Hamas 101 - World Jewish Congress

Understanding Hamas

Iran's proxy in the Palestinian territories

About Hamas

Hamas is a fundamentalist Sunni Muslim terrorist organization founded in Gaza in 1987 by members of the Muslim Brotherhood. The name “Hamas” is an acronym for “Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya”, which is translated into English as “Islamic Resistance Movement”. Hamas is one of the Palestinian territories’ two major political parties, with the other being Fatah. It has governed more than two million Palestinians in Gaza since a 2007 military coup in which Fatah party bodyguards were murdered and the homes of political opponents in Gaza were razed.

Supported by Iran, Hamas has been responsible for multiple terror attacks against Israel including suicide bombings and thousands of rocket attacks, the construction of terror tunnels, and the orchestration of the violent “March of Return” riots. The Council on Foreign Relations has estimated that Hamas has killed more than 500 people in at least 350 separate terrorist attacks between 1993 and 2012. In the 2001 Sbarro restaurant suicide bombing, 15 civilians were killed, including 7 children and a pregnant woman, and 130 wounded.

In 2021 alone, Hamas and other militant groups located in the Gaza Strip fired more than 4,000 rockets indiscriminately into Israel. They unsuccessfully attempted to penetrate the Gaza border with Israel via cross-border attack tunnels. It has also developed weapons systems—with an estimated arsenal of more than 13,000 rockets together with Palestinian Islamic Jihad—and continues to research drones and unmanned underwater vehicles and engage in cyber warfare.

Many democratic countries have designated Hamas as a terror organization. Canada has listed Hamas as a terror entity since 2002. The United States Department of State has listed Hamas as a Foreign Terrorist Organization since 1997. Since 2010, the Department of the Treasury has designated Al-Aqsa TV a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, as the station is controlled and financed by Hamas. The European Union has designated Hamas a terror group since at least 2003. Paraguay designated Hamas a terror group in 2019, the UK in 2021, and Australia in 2022. Notably, New Zealand is the only nation in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance not to designate Hamas a terror organization; it artificially separates the “military wing”.

Hamas defines itself, based on its 1988 charter, as the “Palestinian offshoot” of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. It seeks to establish an Islamic Palestinian state on the entire territory of Israel. Its preferred method of achieving this goal is through armed struggle, and it has renounced diplomatic initiatives seeking a compromise.

The organization published a new policy document in 2017. It does not replace the 1988 charter but makes some minor changes, such as omitting the relationship between Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. However, it still rejects “any alternative to the complete liberation of Palestine” and stresses that “armed resistance” is the central component of the “resistance”.

Hamas Leaders in Their Own Words

Leaders of Hamas have repeatedly affirmed their commitment to terror, espoused antisemitism, and incited violence. For example:

  • In 2019, Fathi Hammad, a member of the organization’s politburo, recently urged members of the Palestinian diaspora to kill Jews around the world and called for similar violence in 2021.
  • The former Hamas Minister of Culture, Atallah Abu Al-Subh, broadcast a sermon on Al-Aqsa TV in 2011 in which he said, “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…. The Jews are the most despicable and contemptible nation to crawl upon the face of the Earth, because they have displayed hostility to Allah…. Allah will kill the Jews in the hell of the world to come, just like they killed the believers in the hell of this world…. The Jews kill anyone who believes in Allah. They do not want to see any peace whatsoever on Earth”.
  • In 2011, the Hamas Ministry for Refugee Affairs vowed to stop the teaching of Holocaust studies, saying, “We cannot agree to a programme that is intended to poison the minds of our children”. A few months earlier, a Hamas official denied the Holocaust.
  • A senior Hamas leader was arrested in 2015 for actively instigating and inciting terrorism and publicly encouraging and praising attacks against Israelis.
  • Another senior Hamas official called on Arab Jerusalem residents to buy “five-shekel knives” to “cut off the heads of Jews” in a 2021 video.

Other leaders have similarly incited violence away from the violence in Gaza.

Hamas also puts out public messaging via social media and websites. Its English-language posts frequently refer to “human rights”. In contrast, there is no “human rights” section on their Arabic website or messaging; instead, there is a section for “battles and operations”, which details Al-Qassam’s military missions against Israel. This is consistent with instructions regarding public relations from Hamas leaders, who have warned Gazans not to spread videos or pictures of Hamas fighters or rocket-launching sites. They have encouraged them to focus on “the number of women and children martyrs” and urged them to share pictures of those who were injured. 

Iran and Hamas

Iran funds Hamas and provides it with weapons. There are also indications that from the early 2000s until 2018, Hamas controlled some 40 commercial companies in North Africa and the Middle East worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has said that his country’s support of Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups is “a source of grace”. The ties with Iran were kick-started in 1992 when Tehran pledged $30 million in annual funding and military training; ties deepened when some Hamas leaders were deported to Lebanon, where they received training from Hezbollah. Iran reportedly gave Hamas $250 million in 2006, following the Gaza coup (see above), and Iran increased aid in 2008 to help Hamas acquire more advanced rockets.

There was some tension in 2011 during the Syrian civil war when Hamas expressed support for the Sunni opposition, and in 2015 when Hamas supported the Saudi-led offensive against the Houthis in Yemen.

However, in 2018, Hamas officials declared that relations with Tehran were the closest since the Syrian war, and reports were that Iran was transferring $70 million a year to Hamas. In 2019 Iran reportedly offered to increase support to $360 million in exchange for intelligence on Israel’s missile locations.

Human Right Abuses in Gaza

As well as carrying out attacks against Israel, Hamas oppresses the people in Gaza, via abductions, torture, and extra-judicial killings. Hamas has also admitted to intimidating foreign journalists who film rocket launches or do not reflect the Palestinian narrative. Part of this may be because Hamas deliberately fires from civilian areas, even hospitals and schools, and encourages civilians to remain in buildings that Israel has warned to evacuate. This cynical strategy of using human shields maximizes the possibility that Israel will not retaliate, or that any Israeli action will result in civilian deaths, which can then be used to amplify the ‘martyr’ narrative.

Hamas is also indoctrinating the next generation in Gaza with its ideology. For example, summer camps teach children how to handle weapons along with kidnapping methods, and kindergartens in Gaza put on shows in which children enact the kidnapping of Jews. Moreover, the high schools that are ostensibly operated by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) - which is funded by numerous Western nations - are heavily influenced by Hamas. Dozens of UNRWA teachers are inciting violence on social media.

While the people in Gaza have little choice but to support Hamas, the terror group is also widely supported in the West Bank. In 2022, 28 of the 51 seats on the Birzeit student council were won by the Hamas-affiliated Al Wafaa Islamic bloc. And, despite reflecting an 8% decrease from three months prior, a poll in 2021 demonstrated that 45% of Palestinians believed Hamas was deserving of leading and representing the Palestinian people.