Between Welfare And Warfare: The Two-Faced Character Of Hamas


The article aims to point out the double nature, as welfare agency and, at the same time, as armed group, of Hamas, leaving apart the theoretical issue concerning the definition of terrorism and focusing on the implications that this ambivalence implies from an international perspective, specially connected to the blacklisting.


Hamas, the acronym of Harakat al Muqāwama al Islāmiyya (Islamic Resistance Movement), was established in Gaza in 1987 as the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood[1]. This latter was founded by the schoolteacher Hasan al Banna in Egypt in 1928. At the beginning it was a trade union for Arab and Egyptian workers employed in constructing the Suez Channel. It aimed to promote a culture of solidarity from an Islamic perspective. Ten years after its foundation the organization could count 500.000 members, belonging primarily to the poorest levels of the society. Recalling the traditional Islamic values the league promoted a political view of Islam, also through the opening of  “islamized places”, where relations were involved just among Muslims, without any western contamination. In order to achieve its goals it rooted in the mosques through the means of preaching, da’wa, and was very active in the social services and welfare system. Its presence in the educational and social agencies has been a feature still today, verifiable within the Brotherhood and its affiliate organizations, among them, precisely, Hamas.

As its parental organization, Hamas’ attention and commitment towards the people is a distinctive character which connotes its action and, at this regard, article 21 of the Covenant of Hamas states: “Mutual social responsibility means extending assistance, financial or moral, to all those who are in need and joining in the execution of some of the work. Members of the Islamic Resistance Movement should consider the interests of the masses as their own personal interests”.

The Covenant helps also to figure out the movement’s goals and ideology. Article 1 concerns Islam, perceived as origin and source of interpretation: “The Movement’s programme is Islam. From it, it draws its ideas, ways of thinking and understanding of the universe, life and man. It resorts to it for judgment in all its conduct, and it is inspired by it for guidance of its steps”. From the religion springs the awareness about the conditions of the Palestinian people and the decision to fight: “The basic structure of the Islamic Resistance Movement consists of Moslems who have given their allegiance to Allah whom they truly worship, – “I have created the jinn and humans only for the purpose of worshipping” – who know their duty towards themselves, their families and country. In all that, they fear Allah and raise the banner of Jihad in the face of the oppressors, so that they would rid the land and the people of their uncleanliness, vileness and evils[2].

With regard to Israel and its existence, the statute is clear: “Moreover, if the links have been distant from each other and if obstacles, placed by those who are the lackeys of Zionism in the way of the fighters obstructed the continuation of the struggle, the Islamic Resistance Movement aspires to the realization of Allah’s promise, no matter how long that should take. The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said:

“The Day of Judgment will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews, when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews.” [3]. The goal of Hamas is to eliminate the State of Israel and to replace it with an Islamist State in all of what was once the land covered by the British mandate, since Palestine is a waqf, an holy endowment, which has to be Islamic[4]. Accordingly, in 2006, when the organization won the political election in Gaza, it imposed in the Strip a strict observation of sharī‘a.

The slogan of Hamas, at article 8, is an effective summary of the organization’s belief: “Allāh is its target, the Prophet is its model, the Qur’an its constitution: jihād is its path and death for the sake of Allāh is the loftiest of its wishes”.

In order to achieve its aims, Hamas is committed in social welfare activities: the organization’s annual budget is estimated in 70 million dollars[5] and the substantial part of it, the 75-80%[6], is devoted to the social services network, which has ensured that support to the organization, which led this latter to the electoral victory. Moreover, it is engaged in political activity and in guerilla and terrorist attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians. The political wing has always had the control on the entire organization, hence also on the military component: the ‘Izz al Dīn al Qassām Brigades, for which it buys weapons and raises funds. The military wing, in turn, takes part to the decision making process even with regard to the political issues[7].

Starting from 1988, Hamas has begun to act, for first just in the Gaza Strip, then also in Judea and Samaria, targeting villages and towns and taking hostages. There has never been any distinction between soldiers and civilians because: “Every Jew or settler is a target and must be killed. Their blood and their property are forfeit[8]. In Mehola (Israel), April 16, 1993, Hamas opened the season of the suicide terrorism with a car bomb, bringing in the Israeli cities the same dynamics that, ten years before, Hizballāh used in Lebanon. This deadly campaign, which increased in the ‘90s and during the so-called “second intifada”, was responsible for the 40% of all the attacks and caused the 44% of the victims of terrorism in Israel[9].

Hamas’ social services, made of mosques, hospitals, orphanages, schools, religious societies, associations and sport teams, attract funding from abroad, through charitable societies and benefactor States, among them, for instance, Iran, as it was proven once again[10] during the last war in Gaza in the end of 2012, and Syria which also hosted the organization’s foreign contingent, also known as the external leadership, until November 2012. This latter has been in charge of keeping relations with the third Countries: Yemen as well as Iran. Syrian support was granted to Hamas by Hāfiz Assad and then by his son Bashār. The Country is a communication route with Iran, crossed by persons, goods and weapons, and a hosting territory for training camps[11].

Through the Islamic duty of zakāt, charities controlled by Hamas, for instance the Union of Good[12], collect a huge flow of money, especially from Saudi Arabia[13]. However, the Kingdom has been undertaking some agreements with Israel, since the support to the Palestinian cause should be seen from a wider perspective, inserted in the Middle-east chessboard, which implies the struggle for the control on the Region. Thus, from 2001, the flow of funds from Saudi Arabia to Hamas has been progressively reduced in a way inversely proportional to the increasing Iranian funds[14].

