Dr Subhash Singh
The Israel-Palestine conflict, or the conflict between Jews and Arabs, has been a significant focal point in global politics ever since the founding of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948. However, the situation escalated dramatically with the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas conflict on October 7, 2023. This event caused a major upheaval in world politics as Hamas, a Palestinian radical group, initiated an unprecedented attack by infiltrating from Gaza into the southern border of Israel. They took control of Israeli towns and inflicted casualties on both Israeli military personnel and civilians. Israel is dealing with the worst attack on its people since the days of the Holocaust because thousands of rockets were launched into Israeli territory, resulting in the highest number of civilian fatalities in a single day in the country’s history according to a senior Knesset official. The conflict in southern Israel continues, and there are reports of Hamas taking Israeli captives back to Gaza. In response, Israel has launched Operation ‘Iron Swords’ in retaliation for Hamas attack on the Israeli territory. Israel’s retaliatory airstrikes have resulted in the deaths of several Palestinians. As of October 14, 2023, recent reports indicate that the Israel-Hamas conflict has resulted in more than 1,200 People has been killed, and over 2,800 people has been injured in Israel. In Gaza (Palestine), the toll stands at over 1,055 people killed and 5,183 injuries due to the ongoing conflict with Israel. The combined death toll from both sides has now exceeded 3,000 people.
Since Hamas assumed control of Gaza in 2007 during the Palestinian civil war, there have been multiple clashes between Israel and the Palestinian organization Hamas, resulting in heavy casualties on both sides. A noteworthy aspect is that Israel played a pivotal role in the creation of Hamas to counter the Fatah/ Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)’s armed resistance against Israel, which was led by Yasser Arafat. Hence, it is very important to understand the background and objectives of the Palestinian militant group and explore the reasons behind its opposition to Israel and its ongoing conflict with the Jewish State. This article will investigate into these questions to provide answers.
Muslim Brotherhood as the root of Hamas
The Muslim Brotherhood is root of Hamas, and has been playing important role in Hamas policy. The Muslim brotherhood spread as an Islamic Group in occupied territories since Arab-Israel war in 1948. The founder of Hamas, religious leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin was inspired by Brotherhood ideology. The Brotherhood was founded in Egypt in 1928 by Hasan-al Banna, and soon spread to other parts of the Arab world. The goal of al-Banna’s movements, like other Islamic revival groups, was to transform society as closely as possible to an Islamic state, with no difference being made between religion and government, and with the Quran and the Sunna serving as the basis for all aspects of life. During the period of British Mandate (1920-1947), the Muslim Brotherhood extended its reach across Western Asia and North Africa.
After the creation of Israel in 1948, relations between the Brotherhood and the Hashemite leadership in Jordan which had annexed the West Bank in 1950 were generally smooth and cordial despite periodic tension. The activity of the Brotherhood in the West Bank was not political in the main but social and religious. In the Gaza Strip, on the other hand, administered by Egypt until 1967, the Brotherhood’s relations with administration were problematic most of the time and the Brothers were persecuted and outlawed. In the years following the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in mainly described as “the upbringing of an Islamic generation” through the establishment of religious schools, charity associations, social clubs, and so on. But the Brotherhood’s emphasis on the Islamic restructuring of society and religious education seemed to have little relevance for a population that was seeking liberation from foreign occupation. The emerging Palestinian nationalist existence movement had for greater appeal and the failure of the Brotherhood to participate in this resistance cost them many potential adherents.
Several factors, both organizational and objective, contributed to strengthening the Brotherhood. In 1971, al-Mujamma al-Islami (the Islamic center) was established in Gaza by Sheikh Ahmad Yassin. Then, in the 1970s the centralizing affects of al-Mujamma the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, Jordan was now merged into a single organization called “The Muslim Brotherhood society in Jordan and Palestine. This reorganization affected in the occupied territories by ringing guidance instruction and support from the society and its leadership based in Jordan.
The organizational changes laid the groundwork for the Brotherhood’s growth. Then, in the late 1970’s certain disillusionment had begun to spread with regard to the Palestinian resistant movement led by secular forces making the population more amenable to alternative political or ideological approaches. The Islamic revolution in Iran also had a galvanizing effect, capturing people’s imaginations. These factors gave a boost to the Brotherhood which stepped up its political activities aimed at countering the secularist factions of the PLO, with only part of the group’s efforts being directed against the Israeli occupation. Moreover, while the occupation authorities were expending considerable energies on dismantling and repressing the resistance organizations, the Muslim Brotherhood which was not involved in armed resistance, was able to build its organizational structure and pursue its agenda among the masses with little Israeli interference. Hence, we can see that Israeli authority allowed Islamic forces to set up their network to counter secular armed resistance against the Jewish State led by the Fatah/ PLO.
