Hamas is an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya,
Islamic Resistance Movement. The acronym means "Zeal" in Arabic. Hamas was created as the armed wing of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan al-Muslimin) in Gaza, in 1987 or 1988. The Hamas Charter is
virulently anti-Semitic, openly genocidal and uncompromising in its goal of riding Palestine of the Jews.
Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, established in
1946 in Gaza. The Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood was a generally quiescent force, whose main goal was to institute a
religious revival in Palestinian society. The Brotherhood had relatively little to do with the fight against Israel or
later in opposition to the occupation, though individual members were active in arms smuggling during the Israeli War of
Independence. However, one group initiated by former members of the brotherhood, Hizb ut Tahrir, formed in the
West Bank, later evolved into an international Islamist organization. Hizb ut Tahrir has now taken root in Gaza as well.
After 1967, the main front organization of the brotherhood was Ahmad
Yassin 's Mujama‘ (established 1973), a welfare charity which supported clinics, kindergartens and
education. This group was encouraged by Israeli civilian administration in Gaza to apply for registered charity status
in 1978 and may have been indirectly funded by Israel as a means of dividing Palestinian society. It collected funds
from local zakat (charity) collections, Gulf state Islamic organizations (often via Jordan), and expatriate
Due to the Mujama's identification of secular forces in Palestinian
society as its main opponent, there was considerable tension with PLO, which climaxed in January 1980 when Islamist
activists attacked Palestinian Red Crescent Society offices and attempted to march on the home of its Director, Haydar
‘Abd al-Shafi. Its main base was the Islamic University of Gaza (UG), founded after Sadat closed Egyptian
universities to Gazans due to Palestinian protest at Camp David. Sheikh Awwad's preexisting religious college, the only
higher education institution in Gaza, was transformed into a University. However, with tensions over IUG's basic
policy, Mujama‘ encouraged Israeli authorities to dismiss their opponents in the committee in February of 1981,
resulting in subsequent Islamisation of IUG policy and staff including the obligation on women to wear the hijab and
thobe and separate entrances for men and women), and enforced by violence and ostracization of dissenters. Tacit
complicity from both university and Israeli authorities allowed Mujama‘ to keep a weapons cache to use against
secularists. By the mid 1980s, it was the largest university in the occupied territories with 4,500 students, and
student elections were won handily by Mujama‘.
Outside the university, Mujama had only limited support. This included
support in early 1980s from medical and engineering associations and some support from UNRWA teachers. Throughout the
1980s, it increasingly used violence against institutions such as cinemas, places selling or serving alcohol and
casinos, which it deemed un-Islamic. Its increasingly overt political aspirations, especially in Khan Yunis under ‘Abd
al-Aziz Rantisi, eventually led to conflict with Israel. In 1984, thirteen members including Yassin were arrested by
Israel and an arms cache seized, and leadership was passed to Rantisi and Dr Ibrahim Yazuri. There were also splits
from the Brotherhood by those who advocated Islamic liberation of Palestine, especially Islamic Jihad in 80-90s. By
1985, Gazan membership of Mujama‘ was about 2,000, largely employed in religious, community service and trading
sectors. The leadership was largely born around 1948 and grew up as refugees in Gaza, with professional education often
Hamas was formed about February 1988
(or December 1987) to allow participation of the brotherhood in the
first Intifada. The founding leaders of Hamas were: Ahmad Yassin, ‘Abd al-Fattah Dukhan, Muhammed
Shama’, Ibrahim al-Yazuri, Issa al-Najjar, Salah Shehadeh (from Bayt Hanun) and ‘Abd al-Aziz Rantisi. Dr. Mahmud Zahar
is also usually listed as one of the original leaders. Other leaders include: Sheikh Khalil Qawqa, Isa al-Ashar, Musa
Abu Marzuq, Ibrahim Ghusha, Khalid Mish’al.
The August 1988
declared that all Palestine is Islamic trust land, can never be surrendered to non-Muslims and is an integral part
of Muslim world. It cites the forged
Protocols of the Elders of Zion as legitimate documents, declares that negotiations
and international conferences are a waste of time, and blames 'Zionists' for the French and Russian revolutions.
Hamas was divided into three separate wings. The political wing,
staffed by Yassin's closest allies (Shanab, Yazuri, Rantisi, Zahhar) produced leaflets, raised funds especially in
Gulf, recruited members and coopted mosques. The intelligence apparatus, known as al-Majd (glory), under Yihyah
Sanwar and Ruhi Mushtaha, was created for internal policing, especially of
Gaza (that is, killing collaborators and getting its own informants). It later
merged with the military wing, the ‘Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, which began as
the smallest wing. Hamas operated through a cell system, and was therefore hard for Israeli agents to penetrate.
