Since its founding in 1987 in Gaza by Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, Hamas - an Arabic acronym for Islamic Resistance Movement meaning "zeal" - has been committed to destroying the Jewish state and replacing it with an Islamic state in all of Palestine.
Hamas was created shortly before the December 1987 Intifada as a more militant, Palestinian offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, a religious, political and social movement founded in Egypt and dedicated to the gradual victory of Islam. Since the mid-1970s, the Brotherhood had been expanding its influence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip through its vast array of social services. Hamas advocacy of an immediate holy war to liberate Palestine rendered the Brotherhood's policy of gradual Islamicization ineffectual.
Hamas preaches and engages in violence and terror in order to destroy the state of Israel and replace it with an Islamic state. Its virulent hatred of Jews and Judaism is deeply rooted in the anti-Semitic writings of Muslim Brotherhood theologians.
In August 1988, Hamas issued its Covenant laying down its ideological principles and goals. Replete with anti-Semitism, it echoes the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion and charges Jews with an international conspiracy to gain control of the world. In Hamas' worldview, Islamic precepts forbid a Jewish state in the area known as Palestine, the Jewish people have no legitimate connection to the land of Israel and Yasir Arafat is a traitor to the Islamic Palestinian cause. As the Hamas Covenant proclaims, "The land of Palestine is an Islamic trust... It is forbidden to anyone to yield or concede any part of it... Israel will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it..."
Hamas is both a terrorist organization and a mass social, political and religious movement. The military branch is reportedly divided into three wings: an intelligence arm which gathers information about Palestinians suspected of collaboration, an arm which pursues those who have violated Islamic law and the Izzedine al-Qassam squads who are responsible for most of the terror attacks. The al-Qassam squads are comprised of a few dozen activists loosely organized into small, shadowy terror cells, at times operating independently of each other. Hamas' military and political leaders are based throughout the West Bank and Gaza and the organization maintains offices and representatives in Teheran, Damascus and Amman. The connections and levels of coordination between the military and political branches are concealed.
The division of Hamas into military and political/social wings has led many observers to erroneously assume that the social wing of Hamas is completely separate from its military wing. However, funds raised for the social programs of Hamas free up other funds for the military wing and there is no open accounting system whereby the international community can ascertain whether or not the social wing finances the military wing. For instance, so-called humanitarian donations reward the families of Hamas suicide bombers.
Hamas' military wing also utilizes the organization's social wing for indoctrination and recruitment. The social, cultural, religious and educational institutions of Hamas are well-known venues for anti-Israel and anti-Jewish hatred and serve as recruitment centers for Hamas suicide bombers. For example, a Hamas-sponsored soccer team in Hebron provided a ready supply of several Hamas suicide bombers. In early 2006, Hamas began operation of a television station based in Gaza, Al Aksa TV, which broadcasts primarily religious and children's programming. Al Aksa TV – which Hamas says it hopes to soon broadcast via satellite to broaden its audience – is likely to become a key tool in propagating Hamas' extremist message. Indeed, the host of the station's children's program told the New York Times that his show "will teach children the basics of militant Palestinian politics."
Terrorism and Violence:
Hamas launched its campaign of violence in 1989, first against Israeli soldiers and suspected Palestinian collaborators, and then against Israeli civilians. In the wake of the Oslo agreement, Hamas leaders intensified their rhetoric and vowed to derail the peace process through violent attacks. Drive-by shootings, firebombings and stabbings increased. Suicide missions began in April 1994, when a Hamas suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden car into a bus in Afula killing eight and wounding 50 others.
Since that time Hamas has claimed responsibility for hundreds of attacks against Israeli civilian and military targets. Israeli security sources have thwarted scores more. Following Israel's unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip in August 2005, Hamas carried out dozens of rocket attacks against civilian targets in southern Israel. According to the Israel Defense Forces, through suicide bombings and other violent attacks, Hamas has killed nearly 300 Israelis since September 2000, and wounded over 2,000.
