Author: Doaa’ Elnakhala

1       Background

2       Aims of Hamas

3       Organizational Structure

4       Recruitment

5       Training

6       Hamas Financing

7       Hamas’s Strategy and Tactics

8       Conclusion


1     Background

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict was born in the late 19th century when historic Palestine became at the center of the Jewish state project and thus attracted waves of Jewish immigration and Jewish land purchases in Mandate Palestine (1922-1948). Gradually, new actors started to emerge and play a role in the conflict. Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups became important actors, although Hamas was founded relatively recently compared to other Palestinian groups.

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1.1  Birth of Palestinian Insurgency

With the end of the British Mandate, the Arabs, including local Palestinians, fought a war against the increasingly powerful Jewish gangs, established by the Jews who immigrated to Palestine before and during the Ottoman rule and the British Mandate. The 1948 war between the two groups resulted in the establishment of the State of Israel and the displacement of some 700,000 Palestinians, who ended up in 19 refugee camps in the West Bank, 8 camps in the Gaza Strip, and several locations and refugee camps in neighboring countries and beyond. These extraterritorial camps, established more than six decades ago, still exist today, populated by the original refugees and their descendent.

As early as the 1950s, these refugees started to organize themselves and launch attacks against Israel. The first group that appeared is the “Fedayeen,” who conducted guerilla attacks against Israel, and mostly infiltrated the borders from the Gaza Strip,[1] Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.[2] The Fedayeen championed the armed struggle against Israel, which they believed was a bastion of colonialism and Western imperialism. To them the armed struggle was the sole means to liberating Palestine, and thus, they encouraged the Palestinian masses to take up and support this struggle.

Attempting to organize in the diaspora, young Palestinian activists coalesced into political parties with varying ideologies, and several participated in the Fedayeen attacks. By mid 1970s, the Fedayeen took over the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).[3] The goal of the PLO was to “liberate Palestine,” i.e. Mandate Palestine and the eventual return of Palestinian refugees. Until 1967, this land extended from River Jordan in the east to the Mediterranean in the west and from Elat in the south to Naqoura, Lebanon in the north, i.e. to the PLO, the land on which Israel was established in 1948 is part of Palestine. Devastated by the loss of more land to Israel in the 1967 war, the goals of the PLO retreated to an intermediate goal, the liberation of the land occupied by Israel in 1967, i.e. the Gaza Strip and West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Fatah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), two secular Palestinian factions integrated under the PLO umbrella, immediately became two of the most active groups attacking Israel in the 1960s and the 1970s.

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1.2  Emergence of Hamas

In the 1980s, organizations with Islamist ideologies and no PLO membership were established, but this time inside the Occupied Gaza Strip and West Bank. These include the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), established in 1981 and Hamas, founded in 1987. Despite being set up inside the Palestinian Territories, they maintained important links abroad.

Hamas was founded in the Gaza Strip as an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Since its establishment as a religious-nationalist liberation movement, Hamas has become increasingly influential, not only in the Gaza Strip but also in the West Bank. Hamas’s appearance coincided with political concessions by the PLO. Around the mid-1980s, the Fatah-PLO relinquished its long-term goal of the liberation of Palestine from the River to the Sea by recognizing Israel and its right to exist, and dropped the armed struggle as its strategy. The PLO held negotiations to regain the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and to establish an independent Palestinian state there. This shift resulted in the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991 and the subsequent Oslo Accords that founded the Palestinian Authority (PA). Meanwhile, Hamas persisted on the armed struggle as its strategy in fighting Israel.

Thus, Hamas appeared as an alternative to the PLO and preached a path in the completely opposite direction. Hamas was among those who opposed the agreement with Israel. As the Palestinian and the Israeli camps were holding negotiations in the 1990s, Hamas, and PIJ, launched a series of suicide bombings that shocked the Israeli city centers and raised questions about the ability of the newly established PA in ruling the Palestinian Territories. Within about a decade into Oslo, the Palestinians felt frustrated with the outcomes of peace. Palestinians daily life became increasingly difficult and the construction of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land continued to expand at an unprecedented pace, resulting in the Second Palestinian Intifada of 2000. These conditions provided Hamas and its ‘resistance project’ more power and influence.

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2     Aims of Hamas

Hamas has two are political goals and one social objective.

