Acronym for the Arab words for: Islamic Resistance Movement. Literally, it means "zeal." Hamas was founded in the late 1980s during a Palestinian intifada, in Gaza and the West Bank. The State Department declared Hamas is a "foreign terrorist organization." In a nutshell its goal is to destroy Israel and to put in place an Islamic Palestinian state. Its methods are said to have included assassination, and suicide bombing. In addition to these somewhat shady dealings, Hamas also runs a network of mosques and social service organizations for Palestinian people.

Hamas: a brief history, and relations with Israel

Note: the second half of this w/u is based on a UPI article quoting several US officials off the record. Hence the level of evidence for the assertions seems to be somewhat low. However, given the interest of the subject, I believe it is worth noding.

Hamas is a dangerous but popular terrorist, militant, social, philanthropic and religious organisation, active in Gaza and the West Bank and notorious for assassinations, car bombs, suicide bombings and other sorts of violence. Its aim is to "liberate" all of Palestine and establish a transnational, radical Islamic state, much like Khomeini's Iran, in place of Israel. (In contrast, the PLO which nominally controls the PA is secular and leftist and promotes Palestinian nationalism.)

Hamas evolved from an organization called the Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in 1928. Islamic movements in Israel and Palestine were largely unimportant until after the 1967 Six Days War in which Israel scored a stunning victory over neighbouring Arab states, notably Egypt and Jordan.

The cornerstone of the Islamic movement's success was an impressive social, religious, educational and cultural infrastructure, called Da'wah, that worked to ease the hardship of large numbers of Palestinian refugees, confined to camps, and many who were living on the edge. Hamas became an important social and political influence, first in the Gaza Strip, then on the West Bank.

According to Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT, an Israeli-based organization) papers, Hamas was legally registered in Israel in 1978 by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the movement's spiritual leader, as an Islamic Association by the name Al-Mujamma al Islami.

After the Islamic revolution in Iran and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon began armed resistance to Israel, such Islamic movements became much more active. The PLO moved its base of operations to Beirut in the '80s, leaving the Islamic organization to grow in influence in the Occupied Territories as the main focus of resistance.

When the intifada began, Hamas immediately grew in numbers and violence, relying on terror to resist the Israeli occupation. According to U.S. government officials, up until then the doctrine of armed struggle had not been practiced and Islamic groups had not been subjected to suppression the way groups like Fatah had been.

UPDATE: In the early morning of Monday March 22, 2004, Ahmed Yassin was killed, along with 7 others, in an Israeli missile attack outside a mosque in Gaza: a so-called targeted killing, although one would think that a bullet between the eyes would correspond more precisely to that phrase. It is not yet clear who is to succeed him as overall leader of the movement: despite the unequivocal nature of its goals, there are apparently policy differences between those high up in its command, presumably concerning the optimal ratio of violence to other forms of activity. It seems unlikely that Hamas will go away now that its head has been cut off: it may even mutate into a quite different creature.

Relations with Israel

According to U.S. administration officials, funds for the movement came from the oil-producing states and directly and indirectly from Israel. Beginning in the late 1970s, Tel Aviv gave direct and indirect financial aid to Hamas over a period of years.

"... (T)he Israelis wanted to use it as a counterbalance to the PLO," said Tony Cordesman, Middle East analyst for the Center for Strategic Studies. Israel's support for Hamas "was a direct attempt to divide and dilute support for a strong, secular PLO by using a competing religious alternative," said a former senior CIA official. Israeli leaders were taken by surprise by the growth of Hamas following the Iranian revolution. However, Israel continued funding, certainly up to the time of the first intifada; not only as a counterweight to the PLO, but for another purpose: "To help identify and channel towards Israeli agents Hamas members who were dangerous terrorists."

In addition, by infiltrating Hamas and attending strategy meetings, Israeli informers could identify Hamas members who were dangerous hard-liners. However, as Hamas had a very comprehensive counterintelligence system, many collaborators with Israel were weeded out and shot. Violent acts of terrorism became the central tenet, and Hamas, unlike the PLO, was unwilling to compromise in any way with Israel, refusing to acquiesce in its very existence. Hence the current situation of sporadic open war between Hamas and the IDF.

A U.S. administration official is quoted: "The thinking on the part of some of the right-wing Israeli establishment was that Hamas and the others, if they gained control, would refuse to have any part of the peace process and would torpedo any agreements put in place. Israel would still be the only democracy in the region for the United States to deal with."

According to former State Department counter-terrorism official Larry Johnson, "the Israelis are their own worst enemies when it comes to fighting terrorism.

"The Israelis are like a guy who sets fire to his hair and then tries to put it out by hitting it with a hammer. They do more to incite and sustain terrorism than curb it," he said.

Cordesman said that a similar attempt by Egyptian intelligence to fund Egypt's fundamentalists had also come to grief because of "misreading of the complexities."'

Source:, "Analysis: Hamas history tied to Israel"
by Richard Sale. See also , and for the Muslim Brotherhood.

