Since its military action on October 7 against Israeli military centers, the Palestinian organization Hamas has been the focus of the international media, which by and large has accused it (as has the government of Benjamin Netanyahu) of carrying out “cruel terrorism” as a justification for attacking it and the population of the Gaza Strip, which it governs. What is Hamas? Why are we defending it against these attacks? What are our agreements and disagreements with the organization?
By Alejandro Iturbe
Hamas means “fervor” in Arabic and comes from the acronym of the Islamic Resistance Movement. The organization was founded in 1987 as a split from the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood to build itself among the Palestinian people. Its organizational structure consists of a political branch, a social branch, and, since 1992, a military branch: the al-Qassam Brigades.
It belongs to the Sunni branch of Islam and, in its Charter of Principles (adopted in 1988), it claims the Koran as its ideological and political basis and Jihad as its “way” (a word that refers to the “effort” to defend the precepts of the Koran and is used in certain contexts in the sense of “war”).
The same “charter” states that its political goal is: “The establishment of a Palestinian Islamic state throughout the territory of the former British Mandate of Palestine”. To the extent that the State of Israel has appropriated more than 70% of this territory (by expelling the Palestinians) and maintains the rest under military occupation, this strategic objective implies the destruction of the State of Israel, and the “path of jihad” takes the content of war against it.
The establishment of Hamas and similar organizations in other Arab and Muslim countries (such as Hezbollah in Lebanon in 1982) must be understood in the context in which it occurred. In the first place, the process of the Iranian Revolution of 1979, which overthrew a puppet regime of US imperialism, ended up consolidating the Islamic regime of the ayatollahs . Within a context in which imperialism attacked it and this regime confronted it, it gradually became a reference for many Arab and Muslim fighters.
Secondly, at the end of 1987, the First Intifada took place in the occupied Palestinian territories, which was characterized by the heroic uprising of the Palestinian youth, who confronted heavily armed Israeli soldiers with stones and slingshots, and caused a deep crisis in the morale of these soldiers. The founding of Hamas was then a political response to the climate of unrest in the occupied territories.
Third, within the context of the process that led to the Intifada, the Palestine Liberation Organization (of a secular nature and until then the undisputed leadership of the Palestinian people) had already begun the path of betrayal that would lead to the Oslo Accords and its transformation into a colonial agent of the Israeli occupation in Gaza and the West Bank. This same path of betrayal that had already been taken by several “secular” Arab regimes and governments, such as that of Egypt, which in 1978 signed the Camp David Accords with Israel and US imperialism, recognizing the “legitimacy” of this state and agreeing to “peace” with it.
The growth of Hamas’ influence
In April 1994, Hamas carried out its first suicide bombing in the Israeli city of Hedera, which was followed by others. In addition to being persecuted by the Israeli army and repressive forces, the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) condemned Hamas’s “terrorist operations” and arrested some 140 suspected members of this organization.
As the PNA and Fatah (the main political organization of the defunct PLO) abandoned the struggle for regaining Palestinian territory and acted as colonial agents of Israel, Hamas increasingly emerged as an organization that maintained the struggle for this aspiration of the Palestinian people. Its prestige and influence grew among the Palestinians, especially among the residents of the Gaza Strip, who lived under terrible conditions.
In 2000, the Second]Intifada took place, a new uprising of the Palestinian youth against the occupation. It was the result of the realization that the creation of the PNA did not lead to a process of Palestinian sovereignty in the territories (in the perspective of the existence of “two states”), as claimed by the PNA and al-Fatah. It only served the Israeli policy of expelling the Palestinians from their neighborhoods in Jerusalem and advancing the appropriation of agricultural land in the West Bank to give it to Jewish settlers of Russian origin. At its core, this uprising was not only against Israel, but also against the policies and role of the PNA-Fatah.
In 2004, Hamas began to drop the word “Islamic” from the public formulation of its strategic goal, instead expressing it as “the establishment of a Palestinian state in all of the territory of the former British Mandate of Palestine.” This policy was in sharp contrast to the “capitulation” of al-Fatah and the PNA.
Hamas and the Gaza government
It is therefore not surprising that in 2006, in its first participation in the elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council (the PNA body based in Ramallah, West Bank), Hamas won a landslide victory, winning 76 seats to al-Fatah’s 43, a clear majority to form the PNA government.
Faced with this situation, Mahmoud Abbas, a member of al-Fatah and president of the PNA, ignored the results of the elections and the victory of Hamas, and proclaimed himself the sole Palestinian authority that maintains control over the central institutions of the PNA in the West Bank. It is supported by Israel and the imperialist powers that recognize it.
