Hamas traces its roots back to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Sheikh Hasan Ahmed Abdel Rahman Muhammed al-Banna launched the Muslim Brotherhood in March 1928.
The motto of the Muslim Brotherhood, which al-Banna supplied, is:
“Islam is the solution, the Koran is our Constitution, Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our Leader, Jihad is our way, dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.”
Said Ramadan was born in 1926 in Shibin al-Kawm, a village in the Nile delta. He encountered al-Banna and joined the Muslim Brotherhood when he was 14. After graduating from Cairo University, he became al-Banna’s personal secretary. A year later, Ramadan was named editor of the Muslim Brotherhood weekly, Al Shihab, and he married al-Banna’s daughter.
Ramadan became al-Banna’s ambassador, amassing a network of international contacts. In 1945, he traveled to Jerusalem. Over the following years, Ramadan will spend most of his time shuttling between Jerusalem, Amman, Damascus, and Beirut to build various Muslim Brotherhood factions.
At the time, Palestine was still a British-controlled territory, a poor desert region inhabited by warring Arab and Jewish populations. Traveling to mosques and university campuses, and focusing on Muslim youth, Ramadan preached jihad and helped with the creation of paramilitary groups. By 1947, there were 25 branches of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine, with between 12,000 and 20,000 members. In 1948, Ramadan helped the Muslim Brotherhood send jihadists into battle with the Jewish armed forces that were estabmilitarylishing the state of Israel. Compared to the armies of Egypt and Syria, the Brotherhood’s forces were insignificant, but the symbolic gesture would enhance the Muslim Brotherhood’s prestige for decades to come.
After the establishment of the Israeli State in 1948, Said Ramadan kept recruiting followers in Palestinian refugee camps in Gaza and elsewhere, seeking to “liberate” Palestine from the occupation of the Jewish people.
Another organization aiming to free Palestine from “Zionist” control emerged in the 1950’s: Fatah. The anti-Israeli guerrilla movement was NOT a creation of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Fatah was the backbone of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which was established at an Arab Conference in 1964 as the official representative of the Palestinian people. In 1974, Arab states declared the PLO the “sole legitimate representative” of the Palestinian people.
The PLO was responsible for hijackings, bombings and other attacks against Israel.
Both Fatah and the PLO were primarily centered in the Gaza strip.
Gaza was then ruled by Egypt.
In 1967, Gamal Abdel Nasser, the president of Egypt, was defeated by Israel in the Six-Day War.
This defeat provided Fatah and the Muslim Brotherhood with a big opportunity ; it was a turning point for Palestinian aspirations. In light of Israel’s demonstrated military superiority, it became clear that neither organization could defeat Israel with conventional forces. Future armed struggle with Israel would have to rely more on popular support and guerrilla tactics and terrorism.
Fatah and the PLO differed from the Muslim Brotherhood in one important way. They changed their goal of the outright destruction of the Israeli state — in order to establish of secular state in Palestine. The Muslim Brotherhood never diverged from its objective of destroying Israel as a state. By 1974, the PLO began to push for the establishment of a Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza.
In Gaza, Israel hunted down members of Fatah and of the PLO, but it dropped the harsh restrictions imposed on jihadists by previous Egyptian rulers.
The Muslim Brotherhood, led in Gaza by Sheikh Ahmed Ismail Hassan Yassin, was thus able to spread its message openly.
In addition to launching various charity projects, Sheikh Yassin raised money to reprint the writings of Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian member of the Muslim Brotherhood advocating global jihad.
Sayyid Qutb was executed by President Nasser.
Sheikh Yassin formed in 1973 al-Mujamma’ al-Islami (the Islamic Center), a Muslim Brotherhood front helping to set up a network of schools, clinics, kindergartens and a library. The organization was officially recognized by Israel as a charity and then as an association in 1979.
Israel also endorsed the establishment of the Islamic University of Gaza in 1978.
When Israel first encountered Islamists in Gaza in the 1970s and ’80s, they seemed focused on studying the Quran, not on confrontation with Israel. The Israeli government officially recognized a precursor to Hamas called Mujama Al-Islamiya, registering the group as a charity. It allowed Mujama members to set up an Islamic university and build mosques, clubs and schools.
— Andrew Higgins, How Israel Helped to Spawn Hamas
The Wall Street Journal quoted Israeli Brigadier General Yitzhak Segev saying “our main enemy [in Gaza] was Fatah,” and the cleric “was still 100% peaceful” towards Israel.
Indeed, Sheikh Yassin and Israel shared in Fatah a common enemy.
After a failed attempt in Gaza to oust Fathi Arafat (Yasser Arafat’s brother) from the leadership of the Palestinian Red Crescent, Mujamma stormed the Red Crescent building. Then the islamic movement tried to burn down his house.
The Muslim Brotherhood front also attacked shops selling liquor, as well as cinemas.
In 1984, the Israeli military received a tip-off, raided a mosque and found a cache of weapons. Sheikh Yassin was jailed. He told Israeli interrogators the weapons were for use against Fatah, not Israel. The cleric was released after a year and continued to expand Mujamma’s reach across Gaza.
In December of 1987, several Palestinian Arabs were killed or wounded in a traffic accident involving an Israeli driver. It triggered a series of riots and ultra-violent confrontations that became known as the First Intifada. The accident happened in the Jabalya refugee camp and the riots quickly spread from there throughout Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. It lasted until 1993.
