HAMAS. The Islamic Resistance Movement and Key Issues in International Terrorism

Term Paper, 2011

16 Pages, Grade: 1,5


Table of Contents


The Group’s Origins

Aims and Ideology



Strategies and Attack Record

The Group’s Impact

The Future of the Group



Hamas is an acronym that stands for “Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyya”, or Islamic Resistance Movement, whereas the word Hamas in itself also means “zeal” or “enthusiasm” in Arabic and, according to some sources, additionally originates from another term with the meaning of “courage and bravery”.[1] Hamas is by far the largest and perhaps also most influential militant Palestinian organization. It combines a religio-political ideology with nationalist-separatist elements. Hamas is mainly active in the Palestinian territories, and currently in control of the Gaza Strip. Its overall goal is the establishment of an Islamic state in Palestine.[2]

Though the exact number of members is unknown, estimates range from more than 1,000 up to 10,000 and more active members, with a base of tens of thousands of supporters and sympathizers.[3]

Hamas is designated as a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States, and the European Union.[4]

The Group’s Origins

The Hamas movement is a Palestinian offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood[5]. When activists associated with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) became active in the Palestinian territories through the establishment of an extensive network of Islamic charities, setting up schools and clinics in the late 1970s, the foundation for the later formation of the Hamas resistance movement was laid.

Hamas itself was founded by several individuals in December of 1987, during the first Palestinian Intifada, an uprising against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip that followed the Six-Day War of 1967.

The most prominent among those founding members was Hamas’ longtime leader and spiritual figurehead Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, a member of the MB who studied at the Muslim Brotherhood’s birthplace in Egypt, the al-Azhar university in Cairo. Yassin, who was arrested multiple times by Israeli authorities, founded the al-Mujama al-Islamiya Islamic Center, which functioned as a coordinating “umbrella organization for many religious organizations in Gaza.”[6] Yassin was killed in an IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) helicopter missile strike on 22nd March 2004 when he left a mosque in Gaza City. Following Yassin’s killing, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, another founding member of Hamas, took over the leadership role until he himself was killed shortly afterwards, on 17th April 2004.[7] Rantisi studied at the Alexandria University in Egypt where he earned a medical degree. He too made first contact with the MB during his time in Egypt and returned to Gaza in 1973 where he co-founded the Islamic Center together with Ahmed Yassin and others.[8]

Among the other co-founding members were Salah Mustafa Shehadah, who established and commanded the military wing, the Izz al-Din al Qassam Brigades, until his assassination on 22nd July 2002 in Gaza City; Muhammad Shaah; Isa al-Nashar; Ibrahim al-Yazuri; Abd al-Fattah Dukhan; and Yahya al-Sinuwwar.[9]

Although Hamas primarily relies on private donations, it is believed that Hamas also receives substantial external support from Iran. Despite being a Sunni group, Hamas furthermore upholds contacts to the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah. Those ties were formed when several Hamas militants found refuge in southern Lebanon in the 1990s.[10]

Aims and Ideology

The ideology of Hamas is based on the ideological framework of the Muslim Brotherhood and was set out in writing in 1988 in the official charter of Hamas, “The Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement”.[11] It combines an Islamist ideology with nationalist-separatist elements. With regard to Palestinian nationalism the charter states: “Nationalism, as seen by the Islamic Resistance Movement, is part of the [Islamic] religious creed. There is nothing that speaks more eloquently and more profoundly of nationalism than the following: when the enemy tramples Muslim territory, waging jihad and confronting the enemy become a personal duty of every Muslim man and Muslim woman.”[12]

The main objective of the Islamic Resistance Movement is the liberation of Palestine from Israeli occupation (short-term goal) and the establishment of a Palestinian state based on Islamic principles (long-term goal). To achieve these goals, Hamas utilizes political and violent means, including terrorism. However, it does not follow the idea of global jihad but instead limits its area of operations on the Palestinian territories (West Bank and Gaza Strip) and Israel’s sovereign territory.

Hamas has called repeatedly for Israel’s destruction and continues refusing down to the present day the recognition of the state of Israel and its right for existence.


