Hamas’ Strategy: Going Back to the Source
By Jonathan Ruhe – Associate Director of The Gemunder Center for Defense and Strategy
Much of the press coverage of Operation Protective Edge has focused on the scramble for a ceasefire and a negotiated solution to this third war in five years between Israel and Hamas. Such reporting obscures a deeper, sober analysis of Hamas’ worldview and its ideological motivations for continuing this conflict – not necessarily on a tactical or operational level, but more fundamentally in terms of the endgame it envisions for its self-proclaimed broader struggle with Israel.
Like any organization, one of the clearest signposts for what Hamas stands for is its founding charter (click here for English-language version). Experts on the subject could pick apart the underpinnings and deeper meaning of this document, but much of its actual language is disturbingly straightforward and acerbic. More an enunciation of guiding principles than a detailed blueprint for political or military action, the 1988 charter sets a clear tone for the group’s objectives and methods. It argues for the non-negotiability of allowing a Jewish state to exist in Palestine, and that no true Muslim (according to Hamas’ definition) “can renounce [Palestine] or part of it, or abandon it or part of it” (Article 11). As part of this policy, Hamas may agree to armistices with its enemies – as it did most recently to end the November 2012 conflict – but no lasting peace is possible until Israel is eliminated.
In keeping with this uncompromising position, the charter spells out the need for armed conflict: “to face the usurpation of Palestine by the Jews, we have no escape for raising the banner of Jihad” (Article 15). Much of the rest of the charter follows this admonition for violence with incoherent but vitriolic anti-Semitism, saying “the Nazism of the Jews does not skip women and children,” and “the Zionist invasion … does not hesitate to take any road, or pursue all despicable and repulsive means to fulfill its desires.… Israel, by virtue of its being Jewish and of having a Jewish population, defies Islam and the Muslims” (Articles 22, 28). This founding document even cites centuries-old canards like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and seeks to delegitimize Israel by claiming Jewish conspiracies drove the Balfour Declaration and World War II (as well as the French and Russian revolutions; Articles 22, 32).
These excerpts speak for themselves. By dehumanizing Jews and universalizing the supposed threat they pose, the charter condones Hamas’ indiscriminate attacks against Israel, including through terrorism. By making the conflict with Israel categorical and eschatological, it pardons Hamas’ willingness to use Gazan civilians as martyrs in this larger struggle. It has been argued that Hamas’ political and ideological works published since its charter show that the group has moderated these stances. Notably, none of these documents claim to renounce, modify or supersede the charter, unlike efforts by PLO leadership to strike parts of its constitution which were inconsistent with commitments made under the Oslo peace process. Moreover, a less malicious document, like Hamas’ 2006 electoral campaign platform, still directly echoes the charter’s goals and strategy, stating that “Palestine is Arab and Muslim land” and that armed struggle is legitimate. Looking at these primary-source materials may not explain everything, but it does provide a framework for understanding the enemy Israel faces yet again in Gaza.