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Hamas, Arabic for "zeal" and also an acronym "Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya," or Islamic Resistance Movement, is the largest and most influential Palestinian militant movement. It won the January 2006 Palestinian Authority's (PA) general legislative elections.[1] Its greatest strength has been in Gaza, but it also has a significant following in the West Bank.

Like Hezbollah, it traditionally has had both a social services and a military wing. Hamas refuses to recognize the State of Israel, which has responded with economic sanction, and, in response to attacks on Israel, with military action.


The Hamas Charter calls for destruction of Israel, although Hamas has never had the physical capability to do so. It is unclear if this is still really the view of its leadership, but the preamble to the document states, "Israel will rise and will remain erect until Islam eliminates it as it had eliminated its predecessors." Article Eleven states that Hamas "believes that the land of Palestine has been an Islamic waqf[2] throughout the generations and until the Day of Resurrection, no one can renounce it or part of it, or abandon it or part of it. [3]

As described in the title of the thesis by a German Army officer at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, it may be seeking a balance between "violence and pragmatism;" it must react to its internal perception in Palestinian politics, but its actual political and situational circumstances are more important. If this hypothesis is correct, and it is neither utterly committed to the destruction of Israel nor a pure political and social movement, it may be possible to influence Hamas to use means other than violence[4]

A United States Institute of Peace report said that some, but certainly not all, Hamas leaders have suggested that if Palestine were recognized by Israel, a theologically acceptable way for coexistence would be under the principle of renewable hudna, or truce. [5] A coauthor of this report, Osama Abu-Irshaid, [6] formerly was editor of Al-Zaytounah, the biweekly Arabic-language newspaper published by the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP), which was linked to the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF), which was shut down for funding Hamas. [7] While abu-Irshaid may indeed have Hamas ties, other sources, such as Ismail Haniyeh, the former prime minister of the Palestinian Authority have suggested hudna might be a formula for a continuing ceasefire; Khaled Meshal also said it might be a basis for negotiating with the Obama administration [8]

Some analysts, such as Gawdat Bahgat, suggest Hamas is a proxy for Iran and will never reject terrorist positions that are to Iran's interest. [9]

There are arguments that it changed significantly after being elected in 2006. This is complicated by Hamas leadership prohibiting members from serving, simultaneously, in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and Hamas’s executive council. Thus, the Damascus-based political leadership, headed by Mishal, reflects different positions than the "internal" Hamas group under Ismail Haneya [10]


Its leadership, including founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin came from the Muslim Brotherhood; Article Two of the Charter says "The Islamic Resistance Movement is one of the wings of the Muslim Brothers in Palestine." He created, in 1973, al-Mujamma' al-Islami (the Islamic Center) to coordinate the Muslim Brotherhood's political activities in Gaza. Yassin founded Hamas as the Muslim Brotherhood's local political arm in December 1987, following the eruption of the first intifada, a Palestinian uprising against Israeli control of the West Bank and Gaza. Hamas published its official charter in 1988, moving decidedly away from the Muslim Brotherhood's ethos of nonviolence. The first Hamas suicide bombing took place in April 1993. Five months later, Arafat, and Yitzhak Rabin, then-prime minister of Israel, sealed the Oslo peace accords.[1]

Yassin was killed in 2004, by an acknowledged Israeli operation. His immediate replacement, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, also was killed by a targeted Israeli operation in the same year. Khalid Mashal replaced him; Mashal, along with deputy political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh, reside in Damascus, Syria.

Palestinian politics

After defeating Fatah, the party of the PA's president, Mahmoud Abbas, by winning 74 of 132 parliamentary seats in the 2006 election, there has been a struggle for political dominance.

Fatah sent a unity proposal to Hamas in October 2009, which was mediated by Egypt. One difficult point is that Hamas wants a clause that allows it to resist Israel.[11]

Hamas, once viewed as the more radical Islamist party, is now pressed by more extreme groups. In August 2009, its security forces attacked the Ibn-Taymiyah mosque in the Gaza town of Rafah, killing a number of members of an insurgent Islamic sect called Jund Ansar Allah (JAA), along with the group's leader, Abdel-Latif Moussa. "Hamas had accused the group of bombing Internet cafés, music stores, foreign schools, and weddings -- allegations the group denied. In turn, JAA complained that Hamas had persecuted its members, confiscated money and equipment worth $120,000, and even tried to kidnap its Syrian military commander, Abu Abdallah al-Muhajir. At the mosque, Moussa and his followers refused to surrender to the Hamas forces gathered outside, and ensuing fighting left 22 dead.[12] Hamas, which had presented itself as an Islamist alternative to Fatah, has had difficulty in maintaining its religious image, and has been more aggressive than Fatah in suppressing challenges. Increasingly subject to the same criticisms it had offered when opposition, it was challenged by Salafist organizations including al-Qaeda. "In distress, al-Qaeda is seeking to use the Palestinian question to improve its image by presenting itself as the true defender of the Palestinian people."[13] when, after taking control of Gaza, it declined to impose sharia law. JAA apparently triggered armed response when it announced it was establishing an Islamic emirate in Gaza, and put out a call for Palestinian to come to its mosque, armed.