What is Hamas?
Hamas, derived from the Arabic word for “zeal” and representing the acronym for Harakat al-Muqawwama al-Islamiyya (the Islamic Resistance Movement), was founded in January 1988 under the leadership of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin. It has also been designated as a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States, and several Western countries because of its involvement in acts of terrorism against Israeli civilians.
Hamas emerged as an alternative to Fatah in Palestinian politics during the first Intifada in 1987, facing both Israeli opposition and competition with the secular forces led by Fatah/PLO. Prior to Hamas’s rise, the most prominent Islamic Movement in the occupied territories, the Muslim Brotherhood, had refrained from actively resisting the Israeli occupation, hindering its growth as a popular force. This situation changed with the onset of the Palestinian uprising, as the Muslim Brotherhood began actively participating in the resistance for the first time. This marked the Islamic Movement’s emergence as a significant challenge in the occupied territories, challenging the dominant nationalist trend after many years of existence.
Hamas quickly outshone its parent organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, and gained prominence in various areas, notably the Gaza Strip, rivalling Fatah, the largest PLO faction. This emergence created an imbalance that has persisted for decades. Furthermore, the ongoing rivalry between the Islamists led by Hamas and the secular nationalist forces represented by Fatah may persist even if the Israeli occupation ends, as it revolves around the identity and future direction of the Palestinian people.
Hamas’s active role in the Intifada and the growing awareness of its relationship to much needed because of the PLO campaign criticizing it for its non-participation in the armed struggle. Certainly, the Brotherhood began deliberately to equate the two organizations, and Yassin and his colleagues became move vocal and less circumspect in term of their political visibility: Hamas soon become a credible and convenient name for a rehabilitated Muslim Brotherhood society, enabling the new organization to attract followers and supporters who had not been members of the Brotherhood. Sooner than expected, Hamas appeared as a potent challenge to the secular nationalist forces represented by the PLO.
Aims of Hamas
Hamas emerged as a Sunni Islamic or Islamist Movement and pursued Islamic ideology in Palestine. Hamas has followed the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideological path since its creation. The Hamas charter (1988) article 2 says that The Islamic Resistance Movement is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine. Hamas ideological principles involve advancing Palestinian nationalism within an Islamic framework, advocating for armed resistance (jihad) against Israel. This movement encompasses a social outreach division known as Dawah, along with a militant faction, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades.
Hamas contends that the Zionist endeavor is a discriminatory, aggressive, colonial, and expansionist project that hinges on appropriating the property of others. It stands in opposition to the Palestinian people and their quest for freedom, self-determination, return, and liberation. The Israeli entity is seen as a tool of the Zionist project and serves as its foundation for aggression. This project’s scope is not limited to the Palestinian population; it also poses a serious threat to the security and interests of the Arab and Islamic community. Hamas rejects any alternative to the comprehensive and complete liberation of Palestine, spanning from the river to the sea.
Hamas seeks the destruction of Israel through holy war or jihad to establish Palestine as an Islamic state. It views Palestine as a religious trust orwaqf that should remain under Muslim control for eternity. Hamas Charter spelt out the Movement’s Islamic orientation; it showed its attitude towards Israel to be much more uncompromising than that of the PLO and the nationalist mainstream. Hamas has rejected peaceful solutions with the Jewish State, including international conferences. Hamas protested against the peace conference held in Madrid in October 1991, the Oslo peace accords Sep 1993, and continued to oppose Palestinian participation in most Arab-Israeli negotiations calling for immediate withdrawal from these negotiations. At the time of the signing of the Oslo accords, Hamas set itself up as the champion of resistance against Arafat’s decision to “sell out of Palestine” through jihad and reiterated calls to resume the Intifada. However, its most influential figures were perceptive enough to see the implications of the new situation and introduce new elements into the debate.
The rise of Hamas as a political rival of Fatah
Hamas increased its support among the Palestinians after the Oslo Accords through its military actions, posing a potent security threat to Israel as well as PLO. The interim agreement signed on 28 September 1995 in Taba, known as Oslo Accord II, underlining that the election was “important for promoting step towards the agreement on the legitimate State of Palestine” was a milestone for the political action of Hamas. On 20 January 1996, the first Palestinian general elections were held within the territories of the Palestinian National Authority. New PLO leadership hoped that the newly acquired electoral legitimacy would give greater weight to the demands for Israel’s evacuation from all of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. From its perspective, the elections were an important step towards building a Palestinian state. However, Palestinian critics of the Oslo accords argued that these accords did not offer the Palestinians what they had long struggled for, namely independence and the establishment of a state alongside Israel.
