Background & Overview
Hamas is the Arabic acronym for "The Islamic Resistance Movement"
(Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyya). Since 2007, Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip.
Hamas grew out
of the ideology and practice of the Islamic fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood movement that arose in Egypt in the 1920s and it 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. Initially, the organization followed the Muslim
Brotherhood's model of acting primarily as a social welfare agency that
catered especially to the Palestinian
refugees in the Gaza Strip and, over time, developed a good reputation for improving the lives
of Palestinians. Hamas also exerted its influence through the mosques. Today, Hamas is intimitately tied to the Islamic regimes in Syria and Iran.
In August 1988, Hamas published the Islamic
Covenant, which makes clear the organization is opposed to Israel's
existence in any form. It states that "there is no solution for
the Palestinian question except through jihad (holy war)." The group warns that any Muslim who leaves "the
circle of struggle with Zionism" is guilty of "high treason." Hamas' platform calls
for the creation of an Islamic republic in Palestine that would replace
Israel. Muslims should "raise the banner of Allah over every inch
of Palestine," it says.
Hamas stresses jihad as
the sole and immediate means to solve the problem of Palestine. Hamas aims to create an Islamic state in all of Palestine. The immediate means
to achieve this goal is the escalation of the armed struggle, and ultimately jihad, with the participation
not only of Palestinian Muslims but of the entire Islamic world.
violent activities are run by two central departments, which were established
before the intifada. One
is Hamas' military arm,
created in 1982 in Gaza by Sheikh
Ahmed Yassin. In the early 1980's, the group began amassing arms
for use against Israel. After it was uncovered in 1984, Yassin was imprisoned. He was freed as part of a 1985 prisoner exchange between
Israel and PFLP-GC leader Ahmed Jibril.
A second Hamas arm called the Majd was created by Yassin in 1986 to monitor Arabs deemed to be "collaborating" with
Israel or failing to follow Islamic doctrine. In 1988, a similar Hamas operation began in the West Bank.
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.
terrorist attacks in a variety of forms: firing rockets toward
Israeli communities, infiltrations into Israeli communities to murder
Israeli civilians, explosive charges against IDF tanks and vehicles, shooting toward civilian vehicles in the Gaza
Strip, ambushes of IDF soldiers, dispatching booby-trapped boats towards Israeli ships, kidapping and attempted kidnappings of IDF soldiers and of course suicide bombings. In addition, Hamas operatives smuggle weapons and terrorists from Egypt into Gaza using underground tunnels. Amazingly, some of this
activity is directed by Hamas prisoners in Israeli prisons, though most of it is done by the Hamas headquarters in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas tries to present a separation between the political leadership and the
military wing, as if the military activity serves no political aim.
In practice, the formal "military leadership" of the Hamas is subordinate to what is known as the "political leadership."
However, it is this "political echelon" of the terrorist organizations,
which directs, instructs and determines policy, including terrorist
activity. Interrogation of Hamas operatives point to Rantissi as directing Hamas terrorist policy. His public statements serve as instructions for terrorists
to carry out attacks.
With the start of the Palestinian uprising known as the Second Intifada in 2000, Hamas used its power in Gaza to repeatedly fire rockets at both Israeli settlements within the Strip as well as Israeli cities outside of it. Hamas also stepped up its suicide bombings inside Israel. The IDF answered by leading a missions of targeted assassinations against the Hamas leadership in an attempt to destroy the organizaton by cutting off its head. On March 22, 2004, Hamas founder Sheikh
Ahmed Yassin was assassinated, and the subsequently
named successor, Abdul Aziz al-Rantisi, was killed for the IDF on April 17, 2004.
In 2005, after much debate, the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to unilaterally withdraw all Israeli presence from Gaza in an overt attempt to appease Hamas and get it to stop firing rockets and terrorizing Israel.
In 2011, it is obvious that Sharon's plan failed miserably. Hamas rockets continue to rain down on Israel and the Israeli Defense Forces has been forced to invade the area twice in attempts to destroy Hamas's fighting capability.
The IDF first reentered Gaza in June 2006 after Hamas operatives infiltrated Israel, attacked an army post and kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. Then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ordered the army to invade, rescue Shalit and destory Hamas's weapons stores. Known in Israel as Operation Summer Rains and Operation Autumn Clouds, the missions failed to achieve any of the major goals set forth by Olmert. Though Hamas was weakened by the IDF, it was not destroyed and Shalit was not rescued.
