Hamas (Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyya)

Hamas is one of the most infamous of the Middle East’s Islamic Terrorist organisations. The Hamas, which means courage and bravery, is a radical Islamic organization, which became active in the early stages of the Intifada, operating primarily in the Gaza Strip but also in the West Bank. The Hamas has played a major role in violent fundamentalist subversion and radical terrorist operations against both Israelis and Arabs. In its initial period, the movement was headed primarily by people identified with the Muslim Brotherhood in the Israeli occupied Territories. During the Intifada, Hamas gained strength, expanding its activity into the West Bank, to become the dominant Islamic fundamentalist organization in the Territories. It defined its highest priority as Jihad (Holy War) for the liberation of Palestine and the establishment of an Islamic Palestine "from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River". By its participation in street violence and murder, it boosted its appeal in the eyes of the Palestinians, further enhancing its growth potential and enabling it to play a central role in the Intifada. As a result of its subversive and terrorist activity, Hamas was outlawed in September 1989. After the Gulf War, Hamas became the leading perpetrator of terrorist activity throughout the Occupied Territories as well as inside Israel, and is regarded today as the second most powerful terrorist group in the area, after Fatah


Hamas is the Arabic acronym for "The Islamic Resistance Movement" (Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyya). The organisational and ideological sources of Hamas can be found in the movement of the Muslim Brotherhood which was set up in the 1920s in Egypt and renewed and strengthened its activity in the 1960s and 1970s in the Arab world, mainly in Jordan and Egypt.

The Muslim Brothers were also active in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The cornerstone of the Muslim Brotherhood is the system of essentially social activity, which they call Da'wah. In the twenty years preceding the Intifada, they built an impressive social, religious, educational and cultural infrastructure, which gave them a political stronghold, both in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. It was successful despite their lack of support for the nationalist policy of armed struggle.

A great part of the success of Hamas/Muslim Brotherhood is due to their influence in the Gaza Strip. The large numbers of refugees, the hardships of the population in the refugee camps and the relatively low status of the nationalist elements there until recently, enabled Hamas to deepen its roots among the refugees. Its emphasis on a solution that would include the liberation of all Palestine is more attractive to the Gazans. The focus of Hamas has always been slightly different to that of the PLO and has therefore attracted different people. The PLO has always focused on the struggle with Israel while Hamas has made much more of its actions in the daily life of the refugee camps and the situation there. Its popular support stems not from glorious dreams of liberation and theories but from its reputation for doing practical things and this has proven successful in attracting support among the refugees. Hamas challenged the PLO’s right to be the sole representation of the Palestinians in 1988 but did not call for the PLO’s destruction. Hamas then started to sue the mosques to increase its influence in the streets and quickly set up sections to deal with different activities and areas much like a terrorist cell system using encoded messages between sections

At the beginning of 1991 the head of the terrorist section of the Hamas in Gaza, set up the first squads of the Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam Battalions. In its first stages these terrorist squads kidnapped and executed people suspected of cooperation with Israel. In December 1991, these terror squads committed their first murder of an Israeli citizen marking a change in Hamas’s modus operandi. Hamas sees the liberation of all of Palestine as a personal religious duty for every Muslim. At the same time, it utterly rejects any political arrangement that would entail the relinquishment of any part of Palestine, which for it is tantamount to a surrender of part of Islam. The central goal of Hamas is the establishment of an Islamic state in all of Palestine. The immediate means to achieve this goal is the escalation of the armed struggle, and ultimately all-out Jihad, with the participation not only of Palestinian Muslims but also of the entire Islamic world.

Organisational Structure

The structure of Hamas in Gaza and in the West Bank is believed to be as follows below. In this framework, several identical, parallel frameworks operate in each region:
  1. Infrastructure (Da’wah, literally “sermonising"), which engages in recruitment, distribution of funds, and appointments.
  2. . Popular violence in the framework of the Intifada.
  3. Security (Aman) - the gathering of information on suspected collaborators with the authorities. This information is passed on to the "shock committees", who interrogate and then kill the suspects.
  4. Publications (A-'Alam) - leaflets, propaganda, press offices.
Hamas tries to maintain a clear distinction between the covert (secret/illegal) activity of its various sections and its overt (open/legal) activity, which serves primarily to broaden the ranks of the movement. The major reason for this is Hamas' desire to increase compartmentation and secrecy, by not identifying itself directly with its public activity much like the IRA and Shin Fein in Northern Ireland

The term generally used by Hamas to define its overt activity is Da'wah. This term is also the name given to the Hamas section whose function is to broaden the movement's infrastructure, to distribute funds and make appointments. In fact, there is a large degree of overlapping (if not total identity) between the two.

