WASHINGTON (Michigan News Source) – The Ten-Minute Guide to Terms in the Israel-Hamas War:
What is Hamas?
“Hamas” is an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya (the Islamic Resistance Movement). According to the Director of National Intelligence, it is “the largest and most capable militant group in the Palestinian territories.” The group has about 25,000 members and operates primarily in Gaza and the West Bank.
Hamas’s explicit goal is the destruction of Israel, seizure of its territory, and creation of an Islamic Palestinian state. In its 1988 charter, the group quotes Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood: “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it.”
According to Jason Gehrke, professor of history at Hillsdale College, Hamas can be broadly considered an offshoot of Iranian foreign policy. Because Iran provides explicit support, its ability to control or catalyze Hamas attacks is a bargaining chip in international relations. Although U.S. officials say they do not have “direct information” linking Hamas’s recent attacks with Iran, deputy national security adviser Jon Finer said on Good Morning America that “Iran is broadly complicit in these attacks for having supported Hamas going back decades.”
What is Palestine?
The Palestinians are an ethnic group descended from Arabs who inhabited a certain area of the Middle East. Arguments over the exact boundaries of this area persist, but ancient Palestine is generally thought to include the present-day state of Israel, though it has been split, conquered, and occupied many times throughout its history. Current-day Palestinians primarily reside in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and within Israeli borders.
Palestinians have historically opposed Jewish immigration to the region, particularly after World War I when British policies encouraged a fresh wave of Jewish immigration. These policies eventually culminated in the creation of Israel as a state in 1948, marking the end of a 2,000-year period during which Israelis had no official homeland.
“In our consciousness, Israel is old,” Gehrke said. “In the Arab world, it’s a blip. It’s nothing.”
Hamas has held de facto control of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip since it ousted the Palestinian Authority in 2007. In its covenant, Hamas marked itself as “a distinguished Palestinian movement, whose allegiance is to Allah, and whose way of life is Islam. It strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine ….” Hamas also “encourages [Palestinian nationalist movements] as long as they do not give their allegiance to the Communist East or the Crusading West.”
What happened on October 7?
At 6:30 a.m., Hamas terrorists tore down parts of the Gaza security fence (the “Iron Wall” on the Israeli side of the Gaza-Israel border) and fired rockets toward Israel. They then split up and began attacking Israeli towns and military bases.
The most publicized attack occurred at the Nova Music Festival, where partygoers were dancing and drinking to DJ music in an open field. With no warning, air raid sirens blared and rockets streaked overhead. Hamas had launched what many consider the worst civilian massacre in Israeli history, going on to kill hundreds and take about 150 hostages.
Why attack now?
Ideologically, the reason behind Hamas’s attacks is clear: “Our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious … until the enemy is vanquished and Allah’s victory is realized,” Hamas wrote in its 1988 covenant. “Jihad is [Hamas’s] path and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of its wishes.”
From a strategic perspective, the exact purpose and timing of the attacks remains an open question. One possibility, according to Gehrke, is that the attack will force Arab countries to break from the Abraham Accords, a 2020 agreement mediated by the U.S. that called upon the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to recognize Israel’s sovereignty. The agreement was the first time Israel had established diplomatic relations with an Arab country since 1994.
If the Hamas attack was an attempt to dissolve the Accords, it seems to be working—Bahrain has already recalled its ambassador to Israel and suspended all economic relations, condemning “the continuation of war and military operations, and the continuing Israeli escalation in light of the lack of respect for international humanitarian law.”
Another possibility is that Hamas can use specific tactics to combat an Israeli military that would otherwise be superior. Gehrke suggested that Hamas militants may be sheltering in tunnels beneath Palestinian cities because Israeli forces cannot attack the tunnels without causing city blocks to collapse, thus racking up civilian casualties. Gehrke said this becomes a powerful force in turning global support against Israeli defenses.
“From the River to the Sea:” Where did the slogan come from?
Students, politicians, and pro-Palestinian protesters around the world have been holding up signs and chanting the Palestinian slogan “From the river to the sea.” Michigan Representative Rashida Tlaib received official congressional rebuke for promoting the “widely recognized … genocidal call to violence to destroy the State of Israel.”
The full phrase is “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” It references a State of Palestine that would stretch from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. This area covers the entire Israeli territory and, according to the American Jewish Committee, can imply “elimination of the Jewish state, praising Hamas or other entities who call for Israel’s destruction, [and] suggesting that the Jews alone do not have the right to self-determination.”
How significant were the October 7 attacks?
Approximately 1,200 Israelis were killed in the initial attack. As Gehrke points out, this number is a much higher percentage of Israel’s total population than, for example, the 3,000 Americans killed in the attacks of 9/11.
Moreover, the ideological component of the conflict appears fundamentally unresolvable. To quote Hamas’s charter: “The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine [including Israel’s entire territory] is an Islamic Waqf [fixed charitable asset] consecrated for future Moslem generations … It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up. Neither a single Arab country nor all Arab countries, neither any king or president, nor all the kings and presidents, neither any organization nor all of them, be they Palestinian or Arab, possess the right do to that.”
Palestinian spokespeople have echoed this conviction.
“Israel is an occupying force and the Palestinian people will deal with it as an occupying force,” said Mohammed Dahlan, formerly the Palestinian Authority’s security chief for the Gaza strip. “None of the Hamas leadership or fighters will surrender. They will blow themselves up, but they won’t surrender.”
According to a recent Reuters article, many diplomats and analysts say they see no clear way out of the current conflict.
In Gehrke’s words: “The world has changed with what happened on October 7.”