views updated May 18 2018


ALTERNATE NAME: Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyyah

LEADER: Mohammed Deif


USUAL AREA OF OPERATION: Israel; Gaza Strip; West Bank; Qatar; Syria; Lebanon; Jordan; Iran


HAMAS (an acronym of Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyyah, which translates to Islamic Resistance Movement) is a Palestinian resistance movement that emerged during the first intifada (uprising) in 1987–1990. It regards the land of Palestine as an Islamic homeland that can never be surrendered to non-Muslims and believes that it is the religious duty of all Muslims to wage jihad (holy war) to wrest control of Palestine back from Israel. Since its formation, HAMAS has waged a violent campaign against Israel. It has carried out guerilla attacks against military installations, and shootings and suicide bombings against Israeli civilians. Although it is primarily based in the Gaza Strip, it carries out attacks on Israeli soil and also operates to a lesser extent from the West Bank.


The acronym HAMAS first appeared in a 1987 leaflet accusing Shin Bet (Israeli Secret Service) agents of undermining the morality of Palestinian youths by recruiting "collaborators." It emerged as a formally constituted organization the following year, but in reality its origins lay further back.

Its roots lie with the Muslim Brotherhood in the late 1960s. The Brotherhood is an Egyptian charitable and educational organization that had formed in opposition to British colonial rule in the late 1920s, but been made illegal by Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser after he came to power in 1954. At various stages, it was reformist and revolutionary, but by the time it had started establishing roots in Gaza following the Six Day War of 1967, it was in one of its reformist periods. Over the next fifteen years, it helped establish a variety of institutions in Gaza and the West Bank, including Gaza's Islamic University and various hospitals and schools.

The Muslim Brotherhood also operated as a kind of umbrella organization for a variety of professional societies, working men's groups, and charitable organizations in the occupied territories and also, to a degree, among the Arab population of Israel itself. Its constituency varied considerably between the two occupied territories, however, in Gaza it was more working class in makeup, while in the West Bank it consisted largely of professional and merchant classes.

One of the most prominent charitable networks was al-Mujamma, headed by a quadriplegic Palestinian cleric, Sheik Ahmed Yassin. Ironically, given what was to follow, Israel's Likud government of the late 1970s and early 1980s had assisted Yassin in creating a network of social service and humanitarian projects as a way of building him up as a counterpoint to Yasser Arafat. Yassin disliked the attempts of Arafat to impose secularism on Palestinian politics and feared he may use his overwhelming position of power to sign away territories to Israel. The intention of the Israelis was to help assert a degree of control over the Palestinian populations of Israel and the occupied territories through their benevolence toward Yassin. What they in fact did was help build up a mass movement, which the cleric could tap into to recruit militants.

By the mid-1980s, however, the Israeli government had desisted from its benevolent attitude toward Yassin after they uncovered that he had been amassing arms under the cover of al-Mujamma. They briefly imprisoned him, but he was released in 1984 under a prisoner exchange. In Gaza, Yassin made his increasing militancy felt, setting up al-Majd in 1986, a vigilante group to hunt down Israeli collaborators in Gaza.

A year later, in October 1987, the first Palestinian intifada broke out. This was a largely spontaneous street revolution, consisting mostly of violent, but low-tech street protests and attacks on Israeli military personnel. It also saw Palestinian merchants in the occupied territories resisting the illegal taxes imposed on them by the Israeli government. There was also a spate of inter-Arab violence, with up to a thousand alleged informers killed by Palestinian death squads.

Against this backdrop, HAMAS was formed in December 1987, claiming to be the Muslim Brotherhood of Palestine, a misleading claim given that it represented only a minority of members of the relatively well-established organization. In its covenant published the following year, it stated that its aim was to "raise the banner of God over every inch of Israel" and replace it with an Islamic Republic. It explicitly rejected the prospect of a secular Palestinian state. The document is steeped in both Islamic rhetoric—it repeatedly states the primacy of Islam—but also long-discredited anti-Semitism, including citations from "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion." It also rejects a negotiated settlement stating that "there is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad."

The fact that the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) recognized Israel's right to exist in November 1988 helped add to HAMAS's preeminence. This was a first step toward the peace deal brokered in the Oslo Accords five years later in 1993, but was not universally welcomed among Palestinians in the thrall of an uprising.

By contrast to its brutal role in the second intifada, however, HAMAS's part in the first Palestinian uprising was comparatively minor. It organized the Izzedine al-Qassam Battalions, which carried out a number of shootings against Israelis in 1989, but was as active directing violence against its own people for alleged collaboration. At the same time, HAMAS continued its more benevolent activities through its network of schools, universities, and mosques at a time when civil life in the occupied territories was at a breaking point.

In 1989, Yassin was arrested by the Israeli authorities and convicted and sentenced for life for ordering the execution of two Israeli soldiers HAMAS had kidnapped. This came as part of a wider Israeli crackdown on the organization, and other militants were detained.