Israel supposedly barely interfered with its activities initially,
continuing to see it as a social reformist organization and thus promoting it as a viable partner in discussions in
order to marginalize the PLO, resulting in frequent meetings between Hamas figures (including Yassin) and Israeli
government officials such as a reported Zahar-Rabin meeting. This tacit cooperation ended with the kidnapping and
killing of Israeli soldiers Sasportas and Sa'don. Hamas was banned and Ahmed Yassin and others were arrested.
Military actions, though originally declared incompatible with
religion, were seen as part of the Brotherhood’s increasing reconciliation with nationalism and drew support from
refugees, white collar workers and professionals. The Hamas agreed to abide by decisions of the PNC in 1989, but called
for elections to it (1991). By 1990-1, they were cooperating with PFLP in opposition to Fatah policies.
Unlike Arafat, Hamas did not support Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf
War, when Iraq invaded Kuwait. Instead they called for both Iraqi and US withdrawal. Consequently, Gulf States shifted
their funding from PLO to Hamas, and may have donated as much as $28m per month (from Saudi Arabia primarily). Hamas
thus took PLO's welfare role away from it, generating considerable public support due to their greater efficiency. There
were armed confrontations with Fatah, and some conciliatory meetings, calling for unity, especially with December 1992
expulsions of Hamas leaders by Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin. The January 1993 meeting in Khartum resulted in increased
coordination, pledges of mutual nonviolence, and PLO pledging delay in returning to talks with Israel until the
deported activists were returned. Also, after the" al-Aqsa massacre" in October 1990, Hamas turned its primary
opposition to Israel; it declared every Israeli soldier and settler a legitimate target. In fact, it had already been
kidnapping and killing Israeli soldiers.
Hamas shunned the Oslo peace process and joined the wider rejectionist
alliance which managed to gain considerable support. The first Hamas suicide bombing in opposition to the Oslo accords
was conducted in 1993.
Palestinian Authority (PA) tried to use foreign donor funds to
replace Hamas welfare services, but it did not move vigorously to suppress the Hamas after signing the Oslo accords and
renouncing terror. In 1994, after protest against the PA, there were shootings in Gaza by PA police and Arafat coopted
the leadership in Gaza, which subsequently opted for non-military measures. This caused a split in Hamas leadership
throughout the occupied territories. At the same time, Abu Marzuq, head of Hamas political leadership in Jordan,
supposedly gave de facto acceptance of Israel within 1948 borders, by declaring that a hudna (truce) would
be in place if Israel withdrew from the occupied territories, signifying supposedly a recognition of the legitimacy of
Israel within the Green Line. This was also reiterated by Sheikh Yassin in a spring 1994 letter in which he offered a
ceasefire (hudna) if Israeli forces withdraw from occupied territories, settlements were dismantled and prisoners
were released. and by Rantissi. Though this offer is repeated from time to time, each time it is made clear that the
Hudna or truce is to be temporary and that the Hamas will never accept the existence of Israel.
In 1996 after a series of suicide bombings in Israel, and coincident
with the signing of the Oslo II accord, Muhamed Dahlan supposedly ensured the thorough dismantling of Hamas
infrastructure in Gaza, including charities and welfare agencies, but in fact, Hamas remained in place.
The confrontation with the PA became most explicit while the Hamas
leadership (Rantisi, Yassin, Abu Marzuq) were in jail, but all were subsequently released. Yassin was released in 1997
after a failed Israeli attempt on the life of Khaled Mashaal in Jordan. A new modus vivendi was achieved
at that time. It
allowed Hamas to operate as long as they didn't oppose the Palestinian Authority. Thus, they could not attack the Oslo
accords directly and reprisals against PA repression were taken against Israel. Hamas presents itself as an alternative
to the PA internationally, through diplomacy. Despite its role in establishing the Damascus 10 refusal front grouping,
Hamas participates in the National and Islamic Front that was initiated by Marwan Barghouti.
There are several divisions and potentials for splits within the Hamas.
The political and military wings had become semi-independent before
Oslo to protect the political decision-makers. Arafat used this fissure in
mid 95, holding dialogue with the political wing and seeking its
participation in the political process, while combating the
Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. This resulted in minor Hamas participation in
elections, while the military wing were exploding buses in Israel 2 months later. The Diaspora leadership is much more
strongly opposed to the Oslo process than those in the occupied territories, backing the military wing especially when
PA-Israel deals were thought to be forthcoming. There was dissension in the political wing on participation in
elections. This was never settled, with Hamas candidates running in election without formal party approval. Within the
military wing, the newly created ‘Cells of the Martyr the Engineer Yahya Ayyash' were more hard line than Izz al-Din
al-Qassam brigades. Additionally, the Hamas infrastructure in the West Bank, which centers around the Hebron area and
Bir Zeit University, could split from the Ikhwan-dominated Gaza group, which is apparently more militant.
