Michael Abrahams | Palestine’s Hamas problem
Hamas is a Palestinian nationalist and Islamist movement in the West Bank and Gaza Strip dedicated to the establishment of an independent Islamic state in historical Palestine. The name stands for the Islamic Resistance Movement and in Arabic means ‘zeal’.
The organisation was founded in 1987 as an offshoot of another Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood’s activities were generally non-violent. However, in 1987, at the beginning of the first Palestinian intifada (shaking off) against Israeli occupation, Hamas was established by members of the organisation and religious factions of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Hamas opposes the secular approach of the PLO to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and unlike the Muslim Brotherhood, openly embraces the use of violence and terrorism to achieve its goals.
The year after Hamas was formed, it declared in its charter that Palestine is an Islamic homeland that must never be surrendered to non-Muslims, and that waging holy war (jihad) to wrest control of Palestine from Israel is a religious duty for Palestinian Muslims. Unlike the PLO and several Arab countries, Hamas does not recognise Israel’s right to exist. Unsurprisingly, Hamas’ stance has created tension between it and its secular nationalist counterparts and some Arab states that have normalised their relationships with Israel.
From its foundation, Hamas has consistently rejected negotiations that would cede any land. It denounced the peace agreement arrived at during the Oslo Accords in 1993 and, along with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) group, subsequently intensified its terror campaign using suicide bombers. Then, in 2000, the collapse of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians at the Camp David Summit led to an increase in violence that came to be known as the Al-Aqsa Intifada. Hamas activists further escalated their attacks on Israelis and engaged in several suicide bombings in Israel.
In 2005, Israel began a unilateral withdrawal of settlers and military forces from the Gaza Strip, with the Israeli military remaining in control of Gaza’s borders (except the Gaza-Egypt border, which Egypt controls), airspace, and coastline. After Israel’s withdrawal, Hamas, PIJ, and other smaller militant groups fired rockets from Gaza into southern Israel. In the 2006 elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council, Hamas won a surprise victory over Fatah, and the two groups formed a coalition government. However, clashes between Hamas and Fatah forces in the Gaza Strip intensified, resulting in Hamas being in control of the territory, while a Fatah-led emergency cabinet gained control of the West Bank.
After Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in 2007, Israel declared the territory a hostile entity and approved a series of sanctions that included power cuts, heavily restricted imports, and border closures. Hamas attacks on Israel continued, as did Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip, with major confrontations in 2008, 2012, 2014, 2018, and 2021. Hamas remains resolute in its rejection of the legitimacy of Israel. Months after Yahya Sinwar became the local leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip in 2017, he stated, “Gone is the time in which Hamas discussed recognition of Israel. The discussion now is about when we will wipe out Israel.”
On October 7, Hamas launched its most lethal attack on Israel, an audacious, coordinated land, sea, and air assault that took the nation by surprise. At least 1,200 Israelis were reported to have been killed, the deadliest for Israel since its independence, and about 240 others were allegedly taken hostage.
But what did Hamas hope to achieve by launching an all-out assault on Israel? In 1948, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria invaded Israel. Israel won that war. In 1967, Israel defeated a combined Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian military force in six days. So, if Israel has a history of defeating multiple nations, what does a single organisation hope to achieve by attacking it, especially when Israel’s biggest ally is the United States of America, the country that commands the most potent military force globally?
SHORT END OF THE STICK
Also, in previous confrontations with Israel, Hamas and the Palestinians consistently ended up with the short end of the stick. Israel’s response is always overwhelming, leading to significantly disproportionate casualties. For example, during the Gaza War in 2008, the conflict lasted for only three weeks but resulted in 1,166-1,417 Palestinian and 13 Israeli fatalities. In 2014, after Hamas militants kidnapped and killed three Israeli teenagers near a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, Israel invaded the Gaza Strip. The operation lasted for 50 days and killed about 2,000 Gazans, 66 Israeli soldiers, and five Israeli civilians.
Indeed, Israel has been accused by concerned human rights and other organisations of exacting collective punishment on Palestinians in some of their past confrontations, as well as in this ongoing conflict, in which over 10,000 Palestinians have been reported killed. Israeli Defence Force spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagan admitted from early in the conflict that “hundreds of bombs” had already been dropped on Gaza, and that “the emphasis is on damage and not on accuracy”, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to “flatten” the enclave. Palestine throws a stone, and Israel responds by hurling a truckload of bricks. Hamas attacking Israel is like a chihuahua going after a pit bull trained to attack and fight. Why start a fight you know you cannot win? And why ignite a conflict you know will result in enormous collateral damage?
Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem need strong representation. The way the state of Israel has treated them is unacceptable. In fact, several human- rights entities claim that Israel commits the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution against Palestinians in the occupied territories.
However, Hamas is not acting in the best interest of Palestinians, either. Their actions, including reportedly using civilians as human shields and preventing them from leaving areas about to be bombed, consistently place the people they represent in harm’s way. Palestine needs to be free, not only from Israeli occupation and control, but also from Hamas.
Michael Abrahams is an obstetrician and gynaecologist, social commentator and human-rights advocate. Send feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on X , formerly Twitter, @mikeyabrahams.