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Hamas Islamic Resistance Movement

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(Arabic: Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyya)

Source: Patterns of Global Terrorism, 2002. United States Department of State, April 2003.

Description
Formed in late 1987 as an outgrowth of the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Various HAMAS elements have used both political and violent means, including terrorism, to pursue the goal of establishing an Islamic Palestinian state in place of Israel. Loosely structured, with some elements working clandestinely and others working openly through mosques and social service institutions to recruit members, raise money, organize activities, and distribute propaganda. HAMAS’s strength is concentrated in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Also has engaged in peaceful political activity, such as running candidates in West Bank Chamber of Commerce elections.

Activities
HAMAS activists, especially those in the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, have conducted many attacks—including large-scale suicide bombings—against Israeli civilian and military targets. In the early 1990s, they also targeted suspected Palestinian collaborators and Fatah rivals. HAMAS increased its operational activity during 2001-2002 claiming numerous attacks against Israeli interests. The group has not targeted US interests—although some US citizens have been killed in HAMAS operations—and continues to confine its attacks to Israelis inside Israel and the territories.

Strength
Unknown number of official members; tens of thousands of supporters and sympathizers.

Location/Area of Operation
HAMAS currently limits its terrorist operations to Israeli military and civilian targets in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Israel. The group’s leadership is dispersed throughout the Gaza Strip and West Bank, with a few senior leaders residing in Syria, Lebanon, and the Gulf States.

External Aid
Receives some funding from Iran but primarily relies on donations from Palestinianexpatriates around the world and private benefactors in moderate Arab states. Some fundraising and propaganda activity take place in Western Europe and North America.

 

Source: International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism

The Hamas (a word meaning courage and bravery) is a radical Islamic organization which became active in the early stages of the Intifada, operating primarily in the Gaza Strip but also in the West Bank. The Hamas has played a major role in violent fundamentalist subversion and radical terrorist operations against both Israelis and Arabs. In its initial period, the movement was headed primarily by people identified with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in the Territories.

In the course of the Intifada, Hamas gained momentum, expanding its activity also in the West Bank, to become the dominant Islamic fundamentalist organization in the Territories. It defined its highest priority as Jihad (Holy War) for the liberation of Palestine and the establishment of an Islamic Palestine "from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River". By its participation in street violence and murder, it boosted its appeal in the eyes of the Palestinians, further enhancing its growth potential and enabling it to play a central role in the Intifada. As a result of its subversive and terrorist activity, Hamas was outlawed in September 1989.

After the Gulf War, Hamas has become the leading perpetrator of terrorist activity throughout the Territories as well as inside Israel. Today it is the second most powerful group, after Fatah, and is sometimes viewed as threatening the hegemony of the secular nationalists. It is currently the strongest opposition group to the peace process and the escalation of its terrorist activity through the murderous suicide bombings against civil targets in Israel in February-March 1996 has slowed down the political process and threatens to stop it altogether.

Hamas is the Arabic acronym for "The Islamic Resistance Movement" (Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyya). The organizational and ideological sources of Hamas can be found in the movement of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) which was set up in the 1920s in Egypt and renewed and strengthened its activity in the 1960s and 1970s in the Arab world, mainly in Jordan and Egypt.

The Muslim Brothers were also active in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
The cornerstone of the Muslim Brotherhood is the system of essentially social activity which they call Da'wah. In the twenty years preceding the Intifada, they built an impressive social, religious, educational and cultural infrastructure, which gave them a political stronghold, both in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. It was successful despite their lack of support for the nationalist policy of armed struggle.

The Hamas movement was legally registered in Israel in 1978 by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the movement?s spiritual leader, as an Islamic Association by the name Al-Mujamma Al Islami, which widened its base of supporters and sympathizers by religious propaganda and social work.
A great part of the success of Hamas/Muslim Brotherhood is due to their influence in the Gaza Strip. The large numbers of refugees, the socio-economic hardships of the population in the refugee camps and the relatively low status of the nationalist elements there until recently, enabled Hamas to deepen its roots among the refugees. Its emphasis on a solution that would include the liberation of all Palestine is more attractive to the Gazans, beyond the social factors that nourish the Islamic influence in that area.

Another factor, which served the popularity of the Islamic phenomena, was that the Palestinian nationalist movement and the PLO moved the center of their political power away from Palestine, by consolidating an external leadership at the expense of the internal one in the Territories. In contrast, the Islamic camp and its leadership developed entirely within Palestine (al-dakhil) and could thus better serve the interests of the Palestinians.

