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.
Hamas' 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.
Hamas perpetrates 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.