In 2007, following Hamas' victory in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections,
Hamas violently siezed control on the Gaza Strip and forced out all remnants of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party.
When Hamas rocket fire against Israel escalated to a point that the government could no longer sit idly by, Prime Minister Olmert ordered a second invasion of Gaza in December 2008, code-named Operation Cast Lead. With much of the same stated goals as the previous operations, the IDF was tasked with destroying Hamas's rocket infrastructure and, if possible, rescuing still captive soldier Gilad Shalit. Operation Cast Lead lasted into late January 2009 before a cease-fire was implemented by Israel. Hamas claimed yet another victory in this round of fighting, but statistics showed that the IDF has managed to kill nearly 1,000 Hamas operaties during the few weeks of battle.
In October 2011, after more than five years holding Shalit in captivity, Hamas negotiated with Israel (though Egyptian and German intermediaries) for his release in exchange for the release of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Israel agreed to the prisoner swap, and on October 18, 2011, Shalit was returned to Israel.
In December 2011, Hamas celebrated in 24th anniversary with huge celebrations across the Gaza Strip. In a press release sent out by the organization through its Twitter account, Hamas claims to have fired more than 11,000 rockets at Israel between 2000 and 2011, to have killed more than 1,360 Israeli's and to have injured more than 6,400 others.
In 2012 Hamas fired 1,697 rockets at Israel.
On April 24, 2014, the two main Palestinian political factions - Hamas and Fatah - signed a reconciliation agreement to unite their disparate parts of the Palestinian Authority. The two rivals split seven years ago following Hamas' violent coup that wrested control of the Gaza Strip from Fatah and the PA. To read the full article on the Fatah-Hamas reconcilliation, click here.
As a response to the kidnapping of three Israeli teens as well as dramatically increasing fire coming from Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on July 8, 2014. Over the following 50 days Israel fought to destroy the terror capabilities of Hamas by carrying out air strikes against Hamas leaders, locating and destroying attack tunnels dug by Hamas to infiltrate Israel, and using the Iron Dome to defend it's citizens. Over 2,000 Palestinians died as Hamas used their standard tactics of firing from densely populated urban areas and provoking Israeli responses that decimated the Gaza Strip. Throughout the conflict Egypt acted as a mediator in desperate attempts to end the violence, which resulted in multiple cease-fires being agreed to. Hamas violated these cease-fires by firing rockets and mortars into Israeli territory on eleven occasions. During Operation Protective Edge the international community chastised Israel and saw them as being unfair to Hamas, laying out strikes against the organization in Gaza that international actors deemed to be a gross and unnecessary display of force. By violating the agreed-to ceasefires, Hamas showed that they have no regard for the Palestinian citizens, and showed that their vision is clouded by pure hatred for the Israeli "occupying force". They deliberately put their citizens in danger in order to gain international sympathy for the Palestinian people when Israel is forced to retaliate.
Israel's stated goal at the begining of the conflict was to destroy the attack tunnels dug by Hamas into Israel, stop the endless rocket fire coming from the Gaza Strip, and bring to justice the individuals responsible for the abduction and murder of three Israeli teens. When the abduction first occured on June 12, 2014 Hamas officials denied involvement, but then three months later accepted responsibility and announced that the abduction and murder of Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali was of their orchestration. Over the course of Operation Protective Edge 3,356 rockets were fired at Israel by Hamas, and the Iron Dome intercepted 578 of them. The Israeli forces destroyed 32 terror tunnels dug by Hamas, and carried out air strikes which resulted in the deaths of multiple Hamas leaders and their family members.
On Tuesday August 26 the Palestinian terror organizations and Israel came to an agreement for an extended ceasefire to take effect immediately. Hamas members declared a glorious victory, and citizens celebrated by firing guns into the air, injuring and killing multiple people. The plan that Hamas accepted was almost identical to the first one that Egypt had proposed two months prior, and Hamas was forced to abandon their demands of a sea port, an air port, and an end to the Israeli blockade in order to reach an agreement. Although over 2,000 Palestinians died and it is estimated that reconstruction will cost $7.8 billion, Hamas sees the outcome of Operation Protective Edge as beneficial for them because they stood their ground in the face of Israel and were successful in garnering international sympathy for the plight of the Palestinian people.