Hamas officially boycotted the 1996 Palestinian general elections because these elections were based on the Oslo peace accords. Hamas rejected the Oslo Peace Accords because it failed to grant the Palestinians their fundamental rights. Hamas’s decision to boycott the 1996 election was closely linked to two overriding questions: firstly, its participation in the elections would mean conferring legitimacy to the PA, a political body created by peace agreements opposed by Hamas and known as the Oslo process; second, Hamas’ decision to boycott 1996 elections was also guided by its ideological position of rejecting any compromise with the Jewish State, which it considered as “shameful and humiliating.” Without any opposition, Fatah won the election and Yasser Arafat elected as a first president of Palestinian Authority. Following Arafat’s demise in 2004, Hamas once more refrained from participating in the 2005 presidential elections. As a result, in 2005, Mahmoud Abbas won the election and assumed the role of the new president of Palestine. Despite having boycotted the prior elections in 1996 and 2005, Hamas was actively laying the groundwork for the subsequent elections scheduled for 2006.
After the Presidential elections in 2005, the decline in Fatah’s popular support and the increase in Hamas’s support may be attributed to a considerable measure of the political impasse faced by the Palestinian national project with the collapse of Camp David II, the final status of the negotiations in July 2000 and to the growing dissatisfaction with the performance of the Fatah-dominated PA, increasingly as corrupt and incompetent at a time when unemployment and poverty rates were skyrocketing after the start of the second Intifada. Hamas was able to build support on these factors and the growing hardships and humiliation inflicted on the Palestinians by Israel. At the same movement, in 2005, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made the decision to withdraw completely from Gaza, putting an end to the settlements that had been established there since the aftermath of the 1967 six-day war. This move was driven by the violent protests, riots, suicide bombings, and terrorist attacks that characterized the first and second Intifadas or Palestinian uprisings. As a result, the protection of Jewish residents in the region was becoming increasingly expensive for Israel. Hamas cashed on these factors and declared to participate in legislative elections in 2006 based on change and reforms.
Consequently, Hamas participated in the Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006 and won a stunning victory. Hamas (Islamist party) had won 76 seats of the 132 seats (57.5% of the seats), and Fatah stood second with 43 (32.5%). There was no refuting that Hamas had earned a legitimate landslide victory, as observers considered the election to be free and fair. In other words, Hamas’ victory was a political earthquake for Fatah and its supporters, particularly Israel and the United States. Hamas successfully challenged Fatah’s political dominance by winning the 2006 Parliamentary elections. First time in the history of Palestine, a government headed by Islamic militant organisation leader Ismail Haniyeh was formed without Fatah, the secular nationalist party that dominated Palestinian politics for decades Unable to come to terms with the loss of hegemony over the political system, Fatah, aided by outside players like Israel, the United States and European Union (EU), made systematic attempts to obstruct Hamas’s integration into the Palestinian Authority (PA).
The victory for Hamas initially caught the Israeli government off guard. Israeli government made it clear that without giving up its ways of terror, recognising Israel’s right to exist in peace and security, and honouring all the Palestinian National Authority accords towards Israel – including, of course, annulling the Hamas charter calling for the destruction of the State of Israel, Israel will not hold any contact with the Palestinians. Israel was not the only State to impose sanctions, however. In March 2006, the primary financial supporters of the Palestinian Authority, such as the United States and the European Union, terminated their financial assistance. They held the belief that Hamas is a designated terrorist organization. Their decision stemmed from the fact that Hamas refused to renounce violence, recognise Israel, or even acknowledge the previous agreements signed between Israel and the Palestinians. On one hand, these outside actors imposed a range of sanctions on Hamas; while on the other hand, they were providing assistance to Fatah in opposition to Hamas. Hamas’s leaders contended that this was a political conspiracy aimed at breaking the unity of Palestinians against the Jewish State. In frustration, nearly a year later, on 7 June 2007, forces loyal to Hamas launched a military offensive against Fatah in Gaza. After six days of armed conflict during the Palestinian civil war, the Palestinian territories and the PA split into two separate entities, “Fatahland” and “Hamastan”, called the Second Partition of Palestine. While Fatah remains in charge of the West Bank, Hamas has consolidated its rule in Gaza Strip. In this civil war, thousands of Palestinians were killed.