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2.1  Liberation of Palestine

Since its creation, Hamas has always marketed itself as an Islamist movement engaged in a liberation struggle against a foreign occupier, focusing its goals and activities within the borders of historic Palestine. The latter feature distinguishes Hamas from other Islamist movements, which emphasize issues like corrupt regimes and global Jihad. Ending the Israeli occupation and protecting the Palestinian rights are still the core of Hamas’s narrative today.

Palestinians differ on where the borders of their aspired state should be. Some leaders of Hamas’s rival, Fatah, believe that the Palestinians state should be built on the pre-1967 borders, i.e. in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including East Jerusalem. Many Palestinians, however, still hope to establish their future state on all of historic Palestine, including the territory on which Israel was established in 1948. Hamas’s documents and official statements have repeatedly stressed that Palestine extends from River Jordan to the Mediterranean. Yet, Hamas’s April 2017 document states that the organization is willing to accept a Palestinian state on the pre-1967 borders. Commenting on this development, Hamas leaders clarified that the acceptance of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders is an intermediary move until the liberation of the rest of Palestine becomes more feasible.

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2.2  Welfare

Parallel to its military program, Hamas has a social objective. Since its nascent days, the organization established social welfare programs that provided basic services to the Palestinian society. Since these services were lacking in the Palestinian society, Hamas’s welfare assistance became invaluable. Until 1995, Hamas was the sole provider of social, educational, charitable and religious services. The PA, which set foot in the Territories in the mid-1990s tried to supply similar services but they were of lower quality compared to those of Hamas. In the long term, such services helped Hamas win the hearts and minds of many Palestinians.

Although almost all sources agree that delivery of welfare services is Hamas’s social goal, this objective carries within the elements of a strategy for yet another goal, ruling the Palestinian society and potentially establishing an Islamic Palestinian state (which will be discussed later). Hamas’s social, educational and other services were instrumental in garnering wide legitimacy and support in the Palestinian society, which in turn paved the way for later victories in the electoral sphere. Additionally, Hamas’s welfare and social institutions have helped the movement instill its Islamic ideology, which facilitated acceptance of Hamas’s Islamic project.

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2.3  Governing the Palestinians

In the past decade, Hamas has manifested interest in governing the Palestinian society. In the 1990s, Hamas boycotted the PA and the 1996 elections. About a decade later, Hamas participated in the municipal elections of 2005 and the parliamentary elections of 2006 in which it achieved a sweeping victory. As a result of these elections, Hamas governed the Palestinian society and participated in the PA, the institution it boycotted before. Some explain Hamas’s electoral victories by its solid support-base due to its social and military activities. Additionally, the Fatah-led PA through the 1990s and the first half of the 2000s suffered from corruption and patronage to the extent that the Palestinians were ready to try another alternative. Moreover, Hamas’s victory came after the collapse of the Oslo Agreement and the failure of the PA in establishing an independent state. Hamas’s determination to rule the Palestinian society is evident in its relations with its rival faction, Fatah. Both Hamas and Fatah turned their arms against each other in 2007, which is when Hamas took over the rule of the Gaza Strip.

After seizing power in the Gaza Strip, Hamas enforced an authoritarian and Islamic regime that arrested and tortured political opponents. Sharia courts were established, demonstrations were banned and violently repressed, and the media was censored. Of course, this is not a unique practice of Hamas in the region. In fact, Fatah’s PA had been using similar methods and restrictions in the West Bank, and so did many Arab countries, such as Egypt.

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3     Organizational Structure

Hamas’s leadership today is split between two main structures: its political bureau in Qatar[4] and its Gaza government, which occasionally find themselves at odds.

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3.1  The Political Bureau

Khaled Mashaal headed Hamas’s Political Bureau, the organization’s principal authority or executive branch, from 2004 until 2017. Former head of Hamas government in Gaza, Esmael Haniya, was elected in May 2017 to head the Political Bureau. Members of the political bureau are all elected by the movement’s Shura Council. The Bureau has fifteen members in Gaza Strip alone. It has several units, including a finance, a propaganda, foreign affairs and social welfare departments. The Political Bureau has four sections in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, the Israeli prisons and abroad. The general political bureau is composed of representatives from the four bureaus, 18 members in total. The head of the political bureau is also elected every four years.