Hamas lost international support and faced local opposition when it approved some Islamic law, but lost credibility as well when the tight Israeli border controls continued and settlements were not evacuated. Abbas criticized the Hamas leadership, in a speech at the Arab American University in Jenin, which was broadcast on Palestinian Authority TV on October 13, 2009.

When the [Israeli] aggression took place, [Hamas leaders] in Gaza and abroad said: “We don’t care if Gaza is erased.” They do not care if Gaza is erased. All they care about is that the Hamas movement continue to exist. They said this. Haniya and Mash'al said: We don’t care what happens. Mash'al went even further and said: “What is happening in Gaza is insignificant and does not affect us.” Then they said that the Hamas movement is alive and well. This was at a time when there were thousands of martyrs from among our people, thousands of wounded from among our people, and tens of thousands of destroyed houses. To this day, 100,000 Palestinians in Gaza are homeless, with no place to live. Yet the Hamas movement is alive and well. The Hamas movement was hiding under the domes [of mosques]. The Hamas leaders – and I say this for the first time – fled to the Sinai in ambulances, leaving their people behind to be slaughtered. Then they say: We put up resistance.[14]


It has three major components, called wings or bureaus, although the divisions are not operationally significant; missions, personnel and resources flow between the sections with the military component ultimately garnering the most attention and funding.

  • social services/welfare section
  • political bureau
  • military wing.

The political bureau, led by Khalad Mashal, is located in Damascus, Syria. Mashal’s deputy, Mousa Abu Marzouk, operates in the Gaza Strip. It has of 8-12 members and oversees the combat elements (Qassam Brigades) and social services section.[15]

Relations with Israel

In a January 2008 interview, Ami Ayalon, former head of Shin Bet, accused Hamas of manipulating its own people to stage an apparent humanitarian crisis, but also said Israel had no right to collective punishment by preventing fuel shipments for civilian use. He stated firmly that Israel has the right to self-defense, but he urged targeted operations, including assassination, but not large-scale military operations. Ayalon recommended a political process, directly with Mahmoud Abbas, but also through third parties with Hamas. "If we are negotiating the release of abducted solder Gilad Shalit with Hamas, then I see no reason why we should not talk to them about a cease-fire in order to save the lives of the children in Sderot... Hamas is not a monolithic organization. Within Hamas, there are a variety of opinions and ideologies. I think it is likely that the pragmatists within Hamas are interested in returning to last year’s Mecca agreement with Fatah ... I believe Hamas leaders like Ismail Haniya in Gaza or Mousa Abu Marzook in Damascus are capable of such a step." [16]

The Guardian reported Israel has a goal of removing Hamas from control of Gaza, and preferably destroying it as an organization. [17] Both candidates for the leadership of Israel, Tzipi Livni and Benjamin Netanyahu, had declared the elimination of Hamas as a strategic goal for Israel. They differed only in terms of urgency, with Netanyahu calling for [an] "active policy of attack", accusing the current government of being too "passive"; Livni called it a strategic objective. [18]

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, in an interview with Der SPIEGEL, said "The operation was never about destroying Hamas -- rather our aim was to restore our deterrence capability. We took their leaders by surprise with our operation. They will think twice before they dare to fire the next rocket at Israel."[19]

International relations

Other nations have had limited interaction with Hamas. Stephen Walt described dealing with Hamas as "odious", given the antisemitism in its charter and its invoking of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, but he considers them part of the political landscape, and a Fatah-Hamas rapprochement is one of the only ways to establish peace in Palestine. Further, he believes that reaching out to the more moderate members of Hamas is the only way to move them toward accepting a two-state solution. [20] While Walt is not sure if they will accept it, Jimmy Carter has had discussions, not representing the U.S., with them in April 2008. Carter told the Israeli Council on Foreign Relations "We do not believe that peace is likely, and we are certain that peace is not sustainable, unless a way is found to bring Hamas into the discussions in some way. The present strategy of excluding Hamas and excluding Syria is just not working." Israeli officials did not speak with Carter, and Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel said "It was sad to see how Hamas is using former president Carter to try to get legitimization it does not deserve." [21]

Nathan Stock, of the Carter Center, urged the Obama administration to engage Hamas in the interest of preventing its replacement by even more radical organizations.[22]

Military and terror operations

Its military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, has carried out suicide attacks and rocket and mortar strikes against Israeli civilian and military targets. In the early 1990s, they also targeted suspected Palestinian collaborators and Fatah rivals. Geographically, its operations focus on Israel and the Occupied Territories. [23]

Hamas and some small affiliated organizations are estimated to have 6 to 10 thousand full-time fighters, and several thousand reservists. However, only a few hundred can be categorized as highly proficient compared to Hezbollah; these have trained with Hezbollah in Lebanon, or with Syria or Iran. They are capable of suicide bombings, mortar and rocket fire, and light infantry tactics.