The ongoing conflict in 2023 between Israel and Palestinian militant groups, led by Hamas, was initiated on October 7th when militants infiltrated Israel from the Gaza Strip. In response, Israel launched a counteroffensive, officially declaring war against Hamas the following day. This event is a continuation of the long-standing Arab-Israeli conflict, with a particular focus on the Gaza-Israel tensions. While Israel and Hamas had previously engaged in multiple conflicts, there was a relative lull in hostilities in 2022 and most of 2023. During this time, it seemed that Hamas was preparing for a significant offensive, known as “Operation Al-Aqsa Flood.”
The terrorist attack commenced in the early morning with a barrage of over 3,000 rockets fired at Israel and incursions into its territory using vehicles. Palestinian militants breached the Gaza-Israel barrier, targeting military installations and causing civilian casualties in nearby Israeli communities. Tragically, a music festival saw the loss of at least 260 Israeli lives. Additionally, unarmed civilians were taken as hostages, and Israeli soldiers were captured and transported to the Gaza Strip.
Following the removal of Hamas forces from affected areas, Israel launched airstrikes in the Gaza Strip. The United Nations reported that Israel’s military on October 13 directed the evacuation of northern Gaza, a region that is home to 1.1 million people — about half of the territory’s population, was displaced. Concerns about a humanitarian crisis grew when Israel imposed restrictions on the supply of food, water, electricity, and fuel to Gaza, which had already been under blockade by both Egypt and Israel.
The conflict resulted in numerous civilian casualties and raised numerous allegations of war crimes. Internationally, protests emerged in various locations, and hate crimes increased. Notably, at least 44 countries like like USA and UK condemned Hamas and categorized its tactics as terrorism, while regional nations such as Qatar, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Syria, and Iraq attributed responsibility to Israel. Many Arab states called for de-escalation. Additionally, a conflict between militants in Lebanon, including Hezbollah, and Israeli forces occurred on October 8th and 9th. In response, the United States deployed an aircraft carrier battle group to the Eastern Mediterranean, and Germany announced its intention to provide military assistance to Israel.
The United States is providing military support to Israel in its conflict with Hamas militants. Russia has shown restrained reactions to the ongoing violence in Israel and Gaza, with a potential for gains if they remain cautious in their approach. China, on the other hand, has refrained from condemning the killing of Israeli civilians in the Hamas attacks, issuing a neutral statement that calls for “restraint” from both sides and the resumption of peace talks for a two-state solution.
Immediately following the attacks, India expressed robust support for Israel, denouncing the Hamas’s terrorist acts. India maintains a zero-tolerance policy towards terrorism in any form, as both states have been cooperating against terrorism. Prime Minister Narendra Modi conveyed his deep shock at the news of terrorist attacks in Israel and extended thoughts and prayers to the innocent victims and their families, expressing solidarity with Israel during this challenging period. Simultaneously, India reiterated its support for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. India has consistently advocated for the resumption of direct negotiations to establish a sovereign, independent, and viable Palestinian state, coexisting peacefully with Israel within secure and recognized borders.
In conclusion, we can say that the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, poses a severe threat to both regional and global security. The international community finds itself divided into two factions, one supporting Israel and the other supporting Hamas, which raises concerns about the potential for a broader conflict. Israel is fighting for its survival in this war, while Hamas is striving for the establishment of a Palestinian state. Both sides assert their positions and interests as justifiable. Israel and Hamas have engaged in multiple conflicts since the takeover of Gaza, but the current situation differs from previous clashes.
Diplomatic provocations by certain countries like Iran, Russia and China led to Hamas launching thousands of rockets, resulting in the tragic deaths of innocent Israeli civilians. This situation provided Israel with an opportunity to dismantle Hamas’s terror network in the Gaza Strip, with the country committed to safeguarding the rights of Jewish people. These external nations aim to undermine Israel’s acceptance among Arab countries by undermining the Abraham Accords and impeding Israeli relations with Saudi Arabia. Additionally, the unfortunate mistake made by the Islamic militant organization has led to the tragic loss of innocent Palestinian lives, who are not supporters of Hamas. Moreover, PLO leaders have remained silent during this conflict because they have not issued any statement regarding Israeli retaliation in Gaza. The reasons are clear that secular forces have also faced serious challenges from Hamas’s Islamic ideology since its establishment. Political analysts hope that if Israel succeeds in eliminating the Hamas terror network in Gaza, this may be a golden opportunity for the PLO to retake control of the Gaza administration once the opposition is finished.
Republished from: The Second Partition of Palestine: Hamas-Fatah Struggle for Power, 2022, Routledge, New Delhi