The Islamic infrastructure in the Territories was separate but parallel to the nationalist institutions built by the PLO in the 1980s. Hamas was successful in forming a social system which has provided an alternative to the social-political structure of the PLO. Hamas?s prestige is based on both its ideological and practical capabilities, as a movement whose contribution to the daily life of the Palestinians is not less than its contribution to the struggle against Israel and the occupation.
The significant change in the Muslim Brotherhood movement was the transition from passivity towards the Israeli rule to militancy and large-scale violent activity, especially in and from the Gaza Strip. The movement changed its name to the Islamic Resistance Movement - Hamas, and emphasized its Palestinian character and patriotism. It professed to be not just a parallel force but an alternative to the almost absolute control of the PLO and its factions over the Palestinians in the Territories.

In August 1988 Hamas published the Islamic Covenant - its ideological credo, which presented its policy on all levels of the struggle, both against Israel and the national movement of the PLO. The Hamas Covenant challenged the PLO and its claim to be the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, but it did not call for its elimination.
The means used by the Hamas to increase their influence in the street were the mosques. The mosque was the first stop on the road to civil rebellion. At the same time the Hamas leaders worked at setting up the various apparatuses of the movement. In the tradition of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sheikh Yassin built the Hamas as an underground movement. He decided to separate the different apparatuses and the area activists and use only encoded messages in the internal communications.

The military apparatus was called Mujahidin. At first, the leadership did not strive to large numbers of activists in the organization. The aim of the founders was to set up instruments of activity that will rely on a small number of central activists. But a new generation of street leaders emerged out of the complex structural system built by the MB over the years. This generation, obedient and full of religious fervor has become the spearhead of the Islamic struggle.

The Setting Up of the Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam Battalions

At the beginning of 1991 Zaccaria Walid Akel, the head of the terrorist section of the Hamas in Gaza, set up the first squads of the Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam Battalions. In its first stages the terrorist squads kidnapped and executed people suspected of cooperation with Israel. The murder of the Kfar Darom resident, Doron Shorshan in December 1991, was the first murder of an Israeli citizen done by a Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam squads, and marked the change in Hamas?s modus operandi.


 The basic ideology of Hamas is founded primarily on the mainstream of the Muslim Brotherhood. In the Islamic Covenant published by Hamas in August 1988, it defined itself as the "Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood".

However, there is a clear distinction in the order of priorities set forth by Hamas, as opposed to those of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Territories prior to the Intifada, particularly as regards the question of Jihad. The Muslim Brotherhood viewed Jihad as a general duty and principle and it maintained that Islam would be established first throughout the Muslim world, only later to be followed by violent Jihad against Israel, in which Palestine, too, would be liberated. Hamas stresses Jihad as the sole and immediate means to solve the problem of Palestine.

Hamas defines the transition to the stage of Jihad "for the liberation of all of Palestine" as a personal religious duty incumbent upon every Muslim. At the same time, it utterly rejects any political arrangement that would entail the relinquishment of any part of Palestine, which for it is tantamount to a surrender of part of Islam. These positions are reflected in the Covenant, and of course in its activities.

The central goal of Hamas is the establishment of an Islamic state in all of Palestine. The immediate means to achieve this goal is the escalation of the armed struggle, and ultimately all-out Jihad, with the participation not only of Palestinian Muslims but of the entire Islamic world.

The structure of Hamas in Gaza and in the West Bank is based on a combination of regional and functional organization. In this framework, several identical, parallel frameworks operate in each region:

a. Infrastructure (Da?wah, literally "sermonizing"), which engages in recruitment, distribution of funds, and appointments.

b. Popular violence in the framework of the Intifada.

c. Security (Aman) - the gathering of information on suspected collaborators with the authorities. This information is passed on to the "shock committees", who interrogate and then kill the suspects.

d. Publications (A-'Alam) - leaflets, propaganda, press offices.

Hamas tries to maintain a clear distinction between the covert activity of its various sections and its overt activity, which serves primarily to broaden the ranks of the movement. The major reason for this is Hamas' desire to increase compartimentation and secrecy, by not identifying itself directly with its public activity.

The term generally used by Hamas to define its overt activity is Da'wah. This term is also the name given to the Hamas section whose function is to broaden the movement's infrastructure, to distribute funds and make appointments. In fact, there is a large degree of overlapping (if not total identity) between the two.

