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What is Hamas:
The Islamic Resistance Movement (Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya) is a political and military Sunni Islamist group that rules the Gaza Strip in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. Hamas is an abbreviation for this organization.
With its main office in Gaza City, it is also present in the West Bank, which is the larger of the two Palestinian territories and is ruled by Fatah, its secular opponent. The “dominant political force” in the Palestinian territories is generally seen as being Hamas.
After the First Intifada against Israel began in 1987, Palestinian activist and imam Ahmed Yassin created Hamas. It originated from his Mujama al-Islamiya, an Islamic charity associated with the Muslim Brotherhood based in Egypt that was founded in Gaza in 1973.
By the late 1990s, Hamas’s role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had grown. It had opposed both the Oslo Accords, which saw Fatah give up “the use of terrorism and other acts of violence” and recognize Israel in the interest of a two-state solution, and the Israel-PLO Letters of Mutual Recognition.
In addition to promoting Palestinian armed resistance, Hamas gained a majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council in 2006 and seized control of the Gaza Strip from Fatah in 2007 after a civil war. Ever since, it has governed Gaza as a one-party, de facto autocracy.
In the agreements it made with Fatah in 2005, 2006, and 2007, Hamas started negotiating with Israel and the 1967 borders, despite its previous rejection of the two-state solution and pursuit of an Islamic Palestinian state over the entirety of Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.
A new charter issued by Hamas in 2017 called for the creation of a Palestinian state inside the 1967 boundaries, with no recognition of Israel. Many believe that Hamas’s repeated offers of a truce (for ten to one hundred years) based on the 1967 lines are consistent with a two-state solution, while others assert that Hamas’s long-term goal is to establish one state in the area that was once Mandatory Palestine.
Based on the tenets of Islamism, Hamas advocates for Palestinian nationalism within an Islamic framework and has conducted an armed battle, or jihad, against Israel. Its two wings are the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, a military branch, and Dawah, a social service wing.
Because of its opposition to Israel, Hamas has become more well-liked in Palestinian society since the mid-1990s. Many nations and universities have designated Hamas as a terrorist organization as a result of the group’s activities, which include indiscriminate rocket assaults and suicide bombers against civilian targets. An attempt to denounce Hamas for “acts of terror” before the UN in 2018 was unsuccessful.
Right now, the Gaza Strip is blocked off. There have been several battles between Israel and Hamas, notably those in 2008–09, 2012, and 2014. When Hamas launched “Operation Al-Aqsa Flood” in the 2023 conflict, its gunmen breached the Gaza barrier, attacked Israeli military installations, slaughtered civilians, and abducted soldiers and civilians back into Gaza.
According to some accounts, the invasion represents Israel’s greatest military defeat since the 1973 Arab–Israeli War. Israel responded by declaring its aim to destroy Hamas, tightening the embargo on Gaza and launching a massive aerial bombardment campaign over the region in anticipation of a land invasion. The US and the European Parliament have likewise demanded that Hamas be destroyed.
Origin of Hamas:
The Muslim Brotherhood did not actively participate in the resistance movement when Israel captured the Palestinian lands in 1967; instead, they concentrated on reestablishing Islamic ideals and social-religious reform. The early 1980s saw a shift in this perspective, and Islamic organizations started to get more active in Palestinian affairs.
The Palestinian refugee Sheikh Ahmed Yassin of Al-Jura provided the impetus for this change. Despite his struggles, this quadriplegic from modest beginnings rose to prominence in Gaza as a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood.
He had a devoted following thanks to his charm and passion, and as a quadriplegic, he was dependent on them for everything, including food, transportation to and from events, and publicizing his plan. As a spinoff of the Muslim Brotherhood, Yassin established the social-religious nonprofit organization al-Mujama al-Islamiya (“Islamic center”) in Gaza in 1973.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Israeli authorities did not seem to care about al-Mujama al-Islamiya. Compared to Fatah and the Palestine Liberation Organization, they saw it as a religious movement that was far less violent against Israel; many also thought that the PLO would become weaker as a result of internal conflicts between Islamist Islamic organizations.
Thus, when PLO and Islamist forces fought, the Israeli government stayed out of the fray. Israeli officials debate on the extent to which the government’s support—or lack thereof—for these disputes contributed to the growth of Islamism in Palestine.
Some have claimed, like Arieh Spitzen, that Israel “doubts it could have done much to curb political Islam, a movement that was spreading across the Muslim world,” even if it had sought to stop the Islamists sooner. Others, such as Avner Cohen, Israel’s religious affairs administrator in Gaza, claimed Islamism was “Israel’s creation” and failure, and that the phenomenon was fed by apathy to the situation. Some credit state sponsors, such as Iran, for the group’s ascent.
Yassin was detained in 1984 when the Israelis discovered that his organization had weapons, but he was freed in May 1985 as part of a prisoner swap. He persisted in broadening his charitable endeavors in Gaza. After he was freed, he founded al-Majd, an acronym for Munazamat al-Jihad wa al-Da’wa, which is led by Yahya Sinwar, a former student leader, and Rawhi Mushtaha.
Their duties include managing internal security and tracking down local informants for the Israeli intelligence agencies. He gave former student leader Salah Shehade instructions to organize al-Mujahidun al-Filastiniun (Palestinian warriors) around the same time, but its militants were soon apprehended by Israeli authorities and had their weapons seized.
On December 10, 1987, a group of Brotherhood members met the day after an event in which an Israeli army truck collided with a car at a checkpoint in Gaza, killing four Palestinian day laborers, giving birth to the notion of Hamas.
They got together at Yassin’s house and determined that when the protest riots that led to the First Intifada broke out, they too had to respond in some way. Their first public engagement is thought to have been a pamphlet calling for resistance that was released on December 14; nevertheless, the name Hamas itself was not used until January 1988. Although he was not a direct member of the group, Yassin approved of it.
It also expressed acceptance during a meeting with the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan in February 1988. Since it merely offered an Islamic interpretation of the PLO’s original objectives—an armed struggle to liberate all of Palestine—instead of the territorial compromise the PLO accepted—a small portion of Mandatory Palestine—many Palestinians saw it as engaging more authentically with their national expectations.
It was pragmatic to separate Hamas from the Muslim Brotherhood; while the latter refused to use violence against Israel, the Islamists associated with the former were afraid of losing support to rival groups like the PLO and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad if they abstained from the intifada.
They also believed that Israel wouldn’t meddle in its social efforts if it kept its militant actions apart. In August 1988, Hamas published the Hamas Charter, wherein it defined itself as a chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood and its desire to establish “an Islamic state throughout Palestine”.
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