Hamas is believed to include political and military branches the distinction between which is not clear. Although it is difficult to discern its leadership structure, according to various sources the following individuals are thought to be among Hamas’ most prominent leaders: Khaled Mishal, Ismail Haniya, Musa Abu-Marzuq, Mahmoud al-Zahar, Aziz Dweik, Sheikh Hassan Yousef, Sheikh Muhamed Abu Tayr, Mohamed Deif, and several others (Pina “Fatah and Hamas: the New Palestinian Factional Reality”).
The structure of Hamas appears to comprise the following sections, though the exact numbers of people in each of them have never been known: da’wa (responsible for recruitment and distribution of funds), aman (security that gathers information on collaborators with the Israeli authorities, interrogates and executes the suspects), a-? alam (responsible for propaganda and informational activities), and the section that is focused on violence in the framework of the Intifada (“Hamas (Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyya)”).
Created in 1992, the military wing of Hamas is named after Izz al-Din al-Qassam, the first leader of armed resistance in the history of Palestine and who was killed by the British military in 1936. At first, the al-Qassam Brigades kidnapped and executed Palestinians suspected of cooperation with Israel. But starting from December 1991, the group began also to attack Israeli soldiers and settlers in the occupied territories. (Pope “The Rise of Hamas”). In January 1996 the area was shaken by a series of horrific suicide bombings in response to the assassination of the Hamas bomb maker Yihya Ayyash.
During the Al-Aqsa Intifada Hamas regularly used the tactic of suicide bombings that was borrowed from other Islamic radical groups. “Page # 4” The first Hamas suicide bombing is known to have been committed in April 1993 at Mehola Junction (Pope “The Rise of Hamas”). In January 2004 Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, one of the senior Hamas officials, offered a 10-year hudna, or truce, in return for Israel’s complete withdrawal from the territories occupied during the Six Day War and the right to establish a Palestinian state.
Hamas’ leaders announced that they were not able to free all of the Palestinian lands at that stage and accepted a phased liberation and a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Rantissi also added that the truce could not last more than 10 years (“History of Hamas”). In March 2004 Sheikh Yassin, being then an old man confined to a wheel-chair, was killed in an Israeli missile strike. He was replaced by Rantissi as a next leader of Hamas. But in April 2004 Rantissi himself was assassinated in an air strike.
After these events Hamas officials agreed that the identity of their new leader in the Gaza Strip would be kept secret. During the same year several other top-ranking Hamas officials were assassinated in Palestine and abroad (“History of Hamas”). After the death of Yasser Arafat, chairman of the PLO and president of the Palestinian National Authority, Hamas boycotted the 2005 presidential election during which Mahmoud Abbas from the PLO was elected to replace Arafat. However, Hamas participated in the 2005 municipal elections and took control of about one third of Palestinian municipal councils (“History of Hamas”).
In September 2005 Israel officially ended its military rule in the Gaza Strip according to its unilateral disengagement plan though it still controls the airspace and the sea. Hamas declared Israel’s withdrawal a victory and promised to free other occupied territories, including the West Bank and East Jerusalem (“History of Hamas”). In the January 2006 legislative elections Hamas presented itself as the “List of Change and Reform”, defeated the ruling Fatah party and gained 74 out of 132 seats in the parliament.
the election campaign Hamas did not directly call for the destruction of Israel, but its candidates continued to insist that the organization’s founding charter remained in force. Hamas’ head Khaled Mashal declared that Hamas wanted only a ceasefire with Israel at that stage and that its long term goal to eliminate Israel by Islam remains. After the resignation of Palestinian Prime Minister Qurei’s cabinet Hamas formed a new government on March, 20 2006 appointing loyal members as heads of all key ministries. Ismail Haniya became the new Prime Minister of the Palestinian Autonomy.
Abbas’ Fatah decided not to join the Hamas-led government (“History of Hamas”). After the formation of the Hamas cabinet tensions between Fatah and Hamas have gradually risen in the Gaza Strip. Approximately 200 Palestinians were killed in several armed clashes between the two factions. On February, 8 2007 Hamas and Fatah ended factional violence by signing an agreement to form a national unity coalition (“History of Hamas”). In April 2007, after several mutual rocket attacks Hamas announced the end of the truce with Israel.
In June 2007 the Palestinian government was dissolved, the national unity coalition ended and another brief war broke out between Hamas and Fatah in which the latter was totally defeated. As a result, Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip and Fatah took control of the West Bank (“History of Hamas”). In the aftermath of these events economic sanctions against Hamas have been tightened by Israel and other countries which automatically led to growing unemployment rates and shortages of consumer goods.
Since May Palestinians have faced appalling hardships and disappointment with the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip has been progressively growing. Even some Hamas officials believe now that the seizure of Gaza was wrong (Peraino “Messiah On A Hill”). Hamas’ provision of social welfare services Palestinians’ social welfare needs have generally been unaddressed by the Palestinian Authority for years and Hamas has always exploited this situation for its own advantage. Since charitable and social welfare activities are fundamental principles of Islam, they are an important part of Hamas’ activities, too.
While a number of Hamas affiliated charitable societies provide their services to the general public, it is a fact that in most cases they give preference and offer increased financial assistance to those individuals and families who are close to the movement. Food and monetary assistance is provided to those families whose members have been killed and wounded while carrying out acts of terror or imprisoned for their involvement in such activities. These families are normally paid initial grants of $500-5,000 and monthly allowance of about $100. Those injured enjoy free medical care and treatment.
Apart from monetary assistance, members of those families are also provided with scholarships and given educational subsidies. Hamas charitable societies and committees also help rebuild homes demolished because of their owners’ involvement in acts of terror (“Hamas’s Use of Charitable Societies to Fund and Support Terror”). In other words, Hamas guarantees economic security and certainty for its members and sympathizers and their families as well in the severe economic conditions that most Palestinians now live in. In this way Hamas encourages the involvement and perpetrating of acts of terror.
On the other hand, the organization creates financial dependence and ensures constant flows of new recruits (“Hamas’s Use of Charitable Societies to Fund and Support Terror”). Hamas has always tried to exert a powerful influence on the Palestinian society and its leaders understand that this goal can be reached only by building an overall support and sympathy for their religious agenda among the local population. If Hamas can’t attract and convert to its cause moderate Palestinians and disaffected families by the charms of street fighting, it can reach them through welfare projects and by promoting financial dependence.
In other words, Hamas tries to transform a relatively secular Palestinian society into a religiously zealous and politically extreme one. To accomplish this goal, Hamas also seeks to control, in a sense, future generations by indoctrinating Palestinian children into its belief system, teaching to them, for example, the virtue of death-for-Allah or that martyrs are the most revered citizens. Some Gaza psychologists point out that martyrdom is becoming an ambition for young Palestinians. It is for this reason that Hamas has invested particularly in schools, campuses, and mosques. It tries to radicalize the Palestinian society as much as possible for its present and future purposes (Levitt “Teaching Terror: How Hamas Radicalizes Palestinian Society”).
1. Hamas (Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyya). December, 4 2007 <http://www. historyofwar. org/articles/weapons_hamas. html> 2. Hamas’s Use of Charitable Societies to Fund and Support Terror. December, 4 2007 <http://www. jewishvirtuallibrary. org/jsource/Terrorism/hamasfund. html>