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Hamas

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The Islamic World: Past and Present What is This? Accessible coverage of Islam from the seventh century to the twenty-first century

    Hamas

    Hamas is the acronym of Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyah (Movement of Islamic Resistance), the most important Islamic organization in the Israeli-occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Established in 1987 , this militant group seeks to destroy Israel and to establish an Islamic state in Palestine, the general term for the region. The Arabic word hamas also means “zeal.”

    During the late 1970s, a new type of Islamic activism appeared in Palestine. Associated with the Egyptian-based Muslim Brotherhood, this movement inspired its followers to work for the elimination of Western influence and for the renewal of Islam in society. Members of the brotherhood preached in mosques and encouraged attacks on unveiled women and the destruction of taverns and cinemas. Initially, the Muslim Brothers confined their political activities to opposing the Palestinian communist party. By the mid-1980s, members of the Muslim Brotherhood and other small groups in the occupied territories called for jihad against Israel, claiming that Muslims had a religious duty to fight for the return of the land in the West Bank and Gaza that Israel had occupied since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. The Palestinian intifadah (uprising) broke out in 1987 —a spontaneous, popular resistance to Israel's continued occupation of the region.

    As the resistance movement grew, Dr. Abd al-Aziz al-Rantisi and Shaykh Ahmad Yasin founded Hamas groups in the Gaza Strip in December 1987 . Soon thereafter, the Muslim Brotherhood formally adopted Hamas as its “strong arm.” The charter of Hamas explains that anti-Israeli activity is part of jihad. It also rejects the legitimacy of the state of Israel and claims that military action is the only option for the liberation of Palestine.

    Hamas considers itself a complement of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the official representative of the Palestinian people. The two groups differ on key issues, however. For Hamas, neither Palestine nor any part of it may be relinquished. The PLO, by contrast, has recognized Israel's right to exist alongside a Palestinian state. Hamas objected when the PLO entered a peace agreement with Israel in 1993 . Hamas responded by intensifying its attacks against Israelis, including civilians. As the PLO and Israel took measures to punish Hamas, PLO chairman Yasir Arafat also appointed Hamas members to leadership positions in the Palestinian Authority in order to give them a voice in the political process. In September 2000 , peace talks between the PLO and Israel collapsed, provoking a second intifadah and increased violence against Israelis.

    Hamas claims that 30 to 40 percent of the Palestinian people are members of its organization and that most of its budget supports education and other social welfare projects. The Israeli government has banned the movement. See also Arab-Israeli Conflict; Jihad; Muslim Brotherhood; Palestine Liberation Organization.

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