Down the path trudged three Palestinian women dressed in long black robes and beating two dozen sheep with canes. It was a scene straight from the Bible or Koran, the shepherdesses and their ﬂock walking past mud huts framed in palm trees and cactus plants. It easily could have been 1888, or 1288, or 1088 BC. Nothing much had really changed since the days of Isaac and Ishmael — not the stones and certainly not the passion; only the car and the fancy riﬂe were new.
— Thomas Friedman, From Beirut to Jerusalem
On the 8th of December 1987, an Israeli semi-trailer truck driver turned onto the crowded main road leading into Jabaliya and ended up hitting several vehicles, killing four Palestinians and wounding seven others. Rumors spread throughout the Jaliya camp that the Israeli man had purposefully swerved into the oncoming lane of traffic to avenge the recent murder of a Jewish shopper. Was he the slain man’s brother? His cousin perhaps? Anyway, Palestinians did not think this was an accident. The following day, a group of Palestinian kids threw rocks at a truck full of Israeli soldiers, who in turn chased them around the camp on foot. When they returned to the vehicle, it was surrounded by an angry Palestinian mob. Two burning bottles were thrown at the vehicle, and the Israeli ofﬁcer in charge shot his weapon twice at a seventeen year old Palestinian, killing him on the spot.
A riot involving as many as 30,000 Palestinians broke out in Gaza that evening when the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) tried to take the body back for an autopsy. Israeli checkpoint soldiers were overrun by the rioters. Here‘s Thomas Friedman describing the pains:
Armed with bottles, rakes, stones, and tree limbs, [they] devoured the army’s tear-gas grenades and rubber bullets, which seemed only to nourish their rage. Israeli soldiers said they heard shouts of “Itbach al-yahud” – murder the Jews. By the next day, Thursday, December 10, 1987, the nearby town of Khan Yunis joined in the demonstrations, then the Balata and Kalandia refugee camps in the West Bank, then small Palestinian villages and city neighborhoods: there were more confrontations with Israeli troops, more casualties, and more burning tires smudging the skies of the West Bank and Gaza for days on end. Before anyone knew it, virtually all the Palestinians under Israeli occupation were engaged in a spontaneous primal scream that would be heard around the world.
It was during this turmoil that Sheikh Yassin and six other Mujamma militants launched Hamas (the Islamic Resistance Movement).
Hamas’s charter, released a year later, declares “Allah is its goal, the Prophet is the model, the Koran its constitution, jihad its path, and death for the sake of Allah its most sublime belief.”
Hamas’ Chart, Article Two: “The Islamic Resistance Movement is one of the wings of Moslem Brotherhood in Palestine.”
In 1989, Hamas carried out its first overt attack on Israel, abducting and killing two soldiers. Israel arrested Sheikh Yassin and sentenced him to life. It later rounded up more than 400 suspected Hamas jihadists, and deported them to Lebanon, where they hooked up with Hezbollah.
The “military” wing of Hamas, Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades
Many of the deportees later returned to Gaza.
Hamas built up its arsenal and escalated its attacks, while maintaining and expanding the network that underpinned its support in Gaza.
Meanwhile, Hamas’s foe, Fatah, started negotiating a two-state settlement. When Hamas accused Fatah of treachery, the accusation found increasing resonance in Gaza, as Israel kept developing settlements on occupied Palestinian land, particularly the West Bank, which was dotted with Israeli military checkpoints and a growing number of Israeli settlers.
Unable to uproot a now entrenched Hamas that had replaced Fatah as its foe, Israel started targeting Hamas leaders.
Khaled Mashal is now viewed as the leader of Hamas
In 1997, Israel’s Mossad spy agency tried to poison Khaled Mashal, as retaliation to the 1997 Mahane Yehuda Market Bombings.Two Mossad agents carrying fake Canadian passports entered Jordan, where Mashal was living. As Mashal walked into his office, one of the agents came up from behind and held a device to Mashal’s left ear that transmitted a poison. But Mashal’s chauffeur saw what was happening. A security guard began to chase the Mossad agents and boarded a passing car to pursue them. With the help of a policeman, he managed to overpower them and place them under arrest. Mashal was given the antidote. But to get the Israeli agents out of a Jordanian jail, Israel had to agree to release Sheikh Yassin. The cleric then set off on a tour of the Islamic world to raise gold and guns. He returned to Gaza to a hero’s welcome.
Sheikh Yassin, the day he was released from jail in 1997.
When Hamas turned to suicide bombings in 1994, Israel cracked down the jihadists with ferocious force. But each military assault seem to have increased Hamas’s appeal to Palestinians.
When Israel assassinated Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in 2004, and then Sheikh Ahmed Rantissi, it forces the Hamas leadership to go underground or abroad.
In 2004, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin was killed by an Israeli air strike.
Hamas ultimately trounced Fatah and the PLO in the 2006 Palestinian legislative election.
In June of 2006, Hamas captured an Israeli soldier by tunneling across the border between Gaza and Israel.
In February of 2007, Hamas, Fatah and other factions entered a unity government with Hamas in a deal brokered by Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
Hamas then formed the Executive Force, a combination of police force and political force to be used against opponents.
In June of 2007, Hamas ousted Fatah forces from Gaza in a bloody coup, throwing Fatah members off the roofs of buildings after shooting them in the knees. The Muslim Brotherhood front then took control of Gaza.
And because Gaza had been totally evacuated by Israel in the unilateral disengagement plan of 2005, Hamas became able to rule over Gaza as a de facto state government. And to use Gaza as a base for launching rocket attacks against Israel.