Posted 3 September 2014. Updated 2 April 2015 and 24 October 2023
As far as I can recall, I first became aware of Hamas during the Second Intifada when, like several other Palestinian groups, it was responsible for sending suicide bombers to kill Jewish Israelis, without concern about whether they were soldiers or civilians, adults or children. While Hamas appeared to be the most extreme Palestinian faction, I had hopes that it would change, as had the PLO when it decided to enter into the Oslo Accords.
When Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian election, I considered that the responsibility of having to govern might help to produce such change, and was very disappointed when a financial boycott by Israel, Europe and the USA made it impossible for Hamas to lead a Palestinian government. While my hopes for Hamas to change might have been disappointed in any event, I still consider that an opportunity was lost at that time.
When Operation Cast Lead began in December 2008, I was horrified by the scale of Israel’s response, and wrote letters to the Israeli Ambassador in the UK and to the Shadow Foreign Secretary, later using the text for my page “Gaza and the need for peace now”.
I cannot remember when I first came across the Hamas Charter or Hamas Covenant, but I mentioned its anti-Semitism in my 2010 piece “Antisemitism amongst Muslims – a personal view.”
When major hostilities broke out again in 2012, I did not publish anything, but was of the view that Hamas deserved at least as much blame for the outbreak of hostilities as Israel. This summer when conflict broke out again, it was even clearer to me that Hamas had initiated the conflict for political reasons, given its recent loss of support due to the conflict in Syria and the change of government in Egypt. Accordingly many of the tweets that I issued during the conflict shared articles in the quality press which explained Hamas’s political objectives, and which also outlined the resources that Hamas had poured into its network of tunnels constructed for the purposes of attacking Israel.
To understand Hamas, one has to read the document which sets out its aims and objectives. That is the “Hamas Charter” or “Hamas Covenant.” There are many English translations available; the one I have linked to is at the Lillian Goldman Law Library at Yale Law School, chosen for the academic credentials of the institution. I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of this or other English translations of the Charter on the internet. If Hamas considers that they are inaccurate, it is well placed to issue its own authorised English translation.
While the Charter contains a number of disgraceful anti-Semitic slurs, recycling the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, for me the most fundamental issue is what it says about Palestine.
Article Eleven begins:
“The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgement Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up. Neither a single Arab country nor all Arab countries, neither any king or president, nor all the kings and presidents, neither any organization nor all of them, be they Palestinian or Arab, possess the right to do that. Palestine is an Islamic Waqf land consecrated for Moslem generations until Judgement Day. This being so, who could claim to have the right to represent Moslem generations till Judgement Day?
This is the law governing the land of Palestine in the Islamic Sharia (law) and the same goes for any land the Moslems have conquered by force, because during the times of (Islamic) conquests, the Moslems consecrated these lands to Moslem generations till the Day of Judgement.”
Article Thirteen begins:
"Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement. Abusing any part of Palestine is abuse directed against part of religion. Nationalism of the Islamic Resistance Movement is part of its religion. Its members have been fed on that. For the sake of hoisting the banner of Allah over their homeland they fight. "Allah will be prominent, but most people do not know."
Now and then the call goes out for the convening of an international conference to look for ways of solving the (Palestinian) question. Some accept, others reject the idea, for this or other reason, with one stipulation or more for consent to convening the conference and participating in it. Knowing the parties constituting the conference, their past and present attitudes towards Moslem problems, the Islamic Resistance Movement does not consider these conferences capable of realising the demands, restoring the rights or doing justice to the oppressed. These conferences are only ways of setting the infidels in the land of the Moslems as arbitraters. When did the infidels do justice to the believers?
"But the Jews will not be pleased with thee, neither the Christians, until thou follow their religion; say, the direction of Allah is the true direction. And verily if thou follow their desires, after the knowledge which hath been given thee, thou shalt find no patron or protector against Allah." (The Cow - verse 120).
There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors. The Palestinian people know better than to consent to having their future, rights and fate toyed with.”
It is clear from the Charter that Hamas believes that it must fight until all of Palestine is under Muslim control.