The Bureau suffers from divisions due to differences between Gazans led by second-in-command Mousa Abu Marzouk, who is based in Cairo, Egypt, and the so-called Kuwaidia group, composed of West Bankers who have studied or worked in Kuwait, led by Khaled Mashal. Both groups work tightly together but Marzouk’s faction repeatedly criticized the Kuwaiti group because of its tendency to dominate key positions within Hamas’s Political Bureau.

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3.2  The Shura Council (Majlis al-Shura)

As Hamas’s central consultative body, the Shura Council is primarily responsible for decision- making. It oversees Hamas’s activities, and has representatives from the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Israeli prisons and Hamas’s leadership abroad. The council is rather secretive and includes respected religious figures. Under the Council, smaller Shura committees are employed to oversee various activities, including military operations and media relations. Local sub-committees in the West Bank and Gaza Strip report back to the Shura council and implement its decisions on the ground. Members of Hamas elect the Shura Council. Hamas’s recent internal elections in the Gaza Strip resulted in the election of 80 members of the Council’s branch in the Gaza Strip alone.

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3.3  Gaza Government

In February 2017, Yahya Sinwar, a founding member of the group’s armed wing, won Hamas’ internal elections for political leader of the organization in Gaza, replacing former Prime Minister Esmael Haniya. Lawmaker Khalil al-Hayya was elected his deputy. So far, Hamas’s Prime Minister has been in charge of the daily rule of the Gaza Strip. In April 2014, Haniyeh stepped down and assumed the role of deputy leader of Hamas as part of a failed reconciliation agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organization. Since 2006 and more so after its take-over of the Gaza Strip in 2007, Hamas’s Gaza government has been shunned by the international community, while it has struggled to pay the salaries of 40,000 municipal workers in the Strip.

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3.4  Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades

Named after a Syrian fighter killed by British in 1935, Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades is Hamas’s military wing. Although the Brigades were officially established in 1992, there were efforts to establish an armed wing even before the establishment of Hamas itself. The main goals of the Brigades are “to liberate all of Palestine from the Zionist occupation,” which fell in 1948, the fulfillment of the rights of the Palestinian people, mobilization of all of its resources, forces and capabilities, and the mobilization of the Arab and Islamic nations to launch Jihad for the liberation of Palestine.

According to a senior Hamas official, “The Izz al- Din al-Qassam Brigade is a separate armed military wing, which has its own leaders who do not take their orders from us and do not tell us of their plans in advance.” Most likely, however, this is the case at the operational level. Other Hamas senior leaders, e.g. the late founder and spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmad Yasin, indicated that the armed wing is not detached from the organization’s political body. The “about us” section of the Brigades’ website explains the relationship as “complementary and the organizational level and independent in the field.” It adds, the brigades are an integral part of the structure or the Hamas Movement.

In 2014, Hamas had an estimate of 20,000 fighters and another 20,000 police and security forces personnel. The Hamas-controlled Ministry of Finance in Gaza revealed in May 2014 that some 25,000 Hamas employees in Gaza work in the security services, and that the majority of them are members of the Qassam Brigades. Despite lack of clarity on the exact number of fighters, these figures were previously confirmed by Abu Obayda, the Brigades’ spokesperson in December 2012, who also added that in reality the Brigades rely on a larger number of fighters. The Brigades in general, are committed to a high level of secrecy regarding its structure, leadership and members.

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4     Recruitment

The political context is key determinant to Hamas’s ability to engage new recruits. Breakthroughs in the negotiations[5] with Israel were always followed by a decline in Hamas’s popularity and therefore, its ability to recruit new members. Alternatively, in the late 1990s, failure of the negotiations and the political solution preceded a considerable rise in Hamas’s support-base and recruitment. So far, Hamas has managed to expand its support-base to include all members of the Palestinian society, including university professors, students, doctors, lawyers, farmers, young to old, and men and women. Some reports demonstrate that the group has even recruited minors, including children under 15 years old.

As part of its recruitment procedures, Hamas always emphasizes the political circumstances that drive their use force against Israel. This entails a change in the circumstances would result in it dropping the weapon, without affecting its own identity as an Islamist-nationalist organization. Inside the Palestinian Territories, Hamas has a large base of passive supporters, who do not carry the arm and are not members of Hamas’s political structure but would vote for the organization if elections are held. Hamas also has active members, who are affiliated with the group’s military or political wings. Furthermore, Hamas has a large number of supporters abroad, among the Palestinian diaspora, as well as non-Palestinians. Although the latter group is not composed of members of the organization, it has an important role in providing legitimacy and funding for the organization, as well as Hamas’s social welfare networks.

