Backgrounder: Hamas
By Aliza Becker, Deputy Director Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

The specter of Hamas - what they will and will not do - haunts nearly every discussion about a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Many of us have been confused as of late in thinking about Hamas. Here is a group that applauds suicide bombing and has spoken out strongly against a two-state solution. Yet, lately, statements by their leadership appear to show moderation and possible backtracking on their hard-line positions. In order to answer our questions, we researched and developed this "backgrounder" on Hamas. We hope it provides an overall understanding of their origins and what the future may hold in store for them - and for those of us who advocate a negotiated settlement in the Middle East.

This piece is written in a style meant to be accessible to a broad audience - because it is written in "popular education" style, complex details have been simplified for the sake of brevity. We have done our best to be accurate and accept responsibility for any errors. Many people contributed to the development of this piece and we want to thank them all. (See below for a complete list.)  We hope that by demystifying Hamas we can let ourselves put our wholehearted support behind the possibilities for a final status peace agreement that are once again coming to the fore.

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A Brief Excerpt from Backgrounder: Hamas

Brief History of Hamas

The Muslim Brotherhood 

The Roots of Hamas are in the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni religious and political organization established in Egypt in 1928, when Egypt was officially independent but still de facto controlled by the British. 
The Brotherhood’s ideology stood in contrast to the predominant Western-style anti-colonialist movements which emphasized values of liberalism and secular democracy. Instead, the Brotherhood taught that Muslims had become vulnerable to colonization through their lack of religious observance and spirituality.

The Brotherhood sought political independence for all Muslims and the establishment of a pan-Islamic caliphate throughout the Middle East. The Brotherhood’s combination of religious zeal and political purpose appealed to many in the increasingly fractured Arab world, and local groups sprung up throughout the region.

The organization’s growth was accelerated by the defeat of the Arab states in the 1967 Six Day War, and the collapse of the dominant ideology of pan-Arabism, a secular nationalist ideology that held that all Arabs were members of one nation and should be united into one country. The most prominent pan-Arabist, Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser, was deeply humiliated by the defeat of his army in 1967 – the largest and strongest in the region – and lost much support in the Arab world.

The Brotherhood Comes to Gaza

Because Egypt occupied the Gaza Strip from 1949 to 1967, the Brotherhood was already known among Palestinians  when Sheikh Ahmed Yassin created the Islamic Center to coordinate Brotherhood activities in Gaza in 1973.

Yassin and a small cohort of like-thinkers established Hamas after the eruption of the first intifada in December 1987, both to serve as the Brotherhood's local political arm and as an alternative to Fatah leadership of the Palestinian movement. They hoped this new organization  - Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya, or Islamic Resistance Movement – and whose name means “zeal”, would be more in line with fundamentalist Islamic thought.

[follow the links below to read more]

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Ghaith al-Omari, Senior Fellow, New America Foundation and Advocacy Director, American Task Force on Palestine
Nathan Brown, Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, George Washington University
Bob Alpern, Esq., Chair, Brit Tzedek New York City chapter Education Committee
Rafi Dajani, Executive Director, American Task Force on Palestine
Marcia Freedman, President, Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, former member of Knesset
Todd Goodman, Researcher, Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Rob Levy, Washington Representative, Brit Tzedek v'Shalom
Steve Masters, Esq., President-Elect, Brit Tzedek v'Shalom
David Matz, Director of the Graduate Programs in Dispute Resolution, UMass Boston, board member of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom 
Larry Rosenberg, Research Associate, Harvard School of Public Health
Sue Swartz, Freelance writer and editor, consultant, board member of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

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