From prison, Yassin continued to direct HAMAS's policy and vigorously opposed the peace process initiated at Oslo in 1993. This opposition was grounded in the organization's covenant, but Yassin's group was the main beneficiary of the growing disenchantment with Arafat and astutely waged a campaign in which they portrayed themselves as the legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people. As leader of both the PLO and Palestinian National Authority, Yasser Arafat used his power to appoint various cronies to positions of authority in his top-heavy bureaucracy; HAMAS, by contrast, portrayed the PLO as "outsiders" (an allusion to the fact that Arafat and many within the PLO had spent years in exile in Lebanon and Tunisia) reaping the benefits of the homegrown intifada HAMAS members had waged at huge sacrifice. HAMAS also emphasized its grassroots social welfare activities, a direct contrast to the perceived venality and corruptness of the PLO, which was now "selling out" to the Israelis.

From spring in 1994, however, HAMAS used its influence in more insidious ways in an attempt to derail the peace process. First, as revenge for the slaughter of twenty-nine Muslim worshipers in Hebron in February by Baruch Goldstein, a fundamentalist Jewish terrorist, the group waged a series of bomb attacks against Israeli civilians, targeting public transport where masses of Israeli citizens would be gathered together. A car bomb next to a bus in the town of Afula on April 6, which killed eight, marked the opening chapter of a horrific catalog of slaughter. Five were killed by a suicide bomber in Hadera eight days later, twenty-two were killed by a suicide bomber on a Tel Aviv bus on October 19, and so it went on. Even on Christmas Day, HAMAS would not desist, when a suicide bomber wounded thirteen at a bus stop in Jerusalem.

In part because of HAMAS's campaign and partly because of Jewish opposition—culminating in the assassination of the Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, in November 1995—hopes for peace were all but over by late 1995. In spite of this, Israel continued its operations against HAMAS members, including its notorious strategy of targeted assassinations, which were frequently more potent in killing innocent bystanders than actual targets. Nevertheless, on January 5, 1996, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) succeeded in killing HAMAS chief bomb maker, Yahya Ayyash, by detonating explosives they had placed in his cell phone. Following this attack, HAMAS went on another campaign of bloodletting, killing more than sixty Israelis in a six-week period in February and March.

A year later, in September 1997, two Mossad agents were arrested in Jordan, following an aborted assassination attempt on Khaled Mishaal, political bureau chief of the HAMAS. As part of the deal to release the agents, Jordan demanded and got the release of Sheik Yassin. Yassin returned to Gaza where he resumed his leadership of HAMAS.

The breakdown of further moves toward peace at Camp David in the summer of 2000 helped prompt a second intifada. Israel used the insurgency to dismantle the existing civil structure of the occupied territories with a series of ferocious raids. When HAMAS or its fellow militants, Islamic Jihad and the secular al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, responded with a suicide bombing on Israeli territory, the Israeli government would accuse Yasser Arafat's Palestinian National Authority (PNA) of failing to control the militants and would strike with a reprisal attack, usually aimed at the ever-weakening government of Gaza or the West Bank. That HAMAS and Arafat were avowed enemies seemed to mean little to the Israeli government; nor did the fact that the destruction of Palestinian police stations and such merely increased the hold of HAMAS in an increasingly decimated Gaza Strip, where it was one of the few organizations that provided any sort of social welfare.

HAMAS, for its part, struck with brutality into the heart of Israeli society, meeting IDF attacks in Gaza with horrific reprisals of its own. These usually consisted of suicide bomb attacks in shopping malls, discotheques, and the public transport system, and were sometimes undertaken in partnership with other militant groups. Since 2000, around one hundred suicide bombings have taken place, with half involving HAMAS. Often, its logic has been confused: at times, it claims bombings are revenge for Israeli attacks on its people, while at others, they are reprisals for Israel's "disregard" of the Oslo accords, an agreement, which, ironically, HAMAS refused to recognize and has done its utmost to undermine.

On March 22, 2004, Sheik Yassin was assassinated, along with three others, by an Israeli missile attack. His murder prompted global outrage and was the subject of condemnatory UN Security Resolution (eventually blocked by the United States). In the week that followed, HAMAS launched two massive suicide bomb attacks, killing thirty-six Israelis and wounding nearly 200.

The following month, a senior HAMAS official, Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, was assassinated by an Israeli air strike. This served as the prelude for another series of IDF raids in Gaza, with the apparent aim of severely weakening HAMAS forces ahead of the planned Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in September 2005.

In the weeks running up to Israel's final withdrawal from Gaza on September 12, 2005, a number of HAMAS leaders appeared in public and in the press vowing to fight on. Ismail Haniya, a senior figure in the movement, told reporters in Gaza City: "HAMAS confirms it is committed to armed resistance, it is our strategic choice until the end of the occupation of our land."

After the 2004 assassinations of HAMAS leaders Yassin and Adel-Aziz Rantissi, HAMAS formed a shared "collective leadership."

Immediately following the HAMAS upset victory in the January, 2006, Palestinian election, Mahmoud Zahhar (a surgeon and along with Yassin, a co-founder of HAMAS) and Ismail Haniya (a dean of Gaza's Islamic University also injured in an earlier Israeli assassination attempt on Yassin) publicly moved toward greater party leadership.



Despite topping Israel's most wanted list for years, comparatively little was known about Mohammed Deif or where he stood in the HAMAS hierarchy until the summer of 2005. Leading up to Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, HAMAS confirmed that Deif was its "number one," confirming the long-held suspicions of Israeli intelligence.