In general, Hamas pays close attention to the importance of the media for recruitment. The media is a key instrument for mobilizing the people and it invests in its “resistant media.” Mobilizing the masses and selling its ideas about the resistance facilitate recruitment of new members and widen popular support. At an early stage, the Movement relied on leaflets and graffiti on the walls in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to mobilize the masses and encourage more recruits. Additionally, mosques and educational institutions were centers for the distribution of Hamas media materials. Today, in addition to its old methods, Hamas has its own information center, which keeps the organization’s website and news up-to-date, and other media institutions.

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4.1  Hamas’s Recruitment Centers

Recruitment for Hamas is usually carried out through its web of social activities. Hamas uses its charities, mosque classes, dawa centers, student unions, sport-clubs, summer camps, and other Hamas-run organizations to recruit new members through its preaching department. This applies to recruitment for religious, military, or even inactive roles. Hamas’s suicide bombing volunteers were recruited through mosques, charities, universities, student organization, and other political, military and social networks. The presence of Hamas through its welfare and religious organizations provided it with much credibility, which facilitates recruitment. The process of recruitment, however, takes place informally through familial relations or friendship that develop in the context of the above-mentioned institutions.[6] The recruitment usually includes a period of indoctrination, including historic education about Palestine and the occupation.

Hamas’s Dawa (preaching) installations also serve as recruitment centers. Sometimes, these Dawa centers reach the people through certain mosques. Recruiters at these mosques and Dawa centers identify suitable candidates. Many of these candidates are recruited when experiencing certain life difficulties. The Hamas recruiters talk to them about the afterlife and try to sell the idea that paradise awaits them if they provide their dues in Jihad.

Through its social activities, Hamas allocates monthly stipends for families of “martyrs,” which benefited the families of suicide-bombers. This, in turn, is perceived by many as an indirect recruitment mechanism of potential suicide bombers. Hamas recruiters are also present on university campuses, where recruitment usually happens through student groups. Hamas’s affiliate student group is known as al Kutla il Islamiya, or the Islamic Bloc. Partially funded by Hamas charities, the Bloc also functions as a component of Hamas’s Dawa infrastructure.

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4.2  Recruitment under recent developments

After several military confrontations with Israel, Hamas changed its recruitment strategy. This is due to rising demands for fighters. Today, the organization tries to attract new recruits through summer camps organized by its military wing. Then, they are referred to the preaching department, which contributes to their educational upbringing. This however, does not mean the organization has given up on its old ways, which rely in mosques and the preaching department.

As a result of the crack-down on Hamas infrastructure in the West Bank by the Fatah-led PA, Hamas has been facing many difficulties in engaging new recruits. In March, Israel released information about Hamas’s attempts at getting in touch with West Bank Palestinians who left to study in Egypt in order to recruit them. Mohammad Nazzal, a Palestinian student who led such endeavor, confessed to the Shin Bet, the Israeli domestic intelligence service, that he also coordinated new recruits visit to Gaza Strip for training purposes before heading back to the West Bank and perpetrate attacks against Israel. The goal of the Egypt cell is to rebuild Hamas’s militant infrastructure in the West Bank. Nazzal has also confessed on his role in facilitating weapons deliveries into the Gaza Strip, employing the weapons trafficking route from the Libya, and through Egypt.

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5     Training

5.1  Hamas Training Programs in the Gaza Strip

Hamas’s training activities take place inside the besieged Gaza Strip and abroad. Hamas offers annual martial arts training programs to its recruits. Trainings by Hamas’s military wing were held outside of Hamas’s military training camps in the Gaza Strip until 2014, which witnessed a 50-day war between Hamas and Israel. The candidates are usually trained to use weapons, kidnap soldiers and infiltrate into Israel via underground tunnels by the organization’s military wing. Such training employs many cases simulations. By graduation time, they know how to climb ropes, practice close-order drills, and fire Kalashnikov rifles and throw a grenade, as well as offer first aid. Hamas claims that such trainings are on high demand and thus, the organization has adapted expanded its training programs.

