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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

30 Years On: Hamas Still Promotes Terrorism, Calls for Israel’s Ruin

A Palestinian fighter from Hamas gestures inside an underground tunnel in Gaza, Aug. 18, 2014. (Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

Established in 1987 as the violent Palestinian offshoot of the Egyptian-based Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas has never veered from its original goal: destroying Israel and replacing it through “armed struggle” with an Islamist Palestinian state. For 30 years, Hamas has pursued this objective through suicide bombings, rocket strikes, kidnappings, attack tunnels, and other forms of terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians.


A straight line leads from Hamas’ infamous 1988 charter, which said “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it,” to its most recent statement in January 2018. Following the shooting murder of father-of-six Raziel Shevah, Hamas stated: “the Nablus attack is the first practical response with fire to remind the enemy's leaders that what you feared has now come. The West Bank will remain a knife in your body."


The myth that “Israel created Hamas”


Since the turn of the century, when Hamas’ international standing sharply deteriorated following its campaign of murderous suicide bombings in public places, detractors of Israel have sought to shift blame by assiduously spreading the myth that “Israel created Hamas.” But a quick review of Hamas’ origins dispels this defamatory myth.


Prior to Hamas’ official creation, it was an Islamic charity known as Mujama al-Islamiya (Islamic Association), established in Gaza in 1973 by the imam Ahmed Yassin as an offshoot of the Egyptian-based Islamist group Muslim Brotherhood. Until its metamorphosis 14 years later into Hamas, it engaged in charitable work and provided medical and social services to Gaza’s Palestinian residents. Since, at the time, Hamas’ bitter rival—the Yasir Arafat-led Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)—was perpetrating horrific terrorist attacks, Israel allowed the still-peaceful Islamic charity to operate in Gaza as a counterweight to the PLO. This is a far cry from having “created Hamas.”


The Hamas charter: A call for genocide


Soon after its establishment, Hamas’ leaders set out to develop its founding charter as a blueprint for its future ideology and activities. Adopted in August 1988, the 36-article, 9,000-word charter—which has never been revoked—is replete with anti-Semitic statements, incitement and violent threats against Israel. Here’s a sample:


"The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say ‘O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’"


“With their money, they took control of the world media, news agencies, the press, publishing houses, broadcasting stations, and others. With their money they stirred revolutions in various parts of the world with the purpose of achieving their interests and reaping the fruit therein…With their money they formed secret societies, such as Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, the Lions and others in different parts of the world for the purpose of sabotaging societies and achieving Zionist interests…They were behind World War I…They were behind World War II, through which they made huge financial gains by trading in armaments, and paved the way for the establishment of their state.”


“The Zionist plan is limitless. After Palestine, the Zionists aspire to expand from the Nile to the Euphrates. When they will have digested the region they overtook, they will aspire to further expansion, and so on. Their plan is embodied in the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion,’ and their present conduct is the best proof of what we are saying.”


“In face of the Jews' usurpation of Palestine, it is compulsory that the banner of Jihad be raised.”


“There is no way out except by concentrating all powers and energies to face this Nazi, vicious Tatar invasion.”


“…[L]iberation of Palestine is…an individual duty for every Moslem wherever he may be.”

“[Hamas] strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.”

“[Hamas] believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf [endowment] consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgement Day.”

“Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of [Hamas].”


Understandably, this vile charter has undermined Hamas’ standing in the West. Therefore, Hamas supporters hailed the May 2017 publication of a new policy document that declared, for the first time, a willingness to accept an interim Palestinian state in the territories—albeit without recognizing Israel. The document also said Hamas' struggle was not with Jews but with "occupying Zionist aggressors." In contrast to the charter, the new document did not mention Hamas' parent organization—the Muslim Brotherhood—which was then, and still is, banned in Egypt.


The BBC quoted analysts as saying that the document was “aimed at improving relations with the outside world, including Egypt and Gulf Arab states, where the Brotherhood is also banned.” According to the BBC, “Hamas says [the new document] does not replace the charter,” and it accepts an interim Palestinian state “as a stage towards the ‘liberation’ of all of historic Palestine west of the River Jordan” (emphasis added). The document says Hamas still does not recognize Israel's right to exist “in any part of the land” and still advocates violence against Israelis.


Incitement to violence and the elimination of Israel


For 30 years, Hamas has issued many thousands of statements calling for Israel’s violent annihilation. These statements have taken multiple forms: press releases, interviews, fatwas (Islamic legal opinions), sermons, radio and television broadcasts, school textbooks, pages on social media, literature, movies, plays, songs and more.


Each statement clearly draws inspiration and direction from the 1988 charter. In 2016, both Facebook and Twitter took the unusual step of shutting down popular pages managed by Hamas due to their content inciting violence against Israelis. One closed Twitter account alone—managed by Hamas’ spokesman—had as many as 156,000 followers.


