Hamas says it is “preparing a major cemetery” for Israelis. What is Hamas?
–Islamic terrorist group founded in 1987
–Received funding from Saddam Hussein
–Receives funding from Iran
–Responsible for many suicide bombings and terrorist acts against Israeli targets
Announcing that a “truce” it made with Israel in Gaza last November is “officially over,” Hamas Tuesday fired 39 Qassam rockets and 79 mortars from the Gaza Strip, aiming them at nearby Jewish communities on the day that Israelis nationwide celebrated their country’s Independence Day. The projectiles served as a diversion as Hamas terrorists tried to storm an Israeli military base on the Gaza border to kidnap Israeli soldiers. (It should be noted that the cease-fire itself was a charade; during the five months from November to April, Hamas has passed its weaponry to other organizations that have, in turn, launched more than 200 rockets from Gaza into Israel.)
According to Abu Abdullah, a leading member of the Izzedine al-Qassam Martyrs Brigades, Hamas’ nominal military wing: “We don’t recognize Israel’s right to exist. We will never allow Jews to remain in our lands. Today’s attack was only a sample of what we can do. We have thousands of rockets ready to be shot. The cease-fire is officially over.”
The Israel Defense Forces thwarted the kidnap attempt, sent helicopters to intercept the gunmen behind it, and fired missiles at Qassam launch pads in Gaza. But IDF sources said the military response to the Hamas attacks would be limited. Meanwhile, Abu Abdullah warned that if Israel raided Gaza in retaliation, “the Zionists will be entering hell. We are preparing a major cemetery for them. We will step up attacks, including dispatching suicide bombers to Tel Aviv.” He further explained that Hamas had used the cease-fire to stockpile weaponry and train for attacks against Israel.
Hamas (an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawamat al-Islamiyya, or “Islamic Resistance Movement”) is a radical fundamentalist group founded on December 14, 1987 by the Muslim Brotherhood. ( Hamas describes itself as “one of the wings of the Muslim Brother[hood].”) As a single Arabic word rather than an acronym, “Hamas” means “zeal.” Its avowed purpose is “liberating Palestine” from the Jew “oppressors,” whose presence in the Middle East it considers an affront to Muslims’ rightful sovereignty in the land of the Prophet Mohammad. The organization’s individual co-founders were Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz al Rantisi.
With tens of thousands of loyal supporters, Hamas’ strength is concentrated principally in the Gaza Strip and a few areas of the West Bank. The group’s leadership is dispersed throughout these same areas, with a few senior leaders residing in Syria, Lebanon, and the Gulf States. Hamas receives funding from the government of Iran and has a close working relationship with Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based terror organization that is one of Hamas’ major suppliers of weaponry. When the United Nations Oil-For-Food program was in effect, Saddam Hussein skimmed more than $21 billion from its coffers and sent it directly to Hamas.
Hamas is best known for using violent methods — including suicide bombings against Israeli military and civilian targets — to destroy Israel and replace it with an Islamic Palestinian state. Hamas receives some funding from Iran, but it is supported primarily by donations from Palestinian expatriates around the world and private benefactors in Arab nations. Some clandestine fundraising takes place in Western Europe and North America as well.
The Hamas Charter, written in 1988, puts forth “The Slogan of the Hamas,” which reads as follows: “Allah is its goal, the Prophet its model, the Qur’an its Constitution, Jihad its path, and death for the case of Allah its most sublime belief.” The Charter says that jihad, or holy war, “becomes an individual duty binding on every Muslim man and woman; a woman must go out and fight the enemy even without her husband’s authorization, and a slave without his masters’ permission.”
The Hamas Charter explicitly abjures negotiated settlements as mechanisms for peaceful coexistence: “There is no other solution for the Palestinian problem other than jihad. All the initiatives and international conferences are a waste of time and a futile game.” According to the Charter, those against whom jihad is to be directed are the Jews. “The Nazism of the Jews,” it says, “does not skip women and children, it scares everyone. They make war against people’s livelihood, plunder their moneys and threaten their honor.” Hamas seeks to fulfill the Qur’anic scripture which reads: “The prophet, prayer and peace be upon him, said: The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him!”