Thus, Hamas is an organization composed of several interdependent levels. The popular-social base is maintained materially by the charity committees and ideologically through instruction, propaganda and incitement delivered in the mosques and other institutions and through leaflets. This base is the source for the recruitment of members into the units which engage in riots and popular violence.

Those who distinguish themselves in riots and popular violence sooner or later find their way into the military apparatus, which carries out brutal and violent attacks against Israelis and Palestinians alike. The militants (and, if they are arrested or killed, their families and relatives) enjoy the moral and economic backing of the preachers in the mosques, the directors of Hamas-affiliated institutions, and the charity committees.

The Military arm
From the outset, alongside the "popular" Intifada-related violence on the street level, Hamas run a military-terrorist arm, composed of two groups:

a. The Palestinian Holy Fighters (Al-Majahadoun Al-Falestinioun), a military apparatus for terrorist attacks, especially against Israeli targets. Before the outbreak of the Intifada, it engaged primarily in the preparation of the infrastructure for its activity.

b. The Security Section (Jehaz Aman), which gathered information on suspected collaborators with Israel and other local elements, with the intention of punishing them by the use of violence, including murder. To this end, units were formed within the framework of the Majd ? an Arabic acronym for Majmouath Jihad u-Dawa (Holy War and Sermonizing Group), which was in effect the violent operational arm of the Security Section.

In the course of the Intifada, these groups took on various forms, the latest of which being the Izz al-Din al-Qassam hit squads.

Al-Majahadoun Al-Falestinioun

The groundwork for the founding of Al-Majahadoun Al-Falestinioun was laid in 1982 by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, together with several operatives of Al-Majama. This included arms procurement and laying the groundwork for the struggle against Palestinian rivals, to be used later also against Israel. This activity was uncovered in 1984, and Yassin was sentenced to 13 years in prison but was released shortly afterwards as part of the Jibril prisoner exchange (May 1985).

Upon his release, Yassin resumed his work of setting up a military apparatus. At first, emphasis was placed on the struggle against 'heretics' and collaborators, in accordance with the view of the Muslim Brotherhood that Jihad should come only after the purging of rivals from within. At the same time, a military infrastructure was prepared, including the stockpiling of weapons for the war against Israel. Shortly before the outbreak of the Intifada, operatives were recruited to carry out the military Jihad. Organized military activity by this group, including regular terrorist attacks, became manifest only after the beginning of the Intifada.

Following the outbreak of the Intifada, the military apparatus carried out a large number of attacks of various kinds, including bombings and gunfire, mostly in the northern part of the Gaza District. These attacks reached their climax with the kidnapping and murder of IDF soldiers Avi Sasportas (February 1989) and Ilan Sa'adon (May 1989).

The Security Section and the Majd Units

The Security Section (Jehaz Aman) was established in early 1986 by Sheikh Yassin together with two of his associates, who were also active in Al-Majama. The role of the section was to conduct surveillance of suspected collaborators and other Palestinians who acted in a manner which ran counter to the principles of Islam (drug dealers, sellers of pornography, etc.). In late 1986 - early 1987, on the recommendation of the two heads of the security section, Yassin decided to set up hit squads, known as Majd, whose purpose was to kill 'heretics' and collaborators. Yassin instructed the leaders that they must kill anyone who admitted under interrogation to being a collaborator, and reinforced this instruction with a religious ruling.

This mode of action continued until the outbreak of the Intifada, when Hamas? approach underwent significant changes, leading to the beginning of organized military action against Israeli targets as well. The Majd units then became part of the Al-Majahadoun network.

The Izz al-Din al-Qassam Squads

The military apparatus of Hamas underwent several changes in the course of the Intifada, as a result of preventive measures and exposure by the Israeli forces following major terrorist attacks carried out by Hamas operatives. The last form which this apparatus has taken is the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Squads, which is responsible for most of the serious attacks carried out by Hamas since January 1, 1992. These squads include dozens of wanted suspects from Gaza. Some of these suspects began to operate in the West Bank as well, while recruiting Palestinians from this area to carry out attacks inside Israel (the murder of a border guard in Jerusalem and the planting of a car bomb in Ramat Efal, near Tel Aviv). Some members of these squads have been apprehended or killed, and some have fled to Egypt. Several dozen Hamas operatives remain active in the Territories, most of them members of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam squads.
 

Financing

Hamas enjoys strong financial backing. In fact, its rivals claim that this is major reason for its strength. Hamas receives financial support from unofficial bodies in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, and recently also from Iran. These funds are distributed among the various groups and associations identified with the movement, and from them filter down to the operatives in the field.