Hamas’s military training camps were previously run by the organization’s political wing. As of early 2015, Hamas’s Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades have been organizing camps for boys and young men dubbed the “Vanguards of the Liberation Camps,” during winter break in January and summer vacation in August. The trainers themselves are Qassam commanders dressed in khaki camouflage. Hamas perceives these camps as instruments to boost the Palestinian resistance and to absorb the frustrations Gaza’s unemployed youths. Although Qassam officers claim that the camps are not organized to feed the militia, candidates to the armed wing are chosen from the ranks of these camps.

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5.2  Hamas Training Abroad

Hamas operatives also receive trainings abroad. Scholars trace the beginnings of linkages between Hamas and Hezbollah to the early 1990s when Israel deported 418 Hamas and PIJ activists from Gaza Strip and the West Bank to Southern Lebanon. An unintended consequence of these deportations is the fact that Hamas managed to establish a direct link to Hezbollah and learn and get trained on its attack tactics, especially the use of suicide bombing, tunnels and rockets. Yet, this training targets higher-level operatives. Iran and pre-civil war Syria are known to be other providers of Hamas’s foreign trainings. Even during the imposition of a tight siege on the Gaza Strip, Hamas managed to receive military training abroad by crossing the borders with Egypt via underground tunnels or having Hezbollah and Iranian experts come to Gaza, also through the tunnels, to offer training. Hamas in Gaza learnt rocket making, and even imported advanced rockets from its allies Hezbollah, Syria and Iran via the tunnels. Different sources indicate that Hamas positioned itself even closer to Iran and its allies after the imposition of the Gaza siege in 2007.

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6     Hamas Financing

Hamas has developed a complex financial structure that relies on different sources of income. First, Hamas receives financial and other support from counties like Iran. Second, Hamas receives donations from the Palestinian diaspora, as well as non-Palestinians. Third, Hamas carries out fund-raising activities abroad, including the Gulf countries, Western Europe and North America. Fourth, Hamas has also developed its own income-generating schemes and collects taxes from the Gaza Strip residents.

Hamas government’s 2014 budget was $894 million, covering salaries and wages, ($509 million); operating expenses ($114 million); transferable expenses ($111 million); and capital expenses ($160 million). The security and public order sector was allocated $261 million (34%) in the 2014 budget, covering the traditional sectors of security, police, national security, the Ministry of Local Government, the Land Authority and the religious judiciary. Today, Hamas’s financial structure and procurement strategy are based on state sponsorship and third-party donations, in addition to self-funding. The following paragraphs will be dedicated to covering Hamas’s main sources of funds.

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6.1  Charities

With its roots in the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas is collects Zakat[7] (Islamic charity) to carry out its missions and goals. In this vain, Hamas has developed an effective network of charitable organizations that finance its extensive welfare programs. However, Hamas-affiliated charities do not officially fund the groups’ armed wing, which is mostly done by Iran or through the Hamas’s Political Bureau. Hamas claims that separation between its armed wing and its social welfare activities, in an attempt to facilitate fundraising for its social activities. However, the line between the two activities is not clear, especially that as indicated above, several of its social networks are used for recruitment.

Several charities work in different countries to collect funds on behalf of Hamas. These charities are especially active in countries were Hamas is designated as a terrorist organization. Some of these charities are themselves designated after being exposed by the local authorities. For example, The Canadian charity International Relief Fund for the Afflicted and Needy in Ottawa was labeled a terrorist organization, and went through a terrorist financing investigation, which revealed that the organization funneled approximately $14.6 million worth of resources to various groups affiliated with Hamas between 2005 and 2009.

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6.2  Donations

During the Second Palestinian Intifada, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and other countries collected and funneled millions of dollars to Hamas and other Palestinian militant organizations for what is known as “martyr payments.” In November 2001 alone, the Saudi Committee in Support of Intifadat al Quds allocated about 5000 euros for every Martyr’s family. Recently, Hamas has been accused of diverting international humanitarian aids to the Gaza Strip to fund its military program.

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6.3  Gaza Tunnels

The tunnel network under the Rafah border linking Egypt with the Gaza Strip were first built to connect separated families in the early 1980s. Almost immediately, involved clans started to use their tunnels to transport illegal commodities between the two sides. When the Second Palestinian Intifada broke out in late 2000, Hamas and other militant groups started to cooperate with the tunnel gangs to import military resources and knowledge. With the development of tunnels in the 2000s, Hamas started to impose taxes on smuggled goods. Being a lucrative business, Hamas itself started to fund tunnel construction and raise funds at Gaza mosques. The number of tunnels reportedly grew from a few dozens in 2005, with an annual revenue of $30 million per year, to at least 500 by December 2008, with a revenue of $36 million per month. The Egyptian military closed the majority of the smuggling tunnels in late 2013 after it deposed the Muslim Brotherhood government, sending Gaza into an economic crisis. There is no indication however, that the tunnel activity is completely halted.

