► What is Hamas?
Hamas is a Palestinian Islamist movement, founded on December 14, 1987, after the start of the first Intifada against Israel. “The religious foundations of Hamas are those of the Muslim Brotherhood, present in Palestine since the 1950sindicates Jean-Paul Chagnollaud, university professor, director of the Institute for Mediterranean/Middle East Research and Studies (iReMMO). Until the 1980s, they developed their policy: imposing a rigorous reading of Islam on society. »
Gradually, the Muslim Brotherhood movement developed into a politico-military system, radicalized and embraced the struggle of the Palestinians. In 1987, Muslim Brotherhood activists in Palestine chose to come together under the name “Hamas”, which means “Islamic Resistance Movement” in Arabic.
On August 18, 1988, eight months after the founding of its movement, Hamas published a charter which presented its ideology and political aspirations. Hamas demands the creation of an Islamic state within the borders of former Mandatory Palestine, the annihilation of Israel and the refusal of any negotiations. He advocates the establishment of social activities aimed at preaching the Muslim faith, fuels anti-Zionism and calls for fighting against “Zionist and Western imperialism”.
► What is the link between religion and politics for Hamas?
“Hamas is an Islamo-nationalist movement entirely focused on the Palestinian cause, indicates Laetitia Bucaille, professor of political sociology at Inalco. It departs from Arab nationalism which failed to establish Palestinian sovereignty and believes that Islam will allow Muslims to reconquer sacred land from the Palestinians. »
In the 1950s and 1960s, attempts to create Arab unity were unsuccessful. Hamas decides to propose the opposite: save Palestine to regain unity. “For Hamas, it is not Arab nationalism but the re-Islamization of the Arabs that will reconquer Palestine, explains the researcher. We can speak of a fusion of Islamo-nationalism. The faith of the militants and the structuring of the organization explain the discipline of the fighters, who are educated and structured in faith and in action. »
► How has the movement evolved since its founding?
In the 1990s, Hamas distinguished itself by its numerous suicide attacks, the launching of rockets from Gaza from 2007 and hostage-taking. The movement has been considered a terrorist organization by the United States since 1997. This did not prevent it from winning the Palestinian legislative elections in 2006 and taking control of the Gaza Strip in 2007. It established itself as the dominant actor inside the Palestinian Territories
In power since then, Hamas has modified some of the objectives of its 1988 charter. “In 2017, Hamas drafted a new political document that hides its charter, explains Laetitia Bucaille. Hamas has abandoned its goal of a Palestine “from the River to the Sea” and is considering a two-state solution within the 1967 borders. However, Hamas does not renounce its modus operandi, with the use of violence and terrorist acts. “ What is new is the scale of hostage-taking of civilians,” indicates Laetitia Bucaille, in reference to the attack on Saturday October 7.
“Hamas has gone back to basics, in the way they entered Israeli territory, the way they massacred civilians, and committed acts of terrorism, supports Jean-Paul Chagnollaud. They are playing the politics of the worst. »
According to the researcher, Hamas’ latest actions have strengthened Palestinian support because it has brought the Palestinian issue back to the heart of geopolitical concerns. “The Palestinian population stands in solidarity with Hamas because they have suffered a lot in the West Bank and Gaza, and they agree that the adversary must suffer too,” assures Jean-Paul Chagnollaud. A 2021 poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Polling Research (PSR) indicated majority support for Hamas.
► What are the differences between Hamas and other Islamist movements?
Other terrorist organizations, such as Daesh, share with Hamas the ideological doctrine of radical Islam and consider armed combat against non-Muslims as a duty. Yet the differences between Hamas and other Islamist organizations are “ fundamental, according to Jean-Paul Chagnollaud. Hamas is an Islamist organization that also uses terrorist methods, but is primarily nationalist. It is a political and military organization fundamentally anchored in its population. »
First criterion of distinction for the researcher: Hamas wants to be a national liberation movement, unlike Daesh or other Islamist terrorist movements which are deterritorialized. Second criterion of distinction: Hamas is a political organization which was elected and continues to represent the Palestinian people in a concrete way, unlike Daesh or Al-Qaeda “whose functioning is comparable to that of a sect”.