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The History and Rise of Hamas

Sarah Fefer

With a history filled with significant turning points and shifts, Hamas has evolved as a crucial participant in the complex web of Middle Eastern politics and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This article explores the origins, development, and notable turning points that have marked Hamas's path from its founding in 1987 to its current position.

The Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas, was founded in the midst of the First Intifada, a Palestinian insurrection against Israeli occupation in the late 1980s. It was designed as a reaction to the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), a Palestinian nationalist coalition that is internationally recognized as the official representative of the Palestinian people, which some Palestinians believed had lost contact with popular opinion under Yasser Arafat, over perceived inadequacies. When Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and other Islamist activists established Hamas, their goal was to combine religious fervor, social assistance, and violent struggle against Israeli oppression.

The capacity of Hamas to provide vital social welfare programs in addition to its political and military endeavors was one of the key factors contributing to the organization's ascent. These initiatives, which included openings of clinics, schools, and other charitable activities, resonated with Palestinians who felt abandoned by the Israeli-backed Palestinian Authority (PA), which was founded under the Oslo Accords.

Hamas, however, is designated as a terrorist organization by the US, EU and Israel in credit of its armed resistance against Israel, which has included suicide bombings and rocket attacks. Hamas's resounding victory in the 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council elections marked a turning point in the group's history as debates emerged regarding how a group designated as a terrorist organization could obtain such an extraordinary political mandate on a global scale. The electoral victory of Hamas permanently altered the political scene in Palestine as it changed the trajectory of the nation towards a significantly more violent one.

However, it is impossible to separate the rise of Hamas from the larger Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The charter contains strongly held anti-Semitic views; for example, Hamas has many times been recorded using anti semitic slogans, such as "Whoever is killed by a Jew receives the reward of two martyrs, because the very thing that the Jews did to the prophets was done to him.” Alongside anti-Israel sentiments, which continuously strained Hamas-Israel relations, over time, the Israel-Palestine dispute has escalated into a number of military conflicts, namely Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009 and Operation Protective Edge in 2014, and of course the current ongoing war beginning in October 2023. International tensions have increased as a result of these escalations, which have thrown the region into chaos— for instance, the Yom Kippur War (1973), which involved Israel and Egypt, as well as Syria. While the immediate causes of the conflict were different from previous wars, the broader Israeli-Arab conflict over the Palestinian territories has remained a central issue.

The international community has been working to negotiate and broker ceasefires, with the UN among its partners, but reaching a long-term settlement is still out of reach, especially given the current relations between Israel and Hamas.


Sermon delivered by 'Atallah Abu Al-Subh, former Hamas minister of culture, which aired on Al-Aqsa TV, April 8, 2011, translation by MEMRI


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