by: Ilse Strauss, Assistant Editor
Rome. The Nazis. Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Assyria, Greece and the evil Haman. The chronicles of times gone by are littered with ancient regimes and rulers determined to annihilate the Jewish people. History teaches that those who led the charges to destroy the Jews were themselves ultimately destroyed, while Israel remained. History also teaches that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Today, modern regimes and rulers have stepped into the shoes of their ancient predecessors to continue the quest for a world devoid of Jews. One of the names that features high on the current list is Hamas, the terror group that rules the 1.9 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip.
Established in Israel while the First Intifada (Arabic for “shake off” or “uprising”) raged, Hamas has a three-decade track-record of war, horror, bloodshed and oppression—towards Israel and its own people alike. The fanatic regime is an arch enemy of the Palestinian Authority (PA). It is a close ally and financial beneficiary of Iran and is designated as a terror group by America, Israel, the European Union, Jordan and Egypt. It wages continuous war on Israel through missile attacks and suicide bombings, uses its women and children as human shields and utilizes international aid money to build terror tunnels and manufactures the means of Israel’s demise. Yet who is this group perched on Israel’s southern border that aims to annihilate her and subjects its own people to unspeakable poverty and suffering?
In 1987 Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and six other Palestinians founded what would ultimately become the largest Palestinian militant Sunni-Islamist organization. The group was born in the Gaza Strip as an offshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and sprang from the extremist cradle of its fanatic ideology and practices.
Yassin and his six sidekicks named the group Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyya (The Islamic Resistance Movement) or Hamas in short. They were arguably unaware that the word hamas predates the terror group by thousands of years, going back to the days of Noah when “The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence [hamas]” (Gen. 6:11). Hamas is mentioned 38 more times in the Tanakh (OT), each in the context of wickedness, corruption and cruelty.
The terror group certainly lives up to its name. In 1988 it published the Hamas Charter, which highlights the destruction of Israel as one of the organization’s main purposes. The manifesto makes it clear that Hamas is opposed to Israel’s existence in any form, seeks to replace the Jewish state with a Palestinian one and calls for jihad (holy war) to “raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.” While a supposedly more moderate charter was issued in 2017, the group still refuses to recognize Israel’s existence.
Hamas spent its first years focused on an armed struggle against Israel through its military wing and offering social welfare programs in Gaza. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, the terror group stood at the forefront of a wave of suicide bombings and terror attacks, orchestrating the murder of an estimated 500 Israelis in over 350 attacks. As the Second Intifada drew to a close, Hamas switched to rockets, mortars and kidnappings.
The end of the Second Intifada also saw Hamas taking on a political role and emerging as one of the two main role-players on the Palestinian political landscape alongside Fatah, the leading secular Palestinian political party of PA president Mahmoud Abbas.
In a bid for peace, Israel withdrew unilaterally from the Gaza Strip in 2005, offering the Palestinians the land they claimed they wanted in exchange for an end to the rockets and terror attacks. Israel kept its side of the bargain. The Palestinians didn’t. The rockets and terror continued. Moreover, the stage was set for a violent face-off between Hamas and Fatah.
Hamas defeated Fatah in the 2006 PA legislative elections, putting the terror group at the helm of Palestinian leadership. Tensions between the two parties continued to simmer and finally erupted in a violent conflict. Hamas seized independent control of the Strip, murdering Fatah officials and driving the rest from the coastal enclave. The past 12 years have seen numerous failed reconciliation attempts between the two parties, the latest in 2017.
The Hamas takeover plunged the people of Gaza into a life of untold suffering. Today, the Strip hovers on the verge of a humanitarian crisis, with a 40% unemployment rate, crushing poverty levels, nearly no electricity and polluted drinking water. Gaza is not without avenues of relief. While Israel imposes restrictions on what enters the Strip to prevent weapons and explosives from reaching Hamas, hundreds of Israeli trucks bring tons of food, building material, medication and other necessities to Gaza weekly. International aid provides millions more to keep the lights on, the water drinkable and the people housed, fed, educated and healthy. Yet instead of investing in homes, hospitals, schools and infrastructure, the terror group stocks its rocket arsenal and builds terror tunnels.
Since its founding three decades ago, Hamas has been true to its raison d’être. Its methods may have shifted from suicide bombings and terror attacks to rockets, mortars and kidnappings, but the annihilation of the Jews remains its driving force. Israel and Hamas have faced each other on the battlefield three times. The months between the official conflicts are marked by rocket attacks, flare-ups, infiltration and kidnapping attempts, violent riots and tense calm. While Israel suffers the onslaught of its fanatic neighbor, the civilians in Gaza arguably pay the heaviest price for their rulers’ obsession. Apart from subjecting its people to repeated wars, abysmal living conditions and offering no hope for the future, Hamas makes no bones about using its civilians as human shields, sending women and children onto the frontlines and firing rockets from hospitals and schools. The situation has led those in the know to conclude that Gaza is indeed under siege—not from Israel, but from Hamas. Perhaps veteran Arab–Israeli journalist Khaled Abu Toameh sums up the sad state of affairs best: “Venal leadership has always been the main tragedy of the Palestinians.”
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