In 2013, the New York Times ran an article on Hamas’ use of textbooks—a potent tool for indoctrinating young minds—to promote its agenda:


“What Gaza teenagers are reading in their 50-page hardcover texts this fall includes references to the Jewish Torah and Talmud as ‘fabricated,’ and a description of Zionism as a racist movement whose goals include driving Arabs out of all of the area between the Nile in Africa and the Euphrates in Iraq, Syria and Turkey.


“‘Palestine,’ in turn, is defined as a state for Muslims stretching from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. A list of Palestinian cities includes Haifa, Beersheba and Acre—all within Israel’s 1948 borders. And the books rebut Jewish historical claims to the territory by saying, ‘The Jews and the Zionist movement are not related to Israel, because the sons of Israel are a nation which had been annihilated.’”


To further reinforce the textbooks’ messages, Hamas runs annual training camps in Gaza for thousands of schoolchildren to learn how to use weapons and explosives in order to “emulate the path of the shahids” (martyrs).


A history of terrorism


Over the years, Hamas has relentlessly practiced what it preaches by way of attacking Israelis with Molotov cocktails, followed by suicide bombings, rocket attacks, kidnappings, attack tunnels and more. As a tactically pragmatic (not to be confused with moderate) organization, Hamas has varied its terrorist methods and at times even paused its violent activities to maximize its gains or minimize its losses.


Thus far, Hamas has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, Canada, the European Union, Japan (which froze Hamas’ assets), Egypt and, of course, Israel. In addition, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom have designated Hamas’ “military wing” as a terrorist organization (a false distinction, since Hamas’ political leadership controls both the “political wing” and the “military wing”).


During the First Intifada (1987-1993), Hamas—still in its infancy—played second fiddle to the PLO, which carried out the bulk of the shootings, stabbings and Molotov cocktail attacks on Israeli civilians. Yet among the 100 Israeli civilians killed and 1,400 injured during that period, dozens were killed and hundreds injured by Hamas.


Suicide bombings:


Hamas perpetrated its first suicide bombing in April 1993, killing one person and injuring ten. The following year, the pace of Hamas suicide bombings greatly accelerated when it perpetrated five suicide attacks that killed 38 Israelis and injured another 13. Among these attacks, the most horrifying was the Dizengoff Street bombing, which killed 21 Israeli civilians and one Dutch national in the heart of Tel Aviv.


After a relative hiatus in 1995, when Hamas conducted “only” two suicide bombings killing 10 Israeli civilians, the death toll increased dramatically in 1996, when Hamas murdered 59 Israelis in four suicide attacks; among those, two bombings were carried out in February and March on Bus No. 18 in Jerusalem, killing 45 Israelis.


The years 1997-2000 saw another relative hiatus: During those four years, Hamas carried out nine suicide bombings that killed 31 Israelis—fewer than the number of Israeli fatalities in 1996 alone.


Then came the Second Intifada (late 2000-2005), and with it a rapid growth in Hamas attacks. As many as 64 Hamas suicide bombings (sometimes in collaboration with one or two other terrorist organizations) were carried out during those years, killing 324 Israelis and injuring many more. In 2002 alone, 138 Israelis were murdered in 21 Hamas suicide bombings, including the deadliest such attack in Israel’s history: In March 2002, Hamas perpetrated the Passover Massacre during a Seder at the Park Hotel in Netanya, killing 30 civilians—mostly elderly, including Holocaust survivors—and injuring 140.


But by 2005, Hamas leaders concluded that the suicide bombings had actually been counterproductive. Far from advancing Hamas’ goal of “liberating Palestine,” they had severely damaged the Palestinian cause and inflicted immense material losses on the Palestinian residents of the territories. Accordingly, Hamas’ focus shifted to firing mortar shells and rockets from Gaza into Israeli population centers.


Mortar and rocket attacks:


Soon after the Second Intifada broke out, Hamas began firing mortar shells and short-range Qassam rockets from the Gaza Strip. At the time, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) was still present in Gaza, as were nearly 8,000 Jewish settlers. But under the Oslo Accords, most of the area was under the security and administrative control of the Palestinian Authority (PA), which did little to stop those attacks, mostly directed at Israeli settlements in Gaza.


The first major change occurred in August 2005, when Israel withdrew overnight all its soldiers and settlers from the Gaza Strip and the entire area fell under full Palestinian control. After Hamas won the January 2006 parliamentary elections, a Hamas-majority government in partnership with Fatah was formed. While shifting its rocket fire from the settlements (now removed) to small Israeli towns in Gaza’s close proximity, Hamas was now able to extend the range of its Qassam rockets. In July 2006, a Hamas-launched, upgraded Qassam rocket landed in Ashkelon, a major Israeli city with more than 100,000 residents. Hamas fired barrages of rockets into Israel; while Israeli casualties were relatively light, the frequent rocket launches disrupted the lives of nearby residents and forced them to flee into bomb shelters.


The second major change was the violent Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007. Hamas terrorists killed dozens of Fatah activists, throwing some of them from the rooftops of high-rise buildings. Since then, Hamas has retained full control of Gaza.


Almost immediately after the takeover, Hamas began a campaign of launching almost daily barrages of rockets into Israeli cities and towns.