A broad network of charity associations (Jamayath Hiriya) and committees (Lejan Zekath) operates in the Territories, on the basis of two Jordanian statutes: the Charity Association and Social Institutions Law, and the Charity Fund-Raising Regulations. Hamas makes extensive use of many of these charity associations and committees, which (together with the mosques, unions, etc.) also serve as the overt facade of the organization's activity, operating parallel to and serving its covert operations. The movement's ideology attributes great importance to the giving of charity (zekath, which is also one of the five basic principles of Islam). Giving charity can serve to bring the people closer to Islam and, as a result, to broaden the ranks of Hamas.

The network of charity associations serves as a screen for its covert activities, including liaison with the movement's leadership abroad, the transfer of funds to field operatives, and the identification of potential recruits. The great importance which Hamas attaches to the overt aspect of its operations - charity and welfare - has been particularly evident since the extensive arrest and exclusion of many of its operatives.

An important aspect of the charity associations and committees is their role as a means for the channeling of funds into the region. While part of these funds is in fact used for charity, it is not always possible to distinguish between the 'innocent' activity of the charity associations and the funding of covert, subversive and terrorist activity. Thus, for example, the associations pay fines and assist the families of operatives who are arrested, or the operatives themselves. Such donations are defined as charity, but are in fact given to the hard and active core of Hamas. The charity associations can also help in transfering funds to Hamas through their financial-administrative infrastructure.

The methods commonly used to transfer funds are through moneychangers, checks drawn on accounts of operatives and firms abroad, foreign business accounts of economic concerns in the Territories, and direct cash transfers from abroad, usually through Western banks (in Britain, the U.S. and Germany). The Islamic Movement in Israel also serves as a channel for the transfer of funds.

Sources of funding.

Estimating the amount of money reaching Hamas is complex task, but a modest estimate is several tens of millions of dollars per year.

Sources of funding abroad:

a. Official sources: the government of Iran contributes approximately 3 million dollars per year for all Hamas activities.

b. There are four central Hamas charity funds in the West: Great Britain - The Palestine Relief and Development Fund (Interpal); U.S.A. - the Holy Land Foundation; Germany - the Al Aqsa Foundation, with branches in Belgium and Holland; France - Comite de Bienfaisance et Solidarite avec la Palestine.

Funding from other Islamic organizations: (not Hamas):

a. Non-governmental charitable organizations in the Gulf states - generally, they collect charity for needy Muslims throughout the world, and as part of this effort they support Hamas and its social and welfare institutions.

b. Islamic aid agencies in the West - these rely on the Islamic community in the West, numbering about 15 million. Among these: Muslim Aid, and the Islamic Relief Agency - ISRA.

c. The Muslim Brotherhood - In the late 1980s the Brotherhood established the Muslim Aid Committee to the Palestinian Nation in order to aid Hamas.

Independent sources of funding in the Territories:

a. A small portion of Hamas funds come from a limited number of profitable economic projects: sewing and weaving centers, cattle farms, and symbolic payment for services.

b. Fund-raising campaigns throughout the Territories - heightened supervision by the U.S. and Egypt of the fund-raising in the Gulf states has encouraged this internal independent fund-raising method.

Israel:

a. The Islamic Movement in Israel has served as a channel for transferring money from foundations in the West. Since Israel closed two central bodies - the Committee for Aid to Orphans and Prisoners (November 1996) and Islamic Aid (in 1995) - use of this channel has decreased considerably.

b. Most of these foundations have representatives in the Territories and operate under an umbrella organization established in 1995.

The battle against financing:

Terrorist attacks and the uncovering of Hamas' financial apparatus have led Western intelligence operatives to begin monitoring its funding activity. Several countries (principally the U.S. and Great Britain) have announced their intent to frustrate Hamas fundraising efforts.

a. U.S. - a legislation package intended to hinder fundraising for terrorist organizations within U.S. territory. The governement has yet to exercise its power to act against these organizations.

b. Britain - Records of the Interpal relief foundation were examined, but "no concrete information was found linking it to terror organizations." It must be noted that the only material examined was that which the foundation itself submitted to the authorities.

c. Israel - illegalization: In May of this year, the Minister of Defense declared the four major foundations operating in the West to be illegal associations, as part of the Hamas activity outlawed in Israel. The movement's organ, Falestin al-Muslima, was outlawed as well.



Sheikh Ahmad Isma`il Yassin, was born in 1936 in the village of al-Jora near Ashquelon. At the age of 14 he was wounded during a soccer game and became partly paralyzed. Yassin finished his high-school studies in 1958 and in spite of his invalidity was accepted as teacher in one of the neighborhoods of Gaza.