Born in 1963, little is known about Deif's early life. He worked under the mentorship of HAMAS's chief bomb maker, Yahya Ayyash, and is thought to have replaced him following Ayyash's assassination in 1996. The Israeli government holds Deif personally responsible for the series of suicides in the late 1990s and during the al-Aqsa intifada. He was appointed the new commander of the HAMAS Izz al-Din al Qassam Brigades, following the killing of his predecessor, Salah Shehadeh, in an IAF bomb strike in July 2002.

Deif was seriously wounded in an attempted targeted killing by the IDF while in his vehicle in the Gaza Strip in September 2002.

Speaking about the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in September 2005, Deif said: "You are leaving Gaza today in shame … Today you are leaving hell. But we promise you that tomorrow all Palestine will be hell for you, God willing.

"We did not achieve the liberation of the Gaza Strip without this holy war and this steadfastness," he said, adding that attacks should continue until Israel is "eradicated."


HAMAS regards Palestine as an Islamic homeland that can never be surrendered to non-Muslims, and asserts that it is the religious duty of Palestinian Muslims to wage jihad in order to regain control of the lands from Israel. Its outlook is uncompromising and radical and it refuses to recognize the sovereignty of Israel, referring to it as the "Zionist entity."

The covenant of HAMAS, published in August 1988, is steeped in religious rhetoric: "The Islamic Resistance Movement is a distinguished Palestinian movement, whose allegiance is to Allah, and whose way of life is Islam," reads article six. "It strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine." It explicitly rejects a negotiated peace settlement and repeatedly affirms its commitment to jihad. It is also marked by a high degree of anti-Semitism.

HAMAS has sought to avert the possibility of a peace settlement between the Palestinian people and Israel with a calculated campaign of suicide bombings, designed to shock Israelis away from striking any further deal. Its roots as a community-based organization with popular support, particularly in Gaza, have seen its leaders portrayed as the true protectors of the Palestinian people. Just as the IDF has often launched reprisal attacks on Gaza, so HAMAS has felt obligated to do the same to Israeli targets.


Writing in al-Ahram Weekly following the assassination of Sheik Ahmed Yassin, Khaled Amayreh believed that the killing had created such anger that it virtually bred the next generation of HAMAS militants. Yassin's killing "has undoubtedly pushed most Palestinians to the edge, believing Israel has now gone too far," wrote Amayreh. "The murder is also likely to weaken moderate Palestinians and boost the popularity and strength of HAMAS and other resistance groups. It is very likely that HAMAS will now be able to recruit hundreds, if not thousands, of young men, who have been inspired by Yassin's glorious martyrdom. Hence, it is quite possible that the killing of Yassin may eventually prove a blessing in disguise for HAMAS, especially at a strategic level.

"The massive demonstrations throughout the Arab world protesting Yassin's assassination seem to have surprised even HAMAS's leaders. The movement will undoubtedly seek to utilize that massive support and sympathy in one way or the other in the hope of translating it into tangible results. The assassination of Yassin is also likely to serve as a setback to the so-called American war on terror, prompting millions of angry Arabs and Muslims to conclude that Osama bin Laden may have been right after all."

According to an editorial in the right-wing Jerusalem Post: "Ahmed Yassin's death is a signal victory for Israel and for the war against terrorism. He was the military and spiritual leader of the terror war against Israel, just as Osama bin Laden is, or was, the military and spiritual leader of the war against the West.


HAMAS formed in Gaza, claiming to be the Muslim Brotherhood of Palestine.
HAMAS issues its covenant.
HAMAS involved in various attacks on Israeli military installations. Sheik Ahmed Yassin arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment.
HAMAS begins its campaign of suicide bombings in an effort to derail the peace process.
Israel assassinates HAMAS chief bomb maker, Yahya Ayyash. As a reprisal, HAMAS suicide bombings kill more than sixty Israelis.
Ahmed Yassin released from jail following a Jordanian-brokered deal.
Al-Aqsa intifada; HAMAS launches countless attacks against Israel, including more than fifty suicide bombings.
Sheik Yassin assassinated; in reprisal, HAMAS launched two massive suicide bomb attacks, killing thirty-six Israelis and wounding nearly 200.
HAMAS admits that Mohammed Deif is its leader.
Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.
HAMAS gains clear majority of seats in the Palestinian parliament.

"The killing of Yassin by an IDF missile has spawned the usual flurry of claims that it was a futile and foolish act … This is insanity … Does anyone really think that HAMAS needed further excuses to kill as many Israeli men, women, and children as possible?… Intent, as Americans learned on 9/11, is not a limiting factor for the jihadis the West faces today … The idea that by not fighting back we can limit the terrorists' appetite for death is exactly what they want us to believe. The engendering of such beliefs is precisely the jihadis' theory of victory, the tipping point at which terror has won and will only worsen in order to deepen the victory and the West's subjugation.

"[K]illing Ahmed Yassin will not end the war. No single battle ever does. Pay no attention to those who say that because a battle did not win the war, it was not worth fighting. It was not a counterproductive act, even though HAMAS will attempt to 'retaliate.' What is counterproductive is to allow leaders who organize and fuel terror and call for Israel's destruction to enjoy personal immunity."