Israel has made extensive use of targeted killings aimed at Hamas key figures, severely disrupting Hamas’ leadership structures. However, following the assassination of Abdel Aziz Rantisi in 2004, Khaled Meshal was identified to be Hamas’ highest ranking member, directing the political bureau from his exile in Damascus, Syria. Prior to his exile in Syria, Meshal spent many years in Kuwait, where he studied and earned a degree in physics before moving on to Jordan in 1990. When Jordan authorities started to crackdown on Hamas officials in 1999, Meshal left for Syria.[13]

After winning the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) general legislative elections in January 2006—Hamas’ single most important political victory—Ismail Haniyeh became the government’s Prime Minister. Because of Hamas’ refusal to recognize Israel, tough diplomatic and economic sanctions were imposed on the new Palestinian government, leading to another deep rift between the two rival factions of President Mahmoud Abbas’ al-Fatah and Hamas. After inter-factional clashes erupted into heavy fighting between these two parties in late 2006, Abbas dissolved the Hamas-led unity government in mid 2007.[14] However, Hamas was able to seize and hold control of the Gaza Strip, where Haniyeh still governs as prime minister to date, but without any authority over the West Bank, which remained under control of Abbas’ Fatah organization.

Other important senior Hamas officials were Abdullah Qawasmeh, killed during an Israeli border guard raid aimed at capturing him; Yasser Mohammad Taha, who was identified as a commander of Hamas’ military wing, killed 12th June 2003 by missiles fired from an Israeli gunship; and Mahmoud Zahar, who acted as Hamas’ first spokesperson and is now believed to be part of a collective leadership of Hamas in the Gaza Strip.


The Hamas movement is said to be loosely structured, comprising of elements that operate in secret whereas others act overtly. The organization, however, can be divided into three main branches, but it is hard to clearly distinguish them because lines between those branches are extremely vague, if not fluent, and therefore difficult to draw.[15]

First, there is the political arm, responsible for the overall leadership of the movement, including defining strategy and policy. The political bureau comprises representatives for military- and foreign affairs, as well as finance, propaganda and internal security. Additionally, Hamas has established an advisory council, the Majlis Shura, which is linked to the political bureau in Damascus, the different Palestinian communities as well as to Hamas’ social and charitable groups, its elected members, district committees, and Hamas senior officials in Israeli prisons.[16]

As a second branch, Hamas’ maintains a large social stance aiding the Palestinian population by providing healthcare and welfare to the needy, running schools and mosques as well as granting other social services and benefits, directly resulting in the high popularity of the group among many Palestinians.[17] Hamas devotes much of its annual budget, which is estimated to account $70 million per year, on social projects.[18] Hamas-run facilities, such as mosques and schools, also serve the purpose of recruiting new members to its ranks.[19]

A third pillar are the so called Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades[20] that form up the military wing of Hamas, which is responsible for most of the movement’s terrorist activities. The Qassam Brigades were created in 1991 when Hamas reorganized its security apparatus, which consisted of the Majmouath Jihad u-Dawa and the al-Mujahideen al-Filastinun back then. The Qassam brigades usually operate in small cells that are not connected to each other in order to maintain a maximum of internal security in the case that one cell is compromised.

The Islamic Resistance Movement is believed to receive training, weaponry and other material support from Iran with the intention of facilitating the armed struggle against their common enemy Israel.[21] Additional support is provided by wealthy private donors, especially from Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf region. Furthermore, funds are being collected by communities of Palestinian expatriates and numerous Islamic charities, some of which are directly connected to Hamas. Islamic charities and Hamas sympathizers also raise funds in Western Europe and North America.[22] Additionally, the organization runs a number of commercial enterprises and maintains a network of tunnels between Gaza and Egypt to smuggle, besides much needed civil supplies, weapons and ammunition into the cordoned-off Gaza Strip. The movement’s strong financial standing is seen as a major reason for Hamas’ actual strength.

Strategies and Attack Record

Hamas militants utilize various tactics, including suicide- and car bombings, committing shootings and stabbings, laying ambushes and taking hostages as well as launching short-range rocket and mortar attacks against both military and civilian targets.