Sheikh Yassin was received as member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza in 1955, while it was a clandestine movement outlawed in Egypt, which controlled the Strip. In 1966 Sheikh Yassin was imprisoned during a month by the Egyptian authorities for subversive activity.

After the Six Day War and the loss of contact with Egypt, Sheikh Yassin gradually developed the infrastructure of the Muslim Brothers in the Gaza Strip in the social, economic and political field and pushed the militants of the organization to take control of the newly built Islamic University.

Yassin was the moving spirit behind the founding of the Hamas movement in December 1987 as the military arm of the Muslim Brotherhood.

He was arrested in 1984 and imprisoned for detention of weapons. He was later freed in the framework of an exchange of prisoners with Ahmad Jibril's PFLP - GC organization.

Sheikh Yassin, who headed Hamas until his arrest in May 1989, was responsible for most of the movement's activities: the writing of leaflets, financial affairs, liaison with radical Islamic elements abroad, and supervision of violent and terrorist activity. Under him, a broad organizational network was set up, comprising various functions and local leaders, which directed the political and Intifada-related work of the movement: distributing leaflets, organizing riots, enforcing strikes, etc.

Following the arrest of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin and other leading operatives from the Gaza District, the centralized Hamas leadership in the Territories was weakened. It was replaced by a backbone of senior leaders/operatives identified with the movement, who directed its activity in the different regions. They focused primarily on politics, propaganda, infrastructure, and inter-organizational liaison, while competing with Palestinian nationalists for election to positions of power in various bodies (such as trade unions).

Musa Mohammed Abu Marzuq was born in 1951, in the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. He went to Egypt to study engineering and upon his return to Gaza became a close collaborator of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, then the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Strip. Abu Marzuq was among the founders of the Hamas movement in 1988.

In 1974 he left Gaza for the United States, where he continued his studies in engineering. Between 1981 and 1992 he lived with his family in Falls Church, Virginia.

In 1989 Abu Marzuq was elected the head of the Political Bureau of Hamas, which is the movement's most senior leadership body in decisions on central matters such as the policy of terrorist attacks, issuing directives to activists to operate in the Israel, in the Territories, and in Hamas areas of operation abroad.

Between the years 1990 and 1993 Abu Marzuq dispatched emissaries on a number of occasions to the Territories for the purpose of arranging and expanding the military activity of the Hamas. In this framework, he transferred funds to the Territories, for acquiring weapons to be used later to carry out terrorist attacks.

In 1989, Abu Marzuq arrived in Gaza, met with activists of the Hamas organization, appointed them to be responsible for organizing various apparatuses and determined the distribution of area responsibility within the Gaza Strip. He also issued detailed instructions for setting up an organizational infrastructure for Hamas, including terrorist actions. To finance this activity he transferrto the activists the sum of about $100,000.

In October 1992 Abu Marzuq headed a Hamas delegation to Tehran for the purpose of concluding a number of political and military cooperation agreements with Iran.

Abu Marzuq has also been instrumental in the organization's continuing relationship with the PLO. Subsequent to the Israel's expulsion of 413 Hamas and Islamic Jihad activists to southern Lebanon in late 1992, he acted as Hamas' chief representative in negotiations with the PLO in Tunis.

Subsequent to the Israeli-Jordanian peace agreement, in May of 1995, Abu Marzuq was ordered to leave Jordan by June 1, 1995. Working from Jordan, Abu Marzuq has been involved in coordinating Hamas terrorist attacks within Israel, including the April 1994 bombings in Afula and Hadera.

Abu Marzuq was arrested in New York on July 25, 1995 upon one of his trips back to the US. Israel asked his extradition and an American judge decided in May 1996 that he can be expelled for trial in Israel. But upon a decision of the Israeli government, Abu Marzuq was finally expelled to Jordan in May 1997.

Prominent religious leaders identified with Hamas have recently formed the Association of Religious Sages of Palestine (Rabitat 'Ulama' Filastin), which is to serve as a kind of supreme religious framework and to accord the movement 'legitimacy' through religious rulings that conform with the movement's ideology.

Hamas leaders residing abroad -- in Arab countries (primarily Jordan) and in the West (the U.S., Britain, and others) -- have also recently gained prominence.