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6.4  Friendly Governments

Iran has supplied Hamas with hundreds of millions of dollars. The Iranian support continued through the 2000s in the form of military assistance. After Hamas’s victory in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections, Iran provided Hamas an estimated €15-17 million a month for governing costs. This aid, however, has shrunk since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war. Iran has sided with the Assad regime and Hamas with the Syrian rebels. In March 2014, nevertheless, the Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani said that relations between Hamas and Iran are back to normal and that Iran continued to support Hamas as a “resistance organization.” Yet, some Hamas officials denied improved relations with Iran.

Moreover, Qatar has invested heavily in the Gazan economy. In October 2012, and following an Israeli military operation, Qatar launched a $254 million plan to modernize Gaza.  Later, Doha upped its investment to $400 million.  When Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation agreement in April 2014, the Fatah-led PA refused to pay the salaries of Hamas civil servants in the Gaza Strip. Qatar attempted to transfer hundreds of millions of dollars to Hamas through the Arab Bank to pay the salaries of 44,000 employees, but the United States blocked the transfers. Hamas receives support from other countries, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

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7     Hamas’s Strategy and Tactics

7.1  Social Welfare

Hamas adopted a myriad of strategies spanning the armed struggle to social welfare. While the first targeted Israel, the second was Hamas’s strategy towards the Palestinian society. From the outset, Hamas had a social welfare program. It, thus, built and participated in a network of social, educational, health, charitable and religious institutions, that helped the Palestinian poor. The organization’s social work provided basic services to the Palestinian society that it became to be the core of its strategic strength. The role of Hamas in such network was directly felt personally by a great number of Palestinians. The organization has managed to maintain a good level of honesty and transparency in its welfare activities that always stood in contrast to the corruption of other factions. This of course quickly widened Hamas’s support base inside and outside Palestine and paved the way to its political victories in 2005 and 2006.

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7.2  The Armed Struggle

Hamas also adopted the strategy of armed resistance to the Israeli occupation. The persistence of its central goal, the liberation of Palestine and fighting Israel as an occupying force, always gave Hamas the motivation to attack Israel. Hamas made a choice about which attack tactics to use, which would help achieve its overarching goal. Hamas sees tactics like suicide bombings, rocket, tunnel operations and ambushes as small steps towards a larger goal. This is why Hamas, and other Palestinian militant groups, continue to attack Israel.

Hamas built its military wing, Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, to lead the armed fight against Israel. Militarily, factors like available resources and skills determined the organization’s selected tactics. Hamas’s attack tactics have evolved over time; Hamas sees the development of its attack tactics, as well as introducing new ones, a natural development. Hamas contends that after having Israel tightly closing the Gaza Strip, militants lost many of their military raw materials and arsenals. As a result, they resorted to alternative methods to fight.


In the first Intifada, Hamas operatives participated in stone-throwing, as well as ambushing Israeli forces. After establishing direct links with the Lebanese Hezbollah in early 1990s, Hamas employed suicide bombing in Israeli city centers. After the outbreak of the Second Palestinian Intifada, Hamas introduced rocket attacks, which initially targeted Israeli settlements inside the Gaza Strip, and Israeli towns outside of the Strip later on. At the beginning, these rockets had very limited range and accuracy; then, they witnessed significant technical improvement. In 2014, rockets landed in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Ashkelon. Additionally, Hamas introduced tunnel-operations in mid-2000s to become some of Hamas’s unique attacks tactics. Tunnel operations were well-planned and coordinated and were frequently employed to attack Israeli military bases outside of the Gaza Strip.

Furthermore, Hamas has also introduced other tactics, e.g. kidnapping of Israeli soldiers. The Qassam Brigades considers this tactic as one of the most successful because it helps Hamas garner many victories, including prisoners exchange. More recently, Hamas developed its own drones, which are so far, used for intelligence collection only but may be used to attack Israel.

