Israel's Islamist Enemies

Two avowedly Islamist groups, Hamas and Hezbollah, are warring with Israel. Who are they, and what are their goals?

What Is Hamas?

The Islamic Resistance Movement, commonly known as Hamas (the acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya, its name in Arabic), is the largest and most influential militant Palestinian movement. In the January 2006 elections in the Palestinian Authority, Hamas won the majority of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council and thus took control of the Palestinian government, which had previously been held by Fatah, the party of the late Yasser Arafat, since the founding of the Palestinian National Authority in 1994.


Hamas was founded in 1987, during the first Palestinian intifada against Israel, by Sheik Ahmed Yassin as the Palestinian arm of the Egyptian group the Muslim Brotherhood. Like the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas delivered social services to Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and thus gained a large and very loyal following among the Palestinian people, the majority of whom lived in squalid camps under dismal conditions. Even after the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, Palestinian governance was plagued by mismanagement and corruption, and Hamas continued to deliver essential services to many Palestinians.

Hamas also has a military wing which has focused on attacks on Israel, including suicide bombings and rocket and mortar fire from the occupied territories into Israel.

On June 25, Hamas militants in Gaza entered Israel through an underground tunnel, killing two Israeli soldiers and capturing a third, Corporal Gilad Shalit. This attack precipitated the Israeli assault on Gaza that began two days later.

What is the role of Islam in Hamas?

Hamas is dedicated to bringing the rule of Islam to Palestine. “The Movement’s program is Islam," the group’s charter declares. It also states that “Israel will exist, and will continue to exist, until Islam abolishes it, as it abolished that which was before it," and calls for the replacement of secular governance of Palestinians with the “banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.” In this view, Hamas is restoring the Dar al-Islam, the rule of Islam, in territory they regard as having been wrested from Muslim control by Western invaders.

After taking control of the Palestinian government, Hamas leaders placed verses of the Qur’an on the walls of the Palestinian Legislative Council’s chambers.

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