Who is Hamas? is a three part series exploring the history of the Islamist militant movement in Palestine.
Following Israel’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza in 2005, which included the evacuation of all settlements and the pulling out of Israeli military forces from the strip, Hamas is said to have discussed plans of administering Gaza with Israeli officials. According to a leak reported by French newspaper Le Canard Enchaïné, Benjamin Netanyahu’s advisor Ariel Sharon had allegedly negotiated the terms of the disengagement with Hamas including the possibility of allowing the militant organisation to administratively manage the strip. Despite Hamas’ mantra of eradicating Israel, the militant organisation decided to join the political process in 2006 in time for the Palestinian legislative elections after boycotting the presidential elections the year before. To the surprise of many in the international community, Hamas gained 42.9% of the vote establishing it as the majority leader with 74 out of 132 seats.
A campaign poster for Hamas’ political party urging Palestinians to vote (photo: Reuters)
Hamas’ victory at the polls led to a major backlash from the international community. Though the administration of former US president George W. Bush had seemingly been characterised by a push for more democratic institutions globally, they nonetheless stated that they would not deal with Hamas unless certain demands were met, including the recognition of Israel’s right to exist. As such, the US and EU cut funding to the Palestinian Authority as a response to the electoral victory by Hamas. In order to bypass a Hamas majority parliament, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas established a court that had the power to veto any legislation thought to contradict Palestinians’ Basic Law considered higher than the Palestinian constitution. Following the move, tensions rose between Fatah and Hamas leading to incessant infighting and violence committed by both parties.
A Hamas supporter burns a poster depicting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during a protest in Jabalya, in the northern Gaza Strip (photo: Reuters)
In 2007, despite having signed onto a unity government with Fatah, Hamas unilaterally took over the Gaza strip and began a widespread campaign of Islamization. This governing strategy included attempting to enforce the hijab on women along with banning any form of alcohol or drugs. Hamas even created a Virtue Committee which gave authority to its members in order to dictate Islamic practices in public while forbidding such things as dancing and mixed company between genders. Many human rights organisations condemned Hamas’ governing strategies as violating basic human rights of expression while attempting to enforce their understanding of Islam on society, including Christian Palestinians which faced discriminatory practices by the government.
A fighter for Hamas waving a flag after the militant organisation rejected an Egypt-brokered ceasefire deal (photo: Reuters)
Two weeks ago, Israel began Operation Protective Edge in order to allegedly uproot the militant Islamist organisation. Despite their attempts to target Hamas militants, a UN reports cites 80% of those killed as civilians. Though Hamas has retaliated against Israel, many in the strip see them as their only line of military defence despite vehemently disagreeing with their policies.
Here are links to Part I The Rise to Militancy and Part II The Interim Years in our three part series Who is Hamas? The series aims to explore the rise and development of the militant organisation from its inception.