Terrorism, like wars, threatens humanity. However, there are some intriguing issues that are tied up with terrorist groups without undermining underlying motivations in their formation. For instance, there are definitely causes for their emergence and this is their history. A case in point is HAMAS, an organized group categorized in current time as a terrorist group. This paper will assert to present the brief historical background of Hamas necessarily from four major driving forces namely: leadership and social structure, violence, and external influences.
It must be noted however, that due to the limited space and resources, this discourse found some gray areas, controversial ones, that need further documentary research and analysis. From the Arabic “Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya” is taken the acronym HAMAS, which translates into English as “Islamic Resistance Movement. ” 1 Further, from the same source, the acronym HAMAS is itself an Arabic word which means “enthusiasm, fire, ardor, fervor, zeal, fanaticism. ” Although the movement was organized much earlier, its acronym Hamas came into being in 1987 when it directed its efforts against the Israelis resulting from Intifada.
There is consistency in the narrative that the movement emerged to be known as Hamas since it started as an offshoot of Muslim Brotherhood which was founded in Egypt in 1928. 2 However, Richard Sale, a UPI Terrorism Correspondent says that Hamas was legally registered in Israel in 1978. 3 Organizing Hamas was the idea of its spiritual leader Shiek Ahmed Yassin. Accordingly, from the same source, Hamas was not only funded by the oil-producing states but also controversially, both directly and indirectly by Israel.
From the beginning of its organization, Hamas was led by its founder and spiritual leader Shiek Ahmed Yassin. He was assassinated on March 22, 2004 by a missile strike of Israel. 4 He was succeeded by Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi immediately but was also assassinated in less than a month on April 17, 2004 by an Israeli airstrike. 5 Because of the tragic experience with reference to the Hamas leadership, the members voted among themselves the next successor without disclosing the name for confidentiality purposes. Still from the same source, it is suspected that Mahmoud al-Zahar is the successor of Rantissi.
From the sources read, there was no indication at any point for the existence of power struggle among the members of Hamas in terms of leader selection. Mention however, was made to the fact that Hamas’s membership in the West Bank are coming from various groups with financial resources such as merchants, landowners, officials and professionals, all representing a substantial group in a higher socio-economic status. They dedicated themselves to help the grassroots and disadvantaged members of the Palestinian society.
These included charitable services like clinics, kindergartens, and education6, runs schools, orphanages, mosques, health care clinics, soup kitchens and sports leagues. 7 Not stopping at welfare services, Hamas is also a movement that occupied itself with social concerns such as “exposing corruption, administration of waqfs (trusts) and organizing community projects”. 8 Analysis tells us that Hamas is not a movement that takes upon social struggle for their own survival financially speaking; they reach out to the poorer sectors of society.
It is this discussant’s assumption that in spite of the composition of the organization’s membership who could have clashed for leadership, there was no leadership conflict because of the trustworthiness of leadership and the corrupt-free culture of the movement. Its founding leader Shiek Ahmed Yassin (Hamas Had a Long History of Conflict with Israel) was a preacher himself, meaning a religious person, and under his leadership the group did many social welfare and social services at the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Interestingly, Shiek Ahmed Yassin was a quadriplegic who could not move his body or his limbs yet he remained at the leadership of the Hamas until his assassination in 2004. 10 In spite of Yassin’s demise, Hamas gaining popularity among the people grabbed political victory over Fatah in 2006, the party of the late Yasser Arafat and later, of its President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestine Authority. 11 How Hamas became a terrorist group was a consequence of events. It is said that Israel was doing its recruitment of young Palestinians popularly referred to as the Intifada in 1987 and signaled the resort to violence by Hamas.
Intifada was the upsurge of anger among Palestinian Arabs of the Gaza Strip and West bank that began in 1987 up to the early 1990s to demonstrate protest against Israel occupation of the two territories. The recruitment was taken by Hamas as collaboration with the Israelis and they used violence by beating those who were working with the Israeli government and later progressed to targeting Israel military then the civilians. 12 From then on, narratives of the Hamas violent and terrorist acts increased to become stories of terror. Buel says “Perhaps Hamas is best known for recruiting, training and arming suicide bombers. 13 Hamas since then has a countless number of terrorist acts committed highlighted by unthinkable suicide bombings. A number of external forces play significant roles in the Hamas Movement. To cite some, there is Palestine, the United States, the oil-producing states, Israel, the nations next to the borders of Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and recently, Iran. Sources have it that the formation, existence, and “creation” of Hamas are to some degree also the responsibility of Israel. 14 From the 1970s and on to the 1980s, Israel, like the Arab oil-producing states were supportive both directly and indirectly to Hamas.
It was not much of the social welfare functions that Hamas was doing that Israel was supporting them. They had other interests for Hamas. First, Israel’s support to Hamas was an attempt as a “counterbalance to the PLO” (Palestinian Liberation Organization) spearheaded by the late Yasser Arafat believed to be a leftist, as a “direct attempt to divide and dilute support for a strong, secular PLO by using a competing religious alternative”. 15 Second, Israeli needed Hamas “to help identify and channel towards Israeli agents Hamas members who were dangerous terrorists”. 6 Third, Israel wants to deal with the United States as being the only democratic country in the region. 17 The oil-exporting countries are no longer in the picture whether they are still supporting Hamas or not anymore. The countries lying next to the borders of Gaza Strip and the West Bank, directly or indirectly will continue to be affected by the fate of Palestine versus Israel. The most recent external force is the claim that Hamas is an “Iranian-backed terrorist organization founded in 1988 with the stated aim of destroying Israel”. 8 This development is a shift from the former reputation of Hamas as a social welfare movement. Iran has come into play in the picture. Hamas’s charter which was published in 1988 opens with the statement “Israel will rise and remain erect until Islam eliminates it as it had eliminated its predecessors”. 19 Moreover, still from the same source, it is said that the guiding principles of the group “rejects peaceful efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and calls for the destruction of the State of Israel through jihad, or holy war. Hamas considers all of Israel to be occupied territory. ”
Hamas started as a charity movement helping the needy and a large sector of the population of Gaza Strip and the west Bank. It was organized as a movement by members of the middle class in Palestine society to address the social needs of the people. Their popularity as a helping movement was translated into their political victory in 2006 over Fatah, the long time ruling party of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Later, it evolved, although still maintaining its charitable nature, to go violent against the Israelis due to the past bloody encounters and experiences they had with the Israelis.
For instance, many of the high ranking officials of Hamas were killed by Israelis or their instrumentalities. Hamas as stipulated in their charter stands on its principle that no dialogue will succeed on their differences versus Israel; it is through violence that they will succeed. The United States being the forerunner of democracy and under the new phenomenal leadership of Obama could be a promise of peace or a continued war between Israel and Palestine. As the nations of the world continue to tackle global peace, the rest of us can pray for peace to reign on our only planet, the Earth.