On September 25, 2014, Hamas spokesperson Mahmoud Al-Zahar stated that "we don't want to establish an Islamic emirate in Gaza; we want an Islamic state in all Palestine". The ultimate goal of Hamas is to destroy the Jewish people and the Jewish homeland, and in this quote Al-Zahar makes it clear that Hamas is in no way interested in peace, and is only interested in the destruction and suffering of the people of Israel.
Following Operation Protective Edge, Hamas returned immediately to weapons production and propaganda. Although the organization is hurting for funds, they have managed to begin to revive their weapons industry, carrying out multiple rocket tests in the Mediterannean and begining the reconstruction of terror tunnels into Israel. The Izz al-Din al-Qassam brigades, Hamas's military wing, staged a military parade through the streets of Gaza on Thursday October 9, the same day that the newly formed Palestinian Unity government met for the first time in Gaza. This parade was part of a recruitment drive by Hamas, in an attempt to drum up more support for the military units.
Hamas carried out multiple rocket tests on October 23, firing rockets toward the Mediterranean Sea. This was the sixth incident of Hamas carrying out rocket firing tests since the end of Operation Protective Edge.
For the first time in months, on October 1 2014 many employees of the former Hamas government in the Gaza Strip recieved their salaries of $1,200 each. In total 24,000 public workers who had not been paid since October 2013 were paid out in this way. The money for the salaries was donated by Qatar, who gave the unity government $30 million to pay the workers.
The European Union removed Hamas from a designated terror organization blacklist on December 17, 2014. The ruling, handed down by General Court of the European Union, stated that Hamas's designation as a terrorist organization by the EU in 2001 was " not [based] on acts examined and confirmed in decisions of competent authorities," but instead based on "factual imputations derived from the press and the internet." This ruling wss brought about after Hamas officials contested their designation on the list of terrorist organizations. Despite this ruling removing the designation the court ruled that the effects of this designation would stay in place for at least 3 months, including the freezing of funds.
On January 19, 2015, the European Union announced that it would appeal this ruling by the European Union court, in a move that was welcomed by Israeli officials. The European Union must provide evidence that Hamas remains a terrorist group and cannot use third party sources from the internet to do so, according to court documents.
On December 24, 2014, it was reported by local news agencies that Hamas had begun building new fighting positions and fortifying their bases of operations. Residents of the Gaza Strip reported seeing dirt mounts, ramps, and other fortifications being built and moved by members dressed in Hamas military garb. Hamas members then raised flags over their new positions.
Although groups like Hamas and Fatah have continued to deny it, the Islamic State has begun to take a foothold in the Palestinian territories. Israeli security sources claim that in late 2014 and early 2015 hundreds of Hamas and Fatah supporters have defected to the Islamic State. Following the attack on the satirical French news magazine Charlie Hebdo in January 2015, thousands of supporters of the Islamic State crowded the streets of Gaza in protest of the publishing of images of Mohammed by the magazine, and in support of the violent attack that left twelve people dead. Similar demonstrations took place in Ramallah and Hebron. These protestors attempted to storm the the office of the French Cultural Center in Gaza, and burned French flags while chanting calls for the slaughter of French nationals. Palestinian security forces were dispatched to the protest area, where they arrested seven Islamic State supporters. It was revealed on January 18, 2015, that a number of would-be jihadists "training" to join the Islamic State had been arrested in November and December in Galilee, Northern Israel. The seven Arab Israeli citizens were apprehended by Israeli security forces after apparently participating in "training" sessions during which they slaughtered sheep, practiced riding horses, learned how to properly make and hurl a molotov cocktail, and participated in target shooting activities. The individuals arrested included Adnan Ala al-Din, a 40 year old prominent lawyer from Nazareth, and brothers who had had issues with Israeli security forces in the past. Ala al-Din presented himself to the security forces as the Senior Commander of the Islamic State in Palestine at the time of his arrest.
