21 Oct A Q&A Primer on Hamas – Part 2
This is the second in a series of daily posts to address the following topics:
- What is Hamas?
- Why does Hamas think it will win? – This is today’s post.
- Who supports Hamas?
- Who are the Palestinians?
- What is the occupation?
- Is antisemitism part of the problem?
- What are the rules of war?
- Some concluding thoughts about the future.
Part 2 Why does Hamas think it will win?
Why is the destruction of Israel necessary in Hamas’ understanding?
The reasons for this are religious. The Hamas Charter asserts that once land has been conquered and occupied by Islam, it belongs eternally as a waqf (‘perpetual trust’) for Muslims. For this reason, the Charter states that Palestine is “consecrated for future Muslim generations until Judgement Day”. As a Hamas spokesman recently declared, “It’s all ours”. The same applies, according to the Charter, “for any land Muslims have conquered by force.” (By this logic, Spain and India would belong to Muslims too, and they also need liberating.) The Charter further explains that when land once conquered by Muslims is occupied by non-Muslims, it is a duty incumbent on all individual Muslims to fight to liberate that land.
The creation of the state of Israel was a violation of this principle. Thus Israel is, from Hamas’ perspective, an illegitimate state which every Muslim is obliged to fight against.
This teaching about once-conquered land is not unique to Hamas. It is derived from mainstream schools of Islamic law, and has been invoked in many jihad campaigns, including the Afghani’s jihad against the Soviets, and various jihad campaigns waged in the past against Western colonial powers.
Hamas is a relatively small entity, and is taking on the highly trained, much larger, and well-equipped Israeli army. Its enemy has jets and even nuclear weapons. Why does Hamas think it can win?
There are several reasons:
• Hamas is inspired by the past victories of Muslims against strong enemies. With great pride, the Hamas Charter several times refers to the defeat of the Crusaders at the hands of Saladin. The logic is: “We have done it before; we will do it again”.
• Hamas regards victory as a promise of Allah. The Charter states, “The Islamic Resistance Movement aspires to the realization of Allah’s promise,” quoting numerous quranic verses which speak of this victory. The belief is that if Muslims are only faithful enough in observing Islam, Allah will grant them the victory: those who are pure in heart and firm in action will be successful in war. The Qur’an states that even a small Muslim force will overcome a much larger force: “However often, by the will of Allah, has a small force defeated a big one? Allah is with those who persevere.” (Sura 2:29)
• Hamas believes the Qur’an’s teaching that terror will work to make your enemy give up. As the Qur’an says, “Strike terror into your enemies.” (Sura 8:60).
• Hamas does not stand alone. It is emboldened by international support for its cause from key countries, which provide it with funding and help. It is also encouraged by many non-Muslims in Western nations who sympathize with its cause.
• Hamas sees this struggle as one that is incumbent on all Muslims, everywhere. It aims to awaken two billion Muslims to join in the struggle. By its example, Hamas wants to stir up Muslims everywhere to take up arms against Jews. They believe the October 7 massacre will inspire Muslims to achieve even greater things. They want to light a fuse that will lead to a victorious explosion of violence. For this reason, simultaneous with the recent massacre, Hamas issued calls to the Muslims of the world to rise up. The many demonstrations all over the world in support of the Hamas’ “resistance” were a direct response to this call for global action.
• There is teaching in the Qur’an that Jews are by nature war-mongering aggressors. (Sura 5:64) \By this logic, Jews are incapable of living in peace with their neighbours, and it is inevitable that they will attack Muslim neighbours. From this perspective, peace is not an option for Palestinians: only a Palestinian victory can solve the supposed problem of Jewish aggression.
• At the same time, there is another teaching in the Qur’an that, when push comes to shove, Jews will not fight. They are claimed to be too ‘greedy for life’, while Muslims love death (Surah 2:94-96, 62:6). Thus the Hamas military commander, Mohammad Deif, recently spoke of the need to make Israelis understand that their “time is up”. Inspired by the Qur’an, radical Islamic groups have declared many times over the years that victory is just around the corner.
• Islamic teachings about jihad (war to advance or defend Islam) explain that whether a Muslim soldier kills or is killed, he wins either way. Fighting infidels is a win-win proposition. If a Muslim is killed he attains paradise as a martyr; if he defeats his enemies, he gets to rule over them. This win-win promise can make fighting an attractive option, even when the odds of victory seem slim.
What did Hamas hope to achieve by the massacre of October 7, and why did many of the pro-Palestinian protestors consider the attacks to be successful and even a source of pride?
The October 7 attacks were successful from several perspectives:
• They were designed to show that the Israelis are not untouchable or invincible, but they can be outsmarted and defeated.
• They put a spanner in the works of the Abrahamic Accords, which were threatening to achieve a rapprochement between Israel and some Arab states.
• They were designed to set off a fierce response from Israel, with many Palestinian casualties. Hamas is counting on this to turn Islamic states against Israel, and win more international support for the Palestinian cause.
• Victory is contagious: the plan is that this show of strength will inspire others to run to the aid of Hamas.
• There were also emotional benefits around restoring Muslim pride. In this vein, the head of Al-Azhar University in Egypt declared, “The Azhar proudly salutes the Palestinian people who have just restored our confidence, vitalized our souls and breathed life into us after we had thought it was gone forever.” Likewise an Australian Muslim, Imam Ibrahim Dadoun was shouting with joy as he preached on the street in Sydney after the massacre, his phrases punctuated by roars of ‘Allahu Akbar’ from the enthusiastic crowd: “I’m smiling and I’m happy. I’m elated. It’s a day of courage. It’s a day of happiness. It’s a day of pride. It’s a day of victory! This is the day we’ve been waiting for!”
Islam teaches its followers to expect dominance and superiority. For example, the Qur’an declares that Muslims are the best people who forbid what is wrong and command what is right (Surah 3:110). The October 7 attacks are thought to have restored honor to Muslims by showing Muslims as triumphant over Jews.
Israel is a wealthy, technologically advanced and successful nation surrounded by states which are struggling in many ways. This is a source of shame for some Muslims.
The idea that victorious violence brings emotional release is found in the Qur’an. Surah 9:14 tells Muslims, “Fight them! Allah will punish them by your hands, and disgrace them, and help you against them, and heal the hearts of a people who believe, and take away rage from their hearts.” This verse teaches that Muslim violence against non-believers is an act of God, which will “heal” the hearts of Muslims, releasing them from emotional pain and restoring their pride.
Despite all this, a risk to Hamas is that they have provided compelling evidence in the October 7 massacre that a two-state solution is impossible. Some Palestinian leaders have been exploiting hopes for a two-state solution, all the while telling their own people to accept only a complete destruction of Israel, “from the river to the sea.” For example, Hamas pursues a genocidal war, while blaming Israel for prolonging the conflict. This way Hamas can have its cake and eat it too: Israel is blamed for the failure of a two-state solution, while Hamas plans for genocide. If it is now accepted that Hamas will never agree to a two state solution, this can free Israel up to fight for its survival instead of having to negotiate for an impossible two-state solution, negotiations which have in the past only resulted in greater insecurity for Israeli citizens.
(An addendum in response to a reader’s comments: I do need to emphasize that I am not personally against a two-state solution. Also I have not attempted to survey here the attitudes of Israelis to a two state solution. However, I note that the Oslo Accords were meant to provide a pathway in that direction, but they were only followed by much higher Israeli casualties.)
Tomorrow’s installment will address the question: Who supports Hamas?
Mark Durie is the founding director of the Institute for Spiritual Awareness, a Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and a Senior Research Fellow of the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at the Melbourne School of Theology.