A movement of Islamist resistance in Gaza and the West Bank which grew up in the 1990s in response to the armed interventions by the Israeli's against Palestinian military attempts to achieve statehood. It is a Sunni Palestinian group with roots in the Afghanistan jihad.
One of the founders was Abdullah Azzam who worked in the United States in the 1980s recruiting for the holy war and raising funds for Hamas. He was killed by a car bomb in 1987.
Hamas were prepared to kill Palestinian clerics considered to be co-operating with the Israeli occupation authorities in the West Bank and Gaza. This intensified after the intifada began in 1987 (Cooley, 2001).
In view of what Hamas has violently undertaken it is perhaps surprising that it was initially a charitable or teaching organisation. In the early-1990s the special target of Hamas was the peace which the PLO leader and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, sought with Israel under the Oslo Accords in 1993 (Cooley, 2001).
To some observers Hamas can be described as both a religious group and a separatist group. Insofar as it is an Islamic group (desiring to set up an Islamic Palestinian state) it can be seen as a religious terrorist group, but it is also separatist because it advocates Palestinian autonomy from Israeli control.
Their favourite method of attack is suicide car bombing on 'soft' and military targets and individual suicide attacks. Hamas, works round family ties and some of its operations in Lebanon have been partially aimed at gaining freedom of imprisoned family members. The worry for counter-terrorists is that suicide bombers are not likely to be deterred by security measures which only threaten their lives once they have carried out an attack.
Hamas has sought to mobilise Palestinians and Arab governments against the Accord by provoking the Israelis into breaking the Accord and into further military repression. Many Hamas supporters believed in a worldwide Zionist and Jewish hostility to Islam. In turn right-wing Israelis see the Islamic threat as everywhere masterminded by Hamas (Halliday, 2002). Hamas did create a demoralised feeling of helplessness in Israel after each suicide bombing. Israel has been unable to wipe out Hamas. More worryingly, Al Qaeda has forged ties with Hamas and Palestinian jihad, as many Palestinians went to Afghanistan and rose to positions in the organisation. Members of Hamas have experimented with the deadly poison, ricin. There is the notion in Hamas and other extreme Islamic groups of them representing primitivism against modernism (Reeve, 1999). The idea of primitive nomadic peoples burning out the corruption associated with city life has been a regular theme of the sociology of Islamic societies for generations. Hamas has developed the largest network of all militant Islamic organisations.