Hamas’ rejection of negotiated settlements was given voice in October 2000 by its founder and then-leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who was killed on March 22, 2004, by Hellfire missiles fired by Israeli helicopter gun ships. Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat eulogized Yassin and declared three days of mourning.
Yassin was immediately replaced by Hamas co-founder Abdel Aziz al Rantisi, who had escaped an Israeli assassination attempt in June 2003. The 54-year-old pediatrician initially threatened retaliatory attacks against both Israel and the United States, but later said that Hamas would target only Israel. On April 17, 2004, An Israeli helicopter launched a strike on Rantisi’s car, killing him and two others — one of them a bodyguard.
That same month, Yasser Arafat told the German magazine Focus that he was prepared to include Hamas and Islamic Jihad in a new leadership structure to operate in parallel with the Palestinian Authority. “Forming a unified Palestinian leadership does not contradict the Palestinian Authority,” Fatah Central Committee member Hani al-Hassan told Fatah-connected newspaper Al-Ayyam, “as it is an internal Palestinian factional issue.” “We think that all political movements should take part in the political decision-making process,” agreed senior Hamas figure Sheikh Said Siam. “We want a political partnership along new guidelines which take into account the weight of the various movements.” But this alleged diversity of political viewpoints was illusory. On January 3, 2003, PLO political chief Farouq Al-Qaddoumi candidly acknowledged that Fatah, “strategically,” was “never different from Hamas.”
In March 2005, FBI Director Robert Mueller stated, “Of all the Palestinian groups, Hamas has the largest presence in the United States with a strong infrastructure … [and] is theoretically capable of facilitating acts of terrorism in the United States.” In October 2005 an FBI counterterrorism agent in New York affirmed Mueller’s assertions, stating “We have information Hamas agents have been on U.S. soil the past few years and that the group may currently have up to 100 agents operating inside America.” According to terrorism expert Steven Emerson, “Hamas has an extensive infrastructure in the U.S. mostly revolving around the activities of fundraising, recruiting and training members, directing operations against Israel, organizing political support and operating through human rights front groups. … [I]t has the capability of carrying out attacks in America if it decided to enlarge the scope of its operations.”
In August 2005, the founders and political leaders of Hamas joined forces to publicly announce that the organization’s attacks against Israeli targets would continue even after Israel’s impending withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Senior Hamas member Ismail Haniyye characterized Israel’s withdrawal as a “retreat” that was “a result of resistance and our people’s sacrifice.” Promising more violence, Haniyye declared, “Hamas confirms its adherence to resistance as a strategic option until the occupation retreats from our lands and holy places. Our movement reaffirms that it will protect its military apparatus …”
In elections held on January 27, 2006, Hamas won control of the Palestinian government when its party members took a majority of parliamentary seats. Formally assuming power on March 29, the newly installed Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh pledged to cooperate with President Mahmoud Abbas, Arafat’s successor and head of the defeated Fatah party. At a Gaza news conference, Haniyeh said his relations with Abbas would stress “cooperation and harmony, based on the supreme interest of the people” — which meant confronting “Israeli aggression against the people.” The new 24-member Hamas Cabinet included 14 ministers who had previously served time in Israeli prisons.
On February 15, 2007, following months of difficult negotiations and violent street fighting, the Hamas-led Palestinian government resigned in order to pave the way for a “unity government” that would include both Hamas and its rival Fatah. Ismail Haniyeh kept his position as Prime Minister, and Hamas retained a majority of the cabinet, with twelve seats, with Fatah holding only six.
Hamas’ current worldwide leader is Khaled Mash’al, who first became a member of the Hamas Political Bureau in 1996.