The key to understanding Hamas

It is an ideological organization. Its Covenant spells out the ideology.

Palestinian fighters in the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 27, 2020. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
Palestinian fighters in the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 27, 2020. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
Douglas J. Feith. Credit: Courtesy.
Douglas J. Feith
Douglas J. Feith, a senior fellow at Hudson Institute, served as Under Secretary of Defense in the George W. Bush administration.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has just warned against “this false equivalence between a terrorist group—Hamas—that is indiscriminately launching rockets at civilians and Israel, which is responding to those attacks.” Meanwhile, President Joe Biden has so far prevented the U.N. Security Council from demanding an immediate Hamas-Israel ceasefire. Israel is using the time to try to restore its deterrence by inflicting costs on Hamas and limiting the terrorists’ ability to operate.

This shows far more appreciation of Israel’s strategic requirements than Secretary of State John Kerry and the Obama team displayed during the Hamas-Israel war seven years ago. Kerry, as I said in an article I co-authored at the time in National Review Online, was pressing Israel for a ceasefire as if he were mediating between two friends of the United States and his task was to arrange a win-win outcome. His apparent assumption was that Hamas’s leaders preferred peace to war, cared about the humanitarian and economic concerns of ordinary Palestinians, and were willing to compromise.

In contrast, key Biden team members seem to understand what Hamas is.

Yet much of the public debate about the current fighting reflects the same unawareness about the nature of Hamas and its goals, as was the case in 2014. Journalists, government officials and others often use the term “violence” to refer both to Hamas terrorism and Israeli self-defense operations. They adopt a neutral stance between Hamas and Israel—as reflected, for example, in calls for “proportionality” in offense and defense or calls for “both sides” to restrain themselves. They ignore the crucial distinction between Hamas, which purposefully kills its enemies’ civilians and endangers its own civilians, and Israel, which exerts itself to avoid hurting enemy civilians and protects its own civilians. These are signs not just of misinformation, but moral confusion.

To shed some light on Hamas, some of the key points from my 2014 National Review Online article warrant repeating:

Hamas is the Arabic acronym for Islamic Resistance Movement, and its Covenant, in its own words, “clarifies [the Movement’s] picture, reveals its identity, outlines its stand, explains its aims, speaks about its hopes, and calls for its support, adoption and joining its ranks. Our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious.” The Covenant, published when Hamas was founded in 1988, declares:

  • “Withdrawal from the circle of struggle is high treason and a curse on the doer.
  • “There is no solution to the Palestinian Problem except by Jihad. The initiatives, operations, and international conferences are a waste of time and a kind of child’s play.”
  • “The Islamic Resistance Movement is an outstanding type of Palestinian movement. It gives its loyalty to Allah, adopts Islam as a system of life, and works toward raising the banner of Allah on every inch of Palestine.”
  • “Even though the Islamic Resistance Movement looks forward to fulfill the promise of Allah no matter how long it takes because the Prophet of Allah says: The Last Hour would not come until the Muslims fight against the Jews and the Muslims would kill them, and until … a stone or a tree would say: Muslim or Servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him.”
  • “When an enemy occupies some of the Muslim lands, Jihad becomes obligatory for every Muslim.”
  • “As far as the ideology of the Islamic Resistance Movement is concerned, giving up any part of Palestine is like giving up part of its religion.”
  • “Due to the Islamic Resistance Movement’s knowledge of the participating parties of the conference, and the participants’ past and present opinions and stands on Muslim interests, the Islamic Resistance Movement does not perceive that the [Arab-Israeli peace] conferences are able to deliver the demands, provide the rights, or do justice to the oppressed. Those conferences are nothing but a form of enforcing the rule of the unbelievers in the land of Muslims.”
  • “The Motto of The Islamic Resistance Movement: … Allah is its Goal. The Messenger is its Leader. The Quran is its Constitution. Jihad is its methodology, and Death for the sake of Allah is its most coveted desire.”

Hamas is an ideological organization. Its war against Israel is ideological. The Covenant spells out the ideology. One can say nothing meaningful about the origins, stakes or morality of the Hamas-Israel war without assimilating the lessons of the Covenant.

Douglas J. Feith, a senior fellow at Hudson Institute, served from July 2001 to August 2005 as U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. 

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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