Once again, bombs are raining down on Gaza. In response to rockets fired into Israel, the Israeli military has begun attacking alleged Hamas positions in what may be the most severe escalation of violence since 2014. As always, many innocent Palestinians have been caught in the crossfire, though the big target for Israel and its allies is apparently Hamas, the so-called “leaders” of the Gaza Strip. Israel and the United States label them a terrorist organization. But what is Hamas actually?
Hamas is the largest nationalist group operating in Palestine currently. Its name is an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya – The Islamic Resistance Movement. Its social service wing, Dawah, follows the model of Islamic welfare established by Muhammad. Dawah is divided into multiple departments: preaching and guidance, welfare, education, charity, health, and sport and reconciliation. Its military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, is the muscle of the organization and operates in secrecy throughout Gaza and the West Bank.
According to Hamas’ 1988 charter, written less than a year after the First Intifada, its mission is the liberation of Palestine from Israeli colonialism and imperialism through any means necessary. They welcome peace but do not expect liberation to come peacefully. The faith and ideology of Hamas is based in Sunni Islam, the most common religion in Palestine, but they work with all Muslims as well as many Christians and welcome anyone supportive to their cause.
Allah is its target, the Prophet is its model, the Quran its constitution: Jihad is its path and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of its wishes.
Critics of Hamas claim it is an radical Islamic terror organization rooted in antisemitism. Hamas denies the charges of antisemitism. They have no problem with the Jewish people or religion but with Israel and their colonial occupation of Palestine. They also resent being called “terrorists.” To them, the real terrorists are the Zionist invaders who have killed so many Palestinians in ethnic cleansing campaigns. To use their own words: “Occupation, injustice, and impunity cause resistance. Occupation is the root cause of the conflict. Justice for the Palestinian people is a prerequisite to peace.”
In 2017, Hamas released a new document outlining their principles and goals. It takes on a wholly different tone. Compared to the charter, it’s almost secular. It stresses the historical injustices imposed on the Palestinian people and expresses the need and desire for the unity and independence of the Palestinian people.
Palestine is a land that was seized by a racist, anti-human, and colonial Zionist project that was founded on a false promise.
The new document makes things very clear. The Balfour Declaration, the British Mandate Document, the UN Palestine Partition Resolution, and anything based off these are illegitimate. Israel (referred to as “the Zionist entity”) will never be recognized by Hamas. They also hold that the Oslo Accords violated the rights of the Palestinian people and, thus, refuse to accept or recognize them either.
They will accept nothing less than the full liberation of Palestine, the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, and the return of all Palestinian refugees. They hold that anything that infringes upon the rights of the Palestinian people, including the taking of land and the forced relocation of Palestinians, is to be considered an act of aggression. They also support the right to bear arms and resist Zionist aggression. One almost finds echoes of the Declaration of Independence in the new document.
The Palestinian people are one people, made up of all Palestinians, inside and outside of Palestine, irrespective of their religion, culture, or political affiliation.
Practice and Praxis
Hamas supports pluralism and democracy and has engaged in electoral politics throughout Gaza and the West Bank. They held the majority of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council after their landslide victory in 2006. However, tensions between them and their main rival, Fatah, boiled over the year after. Deadly clashes in Gaza resulted in the establishment of a new legislative body which was unconnected to the West Bank. In 2014 they agreed to form a national unity government but it has yet to be fully implemented.
Though Hamas has the largest parliamentary and military presence in Gaza, it cannot be said that they actually rule the Gaza Strip. Israel controls the borders, trade, and airspace. Nothing gets in or out without Israel’s permission. The closure of the area coupled with their unwillingness to grant permits to schools and hospitals for Palestinians outside of Gaza has lead to a dramatic worsening of living standards in Gaza. Save the Children describes conditions in Gaza as “unlivable” and suicide has skyrocketed as a result of the lack of resources, inability to move freely, constant warfare, and staggering unemployment inside “the world’s largest open air prison.”
Especially following the failure of the Camp David summit and the election of Benjamin Netanyahu – a staunch opponent of the peace process and the Oslo Accords – in Israel, the Palestinian Authority has been weakened significantly by Israeli interference. Hamas has been picking up where the Palestinian Authority has left off, organizing schools, clinics, and food drives and standing up to the Zionist colonizers. Though Israelis may view Hamas as a threat, for the people of Gaza, they are one of the only organizations fighting for their rights and lives.