Hamas is an Islamist extremist Palestinian organization that calls for the eradication of the State of Israel. The United States, Australia, Canada, the European Union, Japan the UK have designated Hamas as a terrorist organization. Hamas seized control of the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip after internecine fighting in 2007 against its rival, Fatah.
Since 1994, Hamas has been the main organization perpetrating terrorist attacks in major Israeli cities with civilian targets including shopping malls, cafes, buses, and hotels. Its most deadly attacks include the March 2002 suicide bombing of the Park Hotel in Netanya, killing 30 and injuring 140 during their Passover seder; the August 2001 suicide bombing of the Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem killing 15 and injuring 130; and the June 2001 suicide bombing at the Dolphinarium nightclub in Tel Aviv, killing 21 and injuring 120, most of them youths. Civilian fatalities from Hamas terrorist attacks include Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, and other individuals.
Since 2000, Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups, have launched thousands of rocket and mortar attacks into Israeli population centers. In the early years, Hamas rockets reached vulnerable southern Israeli cities such as Sderot, Ashkelon, Netivot, and nearby environs, landing in or near private homes, schools, daycare, and recreation centers. In recent years, Hamas rockets have reached well beyond the south, reaching much of the country, including Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv, and Ben Gurion Airport.
Hamas has also constructed hundreds of smuggling tunnels in past years, both underneath the border between Gaza and Egypt as well as dozens of “terror tunnels” which enabled its operatives to reach inside Israel, with the intent to carry out terrorist attacks and kidnappings.
Hamas derives its name from the Arabic acronym for “the Islamic Resistance Movement” in Palestine, or Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya fi Falasteen. It was founded in 1988 by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, a fundamentalist preacher aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza. Hamas’s stated goal is the elimination of the State of Israel and its replacement with a Palestinian state governed by Islamic law.
The original Hamas covenant, issued in 1988, is replete with antisemitic incitement, including referencing the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion that charges Jews with an international conspiracy to gain control of the world. In Hamas’ worldview, religious precepts forbid a Jewish state in the area known as Palestine, and they assert the Jewish people have no true connection to the land of Israel. As its founding covenant states: “The land of Palestine is an Islamic trust... It is forbidden for anyone to yield or concede any part of it... Israel will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it.”
Following Hamas’s participation in the Palestinian Authority’s 2006 parliamentary election, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh became the PA’s Prime Minister while Mahmoud Abbas remained the PA’s President, creating a so-called “unity government.” The international community established a policy of isolating Hamas, and suspended financial aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority until it agreed to meet three conditions: recognize Israel’s right to exist, renounce the use of violence and terrorism and accept previously negotiated Israeli-Palestinian agreements. To date, Hamas still refuses to comply with these conditions. In June 2007, tensions between Hamas and Fatah reached a boiling point and violence broke out between the two groups in Gaza. Within a few days, Hamas prevailed. Since that time, Gaza is administered by Hamas, while the West Bank is under the sole administration of the Palestinian Authority.
Hamas is both a terrorist organization and a mass social, political, and religious movement. Its members run in local elections, and Hamas operates schools, medical clinics, and youth groups. Some people attempt to artificially divide Hamas into separate military and political/social wings. However, Hamas’ wider activities cannot be separated from its terrorist actions. Funds raised for the social programs of Hamas free up other funds for the military wing. Moreover, Hamas’ military wing utilizes the organization’s social wing for indoctrination and recruitment. The social, cultural, religious, and educational institutions of Hamas, including youth groups and summer camps, are well-known venues for anti-Israel and anti-Jewish hatred and have served as recruitment centers for suicide bombers.
The international community has established a policy of isolating Hamas until it agrees to meet three conditions: recognize Israel’s right to exist, renounce the use of violence and terrorism and accept previously negotiated Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
According to the U.S. State Department and numerous human rights NGOs, Hamas has restricted freedom of speech and press in Gaza. The Hamas security apparatus attacks, tortures and detains those who publicly criticize its authority. Hamas affiliates have attacked journalists and other individuals, who publicly criticize their authority. Hamas television outlets routinely broadcast horrific incitement to hatred and violence, including against Jews in general as well as against Israel in particular.