Second Intifada, Hamas became
more active both politically and
militarily. It joined with the Fatah Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in several suicide attacks, and also began plotting to usurp
leadership of the Palestine Authority from the PLO. Popularity soared as polls showed combined Hamas/Islamic Jihad
support exceeding 30 percent. Hamas was blacklisted as a terrorist group by the United Sates and eventually by the EU as
well, and Saudi Arabia began withholding support from Hamas. Shi'ite Iran apparently had become the financial mainstay
of the Hamas, which also received moral support from the Iranian supported Hizbollah. Egyptian sponsored talks during
the tenure of PNA Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas failed to produce agreement on a cease-fire with Israel, but the PLO
nevertheless failed to move against Hamas, and announced that it would not do so.
Hamas popularity increased after Israel assassinated Sheikh Ahmed
Yassin March 22, 2004. Abdel Azziz Rantissi was chosen to succeed him. Hamas and PLO/PNA began intensive negotiations
to allow Hamas to join the Palestine Authority government and also to rejoin the PLO. At the same time Hamas was
marginalized in the Arab world, and reportedly lost all Saudi funding, including the residual funding that was
supposedly used for charities. This support has apparently been replaced by massive funding from Iran. Rantissi was
assassinated on April 17, 2004.
Mahmoud Zahar was reportedly chosen to replace him, but the appointment was not announced.
In March of 2005, following the election
of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu-Mazen) to succeed Yasser Arafat as President of the Palestine Nation Authority as well as chairman
of the PLO, Palestinian groups met in a conference in Cairo. The conference decided on a Tahadiyeh - "lull" in
the fighting with Israel. At the same time, the Hamas and Islamic Jihad announced that they would be joining the PLO.
The Hamas also decided to participate for the first time in Palestine Legislative Council elections. However, in January
of 2006, candidates representing the Hamas swept to victory in Palestinian elections, overcoming the traditional
leadership of the Fateh and PLO. Polls showed that most Palestinians want the Hamas to negotiate with Israel and give
up its non-recognition of the Jewish state. However, Hamas leaders refuse to recognize the existence of Israel in
diplomatic terms and refuse to consider the possibility of peace. Donor states froze funds to the Palestinian authority
until the Hamas would agree to recognize Israel and abide by the Oslo accords. However, this boycott was soon rendered
more or less meaningless by mechanisms that allowed the donor states to pay Palestinian workers directly, bypassing the
Hamas government formally. Meanwhile, the Hamas and other groups accumulated large quantities of arms smuggled in
through tunnels from Rafiah in Egypt, and brought cash donations from Iran and Arab states through the EU supervised
border crossings. Israel froze tax moneys that were owed to the Palestinian Authority.
In June of 2007, Hamas forces in Gaza
staged a ferocious coup against the Fatah-led Palestinian authority/PLO forces who were far more numerous, and drove
them out of Gaza. Fatah leaders were thrown from the tops of buildings after being shot in the knees, and at least one
was butchered and the "steaks" were sent to his family. Israel unfroze tax money for the Fatah government of Mahmoud
Abbas, and the United States put together an aid package for the government, now based exclusively in the West Bank.
Currently Hamas seems to have
developed several factions. One group under Ismail Hanniyeh, the PM of the "de
facto" government, is considered to be relatively "moderate" and speaks of a
long term "Hudna" with Israel, if Israel will
agree to withdraw to 1967 borders and accept all the Palestinian refugees of the
1948 and 1967 wars and their descendants. Hanniyeh and his group are the local
face of Hamas. The second group is controlled from Damascus by Khaled Meshal,
and is less moderate. The third group is supposedly most extreme and is
represented by people like
Mahmoud Zahar, who are evidently controlled from Iran
and aligned with the Iranian sponsored
The Hamas government in Gaza,
which seized power illegally is not recognized by the European Union, the US or
Israel. Attempts to form a second unity government seem to have failed for now.
However, the Hamas have received the support of several European MPs who
traveled to Gaza by boat. Presumably, they support the Hamas' long term goals of
Updated Nov 13, 2008
(Updated August 2007).
Synonyms and alternate spellings: ;
Further Information: See
History of Islam and the Arabs