History Wars

A basic guide to understanding the terrorist organization Hamas

Here’s what we know about the group known as Hamas, including why they’ve recently come into the public eye.
A Hamas rocket that was launched from the Gaza Strip.
A Hamas rocket that was launched from the Gaza Strip.

The Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas, has come into world news in recent weeks. And for many, this is the first time they’ve heard of the Sunni Islamist political/military organization. (Or the first time in decades.) However, the terrorist group has been in existence since 1987. 

Here’s what we know about Hamas, including why they’ve recently come into the public eye

Hamas is the de facto government of Palestine and holds its headquarters in the Gaza Strip, along the western edge of Israel, which essentially surrounds the state’s western territory. The two sides have battled over the territory several times over, in multiple wars: 2008-2009, 2012, 2014, and again in 2023. Those are the basics. 

A map of the Gaza Strip and its proximity to Israel. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
A map of the Gaza Strip and its proximity to Israel.

Their name comes from an acronym of Arabic words, HMS, translating to Islamic Resistance Movement.

They believe the State of Israel is illegal and illegitimate. This is stated in their charter. (And likely serves as the motivation toward recent events.) In fact, they have formally committed to destroying Israel, not stopping until every Jew is dead. They want to replace Israel with their Islamic beliefs, though they have stated they will settle with a Palestinian state. Further, they are led by their anti-Semitic beliefs and strong emphasis of jihad, or holy war. 

Next, they don’t follow the rules of the Geneva Convention. The group has notably attacked children and civilians in their bombing and outside attacks. They don’t differentiate between the two; in their eyes, Israeli is Israeli.  However, they also sacrifice their own members through suicide bombing.

They dispatched a suicide bombing attack in 2000 but agreed to a truce in 2005. The United States and Israel have placed formal orders for Hamas to stop the attacks, which they have ignored. In 2002, their first female suicide bomber attacked Jerusalem.

Hamas is rumored to have ample firepower, including rockets that are short and long-range, missiles and high-powered guns.

Since 2001, they have averaged three rocket attacks per day. That’s more than 15,000 in total. They use Palestinian children as human shields. 

We don’t fully know where they get their funding. The U.S. and other countries believe that Hamas is funded by Iran, but neither side has corroborated that claim. 

Finally, Hamas has been isolated internationally due to its actions, beliefs, and unwillingness to negotiate.

On October 7, 2023, Hamas launched “Operation Al-Aqsa Flood,” a full-scale rocket attack on Israel by land, air, and sea. The recent attacks have killed more than 1,400 people in Israel.