Who is Hamas? Part II: The Interim Years, 1989


Who is Hamas? is a three part series exploring the history of the Islamist militant movement in Palestine.

The militant Islamist organisation’s first attack included the kidnapping and killing of two Israeli soldiers in 1989. The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) subsequently arrested Hamas’ spiritual leaders and co-founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin along with forcibly deporting 400 members of the group to southern Lebanon, occupied by Israel at the time. Yassin was sentenced to life in prison. Yet, the deportation of Hamas activists to southern Lebanon is cited as the beginning of the organisation’s close relationship with Lebanon’s Shia militant group Hezbollah. Though Yassin considered Hamas as the “paramilitary arm” of the Muslim Brotherhood, it was not until 1991 that the group officially created an official military branch.

Palestinian scouts of Al-Qassam brigades, the armed wing of Hamas movement, demonstrate their skills during a graduation ceremony in Gaza City (photo: Reuters)

In 1991, Hamas officially formed the Izz Ad-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, dubbed as the formal military branch of the Islamist militant group. Following Yassin’s ideological belief that there could be no peace with Israel, the organisation rejected the terms of the Oslow Accords, signed in 1993 by the Israeli government and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO). As such, they began attacking civilians along with Israeli military personnel, at times using suicide bombings as a guerrilla warfare strategy, in order to inflict the maximum amount of damage on Israeli targets. Suicide bombings became a trademark of Hamas’ military operations most notably beginning in 1993 with the Dizengoff Street bus bombing which resulted in the death of 22 Israeli citizens.

After a failed attempt by Israeli intelligence agents to assassinate prominent Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Jordan, Yassin was released as part of an arrangement between the Jordanian government and its Israeli counterpart. The arrangement included a prisoner swap for two Israeli intelligence agents and called for Yassin to quit supporting suicide attacks as a form of violent engagement with Israel. Despite the conditions for his release, Yassin assumed leadership of Hamas once again and continued to call for attacks on Israel, including the use of suicide bombings.

Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal (photo: Reuters)

In September 2000, the second Intifida sparked a much more violent uprising than the first. A study conducted in 2007 on terrorism and suicide bombings notes that close to 40% of suicide attacks conducted during the second Intifida were executed by the Al-Qassam Brigades.

In January 2004, Yassin had offered a 10-year truce between Hamas and Israel in exchange for a Palestinian state comprised of Gaza and the West Bank along with East Jerusalem. The truce also demanded that Israeli troops be removed from grounds captured during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. Israel rejected the terms and on 22 March 2004, Yassin was assassinated by an Israeli Apache helicopter in Gaza City.

The last and final chapter of the series is titled Who is Hamas? Part III: From Resistance to Governance, 2006 – Today and explores the development of the militant Islamist organisation from winning the legislative elections through to the recent conflict with Israel. Part III will be released on Sunday.