Background and Analysis – Primer


Hamas (acronym for the Islamic Resistance Movement), a Sunni Muslim organization, was formed in 1987 and is the offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.  It is dedicated to the destruction of Israel and the creation of a Muslim caliphate in Palestine. Hamas seeks to regain control of Palestine, which it regards as a waqf or inalienable religious trust, and impose Sharia, Islamic law in Palestine, as steps toward a global, borderless Muslim entity.


Hamas has a religious wing that sets policy and undertakes religious functions such as running mosques, a social wing that provides charitable, welfare, educational and other services, and a military wing that plans and executes terror attacks against Israeli civilian and military targets. All three wings are closely intertwined operationally and are ideologically unified. Hamas is supported by numerous private benefactors and charities in the Muslim and Western worlds. Some charities have been closed by Western law enforcement agencies using terror funding laws. Hamas also receives financial support from Iran.


Hamas’ formal theology is Sunni Muslim. Hamas’ ‘nationalism’ is purely a function of the religious duty to undertake jihad against the enemy occupying Muslim land. Hamas’ theology is also deeply anti-Semitic. Its founding document, the Covenant of 1988, derives some of its specific imagery and language from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, as well as the Quran, regarding the eternal corruption and perversion of the Jews. In general, fighting Jews to redeem Palestine is defined as a religious obligation for all Muslims.


Though Sunni, Hamas receives extensive financial and military support from Shia Iran and acts as another front for Iran to confront the West, in particular the United States. Some Iranian concepts, such as the importance of martyrdom, have penetrated Hamas’ ideology. Unlike Hezbollah, however, Hamas does not recognize the Iranian concept of rule by the clergy.


Hamas cannot accept the existence of Israel under any circumstances.  Hamas believes that Palestine is the sacred property of all Moslems and that Jewish rule on ‘Muslim land’ is an offense against the divine order.  According to Hamas, the domination or rule of Jews over Muslims in any form is an abomination. Thus Hamas is opposed to any peace agreement or negotiations with Israel. It can and has agreed to short-term truces when its tactical position has been weak but rejects any long term truces. The often-cited difference between Hamas’ ‘hardliners’ and ‘moderates’ or ‘pragmatists’ is largely a matter of short term tactics regarding ceasefires with Israel and temporary alliances with Palestinian rivals, and not long term goals.


Hamas is opposed to any Palestinian organization that negotiates with Israel or may be inclined to accept a peace agreement which might include territorial compromises. It is therefore engaged in a struggle for power with the Fatah-controlled nominally more secular Palestinian Authority. In 2006 Hamas won a parliamentary majority in a democratic election in large part to the PA’s enormous corruption and repression. In 2007 it undertook a violent coup in Gaza against the PA, and continues to kill, torture and imprison its rivals. In 2009 it announced the intention to create a replacement for the Palestine Liberation Organization umbrella that would stress Islamic and ‘resistance’ themes.


Hamas’ terror campaigns against Israel during the “First Intifada” included isolated incidents of shootings, kidnapping and murders, in part in competition with the Palestine Liberation Organization. During the 1990s, Hamas pioneered suicide bombings against buses and fixed targets, and in recent years, short and long range rocket attacks against Israel. The goal of these attacks remains to kill and injure Israelis and Jews, to undermine any possibility of negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis, and to galvanize the ‘resistance’ against Israel.