Hamas began as an off-shoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, when Egypt administered the Gaza Strip after 1948. It has developed in three ways, first as a social service and welfare organization, secondly as a political movement, and thirdly as a form of national resistance against occupation and colonization by Israel. The last role caused it to form a military wing.
When it first achieved power in the Gaza municipality it made the school buses run on time, repaired the street-lights and efficiently reorganized the rubbish collection. I suggest it has been unfairly demonized and then classed as a terrorist organization in the USA and Europe. Its name is an acronym for the Islamic Resistance Movement. In resisting Israel it certainly used suicide bombs and rockets fired at civilian areas. The parallel is perhaps with the IRA as the military wing of the political Sinn Fein party. After defeating a Fatah coup d’état in Gaza in 2007, Hamas has sought and maintained ceasefires in Gaza, though these were often broken by Islamic jihad and other splinter groups.
Some have gone further, by trying to equate Hamas with ISIS/ISIL. Nothing could be further from the truth, because they are in fact divided by ideology and doctrine. They are far apart over both goals and methods. Hamas recognizes and encourages democracy, political parties and citizenship in a civil society. ISIS/ISIL treats these as a blasphemy, whose advocates should be killed. They see armed force as the only route to power. ISIL’s followers in Gaza condemned elections as polytheistic innovations, worthy of the fires of hell. ISIL demands a caliphate, while Hamas calls for a civil state with an Islamic reference. Hamas quotes the Qoranic saying “There is no compulsion in religion” while ISIL is hapy to massacre Muslims, Christians or others who oppose it, and to enslave women and children. The contrast is between a modern movement and one stuck with the worst values of the 7th century. Hamas has not fought Israelis because of their religion, but because of their occupation of Palestine. Unlike ISIL it believes that mutilating human bodies is prohibited by Islam. ISIL on the other hand glories in beheadings and crucifixions, which it is not ashamed to show on the social media. It has thus ruined the image and reputaiton of Islam, in the eyes of both followers and adversaries.
Israel in particular, and western states also, should stop denouncing Hamas and refusing to negotiate with it. They should beware of bringing about the emergence of far more extreme groups. They should learn from what happened when Prime Minister al-Maliki in Iraq tried to gather all power to himself, to the exclusion of the Sunni one-third of the population