In the attempt to take control of the Gaza Strip, clashes took place between the forces of Hamas and those of Mahmoud Abbas, which ended with the victory of Hamas, which installed itself as the legitimate government of this territory. At that time, the IWL stated that the Gaza Strip had become the only Palestinian territory independent of Israel and that the Hamas government was the political and military expression of this.
The independence of the Gaza Strip is unacceptable to the Zionist state, which wants to eliminate it. That is why it wants its population to surrender by isolating it, blockading its economy and constantly bombing it, destroying its sanitary infrastructure and basic water and electricity supplies.
Thus, when Israel attacks Hamas, it does not do so because it is “terrorist” or “Islamic” (issues that we will address later in this article), but as part of the attack on the independent character of the Gaza Strip and the quest for the capitulation of its inhabitants. Because Hamas, despite its strong contradictions, has stood firm in its political approach and actions, unlike the PNA-al-Fatah in the West Bank.
Therefore, we do not “condemn” the actions of Hamas against Israel and instead we defend this organization against the attacks of the Zionist state, imperialism, and its many complicit governments in the world. We are in the same “military camp” of the struggle against Israel and for this reason we carry out joint actions in different countries of the world that express this unity of action. This is a key aspect of the defense of the Palestinian people and their struggle against Israel, and it is essential in the current situation.
Our political debates with Hamas
Over the years, the IWL has expressed in numerous articles that, with the formulation of the strategic objective of its Charter of Principles, we have, on the one hand, an agreement: the need to destroy Israel in order to liberate the Palestinian territories and build a Palestinian state there. On the other hand, we have a profound difference: while Hamas proposed to build a “Palestinian Islamic State,” the proposal of the IWL was, from the very beginning, “For a secular and non-racist Palestine,” which was the central axis of the founding program of the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) in 1964. This is the same program which the PLO began to abandon in order to “bury” it definitively with the Oslo Accords in 1993 and the creation of the PNA.
This is not a “discussion about religion”: we respect the religious beliefs of the hundreds of millions of people who profess the Muslim religion and live their lives according to the precepts of the Koran. Certainly, many Palestinians do. What we are saying is that where “Islamic states” have been built (based on a “fundamentalist” interpretation of the Koran), they have turned into harsh dictatorships, without any democracy for the workers and the people, with extreme oppression of women and harsh repression of LGBTI people.
This is the case of the Iranian regime of the ayatollahs, against which strong rebellions have broken out . It is also the case of the Taliban in Afghanistan. We have seen that Hamas has gradually abandoned the formulation of the “Islamic State” and adopted a more neutral form. However, if we analyze the character of its government in the Gaza Strip, we see that while it maintains it as a territory independent from Israel, it also has a dictatorial character, without any democracy for the workers and people of Gaza.
This vision of a future secular Palestinian state is also part of the political and cultural tradition of the Palestinian people. Soraya Misleh, in a recent IWL live broadcast, said that her late father (who claimed to be a Muslim and was expelled from his land with his family in 1948) used to tell her that during the British Mandate, the Palestinians lived in peace and tolerance with the Jewish and Christian minorities and with those who did not profess any religion.
The class nature of Hamas and its program
The political debate with Hamas goes much deeper. Hamas is an organization that set out to lead the struggle for the liberation of the Palestinian people against Israel. This led it to play a progressive role in this struggle, even taking over the government of the Gaza Strip and maintaining it as the only Palestinian territory not controlled by Israel.
However, at the same time, due to its origin and class character, its political conception and program, the aspirations of the Hamas leadership in the Palestinian state it wants to build (which, if achieved, would be an extraordinary triumph) are not to advance towards the construction of socialism, nor to extend the revolutionary struggle against capitalism, imperialism, and their puppet governments, to the whole of the Arab and Muslim countries (much less to the world).
Like other movements with similar characteristics, conceptions, and programs that have led struggles for the liberation of their peoples, its maximum objective is to achieve a territorial base in which to develop as a bourgeoisie and be accepted as such worldwide. This is what happened with the Algerian FLN (which used much more secular and “leftist” language), which, after expelling the French colonists and achieving the country’s independence, “froze” the process of struggle, kept it isolated, and built a bourgeois state and a capitalist economy. A large part of the FLN’s leadership and senior cadres succeeded in becoming an Algerian national bourgeoisie, but the path chosen led inevitably to Algeria’s return to a situation of subordination to French imperialism.
Something similar is happening in Afghanistan with the Taliban government. After having led the victorious war for the liberation of the country against the occupation of the US imperialism and its European allies, this government “froze” the process and is promoting capitalist development by calling for “foreign investments”, especially in the mining sector where it offers generous advantages to multinationals .
Hamas abandons its program to destroy Israel
After achieving its domination and rule of the Gaza Strip, the class character of its program and objectives has put Hamas in a dilemma: to put this triumph at the service of destroying Israel and recovering all the Palestinian territories, or to enter the path of recognizing Israel and usurping it through a policy of negotiations in the “two-state” strategy, which the PLO and Fatah have already done .