After carrying out multiple attacks inside of Egypt in late 2014 and early 2015, an Egyptian court designated Hamas' military wing, Izz al-Din al-Qassam brigades as a terrorist organization in February 2015. The group was accused of the financing, planning, and execution of terrorist attacks that have killed hundreds of Egyptian citizens, including security personnel. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri issued a public statement in which he rejected the ruling passed down by the Cairo Court of Urgent Matters, calling the designation "dangerous." The following month an Egyptian court ruled that the Hamas organization as a whole is a “terrorist movement,” not just their military factions. Hamas took to twitter to issue an immediate response, posting that designating Hamas as a terrorist organization was a “great shame disgracing the reputation of Egypt.” Five days later however, Hamas Chief Ismail Haniyeh wrote an email in which he stated that the Hamas organization wished to air out their grievances and establish further ties with Egypt. Haniyeh wrote that the Hamas organization was “ready for any proposals that would remove obstacles between the Palestinian and the Egyptian brothers.”
Government files leaked in February 2015 showed that the CIA had tried to make contact with and gain access to Hamas through back channels, despite an official ban on contact with the terrorist organization. The leaked documents disclosed how in 2012 a CIA agent contacted a South African intelligence agent about the possibility of gaining access to Hamas, in order to recruit an informant. Also included in the reports are call transcripts from a call between President Obama and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in which Obama threatens Abbas in no uncertain terms if he were to go forward with the Palestinians 2012 statehood bid.
Three Israeli citizens were arrested on March 2, 2015, charged with suspicion of supplying raw materials to Hamas militants during Operation Protective Edge. The suspected smuggling ring also included multiple Palestinian businessmen and a Palestinian merchant named Osama Zuaroub. Zuaroub was the Israeli's main contact point on the other side. The accused apparently stored the materials in a warehouse in Mivtachim and used the Kerem border crossing to tramsfer truckfulls of materials to Hamas militants. The charges detailed that the payment for the materials, storage in the warehouse, and transfer to Hamas, amounted to about $375,000 per month. Hamas allegedly purchased more than $30 million worth of goods from the three Isrealis through Zuaroub. Files charged against the Israeli individuals include contact with a foreign agent, providing aid to the enemy in it's war against Israel, and fraud.
Hamas representatives rejected a peace agreement presented by the UN Special Coordinator for Middle East Peace, Robert Serry, on March 12, 2015. The proposal was drafted by Palestinian, Israeli, US, and international representatives, and would have seen an end to Israel's blockade of Gaza as well as the allowable construction of an airport and seaport. The peace agreement was for a proposed five year cease-fire. Hamas spokesperson Mousa Abu Marzouk explained their rejection the next day on social media, claiming that "Israel made the proposal with the aim of separating the enclave from the West Bank so it can swallow it with the settlements. We are paying a steep price for our stance by the continued blockade and economic pressure over the Strip, but we reject any idea that would lead to the separation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank." This trip was Serry's last to the Gaza Strip.
For the first time since Hamas took over Gaza eight years prior, in March 2015 a large shipment of vegetables was exported to the Israeli territory. Prior to Hamas taking control of the area, Palestinian merchants used to export hundreds of tons of produce to Israel daily. Since the takeover however it has been too risky for Israel to leave the border crossings open regularly, and the blockade on Gaza has been enforced. This shipment in March 2015 included 27 tons of tomatoes and five tons of eggplants, to be sold in Israel for about $770 per ton. In the months following the end of Operation Protective Edge, Israel officials increased the amount of border permits for Gaza merchants to sell their products in Israel. The Israeli military agency that oversees Gaza civilian affairs, COGAT, said that shipments totaling 1,500 tons are expected monthly in the future. This produce will be shipped in a box stamped with the name of the farmer, and a sticker that reads “product of Gaza.”
New video surfaced on March 12, 2015, showing Hamas militants digging tunnels and setting up training facilities near the Israel border. The video was shot by civilian residents near the border, who said that the men bore arms and wore masks while they worked.
The Hamas organization put extra effort into revamping their naval commando units following Operation Protective Edge during Summer 2014, according to the Egyptian newspaper Al-Akhbar. Since Operation Pillar of Defense, Hamas has been working to set up a large, professional underwater force, capable of launching stealth attacks against Israeli power plants, coal terminals, gas rigs, etc.