HAMAS a.k.a. Islamic Resistance Movement


HAMAS was formed in late 1987 as an out-growth of the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Various HAMAS elements have used both violent and political means, including terrorism, to pursue the goal of establishing an Islamic Palestinian state in Israel. It is loosely structured, with some elements working clandestinely and others operating openly through mosques and social service institutions to recruit members, raise money, organize activities, and distribute propaganda. HAMAS' strength is concentrated in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.


HAMAS terrorists, 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. HAMAS maintained the pace of its operational activity in 2004, claiming numerous attacks against Israeli interests. HAMAS has not yet directly targeted U.S. interests, although the group makes little or no effort to avoid targets frequented by foreigners. HAMAS continues to confine its attacks to Israelis inside Israel and the occupied territories.


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


HAMAS currently limits its terrorist operations to Israeli military and civilian targets in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Israel. Two of the group's most senior leaders in the Gaza Strip, Shaykh Ahmad Yasin and Abd al Aziz al Rantisi, were killed in Israeli air strikes in 2004. The group retains a cadre of senior leaders spread throughout the Gaza Strip, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, and the Gulf States.


Receives some funding from Iran but primarily relies on donations from Palestinian expatriates around the world and private benefactors in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states. Some fundraising and propaganda activities take place in Western Europe and North America.

Source: U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Terrorism. Washington, D.C., 2004.


HAMAS in 2005 is arguably Gaza's preeminent political movement. To the outside world and particularly Israel, by contrast, the group that had formerly existed as a kind of humanitarian organization (and still, to an extent, does) is known almost wholly for the savagery of its suicide attacks.

Israel's withdrawal from the HAMAS stronghold of Gaza in September 2005 marked a victory of sorts for the group, just as Israel's retreat from south Lebanon five years earlier was characterized as a relative success for Palestinian interests. Yet, Israel left territory even more wracked by war, lacking in civil apparatus, and marked by want than the land that had originally given birth to HAMAS almost eighteen years earlier.

In January, 2006, HAMAS backed candidates achieved a political upset in Palestinian elections. HAMAS, holding a majority of parliamentary seats, immediately clashed with Fatah over control of security forces and foreign policy. U.S. and European governments (mutually designating HAMAS as a terrorist organization) vowed not to deal with HAMAS and threatened to withdraw aid to Palestine as long as HAMAS advocated armed struggle and refused to recognize Israel's right to exist. Israel reasserted its right to assassinate militant HAMAS leaders.



Cleveland, William L. A History of the Modern Middle East. New York: Westview, 2000.

Mishal, Shaul, and Avraham Sela. The Palestinian HAMAS: Vision, Violence and Co-Existence. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.

Nusse, Andrea. Muslim Palestine: Ideology of HAMAS. London: Taylor & Francis, 1999.


Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO)


views updated Jun 11 2018


Informal name of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Harakat al-Muqawima al-Islamiya), formed from its acronym in Arabic. HAMAS is an Arabic word meaning "fervor" or "zeal." HAMAS was founded in the Gaza Strip on 14 December 1987 by Shaykh Ahmad Yasin with Abdullah Darwish, Abd al-Aziz Rantisi, Salah Shahada, and Ahmad Shama, Palestinian followers of the Muslim Brotherhood. Constituted a few days after the start of the first Intifada, it proposed fighting for the liberation of Palestine and the re-Islamization of Palestinian society. According to its charter, published in 1988, HAMAS sanctioned armed struggle against Israel only in Palestinian territory and proscribed inter-Palestinian armed conflict. Its leadership was composed of a board of directors (Mudiriya), a consultative council (Majlis al-Shura), and departments (Shaaba) or bureaus (Maktab). The political bureau (al-Maktab al-siyassi) was headed by a general secretary, and the military bureau (al-Maktab al-askari) supervised the operations of the armed branch (al-Jinah al-musallah), called the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigade after a martyr of the revolt of the 1930s. HAMAS combined resistance to Israel with significant social action (such as charities) among the Palestinian population. At first Israeli authorities were not opposed to it, hoping that HAMAS would weaken the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). In 1988, the western sector of al-Fatah, led by Khalil al-Wazir (Abu Jihad), in charge of operations in the occupied territories, tried unsuccessfully to mount joint actions with HAMAS and Islamic Jihad. On 29 September 1989, the Israeli authorities declared HAMAS illegal. On 14 December 1990, the third anniversary of its creation, it claimed responsibility for its first attack, the assassination of three Israeli soldiers in Haifa. On 12 January 1991, HAMAS launched a general appeal for holy war to the population of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

At the end of the 1991 Gulf War, while preparations for the Madrid Conference for peace in the Middle East were underway, the HAMAS leadership came out categorically against any negotiated settlement with Israel. In September 1992 HAMAS published a tract expressing a hardening of its position toward the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. On 13 December a commando kidnapped an Israeli border guard. When Israel refused to exchange the guard for Shaykh Ahmad Yasin, who had been sentenced to life in prison, the border guard was killed, which led to the arrest of 1,223 people by the Israeli authorities and the expulsion to Lebanon of 415 sympathizers or members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and HAMAS. During this exile, negotiations were begun for a rapprochement between the PLO and HAMAS, but they were fruitless. In November 1993, resolutely opposed to the Israeli-Palestinian accords of the previous 13 September, HAMAS joined the vanguard of
those who comprised the Palestinian opposition in Damascus, the Alliance of Palestinian Forces (APF). In April 1994, in response to the assassination of twenty-nine Palestinians by a Jewish colonist in Hebron the preceding 25 February, HAMAS undertook a series of deadly suicide attacks in Israel. In June 1994, with the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the Gaza Strip, a difficult cohabitation began between the two organizations. Although rejecting the Israeli-Palestinian accord, HAMAS nevertheless recognized the PA, which among other functions had taken responsibility for suppressing anti-Israeli militancy. Because of its charity work, HAMAS enjoyed the support of a large part of the Palestinian population, even if the majority of the population opposed the terrorist tactics HAMAS was using, such as suicide bombings. Many members of the movement were arrested by the Israeli and Palestinian police forces and two leaders of the armed section were assassinated by Israeli services.