Typical hard-targets such as Israeli military checkpoints and small IDF patrols are engaged as well as soft-targets such as Jewish settlements and highly frequented places within Israel, for instance public transportation, cafes and restaurants, shopping malls and nightclubs.

Suicide bombings were legitimized by several fatwas, or religious edicts. One such fatwa, issued by the Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, is entitled “Hamas Operations Are Jihad and Those Who Are Killed Are Considered Martyrs”[23]. The first suicide attack committed by Hamas was carried out in April 1993 by Sahar Tamam Nabulsi, who detonated a vehicle-born improvised explosive device (VBIED), killing one Palestinian and wounding eight Israelis.[24] In reaction to the killing of several Palestinians by a radical Israeli settler in the al-Haram al-Ibrahim mosque in Hebron in 1994[25], Hamas initiated a series of further suicide bombings. The Islamic Resistance Movement intensified its bombing campaign again with the beginning of the second Intifada, reaching its peak in 2003. Until 2008, Hamas has staged a total of 289 attacks.[26]


[1] Military Periscope website, Hamas; and Information Division, Israel Foreign Ministry (1993), “The Islamic Resistance Movement”, see also “Hamas History” on Global Security.org

[2] Council on Foreign Relations, “Backgrounder Hamas”, and Global Security.org

[3] Zuhur, Sherifa (2008), p. 59

[4] National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism website, Terrorist Organization Profile: Hamas

[5] In Arabic: “Gama’at al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin”

[6] Matthew Levitt (2006), “Hamas – politics, charity, and terrorism in the service of jihad”, p. 34

[7] Global Security.org

[8] Matthew Levitt (2006), p. 38

[9] Sherifa Zuhur (2008); and Matthew Levitt (2006), p. 35

[10] Schumer, Charles E. (1993) CRS “Hamas: The Organizations, Goals and Tactics of a Militant Palestinian Organization”

[11] “The Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement – Hamas”, translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), 2006

[12] Ibid.

[13] Matthew Levitt (2006), p. 44-45

[14] Isabel Kershner and Steven Erlanger, „Gaza Turmoil Prompts Abbas to Dissolve Government”, The New York Times, June 14, 2007.

[15] Schumer, Charles E. (1993) CRS “Hamas: The Organizations, Goals and Tactics of a Militant Palestinian Organization”

[16] Zuhur, Sherifa (2008), p. 53

[17] National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. Terrorist Organization Profile: Hamas

[18] Council on Foreign Relations, “Backgrounder Hamas”

[19] Information Division, Israel Foreign Ministry (1993), “The Islamic Resistance Movement”

[20] Hamas adopted the name for its military wing from Izz al-Din al-Qassam (1882-1935), the commander of a small militant group, “The Black Hand”, which already fought the British mandate forces in Palestine. Zuhur, Sherifa (2008), p. 24

[21] Matthew Levitt (2006), p. 172 ff.

[22] Several countries cracked down on Hamas sources. Germany e.g. banned the “Al Aqsa e.V.” in 2002 and the “YATIM-Kinderhilfe e.V.” in 2005. BMI (2010) “Verfassungschutzbericht 2009”, p. 255; A very detailed description on how Hamas finances itself can be found in chapter 3 “economic jihad: how hamas finances terror” and chapter 6 “foreign funding of hamas”, Matthew Levitt (2006)

[23] Anti-Defamation League “Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi: Theologian of Terror”

[24] Reuter, Christopher (2004), p. 100

[25] American-born Israeli physician Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 worshippers on 25 February 1994. Zuhur, Sherifa (2008), p. 55 and p. 58

[26] National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, Global Terrorism Database, Hamas

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HAMAS. The Islamic Resistance Movement and Key Issues in International Terrorism
University of St Andrews  (Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence)
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ISBN (Book)
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Terrorism, Hamas, Islamic Resistance Movement, Jihad, Palestine
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Stefan Pauly (Author), 2011, HAMAS. The Islamic Resistance Movement and Key Issues in International Terrorism, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/303986


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