While Hamas agreed to a ceasefire or "tahdia" on terrorist operations in March 2005, according to Israeli sources, Hamas continued to plan and perpetrate terrorist attacks, and helped provide support for attacks claimed by other terrorist organizations.
Through systematic religious and political indoctrination and social pressure, Hamas leaders recruit young Palestinian men for suicide missions and other attacks. Hamas has also recruited beyond the West Bank and Gaza. According to Israeli sources, Hamas has recruited and operated a number of Israeli Arab terror cells. In June 2003, Israel indicted five senior officials of the Israeli Arab Islamic Movement, including movement leader Sheikh Ra'ad Salah, on various terrorism-related charges including membership in Hamas and raising funds abroad for Hamas agencies in the West Bank and Gaza. According to Israeli sources, two British Muslim suicide bombers who blew up a pub in Tel Aviv in April 2003 were Hamas recruits dispatched by the Hamas military command in Gaza.
Hamas enjoys strong financial backing from Iran (an estimated $20 - $30 million), private benefactors and Muslim charities in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, Palestinian expatriates across the globe and American donors. Its budget has been estimated at $70 million and 85 percent of it reportedly comes from abroad; the remaining 15 percent is raised among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. A number of Americans and U.S.-based charities have been implicated in funneling money to Hamas. It is estimated that Saudi Arabia continues to channel between $12 - $14 million to Hamas annually. At a June 2003 press conference, Adel al-Jubeir, a senior adviser to the Saudi Crown Prince, did acknowledge that many Palestinian institutions funded by the Saudis may be run or managed by the political wing of Hamas.
Syria remains a key center for Hamas operations, and the Assad regime provides support and protection to key Hamas leadership based in Damascus.
Hamas and Palestinian Politics:
Hamas had tremendous success in the January 25, 2006 parliamentary elections, routing Fatah, and winning 74 seats in the 132-seat legislature, with Fatah earning a disappointing 45 seats. Hamas will thus form the next Palestinian Authority government, with Mahmoud Abbas remaining as Palestinian Authority President.
Although the “Oslo II” agreement signed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority in September 1995, outlining the modalities of Palestinian elections, bars candidates who “commit or advocate racism; or pursue the implementation of their aims by unlawful or non-democratic means,” President Abbas did not prevent Hamas’ participation in the political process.
Hamas began large-scale participation in the Palestinian political scene in 2005, and they did extremely well in the series of municipal elections held throughout the year, gaining more than a third of municipal council seats. As a result of the fourth round of Palestinian municipal elections held in December 2005, over one million Palestinians live in municipalities governed by Hamas (while only 700,000 live in municipalities governed by Fatah).
Hamas candidates appeal to Palestinian voters as the alternative to the perceived corruption, inaction and weakness of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority leadership. Candidates promised improved socio-economic conditions for Palestinian families, and greater social services. They also pledged an end to the “Israeli occupation,” the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital and the return of all Palestinian refugees.
Through the 2006 election campaign, Hamas candidates and leadership did not disavow their commitment to an “armed struggle” against Israel, their refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist, and the precepts of the Hamas Charter. Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar declared on Palestinian TV, “We do not recognize the Israeli enemy, nor his right to be our neighbor, nor to stay (on the land), nor his ownership of any inch of land. . . . We are interested in restoring our full rights to return all the people of Palestine to the land of Palestine. Our principles are clear: Palestine is a land of Waqf (Islamic trust), which can not be given up.” At the same time, a number of Hamas candidates did make pragmatic statements, indicating that they might deal with Israelis in certain situations, or via a third party.
The entry of Hamas into Palestinian politics has been somewhat controversial. Some Hamas ideologues argue that involvement with the Palestinian Authority will lead to comprising the party’s goals, and the legitimization of the Palestinian Authority’s dealings with the State of Israel. Indeed, for these reasons Hamas did not participate in the last Palestinian elections in 1996.