Radical Islamic organisation dedicated to the destruction of Israel and the establishment of a fundamentalist Palestinian state from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. In addition to its armed struggle against Israel, Hamas is engaged in a wide range of charitable and socio-cultural activities in the Gaza Strip and, to a lesser extent, the West Bank (Jenkins, 2001). The group's ideological hold on thousands of Palestinians, particularly disgruntled youth, guarantees its status as the single most powerful alternative to the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).
The Hamas origins
The name Hamas means “zeal” in Arabic and is an acronym for the Harakat al-Mqawama al-Islamiyya (Islamic Resistance Movement). The organisation was founded in Palestine in December 1987 by Sheikh Ahmad Yassin as the Palestinian branch of a panIslamic movement called the Muslim Brotherhood. A few months after its founding, following a popular revolt against Israel (called the intifada), Hamas published its Islamic Covenant, which presented the organisation's ideology and goals in detail (Ahmad, 2002).
Filled with quotes from the Koran, the Islamic Covenant established a holy war, or ?ihad, for the liberation of all of Palestine as the religious duty of every Muslim. Hamas explicitly opposes all attempts to solve the Palestinian conflict through diplomatic compromise, denouncing all peace initiatives as a waste of time and an exercise in futility (Nüsse, 2003).
According to the U.S. State Department, which lists Hamas as a terrorist group, Hamas has an unknown number of hard-core members, plus tens of thousands of supporters and sympathisers, largely in the Gaza Strip (Hroub, 2000). The group also maintained a large presence in Jordan until the fall of 2004, when King Abdullah II came into power and prohibited Hamas from operating. Jordanian authorities then arrested Hamas leaders working in the country and closed Hamas's Political Bureau offices in the capital.
The spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, was an Islamic scholar in Cairo during his youth. He was left quadriplegic after a childhood accident but rose to prominence when Hamas emerged from the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood (Ahmad, 2002).
Israeli forces arrested Yassin in 1989 and sentenced him to life in prison for ordering the killing of Palestinians suspected of collaborating with the Israeli Army. After eight years in prison, Yassin was released in a trade-off with Jordan for two Israeli Mossad agents who were caught attempting to assassinate a Hamas leader in Jordan (Nusse, 2003).
Yassin is famous for publicly repeating, “The so-called peace path is not peace and it is not a substitute for ?ihad and resistance.” He is said to provide inspiration for and promise martyrdom to those who engage in suicide bombings. These bombers are often young unmarried men, although women and men with families have also used themselves as human bombs for Hamas. The bombers often strap nail-filled explosives to their bodies that kill them when detonated but also cause greater damage to their victims (Timmerman, 2002).
As leader of the Palestinian Authority, Yasir Arafat has long been under international pressure to ...