There are no clear errors of fact in the writeup above. However, I feel some context is in order. There are plenty of governmental people who record their opinions, some of which are clearly blaming Israel for creating a terrorist group, but they are confusing hindsight with the knowledge available to the players at the time. The idea that Israel would deliberately arm a terrorist organization to murder it's own civilian population in order to torpedo a peace process is absurd - first of all, at the time, the PLO was not interested in any peace process, and secondly, such an attitude displays a contempt for democracies - any idiot who did such a thing in an open society such as Israel, in which freedom of speech and voting is paramount, would be permanently doomed to political exile, not running the country. Israelis are not only capable of reading the local papers but the New York Times and Le Monde as well, and probably have a clearer view of the tactical situation than most outsiders, which is how they choose their leaders. So let's look at the context of Israel's support for Hamas.

The PLO, in the late 1970's, was a Marxist organization, Atheist, or at least, Agnostic, in character, with almost all of it's support from the Soviet Bloc. During the cold war Israel and it's conflict with the Arab world was one of the arenas of conflict which made up the great chessgame of international politics. Both the US, and the Israel saw the Islamic movements as a counterweight to these Marxist organizations, mainly because they felt that both being essentially religious, monotheistic countries, they would be the natural allies of any religious group against the Soviet Union. It's easy to forget, now that the Soviets have crumbled, what a threat they were, and also easy to forget that Arafat, who has reinvented himself as a good Muslim, is a former communist trained by Moscow. The current Prime Minister of Palestine, Abu Mazen, actually has his degree in Political Science from the Patrick Lumumba University of Political and Social Sciences in Moscow where a significant amount of the PLO was trained.

Under these circumstances, it's not surprising that Israel would have formed an alliance with religious groups in the hope that they would act as a tempering force on the Muslim population - there is nothing cynical or strange about this - they simply wanted Arab allies to counter their Arab enemies.

What changed this was 1. The anti-American bias of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and 2. mistakes made by Israel in the Lebanon War. As for the first point, America didn't realize that the revolution in Iran was an anti-Western revolution, in the sense that the Shah was Western supported, and the hatred of the people was essentially a hatred of American hypocracy. For a while, it looked like the communist Tudeh party would inherit the government from the Shah and our generation may never know how instrumental the west was in bringing the Muslims to power instead of the communists. Remember, Khomeni arrived in Iran on an Air France special flight. (And at the the time the US and France were allies...) Anti-Western feeling was too strong, though, for anyone seen as a Western stooge to remain in power, and so, by a strange mix of circumstances - not by any predetermined ideological bias - the Islamic revolution became Anti-Western which was to effect Western-Muslim relations to this day.

Secondly, the Shiites in Lebanon detested the PLO, but Israel got caught up in the local conflict and decided to support the Phalangists, a Christian coalition, thereby making enemies of everyone else in Lebanon, the friend of my enemy is my enemy being a close correlate to the enemy of my enemy is my friend. It was at this point - and only at this point - that Shiite Israel relations began to sour. This was helped along by the increasingly anti-Western attitude of Iran, which was whipped up into a frenzy by American support of Saddam Hussein during the War. Israel, of course, was as much an enemy of Saddam as they were of the Islamic Republic, but since they were an American ally, they became Enemy number Two of the Iranians. (Who refer to Israel as the Little Satan, while America is the Big Satan.)

Note that that is enemy number TWO, not number ONE - Bin Laden and company, as well as the Iranians, are principally enemies of the US first and Israel second.

After the Lebanon war, Hamas' natural ally was Iran. Iran is essentially a Welfare Theocracy. The Mullah's remained in power for a long time by redistributing the land of large estate holders which is why, for instance, they had a large group of peasants to call on to beat up dissidents in Iran at any time - most of us will remember the images of countryside bumpkins with lead pipes called into to Teheran to beat the hell out of feminist demonstrators right after the revolution - they had no clue what feminism was and had probably never been to Teheran before, they were protecting the people who had given them land. Hamas took a play from the Iran play book and structured itself as a culture and charity organization IN ORDER TO HAVE A STRONGER POLITICAL BASE; they don't have a strong political base because everyone said, hey these people are real philanthropists, let's give them are vote. This makes all the difference in the world when analyzing their tactics and motives.

The fact that a former ally betrays you is seen throughout history - for some reason whenever this happens to the West, anti-Western "thinkers" think that the Western powers knew all along that they were going to be betrayed, and deliberately allowed themselves to be betrayed in order to create a war. The idea that Israel "created Hamas" to derail the peace process (right after the PLO massacre of a group of schoolchildren in the border town of Metullah), is in the same general line as the idea that America "created" Bin Laden in order to have a reason to take over the Middle East and steal it's oil. It violates the basic rule of Occam's Razor - that is, without any evidence to the contrary, pick the simplest explanation. Here, the simple explanation is really simple - both the US and Israel thought they could make friends with a certain group of Shiites, and the Shiites used them as long as they could, then sold them up the river when it was poltically expedient. Anyone who wants to push a conspiracy theory has the burden of proof on their side, not the other way around.

The most important point I want to make, and this is something nobody I know seems to realize, despite all the historical evidence to the contrary, is that there is no necessary ideological basis for the conflict between Islam and the West. If there were, Turkey could not be a Western ally, nor Indonesia, nor Malaysia, nor could Muslims live in the west in peace. Rather, the current conflict is brought about by a set of historical circumstances that did not NEED to occur the way they did - people picked their stances for tactical reasons, and this altered strategic outcomes. If you believe anything other than this, then to be consistent, you also need to believe that we are heading for a religious-secular World War III. On the other hand, if you do believe this, then there is nothing strange about Israel having Shiite allies in the past, and Shiite enemies now. Things just worked out that way.

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