 that the “Hamas-controlled government has no effective or independent mechanisms for ensuring transparency in its funding, procurements, or operations.” Hamas represses the Gazan media, civilian activism on social media, the political opposition, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), leaving it with zero accountability.

The “chutzpah” of the Islamists with which they claim Palestine their irreversible property is stunning. Palestine used to be the part of Canaan, assigned by the Egyptians to the Pelleset, one of the so-called Sea People, who attacked Egypt around 1200 BC. The name “Pelleset” became “Philistines”. One piece of land of the Philistines was Gaza. Later this all became part of the Jewish kingdom of Juda. When they Romans destroyed Jerusalem and expelled the Jews, they renamed Juda “Palaestine” after the Philistines. This was Roman propaganda.

The region we call today “Palestine” was controlled by the Canaanites, the Jews, the Egyptians, the Assyrians, Babylonians, the Persians, the Romans, the Byzantine Empire, the Islamic Khalifate, the Turkish Osman Empire, and the British. Islam and Arabs did not show up in “Palestine” until the 7th Century AC. Islamic armies conquered not only Canaan, but also Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and the Persian empire. They took the land by force. To claim that, therefore, it is now forever Islamic holy land that must never be given back and that nobody except Muslims have right to own and live on, is like stealing somebody’s house and garden and proclaiming them forever the thief’s holy property.

Hamas has shown by its ideology and its actions that it has no interest in a peaceful compromise. Hamas wants to destroy Israel, kill all the Jews, and confiscate all the land from the Jordan to the Mediterranean. Israel’s many attempts at finding a compromise solution have all failed. Now an uncompromising solution must be found and hopefully will be found that will put a lasting end to Hamas and similar butcher associations. Lasting peace is obviously not possible with Hamas. Now, Israel must find lasting peace without Hamas. Better an ending with horror than horror without end.

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