Ahmed Yassin's Palestinian passport listed his date of birth as January 1, 1929, but Palestinian sources listed his birth year as 1937 (other Western media reported it as 1938). He was born in Ashkelon. He was a refugee in Gaza after 1948 and worked as teacher, preacher, and community worker. At age 12, Yassin was paralyzed in a sporting accident and spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair. He was married and raised 11 children in a three-room apartment in Gaza City slum.
He joined the Muslim Brotherhood while studying at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University and adopted the movement’s belief that the rule of Islam should be imposed everywhere. After returning to Gaza, Yassin became actively involved in politics. He founded of the Islamic Centre in Gaza in 1973, which soon controlled all religious institutions. "In 1979, he founded the Islamic Organization," Gil Sedan noted, "a body Israeli military authorities initially hoped would reduce the political influence of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement. At the time, the Islamic Organization dealt mostly with welfare. But the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood fueled Yassin’s belief that the Israelis occupied an Islamic land whose ownership was not negotiable, and the sheik gradually shifted from social and religious activity to clandestine activities against Israeli rule in the West Bank and Gaza."
Yassin was arrested in 1984 and sentenced to 13 years in jail for illegal possession of arms, the establishment of a military organization and calling for the annihilation of Israel. Yassin acknowledged that he founded an organization of religious activists with the goal of fighting non-religious factions in the territories, and carrying out "Jihad" operations against Israel. This organization used monies from Islamic activists in Jordan to acquire large quantities of weapons. Yassin was imprisoned until May 1985, when he was released in a prisoner exchange deal between Israel and the terrorist organization of Ahmed Jibril.
During the first intifada in 1987, Sedan notes, "Yassin transformed his Islamic Organization into a new body called Hamas. An acronym for the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas means zeal in Arabic. In Hebrew, it means evil."
The organization gained popular support in the territory in part because of its uncompromising position toward Israel, expressing in its covenant the conspiracy theories of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and a commitment to wage war against the Jews and “raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.” It also filled a vacuum left by Arafat's failure to provide basic services to the Palestinians in Gaza. By establishing a social welfare system of schools, clinics and hospitals that provide free services to Palestinian families. Hamas also established charitable funds in the territories, Israel, and around the world, which financed both its social and anti-social activities.
In 1989, Yassin ordered Hamas to kidnap Israeli soldiers inside Israel, to murder them and bury their bodies in a manner that would allow Hamas to negotiate the exchange of bodies for Hamas prisoners, who would be released from jails in Israel. Yassin was arrested after the abduction and murder of IDF soldier Ilan Sa'adon, and the discovery of the body of IDF soldier Avi Sasports, who was also abducted and murdered. Yassin confirmed during his interrogation that he ordered the establishment of a military element within Hamas and approved the drafting of terrorists, as well as the carrying out of terrorist attacks. He was tried in Israel and received two life sentences for his involvement in these attacks.
Yassin was a leading opponent of the peace process with Israel. He believed that Palestine belongs to Islam and advocated an Islamic state in all of Palestine. Sedan noted that he repeatedly said, “The so-called peace path is not peace and it is not a substitute for jihad and resistance,” and insisted that "Palestine" should be “consecrated for future Muslim generations until judgment day” and that no Arab leader had the right to give up any part of its territory."
Hamas became the principal instigator of suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks beginning in 2000. Although he was not a religious authority, he was referred to as “Sheikh Yassin,” because of his status as leader of Hamas. Yassin was sometimes referred to by the media as the “political” leader of Hamas, but he was responsible for authorizing and encouraging many terrorist attacks.
On September 6, 2003, the Israeli air force dropped a bomb on a Gaza building where Hamas leaders had gathered, but Yassin escaped with a small wound on his hand. On March 22, 2004, he was not as lucky. He was killed in an Israeli helicopter missile strike on his car as he was leaving a mosque in the northern Gaza Strip.