What is Hamas?

Mary McMahon

Hamas is a radical Palestinian Muslim organization with political and militant branches. It is probably most famous for its militant activities, which include acts of terrorism such as suicide bombings, but the role of Hamas in the Palestinian Authority and Occupied Territories is actually much more complex. The stated goal of Hamas is the elimination of the State of Israel, leading many people and organizations to classify it as an anti-Semitic group.

Support for Hamas among Palestinians is split.
Support for Hamas among Palestinians is split.

The word “hamas” means “zeal” in Arabic, and it is also an acronym for Ḥarakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya, or “Islamic Resistance Movement.” The organization was founded in 1987 as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni Muslim organization based in Egypt. From the beginning, the founders of Hamas were very clear about the goals of the organization, and as of 2008, the organization had at least 1,000 active members, along with large numbers of supporters, including Palestinian expatriates all over the world.

Funding for Hamas operations comes primarily from expatriates in oil-rich Middle Eastern countries.
Funding for Hamas operations comes primarily from expatriates in oil-rich Middle Eastern countries.

Within the Occupied Territories, Hamas runs a number of social programs which are designed to win over the Palestinian population; the organization funds hospitals, orphanages, and schools, for example. Funding for Hamas operations comes primarily from expatriates in oil-rich Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia. The classification of Hamas as a terrorist organization by the US, Japan, Israel, Canada and the European Union means that it cannot access some international aid funding designed to help the Palestinian people. Hamas also engages in the political field; in 2006, it successfully defeated the Fatah party in elections, taking over the majority of government.

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Hamas has been blamed for hampering peace efforts in the Middle East.
Hamas has been blamed for hampering peace efforts in the Middle East.

While the social programs of Hamas may be laudable, the actions of the militant wing are much more questionable. In the 15 years between 1993 and 2008, Hamas was responsible for the deaths of over 500 people, many of whom were innocent civilians killed in suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks. The group has been blamed for slowing the Middle East peace process, with the State of Israel being reluctant to negotiate with a terrorist organization which has the stated goal of eliminating Israel. International mediators have attempted to broker an understanding which has been hampered by violations of ceasefire agreements and radical Islamist rhetoric.

Support for Hamas among Palestinians is split. Some people certainly support the organization's operations, believing that Hamas is engaged in jihad, or holy war. Others disagree with the tactics of Hamas, and would prefer to see the goal of a Palestinian State achieved in a more peaceful way, if at all.

Hamas is a radical political and military organization in Palestine.
Hamas is a radical political and military organization in Palestine.

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Discussion Comments


The palestinians made up their religious reasons. The main country of their religion is Mecca, in Saudi Arabia. All they have connected to their religion in Israel is a mosque in Jerusalem that is considered their third most important mosque. When they pray at that mosque, they all turn around and turn their backs to it so that they can pray facing their holy religious city of Mecca.


Why can't they split in the middle and share? As India and Pakistan were decided and many other countries. Just as we teach our children to share every day. This fighting is no good for either side.


With the current conflict going on on the Gaza Strip, I side with Israel because its about time they fight back after thousands of years of oppression and slavery.

I support them as long as they become more accurate with the missiles they're launching on the Strip because I'm not OK with innocent civilians being killed.


@Charred - I don’t know that the demands of the Palestinians were unreasonable. They wanted Israel to stop building settlements. How can you say you’re serious about a land swap if you continue to build settlements?

I think both sides are engaged in a charade of sorts, or a game of Poker if you prefer. Like you, however, I don’t believe there will ever be permanent peace in the Middle East.

The power brokers on both sides are deeply religious people, and religion is at the heart of these disputes in my opinion. Both sides believe that God has given them the land. Anything less would be compromise.


I don’t believe that Hamas thinks Israel has a right to exist, period. I am speaking as someone who is from the Middle East, myself, and I am not taken in by the charades of militants who say they want peace and yet continue to unleash suicide bombers on innocent civilians.

The fact is, if the militants from either Hamas or the PLO had truly wanted peace, there would have been a Palestinian state by now. Palestine has been given many generous offers for peace, most notably the Camp David accords with President Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat.

But with each negotiation the Palestinians make more demands that they know Israel cannot possibly meet, like he right of return for all refugees.

Why not accept peace first, take what you can get, and then work towards greater concessions when you prove you’re not using territorial gains as platforms from which to launch new attacks?


@alisha-- Yes, there are ties between Hamas and Hezbollah, another political terrorist organization in Lebanon. Both have ties to Iran and are said to be largely funded by them.

I don't think that Hamas will ever accept negotiating with Israel. Hamas is a very fundamentalist organization, that's why it's different from Fatah. Fatah started out with terrorist activities too but completely gave that up and is now trying to negotiate with the Israeli government.

But you can imagine that with support and funding from countries like Iran (who even refuse to recognize Israel), negotiation would not be seen as acceptable.


I think Iran funds Hamas as well, right?

Even though I don't agree with some of the policies Israel has been taking towards Palestinian lands, I don't think that this gives Hamas the right to engage in terrorism. I also don't like that Israel keeps putting a blockade on Gaza Strip and prevents any supplies and food from reaching the people there.

It's just such a sensitive issue, it's really hard to take a side. I just wish that Hamas took a more political approach with negotiations to solve their problems. Their aims might be good, but they're definitely using the wrong means to get there.


I've read a lot about Hamas for class and from what I understand, Hamas is not just an organization but also the government of the Gaza Strip.

Palestine as a whole has two ruling political organizations- Hamas and Fatah. The West Bank is run by the Fatah party and the Gaza Strip is controlled by Hamas. I think the residents of the Gaza Strip, and some Palestinians in the West Bank is also supportive of the organization.

From my discussions with Palestinians, I've gotten the feeling that Hamas is seen as the more courageous party that is struggling against Israel, whereas Fatah is seen as being more friendly with Israel which frustrates many Palestinians.


Very biased article.

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