Rise Of The Hamas Leadership

From the late 1970s, Palestinians following the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt founded a network of clinics and schools and became active in the territories of Gaza and the West Bank

Rise Of The Hamas Leadership

Hamas, which holds power in the Gaza strip, is dedicated to the establishment of an independent Islamic state in Palestine. The organisation was founded in 1987 at the start of the first Palestinian Intifada. Hamas does not recognise the state of Israel and is opposed to the two nation formula proposed by the UN and supported by many Arab and Muslim countries of the world. Hamas policies can also be contrasted with the secular Palestinian movement initiated by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), which included the Fatah movement of Yasser Arafat and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) led by George Habash. It is worthwhile to examine this shift.

From the late 1970s, Palestinians following the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt founded a network of clinics and schools and became active in the territories of Gaza and the West Bank that were occupied by Israel after the defeat of Egypt, Jordan and Syria in the 1967 war. Initially their activities were generally nonviolent and devoted to charity works, but soon enough a group among them started calling for jihad against Israel. Hamas, an Arabic word meaning “zeal,” came to be the name of the movement that was established by members of the Muslim Brotherhood and the religious factions within the PLO. 

This new organisation soon gained popularity among Palestinian youth in the occupied areas. In its 1988 charter, Hamas maintained that Palestine is an Islamic homeland that can never be surrendered to non-Muslims and that waging holy war to wrest control of Palestine from Israel is a religious duty for Palestinian Muslims. This position brought it into conflict with the PLO, which in 1988 recognised Israel’s right to exist. So, after its launch, Hamas started to act very independently of all other Palestinian resistance groups, including the Palestinian Authority and any other secular nationalist organisation. After a series of attacks on the Israeli military targets, many Hamas leaders were arrested by Israel in 1989, including Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who was its founder. 

In the years that followed, Hamas underwent reorganisation to reinforce its command structure and locate key leaders out of Israel’s reach. A political bureau responsible for the organisation’s international relations and fundraising was formed in Amman, Jordan, electing Khaled Meshaal as its head in 1996, and the group’s armed wing was reconstituted as the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades. Jordan expelled Hamas leaders from Amman in 1999, accusing them of having used their Jordanian offices as a command post for military activities in the West Bank and Gaza. In 2001, the political bureau established new headquarters in Damascus, Syria. It moved again in 2012, to Doha, Qatar, after the leadership failed to support the Assad government in its crackdown on the Syrian uprising. 

In the 2006 elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council, Hamas won a surprise victory over Fatah, capturing the majority of seats. The two groups eventually formed a coalition government, with Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas as prime minister. Clashes between Hamas and Fatah forces in the Gaza Strip intensified, however, prompting Abbas to dissolve the Hamas-led government and declare a state of emergency in June 2007. Hamas was left in control of the Gaza Strip, while a Fatah-led emergency cabinet had control of the West Bank.

The Palestinian residents of the Gaza strip live in conditions of terrible poverty and under the vicious grip of the Israeli forces. Ironically, a number of Hamas leaders are enjoying a life of comfort. Lebanese magazine Al-Majala in its publication of 11 September 2021 reported that these leaders have taken advantage of the Palestinian problem and turned the situation into a source of personal profits and immense wealth. Forbes magazine has graded Hamas in the list of richest resistance movements with annual revenues of more than US$ 700 million in 2018. Hamas leaders named to have made fortunes include Khalid Mashal and Musa Abu Marzouk, with personal fortunes estimated to be above US$ 5 billion.

The next name on this list is none other than Ismail Haniyeh, the Prime Minister. He is a scion of a family from the Al-Shati refugee camp, and his capital is estimated at $4 million. He registered most of his assets in the Gaza Strip in the name of his son-in-law, Nabil, and in the name of a dozen of his sons and daughters and a few less well-known Hamas leaders. They all have homes in good neighbourhoods in the Gaza Strip, where the value of every home is at least $1 million. There is great anger among the residents of the Gaza Strip at the leadership of Hamas, headed by Ismail Haniyeh, after it became known recently that Hazem Haniyeh, son of Ismail Haniyeh, travelled with his family to Türkiye, where his father, who travels between Türkiye and Qatar, lives from time to time.

The joining of Hazem Haniyeh and his family with the rest of the family in Türkiye actually completes the move of the Haniyeh family members to that country. They left the Gaza Strip and moved to Turkey and Qatar, and became businessmen.

Egypt approved their departure from the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing, their names appearing on the list of those leaving and from there the information was leaked to social media.

Many residents of Gaza expressed on social media their outrage at the travel of the Haniyeh family members abroad while they are forced to stay behind under Israel’s tight siege from 2007 until today. The difficult economic situation in Gaza has become unbearable, unemployment is rising and the danger of a new round of fighting with Israel hovers over their heads as in the present war with Israel since 7 October 2023.

Ismail Haniyeh, who serves as the head of the political bureau of the Hamas movement, moved from the Gaza Strip to live in Qatar more than two years ago, after he broke his promise to Egypt and went through the Rafah crossing to Tehran to attend the funeral of General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force who was assassinated in Iraq by the US Army.