Indeed the same logic from Article 11 would require it to fight until all of Spain, Sicily, Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, Rumania, etc. were also under Muslim control, since these lands were also once conquered by Muslims.
Quite apart from any views that one may have on the morality or religious accuracy of its position (I believe it has no theological validity, but this page is not about religion), the consequence is that Hamas will not agree to a permanent peace with Israel, regardless of Israel’s borders. Indeed if Israel was reduced to no more than the municipality of Tel Aviv, Hamas would logically still deny it the right to exist.
Regardless of whether you consider your position to be justified or not, it is futile to fight against someone who is incomparably more powerful, when you are certain to get militarily crushed.
Accordingly, by its policy of military resistance, Hamas condemns its fellow Palestinians to suffering the consequences of its policy. These consequences include:
There are many reasons for condemning Hamas. These include:
However my most fundamental reason for condemning Hamas is the suffering it imposes upon Gaza's Palestinians by pursuing its goal of a military reconquest of the the whole of Palestine.
As explained above, Hamas’s quixotic goal of reconquering the whole of Palestine is simply not feasible. That applies regardless of one’s views on whether that goal is moral or not. Pursuing that goal is not in the interests of Gaza’s Palestinians.
They need Hamas to change its goals, or to dissolve itself.
I wrote a short piece on Conservative Home making some of these points while the Gaza conflict was underway. It is reproduced below.
Mohammed Amin is Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum. He is writing in a personal capacity.
One local effect of the conflict we are seeing between Israel and Hamas (alongside the other armed Palestinians factions in Gaza) is a tribalistic pressure upon people to “support their side.” For example I have been harangued on social media by other Muslims demanding that I condemn Israel’s conduct, but no Muslims have called upon me to criticise Hamas’s conduct. I suspect that Jewish peace advocates have come under similar pressure from other Jews to condemn Hamas’s conduct but experienced no pressure from other Jews to criticise Israel’s conduct.
When a British Muslim or a British Jew condemns the conduct of Israel or Hamas respectively, no matter how sincerely, they automatically invite the Mandy Rice Davies response: “He would, [say that] wouldn’t he?” Nobody’s understanding of the issues is advanced one iota when they hear Muslims criticising Israel, or hear Jews criticising Hamas.
Accordingly I will leave it to British Jews, and Britons who are neither Muslim nor Jewish, to criticise Israel’s conduct of its military operations in Gaza, and its prior conduct during periods of quiet. Instead I want to share two points:
I felt optimistic in 2006 when Hamas won the Palestinian election. My hope, perhaps naïve, was that Hamas was better placed to make peace with Israel than Fatah, just as it was easier for Nixon to go to China than it would have been for a Democrat. At that time I had not read Hamas’s charter.
The Hamas Charter, adopted in 1988, is a profoundly depressing document. As well as regurgitating the same anti-Semitic fabrications as are found in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the Charter rejects the idea that any part of the land of Palestine can ever be controlled other than by Muslims. Accordingly Hamas is dedicated to armed struggle until Israel is destroyed.
Although as the Guardian in 2006 explained Hamas left the destruction of Israel out of its 2006 election manifesto to the best of my knowledge Hamas has never stated that it believes in peace with Israel. I understand that the most that it has ever offered Israel is an extended truce. A truce is something that is normally followed by the resumption of hostilities.
With its commitment to the destruction of Israel, Hamas has nothing to offer Palestinians other than the misery of permanent war. It needs to either revise its Charter, drastically, or to dissolve itself.
The outline for the only kind of permanent peace agreement that can preserve the character of Israel as a democratic state with a Jewish majority has been clear for over a decade. That is the two-state solution.
I wrote about it in December 2008 in my first piece about the Middle East during operation Cast Lead “Gaza and the need for peace now.” It is also the only solution realistically attainable for the Palestinians, since Israel is not going to disappear voluntarily, and nuclear armed powers cannot be conquered militarily.
The intervening years have demonstrated that both the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships are unwilling to make the sacrifices that a achieving the two-state solution requires.
Sadly, but perhaps understandably, Israeli and Palestinian leaders have repeatedly shied away from telling their people the truth that a permanent peace is not possible without such concessions. It is always easier to put off difficult decisions, and focus on why the immediate circumstances are not conducive to agreeing peace.
