HAMAS – The Islamic Terrorist Movement
Background Paper

September 1998

The HAMAS (in Arabic, an acronym for "Harakat Al-Muqawama Al-Islamia" — Islamic Resistance Movement — and a word meaning courage and bravery) is a radical Islamic fundamentalist organization which became active in the early stages of the intifada. The HAMAS has played a major role in violent fundamentalist subversion and radical terrorist operations against both Israelis and Arabs, and employs its own "shock troops" for these purposes. The HAMAS makes frequent use of radical Islamic motifs, both in order to broaden its ranks and as a weapon against those whom it defines as its enemies. In its initial period, the movement was headed primarily by people identified with the Muslim Brotherhood in the territories.

In the course of the past years, HAMAS has become a leading perpetrator of terrorist activity. HAMAS engages in terrorist activity throughout the territories as well as inside the Green Line.

HAMAS is an organization composed of several interdependent levels. The popular-social base is maintained materially by the charity committees and ideologically through instruction, propaganda and incitement delivered in the mosques and other institutions and through leaflets. This base is the source for the recruitment of members into the units which engage in riots and popular violence. Those who distinguish themselves in riots and popular violence sooner or later find their way into the military apparatus, which carries out brutal and violent attacks against Israelis and Palestinians alike. The latter (and their families and relatives, if they are arrested or killed) enjoy the moral and economic backing of the preachers in the mosques, the directors of HAMAS-affiliated institutions, and the charity committees. (See HAMAS – Background and Talking Points, August 1997)

The teachings of HAMAS utterly reject the peace process, which involves the surrender of "Islamic land" and the recognition of Israel’s right to exist on this land. HAMAS has therefore become an important element in the coalition of those opposed to this process — a coalition formed before the convening of the Madrid Conference. HAMAS has recently become the moving spirit among those opposed to the peace process.

The HAMAS covenant provides the basis for understanding the actions of the HAMAS organization. The covenant, published in August 1988, determines in Article 11 that the land of Palestine is holy to Islam ("Waqf"), that Jihad (holy war) is the only solution to the Palestine problem (Article 13), that the obligation to liberate the land of Palestine is an individual obligation that falls upon every Muslim, no matter where he/she resides (Article 14), and that Jihad is the only way to liberate Palestine (Article 15).

The central aim of HAMAS is to establish an Islamic State in all territory defined as "Palestine" (from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River). This is to be carried out through escalation of the armed struggle. HAMAS recruits people for these activities and brings them nearer to Islam, through its charity and community work.

At the beginning of the Intifada, the movement was involved in street activity, such as violent demonstrations, disturbances, etc. From the beginning of 1989, and on a massive scale since 1992, however, it has resorted to terrorist activity.

HAMAS ideology, as expressed in the HAMAS covenant (and also through its website), is clearly antisemitic, and its style recalls that of the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion." This theme is a substantive element in its war against the State of Israel and the Jewish people in general.

The terrorist activity of HAMAS is inspired by the HAMAS covenant and therefore relates to all territory defined as "Palestine", without distinction, as the entire territory of "Palestine" is considered holy to Muslims. The only solution to the "Palestine" problem is through Jihad, and terrorism is the means of carrying out the Jihad.

Since 1989, HAMAS has taken the following actions:

(a) Kidnapping and murdering of soldiers – This started with the abduction of the late Avi Sasportas. There have been at least 14 attempts at abduction, nine of which ended in the death of those who were abducted.

(b) Shooting attacks – There have been at least 51 cases of shooting attacks that were carried out by the HAMAS. The manner of these attacks has varied, from ambushes against soldiers to drive-by shootings.

(c) Explosive charges – There have been at least 31 cases of terrorist attacks, or attempted attacks, through the use of explosives. These may be divided into three categories:

  1. Bombings in crowded places
  2. Car bombings
  3. Suicide bombings

Among the more serious HAMAS terrorist attacks in this category, the following are particularly noteworthy:

  • April 6, 1994 – Car bombing in Afula – 8 killed and 44 injured

  • April 13, 1994 – Suicide bomber on bus in Hadera – 5 killed

  • October 19, 1994 – Suicide bomber on No. 5 bus in Tel Aviv – 21 killed

  • April 9, 1995 – Car bomb in Kfar Darom – 8 killed

  • July 24, 1995 – Suicide bomber on bus in Ramat Gan – 6 killed and 32 injured

  • August 21, 1995 – Suicide bomber on No. 26 bus in Jerusalem – 4 killed

  • February 25, 1996 – Suicide bomber on No. 18 bus in Jerusalem – 26 killed

  • March 3, 1996 – Suicide bomber on Jerusalem bus – 19 killed

  • July 30, 1997 – Two terrorists carried out suicide bombing in Mahane Yehuda Market, Jerusalem – 16 killed and 170 injured

  • September 4, 1997 – Three terrorists carried out suicide bombing in Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall, Jerusalem – 5 killed and 164 injured

(d) Murder – There have been at least 16 cases of murder and attempted murder of civilians and soldiers. The most serious of these was the killing of four vegetable traders, Jews and Arabs, on May 16, 1993, in the Gaza Strip.

(e) Other activity – There have been cases of hand-grenade attacks, intentional car accidents, an attempt to hijack a bus, and Molotov-cocktail attacks. These, however, are not characteristic of the HAMAS operational strategy.


When one studies HAMAS actions, in regard to the location of its terrorist attacks, the identity of its victims and the nature of its actions, it becomes clear that the HAMAS terrorists do not make distinctions: Atrocities are carried out throughout the country, from Afula in the north to the southern Hebron hills, and from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. Its victims have been Israeli civilians and soldiers, as well as Palestinians and tourists. In addition, its means of attack have been varied, as described above. The means are apparently justified by the end – the destruction of Israel.