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.

  8. Youmelous   August 12, 2014 at 5:24 am

    Man please…come on ppl are you bilnd to see? or it’s just hypocrisy…look at how many Palestinians died since the jews came to Palestine?
    One thing I want to know, clarify for me is there an occupation or not?
    If yes, how can Palsetinias defend their selves??
    Tell me how can there be peace??

  9. sanity   August 8, 2014 at 7:00 am

    Obliterate radical islam at any cost! conversion, enslavement and death is the other alternative. populations that spawn radical islamists are not innocent civilians. a firm boot on their neck is the only deterrence. All who criticize Israel for firing back are hypocrites, idiots and racists. All other nations kill far more civilians than israel and do far less to minimize civilian casualties. God bless America. Radical islam will be defeated! civilians will die. get used to it.

    • Logic   August 8, 2014 at 7:15 am

      Cant anyone see that all this violence and death is part of the grand plan for Hamas to eliminate Israel.

  10. Nelly Korec   August 8, 2014 at 6:11 am

    Just a comment… Hamas does don’t want Israel or any Jews to exist. Does anyone remember the celebration/dancing in the streets of Palestine when the Twin Towers fell?
    I do.

  11. JM   August 8, 2014 at 12:46 am

    This is all about one thing: Israel wants to scare Palestinians off their land and into the diaspora. They want the land… all of it for their preferred racist state.

  12. vnreddy   August 7, 2014 at 8:34 pm

    first of all, Indian govt should take initiative in disclosing of differences among two of them

  13. Youmelous   August 7, 2014 at 4:47 pm

    Most of ppl in the west are bild to see, or perhaps it’s another hypocrisy all over this so called troubled world…HAMAS is defending theirselves and their people against “ISREAL”.
    Palestine is an occupied land, since sykes picot agreement…people should be neutre and read some of history….
    Palestinians deserve to live as all people…but because they have nothing to defend them, every DEMOCRATIC person would call them TERRORISTS!! Come one people…whatever!!!

  14. Moral Anxiety   August 7, 2014 at 2:07 am

    PLO, HAMAS, HESBOLAH and all alike are the same, the’ hyenas’ of Arabia. Kicked out of Jordan, kicked out of Lebanon for attempted takeovers, carnage and thousand of deaths. Whereever they go, whereever they live, they breed death and misery. Hamas is cited as a terror organisation and because the Palestinians support Hamas that makes the Palestinians terrorists. 95% are Sunny Muslims of Islam, sworn to genocide of all Jews and non-Muslims. What if, Israel didn’t have the iron-dome protection defence, how much carnage would have resulted in Israel, how many Israelis would have been killed? It just does not make justifiable sense to condemn Israel for reaching the point of ‘enough is enough’. The initiation of the provocative execution of over two thousand rockets fired on Israel is no toy game, they were meant to cause destruction and death to the people of Israel and the severity of Israel’s retaliation should have been expected and deserved. The UN should be ashamed of itself giving support to the Palestinians, it should have said either you get rid of your ruling war mongers or you will perish, find leaders who will take your nation towards peace and co-existence with every race and religion in the world and then you will gain the respect and regard of Israel to share the land.

    • Y. Adam   August 7, 2014 at 7:35 am

      Hamas is just defending themselves from Israel. They have every right to defend themselves. The Israeli’s came into Gaza and started killing innocent civilians for no reason. Hamas is trying to stop them. Hamas is not a terrorist group.

      • S. o' Hara   August 7, 2014 at 7:38 am

        And Israel has killed WAY more Palestinians than Hamas has to Israelis. Like a hell of a lot more.

    • JohnTurnbull   August 7, 2014 at 8:01 am

      I hear the Hamas rockets killed an Israeli civilian. Hamas are in the wrong and Israel certainly has the right to defend itself. Slaughtering 2000 and maiming 7000 is not “Defending yourself”. It is criminal genocide.

  15. JohnTurnbull   August 7, 2014 at 12:35 am

    Israel condemned in Irish Parliament …
    Please Share

  16. Kevin Jenkins   August 6, 2014 at 11:27 pm

    In the UK a senior Foreign Office Minister has resigned. Many folk believe that Sayeeda Warsi’s resignation was an honourable action on her part. For too long now the UK Government have ‘sat on the sidelines’ ignoring the plight of the Palestinian people and the disgraceful treatment, oppression even, by the Israeli Jews.

    There is a tragic irony playing out. It seems that the Jews in Israel no longer think of the Palestinian people as fellow human beings. Initially they would have liked to have seen the Palestinians absorbed by other Arab states such as Jordan. Now that that is clearly not going to happen it appears to many in the world that they would like to see the Palestinian people destroyed ( with themselves as the exterminators ? ). The hugely disproportionate military action that Israel has recently taken in the Gaza is quite appalling.

    The Spanish actor, Javier Bardem, is correct in accusing the Jews of genocide. At the same time making it very clear that his stance, together with that of his wife, Penelope Cruz, is not that of anti-semitism.

    The irony is that all of this matches the approach that Hitler and the German people took towards the Jews in Europe at the time of the Holocaust. Eg. the initial desire to see them exit Germany, then the de-humanisation of the Jews until they bacame ‘sub-human’ and then their extermination.

    The Jews will probably live to bitterly regret having adopted a Nazi mind-set as to their close neighbours the Palestinians. World opinion has now swung entirely away from feeling any empathy with the Israelis. The fact that Western leaders continue to insist on standing up and speaking out for the Israeli Jews and the Jews in general is probably borne out of the fact that so many Jews were murdered by the Germans in the early 1940’s. Understandable enough but time has moved on and the inherent sense of guilt should now be set aside.

    The UK Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron has shown himself to lack the moral courage that Sayeeda Warsi ( and no doubt many others ) would have expected from him in ‘stepping up’ and denouncing the recent Jewish action against Gaza.

    • jimmy kraktov   August 7, 2014 at 6:21 pm

      re: “The hugely disproportionate military action that Israel has recently taken in the Gaza is quite appalling.”

      The IDF is vastly larger and more capable than Hamas and is capable of responding to any aggression against Israel, regardless of the aggressor. Knowing this, Hamas still chooses to indiscriminately fire their rockets and other arms into Israel. The have dug countless numbers of tunnels into Israel for the express purpose of attacking and murdering Jews, without warning. Hamas is a continuous and deadly threat to all Israelis, and Israel has every right to retaliate with as much force as they feel is necessary to combat a force that wants to kill all Jews, simply because they exist. I know of no other country that would do anything less. I know of no other military that’s ever given advance, specific warnings of their attacks. Israel has done this repeatedly during this conflict.

      Whether they’re anti-Semitic or not, the opinions of a couple of actors are just opinions. They mean little and aid the situation even less.

  17. Mike McCurley   August 6, 2014 at 9:03 pm

    Here’s an even shorter history. Hamas is nothing but a bunch of jacked up punks who don’t even know what’s up. I would love to watch the Mexican Zeta drug cartel go into Gaza and show “the boys” what real terror is…


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