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Where is Hamas today, 32 years after it was founded

Head of the Political Bureau of Hamas Ismail Haniyeh delivers a speech during the commemoration ceremony for the three policemen in two suicide bomb attacks and in Gaza City, Gaza on 2 September 2019. [Mustafa Hassona - Anadolu Agency]
Head of the Political Bureau of Hamas Ismail Haniyeh delivers a speech during the commemoration ceremony for the three policemen in two suicide bomb attacks and in Gaza City, Gaza on 2 September 2019. [Mustafa Hassona - Anadolu Agency]

Hamas released its first statement on 14 December 1987, just five days after the start of the first intifada. The intifada was triggered when an Israeli lorry driver ran over a number of Palestinian labourers east of Gaza city while they were returning home after a long working day in Israel, killing four and wounding 10 others.

Hamas is a Palestinian movement with an Islamic ideology that has dedicated itself to fighting the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. Its spiritual founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who was a quadriplegic, was assassinated by an Israeli helicopter on 22 March 2004. His assassination was directly supervised by the late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

As soon as it was launched, Hamas ordered its members and supporters across the occupied territories to be extensively involved in the intifada. Hamas had deep roots among the Palestinians it made with two decades of organised charity work that included health and education services, as well as sports and cultural activities.

During that period, between 1967 and 1987, Hamas established a number of multi-branch social charities in Gaza and the West Bank that run schools. In addition, it established one major university in Gaza.

The PLO, which includes all the Palestinian factions except Hamas and Islamic Jihad, had been involved in secret peace talks with Israel dating back to 1972. According to what the current Fatah and PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas has said, Israel thought about terminating Hamas in order to stop the first intifada. It arrested all Hamas leaders, including Yassin, but it found that Hamas had alternative formations that led the movement and kept popular resistance active.

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The Israeli occupation escalated its crackdown on popular resistance, pushing the Palestinians to escalate and use arms. Hamas established its military wing Al-Qassam Brigades, which started to target Palestinian collaborators and Israeli soldiers. With the Israeli escalation increasing, the Palestinian resistance widened its scale of targets until it started to carry out suicide attacks in the heart of Israeli cities.

In 1996, Hamas refused to take part in the first Palestinian parliamentary elections, arguing that the Palestinian Authority, which was established after the Oslo Peace Accords between the PLO and Israel, is absurd. Citing the Israeli failure to fulfil its pledges made through Oslo and the escalation of settlement building, Hamas believed that the peace process was only made to give Israel time to strengthen its occupation. So, it continued its resistance, making itself a target of the PA, which violently cracked down on its leaders, members and resistance infrastructure.

Israeli and PA actions on the ground reinforced Hamas’ belief that Oslo was not meant to make peace. On 25 February 1994, the Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein broke into Al-Ibrahimi Mosque and opened fire on Palestinian worshipers during Al-Fajr prayer, killing 29 and wounding over 1,245 others, triggering wide-scale counter resistance attacks by Hamas, which started to use suicide bombings in response to increasing Israeli violence and the silence of the PA.

Hamas' Khaled Meshaal with the Palestinian Authority/PLO's Mahmoud Abbas

Hamas’ Khaled Meshaal with the Palestinian Authority/PLO’s Mahmoud Abbas [file photo]

Meanwhile, on 19 November 1994, the PA security services stormed Felesteen Mosque in the centre of Gaza City and opened fire on worshippers during Friday prayers, killing more than a dozen and wounding over 100 others. The PA attack aimed at preventing Hamas from organising a popular funeral for its member Naser Sallouha, who had been killed by the PA the previous day. Hamas did not respond and stressed it would never aim its gun at any Palestinian whatever he does.

In 1996, Hamas was subject to the harshest crackdown in its history as the PA arrested hundreds of its leaders and members and destroyed all of its resistance infrastructure. I have heard confirmed reports stressing that American and Israeli intelligence officers investigated Hamas members and tortured them inside PA prisons. In fact, the PA succeeded in dismantling Hamas’ organisational structure, but in October 1997, Israel released Ahmed Yassin in return for the release of two Mossad agents who failed to assassinate the Chief of Hamas’ Political Bureau in Amman Khaled Meshaal.

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When the second intifada started, Hamas was heavily involved in the armed resistance and started to manufacture rockets and RPGs and recently drones, causing much damage to the Israeli occupation.

In a dramatic change in policy, Hamas agreed to take part in the parliamentary elections in 2006, accepting an implicit truce. Hamas won the elections and formed the government alone after the other Palestinian factions rejected joining a coalition government headed by the Islamic movement.

Fatah, Israel, the US and most of the Western and Arab countries rejected dealing with Hamas. Fatah and the PA caused security chaos, pushing Hamas to sweep them out of Gaza in June 2007, leading the PA to separate the Gaza Strip from the West Bank. The former has been controlled by Hamas since then and the latter controlled by the PA, which is dominated by Fatah and backed by Israel and the international community.

Since then, Israel has continued its violations against Palestinians. It carried out several offensives on Gaza, including three major ones, pushing Hamas to launch hundreds of rockets towards the Israeli settlements and cities near Gaza. Over these years, Gaza has been under a strict Israeli siege that rendered the coastal enclave to be, according to many international reports, uninhabitable by 2020 due to the lack of clean water, severe shortage of electricity, lack of medicine and medical equipment at hospitals and severe unrepairable damage of infrastructure due to the Israeli attacks.

Now there have been reports about Hamas’ indirect contact with Israel, either through Egypt or through the UN peace envoy in the region for the sake of reaching a settlement for the ongoing conflict on condition of the complete end of the Israeli siege on Gaza and lifting Israeli sanctions on movement of Gaza residents.

Critics see that Hamas has exceeded the concessions of principles made by Fatah and the other PLO factions, who conceded 78 per cent of the area of historical Palestine to the state of Israel, arguing that Hamas has ignored Jerusalem, the refugees and the borders, and is currently talking to Israel just to improve the life of a portion of the Palestinians who live in Gaza.

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On these claims, Hamas Spokesman Hazim Qasim said: “Hamas has been the protector of Palestinian principles and Palestinian rights. The news about a truce with Israel in return for a fraction of our rights is completely fake. Hamas is seeking a complete end to the Israeli siege and the improvement of the life of Palestinians in Gaza.”

Regarding a long-term truce or a deal with Israel, he said: “Hamas does not reject transitional solutions. This was proposed by Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who said: ‘Hamas would accept a long-term solution in return for a full Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967’.”

He added: “Sheikh Yassin said: ‘The Palestinian freedom fighters [will] not lay down their arms before their aims are achieved.’ They are seeking solutions without conceding their rights,” he said.

“We hope that the Israeli occupation ends peacefully, but if not, we are still ready for it,” he concluded, stressing “this was the main Hamas principle laid down by Sheikh Yassin, who said: ‘We feel sorry for any bloodshed. We feel sorry for killing even a cat. We feel sorry for killing any human, whether he is a Jew, a Christian or a Muslim, but we do not feel sorry for killing the one who comes to kill us or displace us from our homes. This is the legitimate resistance which is guaranteed by international law.’”

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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