In the beginning of the uprising the movement was particularly active in the field of subversion and resistance (street disturbances of the peace, trade strikes and etc)

During the period prior to the Intifada, Hamas members (in its earlier form of the Al-Mujama' al-Islami) operated primarily against local Palestinians, such as moral offenders and criminal elements, in order to purge Muslim society and to prepare it for Jihad against Israel. After the outbreak of the Intifada, the same people and new recruits began to assassinate Palestinians. In the course of the Intifada, Hamas operatives have admitted to 43 such attacks, in which 46 Palestinians were killed. On the basis of intelligence information, about 40 more murders of Palestinians can be attributed to Hamas members.

In the course of the Intifada, Hamas operatives also began to carry out terrorist attacks against Israeli targets. At first they resorted primarily to explosive charges and other 'popular' means (firebombs, arson and other property damage). In the course of 1989, they kidnapped and murdered two soldiers (Avi Sasportas and Ilan Sa'adon). In December 1990, three Israelis employed in a Jaffa factory were stabbed to death.

In 1992, Hamas operatives displayed even greater daring, especially the militants of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam squads, who fired on security personnel at short range, stabbed two Jews to death in a packing plant in the Gaza District, kidnapped and killed Nissim Toledano, and finally murdered a General Security Service (GSS) officer in a safehouse in Jerusalem.

Until his arrest Sheikh Yassin was involved in the activity of the terrorist branch as well as the activity of its other apparatuses to the smallest details. He supervised the recruitment of activists, organized them into squads, provided them with money, and most importantly took care of weapons and their distribution among the squads.

 

Source: Wikipedia

Hamas, acronym of Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyyah (Arabic: Islamic Resistance Movement) is a Palestinian Islamist paramilitary and political organization. It was founded by Ahmed Yassin and Mohammad Taha in late 1987 as an outgrowth of the Muslim Brotherhood and is dedicated to the destruction of Israel and the creation of an Islamic state in Palestine. Hamas is led by Khaled Mashaal. Hamas's heartland is the Gaza Strip, but it also operates in the West Bank.

Hamas is a terrorist organization according to Israel, the United States and more recently the European Union. Part of its support rests on its provision of welfare and charity for the Palestinian poor as well as its militarized views. Hamas is known in the West for its tactic of suicide bombings against Israel, especially civilians in busy city areas. Hamas also attacks the Israeli military and security forces in its effort to end the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and also to destroy the state of Israel (which the group sees as occupied Palestinian land).

 

Background

Hamas regards Palestine as an Islamic homeland that can never be surrendered to non-Muslims and asserts that waging holy war (jihad) to wrest control of Palestine from Israel is a religious duty for Palestinian Muslims. This position is in stark contrast to that of the secular PLO, which in 1988 officially recognized Israel's right to exist.

According to the Washington Institute, Hamas views the Arab-Israeli conflict as "a religious struggle between Islam and Judaism that can only be resolved by the destruction of the State of Israel."
 

Hamas uses both political activities and terrorist actions such as suicide bombings to pursue the goal of establishing an Islamic Palestinian state in place of Israel and the secular Palestinian Authority. As of 2004, Hamas's strength is concentrated in the Gaza Strip and a few areas of the West Bank. Hamas strength in the West Bank has been reduced dramatically by the Israeli military operations during the Al Aqsa Intifada in 2002 following several bloody bombings that Hamas took responsibility for. Hamas has also engaged in peaceful political activity, such as running candidates in West Bank Chamber of Commerce elections.

 

The Name

Hamas is an abbreviation of Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyyah (Arabic: Islamic Resistance Movement), and the name itself is colloquial Arabic for "enthusiasm". Its military wing is usually named the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades (to commemorate Sheikh Izz ad-Din al-Qassam, the father of modern Arab resistance, killed by the British in 1935). Armed Hamas cells also sometimes name themselves Students of Ayyash, Students of the Engineer or Yahya Ayyash Units, to commemorate Yahya Ayash, the bomb engineer responsible for the deaths of more than 50 Israelis and killed in 1996.

 

Beliefs

The founding charter of Hamas, written in 1988, states that its goal is to "raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine", i.e. to eliminate the State of Israel (and any secular Palestinian state which may be established), and replace it with an Islamist theocracy or muslim state

The charter cites a number of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories; it claims that The Protocols of the Elders of Zion are genuine; and that the Freemasons, Lions Club, and the Rotarians all secretly "work in the interest of Zionism." Hamas members further allege that the Jewish people are collectively responsible for the French Revolution, "Western colonialism", Communism, and both World Wars.