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7.3  Governing

Despite its objection to the Oslo Accords, Hamas has developed another strategy that required participation in the Palestinian political process and resulted in becoming in control of institutions built by the Accords. About two decades into its establishment, Hamas started to achieve major victories at low-level elections, e.g. student unions, municipality, syndicates, and others. Hamas decided to participate in the wider political life in 2006, when the organization took part in the Palestinian parliamentary elections. After winning the majority of seats, Hamas has become increasingly involved in the Palestinian political life.

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8     Conclusion

Hamas is different from terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State (IS). Hamas’s strategy and tactics target three types of audiences: the Palestinian Society, Israel and the Arab and international communities. The Palestinian society is recipient of its social welfare services. Hamas also governs part of the Palestinian society, in the Gaza Strip. The second audience is Israel. Hamas perceives Israel as a foreign occupier and thus, should be resisted by all means, including militarily. The Arab and international communities are important for Hamas for a number of reasons. Hamas is interested in being recognized as a legal representative of the Palestinian people, or at least not as a terrorist organization. The Arab and international communities are also potential sources of funds, either in the form of donations, international aid or charity work.

Evidently, the Palestinians found in Hamas an alternative to the corrupt Fatah. Services provided by Hamas were completely lacking in the late 1980s-early 1990s. Similar services were not provided by the Fatah–controlled PA. Fatah institutions were much more corrupt than those of Hamas. Yet, some claim that Hamas’s services are merely a veil that covers funding its military operations. Regardless of the reasons behind establishing such a network, these services surely helped Hamas gain legitimacy and side popular support amongst the Palestinians.

The 2006 parliamentary elections presented Hamas as a potential legitimate, democratically elected government. Many external factors intervened due to listing the group as a terrorist organization by several international actors, which resulted in boycotting Hamas and the siege on the Gaza Strip. No one would know how would Hamas perform if its rule after winning the elections was recognized internationally. Hamas’s rule over the Gaza Strip is ten years old now. Different sources indicate that this rule has become increasingly corrupt and oppressive. The press is strictly controlled and the people are nervous and avoid criticizing the government in public. This makes the situation catastrophic when one brings in other factors, e.g. lack of power supplies, pollution, clear water, high employment rates and completely absent freedom of movement. Hamas’s popularity has been surely waning.

With the deteriorating situation in the Gaza Strip, Hamas announced its willingness to cooperate with and concede some authorities to the internationally recognized Fatah-led PA. A national consensus government was formed in 2014, the role of which is yet to be seen in the Gaza Strip. In March 2017, Hamas formed an administrative committee to manage the Gaza Strip without consultation with the PA. Hamas claims that this committee is not meant to replace the consensus government. Observers warn, however, that its de facto control, coupled with these developments indicate that Hamas is preparing to launch its “State of Gaza,” which will be completely separate from the West Bank, not only geographically but also politically.

This begs the question, does Hamas in the Gaza Strip operate as a state or a political organization? Although Hamas has maintained its relations and structure as an organization that it had before entering the Palestinian political process in 2006, its government in the Gaza Strip has a structure of a state. When Hamas took over the Gaza Strip, it also took over the PA ministries that were set up to administer life and provide different sorts of services, such as health and education. In the end, Hamas has had a specific rule over a specific plot of land and over a population. These are some of the basic features of a state. However, as indicated above, this state has failed to fulfill its duties towards the population and lacks international recognition, particularly by the US and other important actors.

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[1] The Gaza Strip was under Egyptian rule from 1948 to 1967. The West Bank on the other hand was governed by Jordan.

[2] Other Palestinian local groups were formed during the British Mandate, but they were less organized and less coordinated than the Fidayeen and similar groups. For instance, in the context of the Palestinian-Arab revolt of the 1930s, launched against the British and their support for the Jewish immigration to Palestine and Jews’ land purchases, local armed groups proliferated and attacked Jewish settlements and interests. These groups were primarily men who owned rifles but had no military training (Pappé, 2006).

[3] An umbrella organization under which centralized the Palestinian resistance groups. The PLO was established in 1964 but was recognized internationally as the sole legal representative of the Palestinian people. The PLO was engaged in a protracted guerilla war against Israel until signing a peace agreement with Israel in the early 1990s.

[4] In 2012, the political bureau moved out of Damascus due to Hamas support for the Syrian revolution against the Assad regime.

[5] Fatah, Hamas’s rival has represented the Palestinian side in the negotiations with Israel.

[6] This is also the case for secular movements in Palestine.

[7] Zakat is one of the five pillars of Islam