Hamas formed in late 1987 as an outgrowth of the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Various Hamas elements have used both political and violent means, including terrorism, to pursue the goal of establishing an Islamic Palestinian state in place of Israel. Loosely structured, with some elements working clandestinely and others working openly through mosques and social service institutions to recruit members, raise money, organize activities, and distribute propaganda, Hamas's strength is concentrated in the Gaza Strip and a few areas of the West Bank. Hamas also has engaged in peaceful political activity, such as running candidates in West Bank Chamber of Commerce elections.
Hamas is an abbreviation of Harakat Muqawama Islamiya (Arabic: the Islamic Resistance Movement), and the name itself is colloquial Arabic for "enthusiasm". Its military wing often bears different names, such as:
In addition to its military and terrorist activities, Hamas has many relief and education programs. These programs are viewed variously as part of an integrated para-state[?] policy, as propaganda and recruitment[?] excercises, or both.
The founding charter of Hamas, written in 1988, states that its goal is to "raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine", i.e. to eliminate the State of Israel, and any secular Palestinian Authority, and replace it with an Islamic theocracy.
The charter is based on a number of conspiracy theories; it claims that the The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, are true; the Freemasons, Lions Club[?], and the Rotarians[?] all secretly "work in the interest of Zionism." Hamas members further allege that the Jewish people are collectively responsible for the French Revolution, "Western colonialism", Communism, and both World Wars. Historians view all of these claims as anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
Hamas was funded directly and indirectly during the 1970s and 1980s by various states including Saudi Arabia and Syria. The political/charitable arm of Hamas was officially registered and recognised within Israel at this time. Most experts agree that while Israel never supported Hamas directly, it did allow it to exist to oppose the secular Fatah movement of Yasser Arafat. The group abstained from politics throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, concentrating on moral and social issues such as attacks on corruption, administration of awqaf (trusts) and organizing community projects. Towards the mid-1980s, however, the movement underwent a takeover by the militant Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. For a while he preached immediate violence, and was arrested by Israel for that. However he was released when he promised to stop the preaching, and the movement was allowed to continue.
The acronym "Hamas" first appeared in 1987 in a leaflet accusing Israeli intelligence services of undermining the moral fibre of Palestinian youth as part of their recruitment of "collaborators[?]". The use of force by Hamas appeared almost contemporaneously with the first Intifada, beginning with "punishments against collaborators", progressing to Israeli military targets and eventually terrorist actions targeted at civilians. As its methods have changed over the last thirty years, so has its rhetoric, now effectively claiming that Israeli civilians are "military targets" by virtue of living in a highly militarized state with conscription.
According to the semi-official Hamas biography "Truth and existence", Hamas evolved through four main stages:
Whilst this reflects the activities of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, their colleagues in the West Bank had a very different development, with less emphasis at the beginning on the creation or control of public institutions[?]. The Muslim Brotherhood movement in the West Bank constituted an integral part of the Jordanian Islamic movement, which for many years had been aligned with the Hashemite regime. Furthermore, the Muslim Brotherhood in the West Bank represented a higher socio-economic profile - merchants, landowners[?], and middle-class officials[?] and professionals[?]. By the mid-1980s, the Muslim Brotherhood held a significant portion of the positions in West Bank religious institutions. At the time of this writing, there is a close relationship between the leadership of the PLO and Hamas.
Hamas activists, especially those in the Izz el-Din al-Qassam Brigades, have conducted many attacks--including large-scale suicide bombings--against Israeli civilian and military targets, suspected Palestinian collaborators, and Fatah rivals.
Unknown number of hardcore members; tens of thousands of supporters and sympathizers. Receives funding from Palestinian expatriates[?], from Iran, and from private benefactors in Saudi Arabia and in other moderate Arab states. Some fundraising and propaganda activity take place in Western Europe and North America.