(Updated January 17, 2011)
The goal of Hamas is clear. As stated in the organization’s covenant, the Islamic Resistance Movement “strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.” Its platform 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.” No negotiations or compromises are possible.
Israel has long feared that if Hamas was not destroyed, it would establish a terrorist base on its doorstep. If the Palestinian Authority had fulfilled its principal road map obligations, representatives of Hamas would not be legislators, they’d be in jail and the organization would have been dismantled.
While democratic outcomes are preferable to the alternatives, the rest of the world is not obligated to have a relationship with elected leaders whose policies and views are dangerous. Adolf Hitler was elected by the German people, but few people today would suggest that the rest of the world should have ignored his genocidal views and treated him as an equal just because he emerged from a democratic process.
The Palestinian people chose to elect members of an organization whose avowed purpose is the destruction of Israel. As the Wall Street Journal noted, “Palestinians need to understand that the exercise of self-government carries consequences.”
Since the election, Hamas leaders have reaffirmed their commitment to liberating all of Palestine and said they have no intention of disarming. Hamas can now take over the security services and seize weapons previously given to the Palestinian Authority by Israel and others to keep the peace. The institutions that were bound by agreements to stop the violence, confiscate illegal weapons, end smuggling and cease incitement are now controlled by the very people most responsible for terror, gun running, and the use of the media and schools to demonize Israel and Jews.
While Israel has vowed to fight against the threat posed by Hamas, it has also held open the possibility of negotiating peace with the new leaders of the PA, provided they meet conditions similar to those imposed before Israel and the United States recognized the Palestine Liberation Organization — dismantling the terrorist infrastructure, accepting all previously contracted agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, and repudiating those parts of the Hamas covenant denying Israel’s right to exist.
It is sometimes alleged that Israel created Hamas. This is untrue. The organization grew out of the ideology and practice of the Islamic fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood movement that arose in Egypt in the 1920s.
Hamas was legally registered in Israel in 1978 as an Islamic Association by Sheikh Ahmad Yassin. Initially, the organization engaged primarily in social welfare activities and soon developed a reputation for improving the lives of Palestinians, particularly the refugees in the Gaza Strip.
Though Hamas was committed from the outset to destroying Israel, it took the position that this was a goal for the future, and that the more immediate focus should be on winning the hearts and minds of the people through its charitable and educational activities. Its funding came primarily from Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
The PLO was convinced that Israel was helping Hamas in the hope of triggering a civil war. Israel’s assistance, however, was more passive than active, that is, it did not interfere with Hamas activities or prevent funds from flowing into the organization from abroad. Israel also may have provided some funding to allow its security forces to infiltrate the organization. Since Hamas did not engage in terror at first, Israel did not see it as a serious short-term threat, and some Israelis believed the rise of fundamentalism in Gaza would have the beneficial impact of weakening the PLO, and this is what ultimately happened.
Though some Israelis were very concerned about Hamas before rioting began in December 1987, Israel was reluctant to interfere with an Islamic organization, fearing that it might trigger charges of violating the Palestinians’ freedom of religion. It was not until early in the intifada, when Hamas became actively involved in the violence, that the group began to be viewed as a potentially greater threat than the PLO. The turning point occurred in the summer of 1988 when Israel learned that Hamas was stockpiling arms to build an underground force and Hamas issued its covenant calling for the destruction of Israel. At this point it became clear that Hamas was not going to put off its jihad to liberate Palestine and was shifting its emphasis from charitable and educational activity to terrorism. Israel then began to crack down on Hamas and wiped out its entire command structure. Hamas has been waging a terror war against Israel ever since.
Apologists for Palestinian terror sometimes argue that Hamas shouldn’t be labeled a terrorist organization because only some members engage in murder while others perform charitable or political activity. A false distinction is made between the “political” and “military” wings of Hamas. All of the activities of Hamas are intertwined, and serve the organization’s primary objective laid out in its covenant. Hamas’s leader, Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, denied that Hamas had uncoordinated wings: “We cannot separate the wing from the body. If we do so, the body will not be able to fly. Hamas is one body.” And the “political” leaders of Hamas freely admit their relationship to the murderers. “The political leadership,” Hamas spokesman, ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ar-Rantisi said, “has freed the hand of the [‘Izz ad-Din al-Qassam] brigades to do whatever they want against the brothers of monkeys and pigs [i.e., Jews].”
While Hamas does engage in social work, this is closely connected to the “armed struggle.” Various charitable activities are used to recruit young Palestinians for terrorist operations. Hospitals, mosques, sport clubs, libraries, and schools serve not only their expected roles, but also act as covers for hiding weapons, obtaining supplies, and indoctrinating future suicide bombers. In May 2009, the Palestinian Health Ministry reported that Hamas raided 46 ambulances, that had been sent as humanitarian aid from neighboring Arab states, of the medical equipment they contained and then used them as military vehicles to arrest citizens. (PMW, June 8, 2009)
The education system is used to incite young Palestinians to become martyrs.“The children of the kindergarten are the shaheeds [martyrs] of tomorrow,” read signs in a Hamas-run school, while placards in classrooms at al-Najah University in the West Bank and at Gaza’s Islamic University declare that “Israel has nuclear bombs; we have human bombs.” In August 2008, Hamas replaced hundreds of striking members of the local teachers' union with Hamas loyalists, purging the Gaza public school system of its politcal rivals. (Jerusalem Post, August 27, 2008)
Hamas operatives use Islamic charities and social welfare programs to skim and launder funds, and to earn money to live on while they engage in terrorism. Recipients of Hamas charity also understand there is a quid pro quo. If they are asked to provide assistance, whether it be to hide weapons, provide a safe house for a fugitive, or act as a courier, few are likely to refuse.
The United States government recognizes the connection between the charitable activities of Hamas and its terrorist campaign, which is why the Treasury Department designated six senior Hamas political leaders and five charities as terrorist entities. According to Treasury, “the political leadership of Hamas directs its terrorist networks just as they oversee their other activities.”