Since 2002, the Quartet of the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, and Russia has allegedly been mediating the Middle East peace process. It has failed to achieve anything meaningful, in my view because too much responsibility has been left to the USA.
Unfortunately, the power of the Israel Lobby (discussed in “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy” by Mearsheimer and Walt) has meant that the USA has failed to exercise the leverage that it has over Israel. Nor do the Palestinians regard the USA as a neutral interlocutor. Hence US led peace negotiations have gone nowhere.
Our Government needs to be more active itself in the search for Middle East peace, and to encourage the EU to wield its considerable economic power to influence both parties. In my view the Quartet needs to lay down a detailed peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians to accept or reject, just as the UN did with its 1947 Partition Resolution. If one of the parties does reject the Quartet plan, that party should face economic sanctions.
The orginal piece on Conservative Home received a number of readers' comments. While I am used to readers disagreeing with me, a number of the comments were supportive. They can be read at the foot of the piece on the Conservative Home website.
I was not the only person who was optimistic around 2006 that Hamas might change for the better.
As part of my research I came across "Ideological & Behavioral Metamorphoses: A New Charter for a New Hamas" by Chrystie Flournoy Swiney of St. Antony’s College, Oxford University, Trinity Term [April - June] 2007.
This is a 152 page thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Philosophy in Modern Middle Eastern Studies Faculty of Oriental Studies University of Oxford. I found the entire thesis fascinating to read and it vividly illustrates the hopes that existed at that time. I recommend reading the full document.
Pages 79 - 88 of the thesis discuss how Hamas's position on Israel appeared at that time to be evolving. Sadly no such evolution has materialised.
Even today in 2015 apologists for Hamas still trot out items from 2006 such as the Guardian article mentioned above as evidence for Hamas’s change. The reality is that Hamas has had, and has today, plenty of opportunity to say if it recognises Israel's right to exist in perpetuity. It chooses not to do so.
The most I have ever seen is Hamas offering a long-term truce. A truce is not peace, it is an interregnum before war is resumed.
In 2017 the leadership of Hamas released "A Document of General Principles and Policies" which is widely available on the internet.
When it was issued, I did not write about it as it contained little new about Hamas's position. However after Hamas's attack on Israel on 7 October 2023 I have realised that many people are unaware of what Hamas states to be its beliefs and goals. Accordingly I have added this section.
The document restates what is said in the 1988 Hamas Charter. In particular, in paragraph 2 it asserts that all of Palestine belongs to the Palestinian people and that Israel (referred to not by name but only as "The Zionist entity" has no rights there.
In paragraphs 16 and 17 the document states that Hamas's conflict is with the Zionism project, and not with "the Jews because of their religion." However it does not disavow the repetition of many antisemitic conspiracy theories in the 1988 Charter. Indeed, the 1988 document is not mentioned at all.
Paragraphs 19 and 20 are unambiguous.
"19. There shall be no recognition of the legitimacy of the Zionist entity. Whatever has befallen the land of Palestine in terms of occupation, settlement building, Judaization or changes to its features or falsification of facts is illegitimate. Rights never lapse.
20. Hamas believes that no part of the land of Palestine shall be compromised or conceded, irrespective of the causes, the circumstances and the pressures and no matter how long the occupation lasts. Hamas rejects any alternative to the full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea."
The mention at the end of paragraph 20 of a "fully sovereign and independent Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital along the lines of the 4th of June 1967" has led some people to believe that Hamas has accepted the idea of a two state solution. Reading the whole of the document makes it clear that is not the case.
I don't know why the document mentions a Palestinian state, and can only guess that it is meant to make Hamas look better, despite Hamas's unambiguous rejection of any Israeli state.
For completeness, paragraph 21 rejects the Oslo Accords and all agreements flowing from them.
You don't need to speculate about what Hamas believes. The organisation tells you in its 1988 Charter and its supplemental 2017 Document.
It has no interest in peace with Israel, and seeks to remove Israel entirely to establish "a fully sovereign Palestinian State on the entire national Palestinian soil." (Paragraph 27 of the 2017 Document.)