Dirar Abu Sisi, Hamas engineer and tactician, was convicted in March 2015 of opening and operating a "war college" where Hamas commanders trained, multiple counts of attempted murder, belonging to a terrorist organization, conspiracy to commit a crime, and unauthorized manufacture of arms. Abu Sisi plead guilty to all charges levyed against him. He was directly involved in the development of missiles and rockets used by Hamas, including developing ways to make them shoot farther. Because he plead guilty in court, the prosecution agreed to drop some of the many attempted murder charges.
A report published by the Wall Street Journal on April 21, 2015, detailed that Iran had been funneling millions of dollars to the Hamas military wing the Al-Qassam Brigades, to help them rebuild their network of terror tunnels that were destroyed during Operation Protective Edge. These funds were transfered under direct orders of Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the IRGC Quds force. In addition to rebuilding their network of tunnels, Hamas members used the funds to replenish their rocket supplies.
Foreign Policy magazine reported in April 2015 that Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups were hard at work training for the next armed conflict with Israel. Women were being used more frequently by the groups according to the report: one female Hamas member was quoted saying “We fit the training around our domestic chores. We also watch the roads, protecting the men as they move.” Since the end of Operation Protective Edge, more and more women in Gaza have been training to fight hand-to-hand, use firearms, disarm opponents, drive vehicles through battle-zones, and kidnap Israeli soldiers. Abu Mujahid, a Nasser Salahuddin Brigade commander, said that “the war could start any minute. All the fighting groups evacuated the bases, we’ve postponed training sessions, and many of the men have moved underground... There are people right now under your feet.”
Hamas militants began using heavy machinery and engineering tools to build their underground attack tunnels into Israel in the begining of 2015. Witnesses from the Israeli side of the border said that they could clearly see large tractors digging and moving dirt, while underground the Hamas members used small bulldozers to maneuver in the tunnel's tight spaces. While Hamas funnels millions of dollars meant for humanitarian aid into terrorist projects, the situation of the civilians living in the Palestinian territory worsens by the day.
Khalil al-Haya, a senior Hamas official, encouraged Hamas members to engage in the abduction of Israeli soldiers in April 2015, stating “we tell the Zionist enemy: you are all a target for us and the resistance, we will fight you until we finally get rid of you and take as many captives as possible to free our heroes. Our men, our women, our children all envision kidnapping your soldiers and settlers, wherever they are. And it is our right because we have no other way to free our heroes, and it is the Zionist enemy responsible for this state of affairs”. He said firmly that captive Palestinian prisoners should rest assured that they will be released, and encouraged members of Palestinian resistance forces to abduct Israelis so they may be used in prisoner exchanges.
Palestinian Authority ministers and officials visiting the Gaza Strip were detained in their hotel by Hamas during the second week of April 2015. The group of 10 ministers and 30 government officials were sent to the Gaza Strip in order to solve the issue of Palestinian Authority employees not having been paid for months, but they were barred from leaving their hotel by Hamas militants. The Palestinian Authority members were not able to attend their important meetings scheduled during that week, and were also not able to speak to any Palestinian civilians.
During the weekend of April 18, senior Hamas members passed the National Solidarity Tax law on “non-basic” goods being imported into the Gaza Strip. This tax will be levied on goods such as meats, fruits, electronics, and clothing, while “necessary” goods like flour and medicine are to be exempt from the tax. Senior Hamas officials revealed that most of the revenue from this new tax would go towards paying the salaries of the over 40,000 Hamas employees who had not been paid in over a year. This tax angered Gaza merchants, who were worried that they would not be able to sell as many products if the taxes increase. The increased import tax also meant that some merchants will not be able to afford their wholesale products anymore, forcing them out of business. According to Hamas Parliament member Abu Halbiya, the tax could pile on an extra 10% in certain cases.
Hamas commander Mohammed Deif, a long-time target of the IDF for his key role in planning terrorist attacks, who had been wounded in a prior assassination attempt, was thought killed during Operation Protective Edge. He resurfaced, however, months later in April 2015, reportedly overseeing a crew of approximately 1,000 workers constructing new attack tunnels with materials provided to Palestinian people for reconstruction, but sold on the black market to Hamas. Deif is also believed to be heavily involved in plans to advance Hamas's rocket capabilities.
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