In the Islamic world, there has been much debate over the relationship between Islam and politics. Some Muslims argue in favor of increased secularism, whereas others argue that both Islam and politics are interconnected. As a result, a diverse array of political movements has emerged throughout the Islamic world. The individual goals and agendas of various political movements in Islam vary; in addition, the factors behind their origins are diverse as well. One such example of an Islamic political organization is Hamas, which is based in the Palestinian territory. Hama is currently one of two political parties active in the Palestinian Authority, having won a majority of the vote in the Palestinian national elections in 2006. As a result of its use of violence to achieve political goals, Hamas is controversially classified by the U.S., Israel, and the European Union as a terrorist organization.
The creation of Hamas can be traced back to the Six-Day War in 1967. As a result of the war, Israel captured the Gaza Strip from Egypt and the West Bank from Jordan, beginning a long and brutal occupation of both territories. As a result of Israel’s occupation, the local populations became resentful, and a powerful resistance movement emerged. For example, the Muslim Brotherhood gained influence in Egypt as an Islamic political organization denouncing the occupation. One Palestinian cleric and activist in the Muslim Brotherhood, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin began performing charitable work and preaching Islamic scripture in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Some of Yassin’s work and that of other activists included setting up schools, clinics, and youth clubs in Gaza and the West Bank. Initially, Yassin’s efforts were encouraged by some in the Israeli government, as it was believed that these efforts would discourage violence and allow for greater stability in the occupied territories. By 1987, Yassin established Hamas as the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Gaza Strip. Hamas was founded shortly after the first intifada, which was a Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.
The main political agenda of Hamas consists of the establishment of a fundamentalist Islamic state in Palestine and the liberation of the Palestinian territories from Israeli occupation. As many political parties and factions in Palestine do, Hamas views the occupation as a human rights violation. In addition, Hamas operates schools, hospitals, and religious institutions in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and manages a highly effective social welfare system. As a result, the organizations popularity among the Palestinian people has grown. To achieve their goals, Hamas often carries out attacks against Israel through its military wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigade. According to a study by the Council on Foreign Relations, Hamas is believed to have killed roughly 500 people in 350 separate attacks since 1993.
By 2005, Hamas began to get involved in electoral politics and immediately became a success. During the 2006 legislative elections, Hamas was able to gain a majority of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council. As a result of Hamas’ win, the U.S., Israel, and the European Union placed economic sanctions against the Palestinian Authority. Fatah, a rival Palestinian political organization, initially formed a unity government with Hamas. However, Hamas ultimately seized unilateral control over the Gaza Strip in 2007. It was at this point that Israel began to hold Hamas responsible for all terrorist attacks emanating from the Gaza Strip and executed several military campaigns against Hamas. In the military campaigns, Israel conducted against Hamas in the Gaza Strip since 2006, some 5,000 people were killed, and much of the infrastructure of the Gaza Strip was destroyed. In addition, Israel implemented a blockade against Gaza to isolate Hamas. Despite the fact that Hamas was weakened military following its conflicts with Israel and internationally isolated, the Palestinian people grew to admire Hamas for surviving in the fight against Israel despite the odds stacked against them.
Despite the fact that Europe, Israel, and the U.S. have condemned Hamas and view it as a terrorist organization, opinions regarding the organization vary throughout the Middle East. While countries such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt are wary of embracing Hamas, the leaders of Turkey and Qatar openly back Hamas as a way to bolster popular support in their countries. The main Middle East backers of Hamas are Iran and Syria. In the past, both countries supplied Hamas with weapons and various forms of sponsorship. As a result of events such as the Syrian Civil War, Syrian support for Hamas has been reduced. Furthermore, Hamas refused to send in troops to assist Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has instead supported rebel groups fighting against his government. Additionally, international diplomacy has convinced Iran to reduce its funding for Hamas, and Iran has sought to increase its ties with separate resistance groups in the region. Due to the mixed opinion within the Middle East, the conflict between Hama and Israel is developing to a conflict between extremists and more moderate elements throughout the Middle East. Furthermore, the popular support for Hamas throughout the Middle East shows that the organization is becoming a socio-political movement with a message in support of Palestinian sovereignty that resonates throughout the Middle East.
In conclusion, Hamas was originally established as a social movement to promote general welfare in occupied Palestine. Over time, Hamas has developed into a political and violent military faction with the support of a number of Middle Eastern countries. The methods of Hamas vary from conventional political activities such as participating in elections to less typical ones such as using violence to achieve its goals. In response, numerous Western countries denounced Hamas through sanctions and military actions. In addition, civilian casualties from Israeli attacks against Hamas have garnered sympathy for the group and the Palestinian people in recent years. The actions of both Hamas and Israel have polarized opinions across the world. Only time will tell if both Israel and Hamas will come together to mediate their disputes, which may not be possible at this point in time.