On the morning of October 7, 2023 the Israel-Hamas conflict escalated dramatically. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared a state of war in the wake of a large-scale, multifaceted offensive from Hamas. The Israeli government reports that this conflict has led to the loss of at least countless lives within their borders, mostly civilians.
Here is the history of Israel and Hamas
Who is Hamas?
Hamas is a Palestinian political and militant organization that was founded in 1987. It's an acronym that stands for "Harakat al-Muqāwama al-Islāmiyya," which translates to "Islamic Resistance Movement." It originally began as an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. In this article, we'll take a deep dive into the history of Hamas, its objectives, and its involvement in various conflicts.
Hamas was formed in 1987 during the First Intifada—an uprising against Israeli occupation in the Palestinian Territories. The organization's founders were Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi, and others. All were members of the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza. During this time, the primary focus of Hamas was to "resist Israeli occupation." Secondly, it aimed to establish an Islamic state in the area that is now Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.
A year later, in 1988, Hamas published its founding charter, with its main goal to establish an Islamic state in Palestine and eliminate Israel. The charter also criticized Western influence in the Islamic world and advocated for jihad (holy struggle) as the means to achieve its aims. In the charter, Hamas specifically states, "Hamas rejects any alternative to the full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea... The Day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims fight Jews and kill them.”
In the early 1990s, following the signing of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Hamas intensified its attacks against Israeli targets. One of the most controversial tactics that Hamas adopted was the use of suicide bombings. These attacks targeted Israeli civilians and were part of Hamas' strategy to undermine the peace process.
The two wings of Hamas
Hamas has two main wings: the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades and the political wing. The Brigades carry out attacks on Israeli targets. These attacks include suicide bombings, rockets, and kidnappings. The political wing handles governance and social welfare. They have ruled the Gaza Strip for nearly 20 years.
In 2006, Hamas participated in the Palestinian legislative elections and secured a surprising victory. This win led to a brief period of shared governance with Fatah, the main Palestinian political party at the time. However, tensions soon escalated, culminating in the 2007 conflict that saw Hamas taking full control of the Gaza Strip.
Various entities have complex relationships with Hamas. Countries like the United States, Israel, and the European Union label Hamas as a terrorist organization. They impose economic sanctions on it. Meanwhile, countries like Iran, Turkey, and Qatar provide it political and financial support.
Public perception of Hamas
Among Palestinians, opinions about Hamas vary. Some see it as a resistance movement fighting for Palestinian independence and against Israeli occupation. However, especially in areas the Palestinian Authority governs, others view Hamas skeptically because of its use of violence and its strict interpretation of Islamic law.
That said, Hamas has played a pivotal role in shaping the dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Its armed activities have led to multiple military confrontations with Israel, including Operations Cast Lead (2008–2009), Pillar of Defense (2012), Protective Edge (2014), as well as the current war. These conflicts have resulted in substantial loss of life and property on both sides and have often exacerbated already tense relations.
Why is Hamas attacking Israel?
The Hamas-Israel conflict is entrenched in historical, religious and political disputes. The tensions primarily revolve around the occupation of Palestinian territories by Israel and the treatment of Palestinian people. Because both entities claim the same territory, Hamas considers Israel an occupying force. Its central goal is to reclaim what they see as their ancestral lands, but through annihilating the Jewish people - every man, woman, and child. This brutality can be seen in such attacks that have left nearly 1,000 civilians dead. Through attacks, Hamas seeks to pressure Israel into making political concessions, such as removing settlements or easing the blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip. For Hamas, attacking Israel is seen as an act of resistance against an occupier, and they consider it their duty to protect Palestinian rights.
Hamas guerilla warfare
The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam serves as the military wing of Hamas. It plays a key role in the organization's operations.
The group is named after Izz ad-Din al-Qassam, a Syrian preacher. He fought against French and Zionist groups in the early 20th century. The brigades have always focused on armed resistance. They collectively handle military operations like rocket attacks and tunnel digging. They also lead Hamas' military actions, including guerrilla warfare and PSYOPS.
Guerrilla warfare is about using unconventional methods against a better-equipped opponent. It emphasizes mobility, surprise, and endurance. For Hamas, this translates into hit-and-run attacks, ambushes, and the use of IEDs. These methods are chosen for their effectiveness and symbolic value, highlighting the resistance against a more powerful adversary.