On 25 July 1995 one of the main leaders of the political section of HAMAS, Abu Musa Marzouq, was arrested in the United States. In the autumn, faced with the prospect of presidential elections in January 1996 and not wanting to accept the Oslo Accords, HAMAS refused to engage in the electoral process. Two splinter groups that favored electoral participation but represented only themselves were formed: the Islamic National Way and the Islamic Front for the Salvation of Palestine. In October 1997 Shaykh Yasin was freed from prison as part of a deal to return two Israeli agents who had been caught in Jordan trying to assassinate a HAMAS leader. Shaykh Yasin returned to Gaza, where he gave a speech advocating struggle against Israel and inviting Yasir Arafat to join "the resistance front." Between 1998 and 1999, under the pressure of Israeli authorities, who demanded that harsher measures be taken against HAMAS, the Palestinian police regularly interrogated many of its leaders and militants. In 1998 the PA arrested some HAMAS leaders over their criticism of the Wye River Accords. At the end of August 1999, when the Jordanian authorities decided to close the offices of HAMAS in Jordan and issue warrants for the arrest of its representatives, several of them went underground. On 22 September Khalid Mishʿal and Ibrahim Ghusha were arrested by the Jordanian police and Abu Musa Marzouq, who had returned to Amman, was expelled to Iran. HAMAS attended a national meeting of opposition groups with the PA in October 1999 but later severely criticized it for participating in the Camp David talks of July 2000. At the same time, however, Shaykh Yasin announced that if the Israelis stopped attacking Palestinian civilians HAMAS would stop attacking Israeli civilians and that if the Israelis pulled out of the West Bank and Gaza Strip HAMAS would observe a truce. With the outbreak of the al-Aqsa Intifada in the Palestinian territories in October 2000, HAMAS and the PA reconciled. In November 2000 HAMAS joined the resistance committees through which national and Islamic forces coordinated their local actions. HAMAS intensified its campaign of suicide bombings against Israeli civilians, leading to many Israeli reprisal operations. In 2002 Israel reoccupied the West Bank Palestinian "autonomous" areas. On 22 March 2004, after a failed attempt the previous September, Israel succeeded in assassinating Shaykh Yasin in a missile attack. He was succeeded by Abd al-Aziz Rantisi, who had survived an assassination attempt the previous June. Israel assassinated him on 17 April 2004. His successor's name has not been announced. In June 2004 it was reported that Ismail Hanyeh, a HAMAS leader, announced that HAMAS would stop resisting the Israeli occupation in the Gaza Strip if Israel withdrew from the areas it had been besieging for the previous two months.

HAMAS has offices in many countries, including Iran, Jordan, Sudan, Lebanon, and Syria. Originally financed mainly by its members and others who wished to contribute to its charitable activities, it received substantial aid from the Gulf states during and after the Gulf Crisis of 1990 and 1991, when those states withdrew their aid from the PLO. Although it is Sunni, HAMAS has been financed largely by Shiʿite Iran since 1991, when Iran sponsored an international conference, meant to contrast with the Madrid Conference, to support a Palestinian Islamic revolution.

SEE ALSO Alliance of Palestinian Forces (APF);Aqsa Intifada, al-;Fatah, al-;Gaza Strip;Gulf War (1991);Intifada (1987–1993);Islamic Jihad;Islamic National Way Movement;Madrid Conference;Muslim Brotherhood;Oslo Accords;Oslo Accords II;Palestine Liberation Organization;Palestinian Authority;Palestinian Islamic Jihad;Qassam, Izz al-Din al-;Rantisi, Abd al-Aziz;Wazir, Khalil al- (Abu Jihad);West Bank;Yasin, Ahmad Ismaʿil.


views updated May 18 2018


HAMAS is an acronym drawn from the Arabic initials of the Islamic Resistance Movement (harakat al-muqawamat al-Islamiyyah), but which also bears a literal meaning of "zeal." An offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, HAMAS was established in 1987, during the first Palestinian intifada (uprising). The context for the creation of HAMAS was the continued failure of efforts such as the Camp David Accords to achieve the goal of Palestinian statehood.

In November of 1987, the Arab League met in Amman, Jordan, and issued a statement identifying the export of Islamic revolution from Iran as the greatest threat to stability in the region. This was the first time the Arab League had not identified Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory as the major threat to regional stability. Feeling betrayed by the international community and abandoned by fellow Arabs, some members of the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood lost faith in the approach to the problem of Palestinian statelessness taken by that organization during the past few decades. The immediate cause of the intifada was the death of some Palestinian workers hit by an Israeli driver. A group of Islamist Palestinians came together at a meeting called to discuss the incident, and the result was the formation of HAMAS. While the Palestinian Brotherhood's parent organization, the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, continued to follow a quietist approach to achieving Palestinian goals, HAMAS leaders were persuaded that militarism would be required to achieve security for Palestinians.