In 2017, Hamas modified its Charter of Principles and in this new programmatic document they accepted the idea of a “Palestinian state within the 1967 borders.” That is, it accepted the “two states” and coexistence with Israel that it had previously rejected, although it placed it as a “transition for the liberation of all of Palestine”.
As a result of this profound change, in the same year “Hamas announced that it would dissolve the Gaza Administrative Committee in order to allow a Palestinian unity government to work in its place and to move towards general elections.” In this context, “it signed a unity agreement with Fatah, under which Hamas returned control of Gaza’s border crossings with Israel and Egypt to the Palestinian Authority”.
In other words, in order to be allowed at the negotiating table with Israel and imperialism for the “two states,” Hamas abandoned its programmatic proposal for the destruction of Israel and its struggle for the leadership of the Palestinian people against the PNA-Fatah, to which it handed over leadership of the process.
The big obstacle Hamas has faced in this programmatic shift is that Israel and imperialism has e not accepted that it should sit at the negotiating table despite this change. The excuse is that it is a “terrorist organization.” We have debated against this false accusation in several articles . Our criticism and debate with Hamas is not because of its military actions, which we consider a valid and even necessary method in the struggle for the liberation of the Palestinian people against Israel, especially in the conditions of the existing inequality of forces.
The truth is that Israel and imperialism want to make Hamas (and the population of the Gaza Strip as a whole) “pay dearly” for the “audacity” of having maintained itself as the only Palestinian territory not subject to Israel. That is why it has encircled it, tried to stifle any possibility of economic activity, and bombed it constantly to destroy its health infrastructure. Now, it even wants to expel half of the Palestinian population from the territory. As for Hamas in particular, Zionism and imperialism are not satisfied with its capitulation, they want to destroy this organization because of its “audacity” to continue, even partially, the struggle against Israel.
Under these conditions, Hamas stopped the path of capitulation it had started, and shifted to the intensification of its military actions in order to defend itself. Israel responded with an even more aggressive policy of “ethnic cleansing” against the Palestinian people and the Gaza Strip.
Some final considerations
We have said that we do not “condemn” the actions of Hamas and that we defend this organization against the attacks of Israel and imperialism as part of the unconditional support of the struggle of the Palestinian people against oppressive Zionism. Therefore, we have unity of action with this organization on these points. This is today the main task that the IWL promotes on Palestine.
Within this framework, we debate and criticize the strategic conception of its foundation and its political objectives. Not because of sectarianism or “Marxist dogmatic rigidity,” but because, as did happen, this conception would lead it on a path of capitulation. Even when this path slowed down and Hamas returned to the struggle, these objectives led it to pursue an international policy that does not help advance the strategic perspective of the destruction of Israel and the recovery of all Palestinian territory.
The destruction of the State of Israel and the recovery of the Palestinian territories for its people can only be achieved through a war that is carried out to the end. In this war, if the correlation of forces in the territory of the old Palestinian Mandate is considered in isolation, we are fully aware that the Israeli military superiority over the Palestinian resistance is immense. In this limited framework, the possibility of a military victory for the Palestinian people seems impossible.
In order to defeat and destroy Israel militarily, it must be attacked from the outside “from all sides.” That is, from the borders of the neighboring Arab countries (Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan) with the support of the Arab and Muslim peoples as a whole. The Palestinian military resistance must be a “spark” that ignites the revolutionary and military struggle of the Arab peoples against Israel . In order to develop this regional revolutionary struggle, it is also necessary to advance in the struggle against the regimes and governments that, like those of Egypt and Jordan, have recognized Israel and signed for “peace”.
The international policy of Hamas does not have this objective. Its main international relationship and support is with the Iranian regime of the ayatollahs, which is playing its “own game” to gain a place at the table of the world order. It maintains close and supportive relations with Hezbollah, which, after defeating the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006, maintains a situation of permanent military tension on the border. But the central axis of its policy has been to be the main supporter of the Lebanese bourgeois regime.
With regard to the regimes of Jordan and especially Egypt, the policy of Hamas has been one of “peaceful coexistence.” We are aware that this may have been imposed as a necessity in light of the very harsh conditions in which the Palestinian people as a whole live: 3,000,000 Palestinian refugees live in Jordan, and the southern border of the Gaza Strip with Egypt, under its blockade by Israel, is the only door through which supplies and food aid can enter. At the moment, it would be the only way out for the one million Palestinians Israel wants to expel from Gaza.
But it is one thing to understand this necessity and another to “make a virtue of it” and abandon the strategy of “setting the region on fire” with a revolutionary process, the only policy that can defeat Israel and destroy this state.
 “Hamas Charter”. MidEastWeb. August 18, 1988.