Thus, Hamas is an organization composed of several interdependent levels. The popular-social base is maintained materially by the charity committees and ideologically through instruction, propaganda and incitement delivered in the mosques and other institutions and through leaflets. This base is the source for the recruitment of members into the units, which engage in riots and popular violence.

The Military arm

Those who distinguish themselves in riots and popular violence sooner or later find their way into the military apparatus, From the outset, alongside the "popular" Intifada-related violence on the street level, Hamas ran a military-terrorist arm, composed of two groups: The first being The Palestinian Holy Fighters (Al-Majahadoun Al-Falestinioun), a military apparatus for terrorist attacks, especially against Israeli targets. Before the outbreak of the Intifada, it engaged primarily in the preparation of the infrastructure for its activity. The second part is The Security Section (Jehaz Aman), which gathered information on suspected collaborators with Israel and other local elements, with the intention of punishing them by the use of violence, including murder. To this end, units were formed within the framework of the Majd an Arabic acronym for Majmouath Jihad u-Dawa (Holy War and Sermonising Group), which was in effect the violent operational arm of the Security Section.


Hamas enjoys strong financial backing. In fact, its rivals claim that this is major reason for its strength. Hamas receives financial support from unofficial bodies in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, and recently also from Iran. These funds are distributed among the various groups and associations identified with the movement, and from them filter down to the operatives in the field.

A broad network of charity associations (Jamayath Hiriya) and committees (Lejan Zekath) operates in the Territories, on the basis of two Jordanian statutes: the Charity Association and Social Institutions Law, and the Charity Fund-Raising Regulations. Hamas makes extensive use of many of these charity associations and committees, which (together with the mosques, unions, etc.) also serve as the overt facade of the organization's activity, operating parallel to and serving its covert operations. The movement's ideology attributes great importance to the giving of charity (zekath, which is also one of the five basic principles of Islam). Giving charity can serve to bring the people closer to Islam and, as a result, to broaden the ranks of Hamas. Of course Hamas like most terrorist organisations uses the charities as a cover for some of its covert activities as well. Estimating how much money Hamas is getting is of course incredibly difficult but is thought to be into the tens of millions of US dollars a year with an estimated $3 million coming from Iran’s government whether this source of funding will start to dry up under International and US pressure is difficult to tell. There are four central Hamas charity funds in the West: Great Britain - The Palestine Relief and Development Fund (Interpal); U.S.A. - the Holy Land Foundation; Germany - the Al Aqsa Foundation, with branches in Belgium and Holland; France - Comite de Bienfaisance et Solidarite avec la Palestine of course not all the funds from these organization would go to fund terrorism but as explained earlier any practical help Hamas provides within the refugee camps strengthens its popular support. Terrorist attacks and the uncovering of Hamas' financial apparatus have led Western intelligence organisations to begin monitoring its funding activity. Several countries (principally the U.S. and Great Britain) have announced their intent to frustrate Hamas fundraising efforts. In the U.S. - a legislation package intended to hinder fundraising for terrorist organisations within U.S. territory has been put into place The US government has yet to exercise its power to act against these organisations. In Britain - Records of the Interpal relief foundation were examined, but "no concrete information was found linking it to terror organisations." It must be noted that the only material examined was that which the foundation itself submitted to the authorities.

Hamas’ terrorist activities have included stabbings, bombings and fire bombings during the early stages of the struggle, by the 1990’s they had progressed onto car bombs and kidnapping and in 1995 they carried out a joint bombing with Islamic Jihad which resulted in the deaths of 18 Israeli soldiers. In the same year the organization also began suicide bombings. This began to set a pattern and suicide bombings became more common including July 30, 1997 where 13 people were killed and 170 wounded in two consecutive suicide bombings in the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem. Hamas has now become associated with violent suicide bombings and murders as the PLO’s power declines and it becomes more locked into negotiations with the Israelis Hamas power among the disillusioned radical elements of the refugee camps can only grow. With the death of Yasser Arafat the PLO has a void in leadership, which Hamas will be quick to exploit.

How to cite this article: Dugdale-Pointon, TDP. (16 May 2006), Hamas (Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyya), http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_hamas.html

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