The ‘Islamic Resistance Movement’ (also known as Hamas, or Ḥarakah al-Muqāwamah al-ʾIslāmiyyah) is a Palestinian militant organisation that has effectively controlled the Gaza Strip since the Battle of Gaza in 2007 (2).This battle was an armed conflict between Hamas and Fatah with Hamas emerging victorious and ruling over the Gaza Strip from then until the present day. Hamas emerged after the beginning of the first intifada (uprising) in December 1987 and quickly grew into the most prominent form of Palestinian armed resistance against what they view as the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories (12). Hamas’ overarching goals are to end this claimed Israeli occupation of Palestine and establish an Islamic state in historical Palestine (13). Hamas’ military wing are frequently engaged in armed resistance against Israel and often launch rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territories in response to what they perceive as Israeli aggressions (7).
History & Foundations
On the 9th of December 1987, four Palestinian workers from the Jabalia refugee camp were killed in a car crash. A rumour quickly spread that this accident was a deliberate attempt to kill Palestinians, although the validity of this rumour has not been concretely confirmed. Israel, in return, denied that the crash was an intentional move to target Palestinians. In the following days, Palestinians responded with demonstrations and violence (the first intifada), leading to the IDF deploying thousands of soldiers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (1). The Muslim Brotherhood, an organisation that preceded Hamas and was heavily criticised for inactivity against Israel, was reorganised in Palestine under the banner of Hamas to lead the resistance against Israel (1). However, the relationship between both groups is somewhat complex. Between 1987 and 1993, Hamas consolidated itself as a popular resistance throughout the first intifada to represent the interests of the Palestinian population, and later in 2017 it declared itself entirely autonomous and separate from the Muslim Brotherhood. Although this latter structural change has proven to be more symbolic than truly instrumental, relations between both groups have worsened since.
Throughout the 90s, when the United States attempted to broker peace in the middle east through the Oslo Accords, Hamas’ popularity surged when the peace process failed to meet Palestinian expectations (13). During this period, Hamas orchestrated several suicide bombing attacks to strike fear in Israel, create an atmosphere of chaos and derail the peace process (3). Talks eventually broke down following the assassination of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995 (14). After the second intifada broke out in September 2000, Hamas led the armed Palestinian resistance against Israel, engaging in bloody clashes and orchestrating more suicide bombing attacks. In the 2006 Palestinian legislative election, Hamas won the majority of seats and entered government, defeating rivals Fatah in the process (5). The first Palestinian election in fifteen years was due to take place in 2021 but this was cancelled by President Mahmoud Abbas. Thus, Hamas still exercises a huge degree of political influence in the Gaza Strip specifically and has supporters across the West Bank. A poll conducted in 2021 highlighted that 45% of Palestinians believe that Hamas should lead Palestine (16).
Objectives & ideology
Hamas’ official website states that the group’s ultimate goal is to “bring an end to the prolonged occupation on historical Palestine”. They describe themselves as a “national liberation movement with a moderate Islamic school of thought”. However, Hamas is regarded as merely a ‘terrorist organisation’ by the Israeli and U.S. governments, among others. Hamas claims that their resistance against Israel is rooted in the Israeli occupation rather than a hatred towards Judaism (8), although this claim is often rebutted by Israel and other states. Their transitional and strategic objective is to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine by establishing an Islamic state in Palestine. Hamas regard Israel as a coloniser which illegally occupies Palestinian lands and they wish to rid Israeli forces from all of these respective territories (2). Hamas also wishes to promote Islamic values and preserve Palestinian identity (2). They respond with force to every action taken by Israel that they deem to be an act of aggression, such as the storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque in early April 2023.
Hamas’ military wing, composed of the al-Qassam Brigades, may not direct specific orders towards the group’s political leaders but these leaders are often obliged to take them into consideration. Over the past ten years, Hamas has evolved from a guerrilla organisation into a fully fledged military group, mirroring the organisational structure and capabilities of Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hamas militants carry M-16s and AK-47s mainly as personal weapons (6). Despite the sea blockade on Gaza which heavily monitors every boat entering the Gazan waters, the group has managed to amass machine guns, anti-tank rockets and anti-aircraft missiles (6). Though the majority of rockets fired by Hamas from Gaza towards Israel are intercepted by the Iron Dome air defence system, they occasionally reach Israeli soil, causing death and destruction on occasion. Many claim that these rockets are being smuggled from Iran (11).
One of the most important elements of Hamas’ military tactics is their use of an extensive underground tunnel system, where each tunnel is between approximately 2.5 and 5 kilometres in length, 25 to 40 metres below ground, and can enable around 20 fighters to swiftly cross borders without detection. Hamas reportedly has an elite force dubbed “Nuchba'', who are trained to attack Israel via these tunnels. The tunnels are reportedly intended to be used as a vehicle through which to launch attacks on Israel. In an interview with VICE in 2021, Hamas militant Abu Khalid said “this is our only choice”, noting that Hamas cannot fight Israel in the air or at sea due to the strength of the Israeli military. He added that Hamas will “keep going unless they stop occupying our lands” (15). In Telegram channels such as the Jenin Al Samoud news channel and the Al-Qassam Brigade channel, users are notified of recent attacks on military tunnels as a means of protecting militants, enabling some to evade Israeli attacks.