In addition to distinguishing itself from its parent, the Muslim Brotherhood, by insisting on the need for armed resistance, HAMAS distinguishes itself from the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) in rejecting the right of the Zionist entity (as it calls Israel) to exist because Israel denies Palestinians the rights of freedom and independence. Further distinguishing itself from the PLO, HAMAS demands that an Islamic state be established in place of Israel or a secular Palestinian state. The basis of this position is the claim that Jerusalem and, by extension, all of Palestine, are waqf, that is, properties entrusted to Muslims to administer in perpetuity, for the benefit of society. HAMAS ideologues believe that an Islamic state is necessary to ensure the rights of all citizens, Jews and Christians as well as Muslims, since Islamic law protects the rights of religious minorities. Thus, the HAMAS charter proclaims, "God is the goal, the Prophet is the model, the Qur˒an is the constitution, jihad is the path, and death on God's path is our most sublime aspiration."

The spiritual leader of HAMAS, Shaykh Ahmad Yasin (b. 1936), was leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza and founder of Gaza's Islamic Center. He sought to establish HAMAS as an alternative to the PLO. HAMAS, therefore, devotes the majority of its budget to an array of social services. These include support for the families of slain, jailed, or exiled activists; health centers; kindergartens and other schools; mosques; and mediation services (a common form of civil conflict resolution in Arab societies). Its military activities, which it considers legitimate resistance to Israel's military occupation which is in violation of UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, are conducted by an armed wing called Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, named after a Palestinian hero killed by the British during its "Mandate" occupation of Palestine in 1936.

The ability of HAMAS to provide its services depends upon its funding, which is both local and international. Internal funding comes from the Islamic charity offering, zakat. Support also comes from Muslim governments, such as those of Saudi Arabia and Iran, from Islamic organizations throughout the world, as well as remittances from Muslims living abroad.

Organizationally, HAMAS is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. According to the HAMAS charter of August 1988, it is a wing of the Muslim Brotherhood Society in Palestine. Its activities are coordinated by liaisons between Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, and HAMAS leaders living abroad. Its leadership structure is informal, with several founders and ideologues. Shaykh Yasin remains the acknowledged spiritual leader, but specific decisions are taken by a consultative council (majlis al-shura) with a flexible membership. This structure is in accordance with the traditional Sunni Islamic model, and is effective in allowing the organization to survive the incarceration and exile of its leaders from time to time.

HAMAS is most notorious for its use of suicide bombings in its armed struggle against Israel, targeting both military personnel and civilians. Both suicide and the targeting of civilians are forbidden by Islamic law. Both have been condemned by major Islamic scholars since the attacks against America on 11 September 2001. However, many religious scholars make an exception to the prohibition of suicide in the case of the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation, provided the victims of the attacks are military personnel.

The HAMAS charter describes the organization as the resistance wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, and therefore a part of an international movement. At the same time, Shaykh Yasin describes the movement as essentially political, in that its goal is to secure the rights of Palestinians in their homeland. Like other political movements, the significance of HAMAS is based not so much on the number of its official members as on the popularity of its political agenda. The popularity of HAMAS among Palestinians is impossible to measure precisely without general elections. However, elections among students in Palestinian universities indicate that by the mid-1990s, HAMAS had the second-largest following, after FATAH (harakat al-tahrir al-watani al-filastini, the largest organization in the PLO). While the popularity of militant Islamic groups in general was declining slightly by the end of the 1990s, that trend was reversed following Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000. Without clear benefits to the majority of Palestinians from the 1993 Oslo Accords, and in the context of stalled negotiations between Israel and the PLO, the claim that militant Islam had defeated Israel in Lebanon and could do so in Palestinian territories as well became believable to some.

Because of its military activities and political positions, HAMAS is banned in Israel. Many of its members have been arrested or deported, and a number of its leaders have been assassinated. HAMAS was designated a terrorist organization by the United States in 1995, and contributing to it was prohibited by the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (Pub. Law 104–132) of April 1996.

See alsoArab League ; Fundamentalism ; Intifada ; Lebanon ; Majlis ; Martyrdom ; Terrorism .


Abu Amr, Ziad. Islamic Fundamentalism in the West Bank and Gaza: Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic Jihad. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.

Mithaq harakat al-muqawama al-Islamiyya (Hamas) [Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas)], n.p., 18 August 1988.

Rashad, Ahmad. Hamas: Palestinian Politics with an Islamic Hue. Anandale, Va.: United Association for Studies and Research, 1993.

Schiff, Ze˒ev and Ehud Ya ari. Intifada: The Palestinian Uprising—Israel's Third Front. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989.

Tamara Sonn


views updated May 09 2018


Palestinian Islamic resistance movement.

HAMAS was created in Israeli-occupied Gaza in December 1987 as the resistance wing of the Islamic revivalist organization, the Association of the Muslim Brotherhood. HAMAS (zeal, in Arabic) is an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya (Islamic resistance movement).