Top Hamas leaders are promoters of holocaust denial. Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi held that the Holocaust never occurred, that Zionists were behind the action of Nazis, and that Zionists funded Nazism.

 

History

Hamas was funded directly and indirectly during the 1970s and 1980s by various states including Saudi Arabia and Syria. The political/charitable arm of Hamas was officially registered and recognised within Israel at this time. Most experts agree that while Israel never supported Hamas directly, it did allow it to exist to oppose the secular Fatah movement of Yasser Arafat. The group abstained from politics throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, concentrating on moral and social issues such as attacks on corruption, administration of awqaf (trusts) and organizing community projects. Towards the mid-1980s, however, the movement underwent a takeover by the militant faction led by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. For a while, he preached immediate violence and was arrested by Israel for that. However he was released when he promised to stop the preaching, and the movement was allowed to continue.

The acronym "Hamas" first appeared in 1987 in a leaflet accusing Israeli intelligence services of undermining the moral fibre of Palestinian youth as part of their recruitment of "collaborators". The use of force by Hamas appeared almost contemporaneously with the first Intifada, beginning with "punishments against collaborators", progressing to Israeli military targets and eventually actions targeted at civilians. As its methods have changed over the last thirty years, so has its rhetoric, now effectively claiming that Israeli civilians are "military targets" by virtue of living in a highly militarized state with military draft.

According to the semi-official Hamas biography "Truth and existence", Hamas evolved through four main stages:

  1. 1967-1976: Construction of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Gaza Strip in the face of "oppressive Israeli rule".
  2. 1976-1981: Geographical expansion through participation in professional associations in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and institution-building, notably al-Mujamma` al-islami, al-Jam`iyya al-islamiyya, and the Islamic University in Gaza.
  3. 1981-1987: Political influence through establishment of the mechanisms of action and preparation for armed struggle.
  4. 1987: Founding of Hamas as the combatant arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine and the launching of a continuing jihad.

Since Hamas underwent a take-over in the mid-1980s (before that time being an organization with an extremely limited political scope), many experts might agree that Hamas's "real" history begins only from that time.

Whilst this reflects the activities of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, their colleagues in the West Bank had a very different development, with less emphasis at the beginning on the creation or control of public institutions. The Muslim Brotherhood movement in the West Bank constituted an integral part of the Jordanian Islamic movement, which for many years had been aligned with the Hashemite regime. Furthermore, the Muslim Brotherhood in the West Bank represented a higher socio-economic profile - merchants, landowners, and middle-class officials and professionals. By the mid-1980s, the Muslim Brotherhood held a significant portion of the positions in West Bank religious institutions.

Pro-Israel commentators have recently suggested that there is a close relationship between the leadership of the PLO and Hamas.

On January 26, 2004, senior Hamas leader Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi offered a 10-year hudna in return for complete withdrawal from all territories captured in the Six Day War, and the establishment of a state. There had earlier been some talks within Hamas about doing this but this time, according to him, "the movement has taken a decision on this". Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin said recently the group could accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Rantissi stated that Hamas had come to the conclusion that it was "difficult to liberate all our land at this stage, so we accept a phased liberation." Rantissi said the truce could last 10 years, though "not more than 10 years." [1] (http://www.aljazeerah.info/News%20archives/2004%20News%20archives/Jan/27n/Hamas%20proposal%20of%2010year%20truce%20scorned.htm) (See Hudna)

On March 22, 2004, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin was assassinated in an Israeli missile strike. Following Yassin's death, Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi replaced him as the leader of Hamas. On March 28, he stated in a speech given at the Islamic University of Gaza City that "America declared war against God. Sharon declared war against God, and God declared war against America, Bush and Sharon."

On April 17, 2004, Rantissi was also killed in an airstrike by the Israel Defense Forces, five hours after a fatal suicide bombing by Hamas. With the death of Rantissi, the top three Hamas leaders in Gaza have been killed since August 2003. As a result, Khaled Mashaal, overall leader of Hamas, who is based in Syria, said Hamas should not disclose the name of its next leader in Gaza. [2] (http://www.nytimes.com/2004/04/18/international/middleeast/18MIDE.html)

On April 2, 2004, according to the Boston Globe, a United States federal judge in Providence, Rhode Island, found Hamas guilty in a civil lawsuit resulting from the 1996 murder of Yaron Ungar and Efrat Ungar in Israel. Hamas was ordered to pay the family of Yaron and Efrat Ungar $116 million. The court has not yet ruled regarding the liability of the Palestinian Authority and the PLO.