Hamas is reported to various mortars and rockets (ranging from homemade Qassam rockets to the more advanced long-range 122-mm Katyusha rockets acquired from Iran). These are suited for inaccurate -- but sometimes lethal -- harassment fire on area targets, and, in the case of mortars, short-range direct support of infantry. While both Hezbollah and Hamas have bombarded Israeli targets, Hezbollah has much larger and sophisticated weapons than does Hamas; Hamas has long-range rockets and some surface-to-surface missiles.

Hamas has reportedly obtained “air defense missiles and weapons—. including the 9K32M Strela-2/SA-7 GRAIL and upgraded Chinese HN-5 derivative.[24] They may have had antitank guided missiles but did not use them effectively; rocket-propelled grenades were their major weapon against armor.

Information operations

Hamas has a broad information operations (IO) capability. They have a local broadcast and satellite television service, Al-Aqsa.[25]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Backgrounder: Hamas, Council on Foreign Relations
  2. Holding in perpetuity
  3. The Charter of the Hamas, Ariel Center for Policy Research
  4. Marc A. Walther (June 2009), Hamas between Violence and Pragmatism, Naval Postgraduate School
  5. Paul Scham and Osama Abu-Irshaid (June 2009), Hamas: Ideological Rigidity and Political Flexibility, United States Institute of Peace
  6. Steven Emerson (7 August 2009), U.S. Taxpayers Fund Pro-Hamas Propaganda, Family Security Matters
  7. Gretel C. Kovach (25 November 2008), "Five Convicted in Terrorism Financing Trial", New York Times
  8. Haaretz Editorial (12 November 2008), "Listen to Hamas", Haaretz
  9. Gawdat Bahgat, "Terrorism in the Middle East," The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies 32, no. 2 (Summer 2007), 174–175, quoted by Walther, p. 8
  10. Chrystie Flournoy Swiney (2007), Ideological & Behavioral Metamorphoses: A New Charter for a New Hamas (Master's Thesis), St. Antony’s College, Oxford University, p. 25
  11. Sawafta, Ali. Fatah says signs Egypt's Palestinian unity proposal, Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 13 October 2009. Retrieved on 5 October 2013.
  12. Barak Mendelsohn (9 September 2009), Hamas and Its Discontents: The Battle Over Islamic Rule in Gaza, Council on Foreign Relations
  13. Barak Mendelsohn (August–September 2009), "Al-Qaeda's Palestinian Problem", Survival (International Institute for Strategic Studies): 71–86
  14. "excerpt from a speech delivered by PA President Mahmoud Abbas at the Arab American University in Jenin. The speech aired on Palestinian Authority TV on October 13, 2009.", Middle East Media Research Institute
  15. Penny L. Mellies, Chapter 2--Hamas and Hezbollah: A Comparison of Tactics, in Scott C. Farquhar, Back to Basics: A Study of the Second Lebanon War and Operation CAST LEAD, Combat Studies Institute, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, p. 47
  16. "SPIEGEL Interview with Ami Ayalon: Israeli Minister Calls for Third-Channel Talks with Hamas", Der SPIEGEL, 28 January 2008
  17. "Israel looks to drive out Hamas", Guardian, 6th January 2009
  18. "Israel's Livni, Netanyahu vow to topple Hamas rule", Reuters, 21 December 2008
  19. "SPIEGEL Interview with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni: 'No Negotiations' with Hamas", Der SPIEGEL, 13 January 2009
  20. Stephen Walt (10 March 2009), "Talking to Hamas?", Foreign Policy
  21. Griff Witte (22 April 2008), "Carter: Hamas Ready To Live Beside Israel; Group Says Palestinians Must Back Any Deal", Washington Post
  22. Nathan Stock (9 October 2009), "Talk to Hamas now or fight new radicals indefinitely; Obama can't afford to let history repeat itself in the Middle East", Christian Science Monitor
  23. Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement), Federation of American Scientists
  24. Mellies, p. 51
  25. Eric Westervelt (February 3, 2006), Hamas Launches Television Network, National Public Radio