Prior to the outbreak of the anti-Israeli uprising in the West Bank and Gaza known as the Intifada in December 1987, the Brotherhood's agenda focused on proselytizing and social purification as the basis for Palestinian socio-spiritual renewal. Hostile to secular nationalist groups within the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the Brotherhood shunned overt acts of anti-Israeli resistance. Israeli authorities quietly assisted the Brotherhood in hopes that it might provide a quieter political alternative to the PLO. The leading figure in the Brotherhood was Shaykh Ahmad Yasin.

Massive popular participation in the intifada prompted the Brotherhood to change tactics and establish HAMAS; its August 1988 charter clearly noted the group's connection with the Brotherhood. Brotherhood leaders argued that the time for vigorous jihad (holy war) had arrived. The move was political as well as religioussecular groups and another militant religious group, Islamic Jihad, were already resisting the Israeli occupation.

The charter called for the total liberation of Palestine from Israeli rule, declaring that Palestine is Islamic waqf (religious trust) land that must never be surrendered to non-Muslim rule. HAMAS supported the establishment of an Islamic Palestinian state in all of Palestine, in contrast to the PLO's vision of a secular state in the occupied territories. Israeli authorities struck hard at the HAMAS leadership during the intifada. Shaykh Yasin was arrested in May 1989 and sentenced two years later to life imprisonment. Other important HAMAS figures, such as Shaykh Ibrahim Qawqa, were deported. In December 1992 Israel deported 418 members from HAMAS and Islamic Jihad to Lebanon, including HAMAS leader Abd al-Aziz Rantisi.

HAMAS has maintained a difficult relationship with the PLO. It refused to join the PLO-led Unified National Command of the Uprising (UNCU) that emerged to coordinate resistance activity during the intifada. According to an October 1988 agreement between HAMAS and the UNCU, HAMAS operated alongside of but separate from the UNCU. By 1991 HAMAS was pushing for elections to the Palestine National Council, the PLO's parliament-in-exile, which would be held both in exile and in the territories, where its own strength lay. HAMAS also resolutely opposed the Arab-Israeli peace talks that began in late 1991, and HAMAS activists from its armed wing, the Martyr Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, increased the number of attacks against Israeli targets. HAMAS joined nine other Palestinian groups opposed to the talks in the National Democratic and Islamic Front and denounced the resulting Oslo Accord (September 1993).

HAMAS accelerated its resistance to the accords after establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 1994. In 1995, as serious intra-Palestinian disputes continued, the al-Qassam Brigades carried out a number of deadly suicide bombings against Jewish civilians in Israel proper, not against troops in the West Bank and Gaza; this prompted the PA to crack down on HAMAS. The following year, HAMAS bus bombings directly led to the election of hardliner Benjamin Netanyahu as Israeli prime minister and the virtual collapse of the peace process. King Hussein ibn Talal demanded Shaykh Yasin's release in October 1997 in return for the release of two Israeli intelligence operatives who had been captured after their failed attempt to assassinate HAMAS leader Khalid Mashʿal in Amman. HAMAS maintains offices in several countries, including Syria, the current home of exiled senior leader Musa Abu Marzuq.

The al-Aqsa Intifada, which started in 2000, saw the al-Qassam Brigades increase their suicide attacks against Israeli civilian targets. In addition, HAMAS and Islamic Jihad put aside their rivalry and began working in tandem. Israel, in return, assassinated more than 100 militants from the al-Qassam Brigades, Islamic Jihad, and al-Fatah's al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. Among them was senior HAMAS spokesman Ismaʿil Abu Shanab. Israel tried but failed to assassinate several other senior figures, such as Abd al-Aziz Rantisi (who returned to Gaza in 1993), in June 2003, and Shaykh Yasin, in September 2003. Israel repeated its assassination attempt on Shaykh Yasin on 22 March 2004, this time killing him.

Polls consistently show that Palestinians approve of HAMAS's suicide bombings, although that public support began to wane because of their deleterious effect on global support for the Palestinian cause. By late 2003 the future of the peace process seemed to depend upon the PA's ability to halt attacks by HAMAS.

See also aqsa intifada, al-; fatah, al-; gaza (city); hussein ibn talal; intifada (19871991); islamic jihad; jihad; muslim brotherhood; netanyahu, benjamin; oslo accord (1993); palestine liberation organization (plo); palestine national council; palestinian authority; west bank; yasin, ahmad ismaʿil.


Hroub, Khaled. Hamas: Political Thought and Practice. Washington, DC: Institute for Palestine Studies, 2000.

Mishal, Shaul, and Sela, Avraham. The Palestinian Hamas: Vision, Violence, and Coexistence. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.

michael r. fischbach

HAMAS (Islamic Resistance Movement)

views updated May 29 2018

HAMAS (Islamic Resistance Movement)

HAMAS was 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. HAMAS is loosely structured, with some elements working clandestinely and others working openly through mosques and social service institutions (including charities organized by HAMAS) to recruit members, raise money, organize activities, and distribute propaganda. HAMAS' strength is concentrated in the Gaza Strip and a few areas of the West Bank. HAMAS also has engaged in political activity, such as running candidates in West Bank Chamber of Commerce elections.

