Gaza Strip: A Short History of Hamas

gaza strip

The section of land along the eastern Mediterranean Sea known as the Gaza Strip may be small, but it highly congested and harbors several Islamist groups. The largest and most powerful is Hamas, which is classified by the U.S. as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. It is also so designated by the European Union, Canada and Japan.

The name Hamas is actually an acronym, from the Arabic for Islamic Resistance Movement. The group’s origins go back to 1987, after the beginning of the first intifada uprising against Israel’s occupation of the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Hamas used suicide attacks to bring itself publicity and later, its opposition to the Oslo peace accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Until 2005, Hamas had two purposes. First, waging war against Israel. Second, the delivery of social welfare programs. It was in that year that Hamas began participating in the Palestinian political process and became the first Arab Islamist group to obtain power through democratic means. (An Islamist is someone who wants society and government converted to follow the various prescriptions of Islam.) This was before Hamas took control of Gaza by force.

Hamas acquired its status as a terrorist group because of its history of offensive attacks and its ongoing refusal to renounce violence. Indeed, the preamble to the group’s charter codifies its commitment to the destruction of Israel: “Israel will exist and will continue to  exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.”

Hamas did well in the 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections and this triggered economic sanctions from Israel and the Quartet on the Middle East (the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, and Russia). The election results also increased tensions between Hamas and another Palestinian militant group, Fatah. In the next year Hamas forced its own, rival government into the Gaza Strip. 

It was at this point that Israel began holding Hamas responsible for all attacks emanating from the Gaza Strip and, since then, Israel has executed three major military campaigns there. As with the current conflict, the previous offensives (2008 and 2012) were also preceded by increases in fighting across the border, missile attacks from Gaza, and Israeli air strikes in response. Degraded militarily, Palestinians nevertheless admired Hamas for having opposed Israel and survived.

Although Hamas and Fatah formed a government together in 2007, Hamas seized unilateral control of the Gaza Strip shortly thereafter in the Battle of Gaza. Institutions of government were seized and government officials – including those from Fatah – were replaced. Israel and one of its former enemies, Egypt, then moved to isolate Hamas by instituting a land, sea and air blockade of Gaza. Hamas struggled under the blockade and became increasingly isolated in the wake of the Arab Spring (a wave of still-ongoing non-violent and violent protests and civil wars across the Arab world). Since then, Israel has eased back somewhat on the blockade for non-military goods (June 2010) and Egypt reopened the border crossing at Rafah in 2011. In April of this year, Hamas and Fatah reconciled and another national unity government was formed.

By Gregory Baskin

Council on Foreign Relations
Al Jazeera
U.S. Dept. of State

23 Responses to "Gaza Strip: A Short History of Hamas"

  1. alanmonrovia   August 24, 2014 at 9:03 pm

    Hamas has clearly stated that its goal is the annihilation of all Jews, and the destruction of Israel and its replacement by an Islamic state. Will anyone dispute this? With this in mind, what person of good faith could ask Israel to disarm, or not strike back when attacked by these terrorists? As much as we’d like to think that people can co-exist peacefully, it is simply naive to imagine any possible compromise with these blood-thirsty fanatics. The people of the Gaza Strip must eventually shun and reject Hamas for there ever to be peace in the region.

  2. Hepcat   August 23, 2014 at 11:51 pm


    ARTICLE SEVEN – The Universality of the Islamic Resistance Movement

    … The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said:
    “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him…

    ARTICLE THIRTEEN – Peaceful Solutions, Initiatives and International Conferences

    Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement.

    … There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors.

  3. Neil   August 20, 2014 at 7:34 am

    I think this article explains it all:

    “the group’s charter codifies its commitment to the destruction of Israel: ‘Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.'”

    And any rational person would allow them to co-exist with an open seaport to import better missiles???

  4. DG   August 18, 2014 at 10:15 pm

    People thinking of Gaza as a land desired by Israel which wants to push Gazans into the sea are having insufficient amount of gray substance inside of their sculp. How can’t one see that all Israel did was keeping up the blockade of Gaza because otherwise a little nuclear head will fall next day over Israel. Hamas was the one who initiated the conflict. The only way to keep Hamas at bay was to impose a blockade or destroy their launch pads which they conveniently positioned near schools. To blame Israel for having less casualties is nonsense. Israel just learned to defend itself by using the Dome. 4000 rockets sent into Israel does not paint Hamas as peace lovers. Hamas is targeting civialians, Israel – those who are launching rockets against civilians.
    And yes, Jewish rebels did conduct terrorist acts against British because they were fighting for their state and British didn’t belong there. Unlike Hamas, Israel became a state which didn’t make threats to anyone in the region.

  5. Louis E   August 18, 2014 at 5:45 pm

    As the author of this story points out, Hamas is essentially a resistance movement. The actions of Israel created Hamas The Gazans see them first for their social endeavors and second for their military resistance.. And yes the Gazans know what real terror is, the Israelis practice it on a daily basis to them.

    • Hepcat   August 23, 2014 at 11:56 pm

      If the Palestinians threw down their arms, there would be peace tomorrow.

      If Israel disarmed, there would be another Holocaust.

  6. David Corner   August 18, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    Looking at the sources used in writing this article ought to be enough to disqualify this as journalism

  7. Curatica   August 17, 2014 at 8:22 pm

    The author’s willingness to remember goes very little in the past. It should go back the the forties when the Jewish terrorist gangs in Palestine (some of whom later became Israel’s prime ministers) were murdering British subjects. The Palestinians’ turn came next.

    Israel was founded by and living on terror. And lies, theft and murder. Across the fence from the Gaza concentration camp, you will find a land with millions of terrorists. You could pick and choose.


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