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How Hamas grew out of Palestinian resistance in Gaza

Hamas launched its attacks from Gaza, the world’s biggest open-air prison
Issue 2876
A placard on a demo reads  “Whoever is in solidarity with our corpses and not our rockets is a hypocrite” illustrating a story about Hamas and Palestine

Hamas has gained support by resisting Israel from Gaza (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Hamas was born out of resistance to the Israeli state. Its name comes from an acronym in Arabic for the Islamic Resistance Movement.

It was founded in 1987 during the outbreak of the first intifada, or uprising. But for decades before that its members were primarily concerned with health and welfare.

The first intifada ended in 1993 on the premise of a comprehensive peace deal. The US and European Union‑brokered agreement was backed by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and the Israeli government.

It became known as the Olso Accords. In return for recognising Israel, the PLO and its allies gained limited control over the Gaza strip and the West Bank.

But the central issues—the status of Arab east Jerusalem and the right of refugees to return to their homes—were deferred to “final status negotiations” to be held at a future date.

Hamas rejected the agreement and refused to take part in the elections for the Palestinian Authority in 1996. The mainstream party, Fatah, won a majority in the new parliament.

But all the while, Israelis continued to seize Palestinian land and expand their settlements. And in the US, the Senate passed a bill to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. That meant the city would be the “undivided” capital of Israel.

During this period Hamas became the focus for disillusionment. The group was central to the Second Intifada, which erupted in 2000, and swept the board in Gaza in the elections of 2006.

In the West Bank and Gaza Strip the Palestinians mounted fierce resistance to the occupation, including using suicide bombers.

But the government it later led collapsed following a coup organised by Fatah and backed by Israel and the US. Hamas remains the governing party in Gaza.

Though born out anger on the streets Hamas has been drawn into negotiations. The group formally refuses to recognise the Israeli state, but it has slowly accepted the argument that a Palestinian state can exist alongside Israel.

It calls for Palestinian territory to be restored to what it was in 1967. But this doesn’t mean getting back the land that Israel stole in the 1948 Nakba.

That’s why some Israeli commentators in the recent past have called for negotiations with the group.

But there can be no negotiated solution to the oppression of the Palestinian people, unless based on all Palestinians being allowed to return to their homes.

Only when they can live as equal citizens can there be peace.

Occupied Gaza is an open-air prison

Hamas launched its attacks from Gaza, the world’s biggest open-air prison. It is not formally held by Israel but is starved and blockaded.

Around 2.3 million people are penned into an area the size of the Isle of Wight off the south coast of Britain. More than half of the population is aged under 18, and two thirds are refugees.

Israel seized and occupied Gaza during the 1967 war. The problem of holding down an insurgent population meant that it withdrew its troops and around 7,000 settlers in 2005.

When its people democratically elected Hamas in 2006, Israel stepped up repression.

Dov Weissglass, an adviser to the Israeli prime minister at the time, clarified the plan was to increase Palestinian suffering as punishment for the Hamas vote. “The idea,” he said, “is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.”

Together with the Egyptian regime, Israel still squeezes the life out of the territory. Movement of goods and people are strictly controlled.

Gaza has one of the highest population densities in the world. According to the United Nations, almost 600,000 refugees in Gaza are living in eight crowded camps.

On average there are more than 5,700 people per square kilometre—very similar to the density of population in London—but that figure rises to more than 9,000 in Gaza City.

Israel periodically launches major military assaults and bombing campaigns against the civilians in Gaza, killing hundreds every time.

In its 2014 attack Israel killed over 2,200 Palestinians, including 500 children, in the space of six weeks.

The assault destroyed or damaged 140,000 homes. The UN said in 2012 that unless Israel lifted its siege of Gaza, it would not be fit for human habitation by 2020.

Three years on from that deadline, there has been no improvement.

Israel was expected this week to launch a ground invasion of Gaza. But that will return Israel’s problem of trying to hold down an insurgent population.

And prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu will also be wary of starting a wider war with Hezbollah in Lebanon or with Iranian-backed forces. Hezbollah defeated Israel in 2006.

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