Organization activities. HAMAS is a large organization with tens of thousands of supporters and sympathizers. HAMAS activists, especially those in the Izz el-Din al-Qassam Brigades, have conducted many attacksincluding large-scale suicide bombingsagainst Israeli civilian and military targets. In the early 1990s, HAMAS also targeted Fatah rivals and began a continuing practice of targeting suspected Palestinian collaborators. HAMAS increased operational activity in 2001 during the Intifadah, claiming numerous attacks against Israeli interests. HAMAS has not directly targeted U.S. interests and continues to confine its attacks to Israelis inside Israel and the territories.

HAMAS operates primarily in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Israel. In August 1999, Jordanian authorities closed the group's Political Bureau offices in Amman, arrested its leaders, and prohibited the group from operating on Jordanian territory. HAMAS leaders are also present in other parts of the Middle East, including Syria, Lebanon, and Iran.

HAMAS receives funding from Palestinian expatriates, Iran, and private benefactors in Saudi Arabia and other moderate Arab states. Some fundraising and propaganda activity take place in Western Europe and North America.



Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook, 2002. <http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/> (April 16, 2003).

Taylor, Francis X. U.S. Department of State. Patterns of Global Terrorism 2001, Annual Report: On the Record Briefing. May 21, 2002 <http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/rm/10367.htm> (April 17, 2003).

U.S. Department of State. Annual Reports. <http://www.state.gov/www/global/terrorism/annual_reports.html> (April 16, 2003).


Terrorism, Philosophical and Ideological Origins
Terrorist and Para-State Organizations
Terrorist Organization List, United States
Terrorist Organizations, Freezing of Assets

Hamas (Movement for a Peaceful Society)

views updated May 29 2018


A moderate Islamic party in Algeria.

Hamas is Algeria's second most popular Islamic party, after the Islamic Salvation Front. It was established in 1990 by Shaykh Mahfoud Nahnah (19422003), after constitutional amendments allowed for political pluralism, as the Movement of the Islamic Society, with the Arabic acronym HAMAS. To conform to a law requiring that the name make no reference to Islam, in 1991 the party changed its name to the Movement for a Peaceful Society. Influenced by the teachings and methods of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, the party's origins go back to the 1970s, when Shaykh Nahnah was arrested for opposing the state's socialist orientation. In 1989, he formed a social and cultural society, Jamʿiyyat alIrshad wa al-Islah (Association of Guidance and Reform), which became Hamas in 1990 and drew its following from among students, teachers, and professionals. In the 1991 legislative elections, the party garnered over 450,000 votes. Since the cancellation of these elections, Hamas has maintained a moderate and nonviolent stance and advocated national reconciliation and the preservation of the republic and the institutions of the state. It has been criticized by some for taking a conciliatory position toward the military-backed regime. Others see its program as realistic and pragmatic. Shaykh Nahnah ran as a candidate during the presidential elections of 1995 and came in second, winning over three million votes. In the 1999 presidential elections, the party supported the candidacy of Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Since the 1997 legislative elections, Hamas has participated in several ministerial cabinets and placed representatives in the Algerian parliament. It has advocated a moderate Islamic position; adherence to the country's fundamental cultural components (Islamic, Arab, and Amazegh [the indigenous population]); the restoration of order and national peace; pluralism; the peaceful transfer of power; women's participation in society; and respect for human rights. In 2003 Shaykh Nahnah died of leukemia, leaving behind a movement that is expected to survive its founder.

See also algeria: political parties in; front islamique du salut (fis); nahnah, mahfoud.


Harakat Mujtama al-Silm. Available from <www.hmsalgeria.net>.

Shahin, Emad Eldin. Political Ascent: Contemporary Islamic Movements in North Africa. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1998.

emad eldin shahin


views updated May 29 2018


HAMAS (Arab. "zeal"; abbreviation of harakat muqawama alislamiyya – Islamic Resistance Movement), Palestinian Islamic movement engaged in community activity and armed struggle against Israel; from 2006 the majority party in the Palestinian parliament and government. Hamas was officially founded during the first intifada in 1988 under the leadership of Sheikh Ahmad Yasin (later assassinated by Israel) as a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, operating both in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. From its establishment it remained the main opposition to the *Palestine Liberation Organization and, from 1993, to the peace process. Throughout this period it launched particularly violent terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians while expanding its civil base through wide-ranging social services to the Palestinian population, including schools, hospitals, mosques, family centers, and welfare. Establishing its political bureau abroad to protect it against Israeli crackdowns, it also sought legitimacy by running in Palestinian elections. With increasing popular support and charges of corruption being leveled against the *Palestinian Authority, it scored an upset victory in the January 2006 parliamentary elections and formed a new government replacing the Palestine Liberation Organization in power. Attacks against Israel continued, however, until Israel again entered Gaza in summer 2006. For a summary of the latter events, see *Israel, State of: Historical Survey; for a detailed review of Israel's war against terrorism, see *Israel, State of: Israel Defense Forces ("The War against Terrorism"). See also *Palestine Authority;*Palestine Liberation Organization.


views updated May 29 2018

Hamas a Palestinian Islamic fundamentalist movement that has become a focus for Arab resistance in the Israeli-occupied territories. It opposes peace with Israel and has come into conflict with the more moderate Palestine Liberation Organization.