In 2003 the European Union listed Hamas in its terror blacklist, replacing the ‘Izz al Dīn al Qassām Brigades (in the list since 2001), opting for an unified consideration of the organization. The European awareness to be dealing with an unique, even articulated, movement has been the result of a different approach, antithetic to the previous one, which was used to split the military from the political wing. National authorities do not always confirm the Community decision: the United Kingdom has blacklisted just the Brigades, due to the consideration towards the organization’s social activities; furthermore, France keeps open channels and relations with it[15]. Outside the Union, Australia and New Zealand have taken the same decision of the Great Britain, on the contrary, United States and Canada have blacklisted the entire organization. In 2006 the Russian newspaper Rossiiskaya gazeta published the list of the terrorist groups drawn up by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. According to the words of the general Yuri Sapunov, at that time head of the antiterrorism at the Federal Security Service, the absence, in the list, of Hamas and of the Brigades was justified by the unclearness, on the international scene, about the nature of the organization. Moreover Hamas, and the Brigades as well, did not represent a threat to the Russian security, since they were not linked to the groups operating in Caucasus[16].

With regard to Hamas, as we have seen, the European Union reached the unanimity required by the Council Regulation 2580/2001 in order to list Hamas and to impose on it the provided restrictive measures. On the contrary, this consensus has always been missing when Hizballāh is at stake. Although also recently, after the suicide bombing of a bus full of Israeli tourists in the Bulgarian city of Burgas, Germany[17], United Kingdom and Netherland[18] have called for banning the Lebanese group, the European Governments are not able to find a common position about. Within the Union, just Netherland and Germany have banned Hizballāh, while Great Britain blacklisted only its military wing.

This disagreement is caused by organization’s relevance as social agency in Lebanon. As well as Hamas, the movement since its origin has been committed in providing assistance and services to the Lebanese Shi’ite community, hospitals, schools, summer camps, and creating job positions for the people from the southern quarters of Beirut and the Bekaa Valley.  However these agencies are also finalized to the recruitment of new members for joining the group. Hizballāh uses its summer camps to indoctrinate youngsters with its ideology, celebrating the terrorist culture, teaching to hate Israel, feeding the cult for Hassan Nasrallah’s personality and glorifying the organization’s martyrs[19].

Hamas services too are basins of votes and laborers: the funds are used for financing the social agencies, helping the poorest but also for buying weapons and for sustaining the families of those who were killed or imprisoned during the operations against Israel. Schools and summer camps for children and kids, which host 100.000 minors every year, are places aimed also to indoctrinate the young generations, training them to the hate for Israel, to the military techniques and to the charm of the martyrdom. The following example is a grammar exercise taken from a schoolbook provided by Hamas: “Believers who sit at home, other than those who are disabled, are not equal with those who strive and fight in the cause of Allah with their wealth and their lives[20].

The European Union, with regard to Hamas, has been able, so far, to perceive that the organization is one, now it is at a crossroads: it is called to decide if it wants to apply the same interpretation to the national blacklisting processes and to Hizballāh or if it wants to make a step back and to remove from the list Hamas’ political wing, keeping it as speaker and including its leadership in the peace deals.

[1] Article 2, The Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement, 1988

[2] Ivi, article 3

[3] Ivi, article 7

[4] Ivi, article 11

[5] Jonathan Masters, Hamas, Council on Foreign Relations, last update 27 November 2012, available at the website (last visit 21 February 2013)

[6] David H. Gray, John B. Larson, Grass roots terrorism: how Hamas’s structure defines a policy of counterterrorism, Research Journal of International Studies – Issue 8 (November, 2008), p. 126

[7] Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, Hamas and the terrorist threat from the Gaza Strip, March 2010

[8] Hamas leaflet 65/1990. Source: Boaz Ganor, Hamas – the Islamic resistance movement in the Territories, International Institute for Counter Terrorism

[9] Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, Profile of the Hamas movement, February 2006

[10] Saeed K. Dehghan, “Iran supplied Hamas with Fajr-5 missile technology”, The Guardian, 21 November 2012, available at the website (last visit 6 March 2013). Iranian support to Hamas has been ensured also through Hizballāh, which has provided its infrastructures to Iranian instructors training Hamas’ members

[11] See supra, note 9

[12] Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Country Reports on Terrorism 2011, U.S. Department of State, available at the website (last visit 8 March 2013)

[13] David H. Gray, John B. Larson, see supra note 6, p. 129

[14] See the U.S. Patterns of Global Terrorism, from 2001 on.

[15] Steven Erlanger, “France admits contacts with Hamas”, in The New York Times, 20 May 2008, available at the website (last visit 8 March 2013)

[16]  Robert Parsons, “Russia: Supreme Court approves List of 17 terrorist groups”, in Radio free Europe. Radio liberty, 28 July 2006, available at the web site (last visit 8 March 2013)

[17] Benjamin Weinthal, “Top German politician calls for EU to ban Hezbollah”, The Jerusalem Post, 23 August 2012, available at the website (last visit 8 March 2013)

[18] News agencies, “UK seeks to add Hezbollah to EU’s terror watch list”, Ynetnews, 7 September 2012, available at the website,7340,L-4278524,00.html (last visit 8 March 2013)

[19] Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, (last visit 8 March 2013)

[20] Itamar Marcus, “From nationalist battle to religious conflict: New 12th grade Palestinian schoolbooks present a world without Israel”, Palestinian Media Watch, February 2007, available at the website (last visit 8 March 2013)