In early 2009, Ashdod and Beersheba (200,000 inhabitants each) were hit by longer-range Hamas rockets, mainly Katyusha and Grad, smuggled through tunnels from Egypt and by boat. In 2012, Israel’s capital Jerusalem (800,000 inhabitants) and Tel Aviv (400,000 inhabitants) were targeted with locally made M-75 and Iranian Fajr-5 rockets, respectively. In July 2014, Haifa (200,000 inhabitants)—nearly 100 miles north of Gaza—was targeted for the first time.


In an effort to stem the rocket launches, the IDF mounted three major operations in the Gaza Strip—Operations Cast Lead in 2008-2009, Pillar of Defense in 2012, and Protective Edge in 2014. The first two operations led to temporary pauses in rocket launches; the third has continued to deter Hamas from firing rockets, both because of the massive destruction it inflicted on Hamas’ infrastructure and because of the effectiveness of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. But other terrorist organizations in Gaza continue to fire rockets into Israeli towns. Israel holds Hamas—Gaza’s governing authority—responsible for all attacks emanating from its territory and has often responded by attacking Hamas assets in Gaza. Meanwhile, Hamas continues to amass rockets and other weaponry for future attacks on Israel and test-fired rockets into the Mediterranean Sea earlier this month.


Abductions:


Based on the high value that Israelis place on the lives and freedom of their fellow citizens, Israel released—as of the early 1980s—thousands of imprisoned Palestinian terrorists in return for a handful of captured Israelis. Hamas took notice, and began taking hostages to extract the release of incarcerated Hamas terrorists.


As early as 1994, Hamas kidnapped the Israeli soldier Nachshon Wachsman, murdering him during an IDF rescue operation. In 2006, Hamas abducted IDF tank gunner Gilad Shalit. He was released five years later in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian terrorists held in Israeli prisons. In 2014, Hamas terrorists kidnapped three Israeli boys near Jerusalem, murdering all three after one of the boys called the police on his cellphone. And in violation of the Geneva Conventions, Hamas is holding for ransom the bodies of two Israeli soldiers it killed and abducted during Operation Protective Edge in 2014. Israel’s security services have thwarted several Hamas plots to kidnap Israelis, most recently just last month.


Attack tunnels:


Hamas has created and used smuggling tunnels from the Gaza Strip into Egypt since 1983, a year after the completion of Israel’s withdrawal from Sinai under the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. Egypt has also since constructed a barrier on the border between then-Israeli held Gaza and its own territory. Hundreds of such tunnels have been dug and used both for passing civilian contraband and for smuggling a variety of weapons, including rockets. The current Egyptian government has destroyed most of those tunnels, but some are thought to remain in operation.


A second system of tunnels runs within the Gaza Strip itself, with the purpose of concealing weapons and explosives, hiding terrorists and enabling them to surprise Israeli soldiers engaged in operations inside Gaza.


The third system is of the greatest concern to Israel. Those are attack tunnels that originate in Gaza and end in Israel. Cross-border tunnels were used in the abduction of Gilad Shalit in 2006, and by Hamas terrorists to attack Israeli soldiers during the 2014 Operation Protective Edge. In response, the IDF reportedly "neutralized" 32 tunnels, 14 of which had crossed into Israel. 


Given the proximity of Israeli towns to Gaza, the possibility that Hamas will use the attack tunnels to abduct Israeli civilians has been of even greater concern. Israel has made significant efforts to prevent this scenario. It is, for example, building an underground barrier along the Gaza-Israel border, and has invented a sophisticated tunnel-detection system. These efforts are already bearing fruit. Earlier this month, the IDF detected and destroyed a Hamas cross-border attack tunnel—the third in recent months—which penetrated hundreds of yards into both Israeli and Egyptian territory from the Gaza Strip.


Conclusion


While Iran remains Israel’s foremost long-term strategic threat, Hamas is second only to Hezbollah as an immediate threat to Israel’s security and the lives of its citizens. By successfully disseminating its core, unchanged ideology of destroying Israel through “armed struggle” and replacing it with an Islamist Palestinian state, Hamas has managed to indoctrinate and recruit many young Palestinians to commit suicide bombings, fire rockets, kidnap Israelis and dig attack tunnels.


Unfortunately, the current lull in Hamas’ attacks is the product of Israeli deterrence, not a change of heart. Hamas will strike again as soon as it believes that the benefits of another round of fighting outweigh the costs. That is why, similarly to Hezbollah, Hamas continues to amass thousands of increasingly effective rockets with the hope that their sheer number will eventually overwhelm Israel’s Iron Dome. Hamas is also likely to continue its effort to abduct Israelis in order to secure the release of imprisoned Hamas terrorists.


Israel, therefore, remains vigilant. It is doing all it can to continue deterring Hamas from renewing its attacks, while simultaneously developing countermeasures to block any future Hamas strikes. It is incumbent upon the U.S. government to wholeheartedly support these Israeli efforts against the terrorist organization Hamas.


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