On April 18, 2004, Hamas secretly selected a new leader in the Gaza Strip fearing that he will be killed if his identity is known. (NYT) (http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/international/AP-Israel-Palestinians.html?hp)

As of late April 2004, it is believed that the new leader of Hamas in Gaza is Mahmoud A-Zahar, the second-in-command, Ismail Haniya, and third in authority is Sa'id A-Siyam. [3] (http://www.israelnn.com/news.php3?id=61435)

As of 2004, Israeli military and intelligence sources believed that the Hamas infrastructure in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip has been significantly weakened by targeted assassination and Israeli military operations that came in response to a number of very bloody suicide attacks in 2002 and 2003 (see below). Israeli sources have supported this assertion by noting that no prominent attacks have been carried out or claimed by West Bank based Hamas militants (whereas bombings by Fatah-linked Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades did occur), even though reputedly Hamas leadership had ordered an escalation of attacks, especially after the assassinations of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi. The West Bank has been placed under a significant level of Israeli military control during Operation Defensive Shield launched in the spring of 2003 severly limiting the mobility and organization of the remaining Hamas members.

In the Gaza Strip, on the other hand, Hamas was generally seen as a major force, rivaling Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement. Apparently, its social base in Gaza was very considerable.

In 2004 in a prelude to the planned Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, Israeli forces have carried out a number of incursions in Gaza settlements, seeking to draw out into the open and kill Hamas-affiliated gunmen who have often engaged Israeli soldiers in skirmishes. This was done, presumably, to make it harder for a weakened and bloodied Hamas to claim the withdrawal as their own hard-won victory. Awareness of high casualties during such incursions have led the Hamas leadership to call its activists to avoid putting themselves in the line of fire needlessly.

 

Activities

Hamas militants, especially those in the Izz el-Din al-Qassam Brigades, have conducted many attacks, including large-scale suicide bombings against Israeli civilian targets. These include the Passover massacre in March 2002, in which 30 people were killed; the Jerusalem bus 20 massacre in November 2002 (11 dead); the Jerusalem bus 2 massacre in August 2003 (23 dead); and many more. In total, hundreds of Israeli civilians were killed in these suicide attacks between the years 2000 and 2004. Hamas uses female suicide bombers, including a mother of six and a mother of two children under the age of 10. Anonymous Israeli military sources state that the women were allowed to commit these terrorist acts in place of being the victims of an honor killing. Hamas denies this. [4] (http://www.guardian.co.uk/israel/Story/0,2763,1131866,00.html)[5] (http://www.imra.org.il/story.php3?id=19474) Unlike Fatah, Hamas does not use child suicide bombers (as of March 2004).

Hamas has also attacked Israeli military and security forces targets (mostly inside the West Bank and Gaza Strip and occasionally inside Israel), suspected Palestinian collaborators, and Fatah rivals.

Recently, Hamas has used Qassam rockets to hit Israeli towns in the Negev, such as Sderot. The introduction of the Qassam-2 rocket has allowed Hamas to attack large Israeli cities such as Ashkelon, bringing great concern to the Israeli populace and many attempts by the Israeli military to stop the proliferation and use of the rockets.

In addition to its paramilitary and terrorist activities, Hamas has many relief and education programs. These programs are viewed variously as part of an integrated para-state policy, as propaganda and recruitment exercises, or both.

Hamas has an unknown number of hardcore members and tens of thousands of supporters and sympathizers. It receives funding from Palestinian expatriates, from Iran, and from private benefactors in Saudi Arabia and in other Arab states. Some fundraising and propaganda activity take place in Western Europe, North America and South America. Like Hezbollah, Hamas has been known to use illicit drug sales to raise funds for its operations.

In addition to its paramilitary activities, Hamas funds a number of charitable activites, primarily in the Gaza Strip. These include religious institutions, medical facilities, and social needs of the area's residents. The work of Hamas in these fields is in addition to that provided by the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA). The charitable trust Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development was accused in December 2001 of funding Hamas.

Hamas is believed to operate dozens of websites. A current listing can be found at Internet-Haganah (External link below). The main website of Hamas (http://www.palestine-info.info/) provides translations of official communiques and propaganda in Farsi (see Persian language), Urdu, Malay, Russian, English, and Arabic.

In the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Authority is losing control to Hamas, namely the Jabaliya refugee camp and the neighboring neighborhood of Jabaliya in the north of the Strip and the Dir al-Balah area in the center of the Strip, Abasan to the south of it and the Dahaniyeh region in the south.

 

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