On the military front, the unpredictability of guerrilla attacks means the IDF troops need to maintain a constant state of alertness. In urban terrains, where Hamas predominantly operates, every alleyway could hide an ambush, every building might conceal a sniper, and every tunnel could open up behind their lines. This persistent uncertainty can lead to heightened stress levels, quicker fatigue, and reduced decision-making capability.
Hamas tunnels and traps
Hamas's strategy also revolves around turning the IDF's strength into a vulnerability. For instance, the IDF relies on advanced technology, such as drones and intelligence systems. But these can become less effective in urban settings because Hamas fighters can hide and disperse quickly. The Gaza Strip's dense population offers countless hiding spots, escape routes, and ambush viewpoints. Narrow alleyways, tall buildings, and underground systems make it difficult for conventional forces to operate effectively. Furthermore, the IDF's commitment to minimizing civilian casualties means they often need to be more cautious, giving Hamas fighters time to regroup and reposition.
Another tactic of Hamas is the use of tunnels extending from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory.
They primarily use them for surprise attacks and kidnappings. Often, they rig them with explosives and can appear near Israeli communities. Specifically within the Gaza Strip, these tunnels enable the movement of fighters, weapons, and supplies concealed from aerial surveillance. Tunnels are also used to smuggle in essential goods, weapons, and funds from neighboring regions. Complicating matters further, booby traps are another staple of Hamas's defense strategy. Hamas might rig buildings, pathways, and tunnels with explosives, making every IDF step potentially dangerous.
The ingenious use of resources
One of the more controversial strategies employed by Hamas involves repurposing civilian infrastructure for military objectives. Reports suggest that on several occasions, Hamas has dug up water irrigation systems in the Gaza Strip to extract the metal pipes. Once intended to support agriculture and provide essential water to the region's inhabitants, these pipes were allegedly converted into makeshift rockets. This act highlights the group's resourcefulness in the face of blockades. It underscores the severe challenges of distinguishing between civilian and military targets in such a complex environment. Such tactics, however, come with heavy consequences, as removing these irrigation systems can exacerbate water scarcity and undermine agricultural productivity, further intensifying the hardships faced by the local Palestinian population.
In any armed conflict, the psychological impact can be as influential, if not more so, than the physical combat. Asymmetric warfare, characterized by the confrontation between an established power and a lesser-equipped adversary, often leans heavily into this psychological domain. This psychological aspect stands out in all Hamas's actions, whether they engage the IDF or Israeli citizens.
Imagine living under a constant state of threat. Every siren could signify an incoming rocket, and an unexpected attack could shatter every quiet moment. Though the Israeli Iron Dome system is technologically advanced, it can only guarantee the interception of some missiles.
For Israeli civilians, this means a life of intermittent disruptions. Schools, workplaces, and public spaces can turn into emergency evacuation zones within moments. Children grow up with the experience of dashing to bomb shelters. At the same time, adults are constantly aware that a siren could disrupt their routine at any moment. Over time, this constant state of readiness can cause chronic stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues, even without direct physical harm.
Global perspective of Israel and Hamas
In today's interconnected world, few conflicts remain isolated. The long-standing strife between Hamas and Israel is no exception, drawing opinions, criticisms, and interventions from around the globe. Unraveling the myriad of perspectives requires a nuanced perspective, allowing us to delve beyond surface-level interpretations and grasp the depth of the issue.
Across continents, nations have taken sides or offered mediation, influenced by their geopolitical interests, historical alliances, and domestic considerations. Some nations firmly back Israel, citing concerns over what they label as terrorist activities by Hamas. These nations, emphasizing Israel's right to self-defense, often provide diplomatic support on international platforms.
Conversely, other states champion the Palestinian cause, viewing Hamas as a legitimate resistance movement against Israeli occupation. They argue that under Israeli control, the Palestinians endure hardships and deserve their sovereign state.
The United States, undeniably Israel's strongest ally, has consistently backed Israel in defense, political ties, and international platforms. However, alongside its unwavering support for Israel, the U.S. has taken active roles in brokering ceasefires and mediating peace talks between the parties. Similarly, countries like Egypt, while having their own dynamics with Israel, have engaged in mediation efforts. This blend of staunch support and mediation underscores the intricate dance of international diplomacy, revealing how nations navigate complex regional conflicts.