The Palestinian militant group Hamas is often characterized as a bloodthirsty, Iran-backed Islamist terrorist group determined to destroy Israel by any means necessary. However, there are deeper questions about the group’s political objectives, its evolution over time, and the convergence or collision of its political and military identities. Moreover, experts argue that the Western understanding of Hamas often overlooks how the group is perceived in its base of operations in the Gaza strip and the wider Muslim world.
Some experts suggest that Hamas’ recent terrorist assault on Israel may have actually increased its support among its followers and those outraged by perceived injustices committed by the Israeli government. While Hamas may not win an election in the immediate future, its constituency is believed to be growing.
Regional powers such as Turkey even go as far as to argue that Hamas is a liberation group fighting for its lands and people, rather than a terrorist organization. However, Israel vehemently rejects this characterization and condemns Hamas as a despicable terrorist organization responsible for countless civilian deaths.
Hamas’ goals and its role as both a political movement and an armed force are complex. There are differing views within the group itself regarding core goals and strategies. While some advocate for a more pragmatic approach, others favor violence. Hamas’ famous slogan, “From the river to the sea,” is often interpreted as a call to destroy Israel, but some argue that the group has more realistic aims.
Hamas emerged in the late 1980s as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, during the Palestinians’ first uprising against Israel. Its founding document, or “covenant,” makes clear its objective of raising “the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine” and calls for jihad against Israel. While there have been attempts to moderate Hamas’ image, its goal of liberating Palestinian lands remains steadfast.
Despite Hamas’ violent tactics, the group is widely accepted among Palestinians as part of legitimate political discourse. Its popularity and perception range among Palestinians, with many recognizing Hamas as a legitimate Palestinian actor, even if they do not support its extremism.
Hamas receives funding from external sources like Iran and Qatar, with some of that money intended for humanitarian purposes. However, some of it ends up supporting Hamas’ paramilitary activities. The recent attack on Israel may have been motivated, in part, by a desire to demonstrate Hamas’ military capabilities and ability to confront and threaten Israel.
Following the attack, Hamas’ hope of being acknowledged as a legitimate political actor by Israel and its Western allies seems dim. The international community is unlikely to accept any legitimation of Hamas, and the group’s presence in Palestinian politics has been further undermined.