This video shows fighters from the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades (IQB) -- the military wing of Hamas -- going through these tunnels. This video is purely for informational and journalistic purposes. It was found on the Telegram channel of the respective group.
International Relations & Political Alliances
Regarding their interaction with other countries, Hamas maintains that their decision making is independent of any other state or political organisation (10). However, there are some states who have been linked to supporting the group (4). In 2012, Qatari Emir Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani was the first state leader to visit the government of Hamas. As of 2021, Qatar had reportedly donated €1.5 billion to Hamas to fund their regime. Though Turkey has historically been ardent supporters of Hamas (11), reports emerged in early 2023 of President Erdogan softening ties with Israel, plundering their support for the group into question. The Iranian state has been linked with supplying vast amounts of munitions to Hamas to support their military wing (9). Furthermore, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah have been long established supporters of Hamas, oft accused of supplying the group with military weaponry and knowledge (11). In late 2022, following a meeting with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, Hamas reportedly mended ties with Syria who have been accused of financing and supporting Hamas’ military movement.
Works Cited (Chicago-style)
(1) - Glenn E. Robinson, ‘Hamas as Social Movement’ (2004) available at <https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Glenn-Robinson-2/publication/292494431_Hamas_as_social_Movement/links/5d5d9eada6fdcc55e81edb86/Hamas-as-social-Movement.pdf>.
(2) - Ziad Abu-Amr, ‘Hamas: A Historical and Political Background’ (1993) Journal of Palestine Studies 22(4) available at <https://www.jstor.org/stable/2538077>.
(3) - Zaki Chehab, ‘Inside Hamas: The Untold Story of Militants, Martyrs and Spies’ (2007) I.B. Tauris.
(4) - Tom Wilson, ‘Hamas Today: An Assessment of Alliances and Capabilities’ (2015) Centre for the New Middle East (2) available at <https://henryjacksonsociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Hamas-Today.pdf>.
(5) - Jean-Pierre Filiu, ‘The Origins of Hamas: Militant Legacy or Israeli Tool?’ (2012) Journal of Palestine Studies 41(3) available at <https://doi.org/10.1525/jps.2012.xli.3.54>.
(6) - Grant Rumley & Neri Zilber, ‘A Military Assessment of the Israel-Hamas Conflict’ (2021) Policy Watch 3489 available at <https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/military-assessment-israel-hamas-conflict>.
(7) - Yoram Cohen & Jeffrey White, ‘Hamas in Combat: The Military Performance of the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement’ (2009) Washington Institute Policy Focus 97 available at <https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/media/3416#:~:text=Hamas%20and%20its%20military%20wing,after%20three%20weeks%20of%20combat.>.
(8) - Imad Alsoos, ‘From jihad to resistance: the evolution of Hamas’s discourse in the framework of mobilization’ (2021) Middle Eastern Studies 57(5) available at <https://doi.org/10.1080/00263206.2021.1897006>.
(9) - Abdalhakim Hanaini & Abdul Rahim Bin Ahmad, ‘Exploring the Key Principles of Hamas Foreign Relations’ (2016) Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences 7(3) available at <http://dx.doi.org/10.5901/mjss.2016.v7n3s1p207>.
(10) - Muhammad Muslih, ‘The Foreign Policy of Hamas’ (2000) Council of Foreign Relations New York available at <https://www.cfr.org/report/foreign-policy-hamas>.
(11) - David Ehl, ‘What is Hamas and who supports it?’ (2021) DW Politics available at <https://www.dw.com/en/who-is-hamas/a-57537872>.
(12) - Devolah Margolin, ‘Hamas at 35’ (2022) Washington Institute Policy Watch 3685 available at <https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/hamas-35>.
(13) - David Maggs, ‘The History, Politics and Ideology of Hamas’ (2011) E-international Relations available at <https://www.e-ir.info/2011/06/17/the-history-politics-and-ideology-of-hamas/>.
(14) - Wendy Kristianasen, ‘Challenge and Counterchallenge: Hamas's Response to Oslo’ (1999) Journal of Palestine Studies 28(3) available at <https://doi.org/10.2307/2538305>.
(15) - VICE News, ‘Inside the Hamas ‘Terror Tunnels’ Israel Has Been Bombing’ (2022) available at <https://youtu.be/W4gDfSNMRx4>.
(16) - Adnan Abu Amer, ‘Fears of a Hamas takeover of the West Bank are exaggerated’ (2021) Al Jazeera Opinion available at <https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2021/10/23/fears-of-hamas-takeover-of-the-west-bank-are-exaggerated>.