Book Review- Hamas: Politics, Charity, and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad by Matthew Levitt

Matthew Levitt is one of America’s most prominent counterterrorism experts. In this book, Levitt explores the origins and practices of the Palestinian terrorist group, Hamas. On October 7th, 2023, this group breached Israel’s southern border attacking and killing 1400 people. In response, Israel is attempting to eliminate Hamas by destroying terrorist infrastructure and killing fighters in the Gaza strip. Hence, there has never been a more critical for extempers and global citizens alike to understand Hamas!

History of Hamas:

In 1987, Hamas was founded as an extension of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organization that combined religion, activism, and social welfare. Hamas set its institutional goal as destroying the State of Israel and replacing it with a Hamas-run Palestinian state in the entirety of the territory stretching from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. Hamas is the governing power of the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian enclave nestled between the Mediterranean Sea, Egypt, and Israel. The group also maintains an active presence in the West Bank of the Jordan River Valley.

 The group set several key priorities and goals to achieve their overarching mission :

  1. Social welfare activity, designed to build international support for their organization
    1. Part of this goal is to become the internationally recognized representative of the Palestinian people, rather than the Palestinian Authority(PA), which is recognized by most of the world as the only legitimate representation.
  1. Political Activity that competes with the secular Palestinian Liberation Organization(PLO) and the Palestinian Authority(PA)
    1. Hamas doesn’t just compete with these rival political groups for international legitimacy. It also vies for recognition among Palestinians. Past elections(and potential future elections) in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip pit Hamas against the Palestinian authority. 
  1. Terrorist attacks targeting Israeli citizens and military:
    1. Article 8 of the Hamas charter states that “jihad is its path and the death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of wishes.” Hamas interprets the idea of Islamic Jihad to be a call for terrorism– that is absolutely not what Jihad universally means.
  1. Counter the secularization of Arab society:
    1. The group opposes the idea of coexistence with Jewish, Christian, Druze and other ethnic groups. Hence, the group attempts a radicalization of the civilian population. Unfortunately, disturbing discoveries show that Hamas-run schools are littered with anti-Christian and antisemitic propaganda. The terrorist group capitalizes on the suffering of Palestinian people living under dire conditions to create hatred.

*When analyzing Hamas in speeches, it’s incredibly valuable to consider why the group behaves as it does. What might Hamas be doing to advance its specified goals? How do specific actions play into their broad four strategies? This understanding can be used to make predictions, suggestions, and overall analysis. 

International Support for Hamas:

  • State Support:

Iran:

Iran is Hamas’s most impactful state supporter. Each year, the country directly sends Hamas millions of dollars in baseline funding. Through a fluctuating, “performance-based approach”, Iran provides financial bonuses for successful terrorist attacks and compensates the families of terrorists killed in these attacks. Given the scope of the recent attacks, some could infer that Hamas will receive even more money. Unlike other countries, the bulk of the money Iran sends to Hamas is for terrorist operations, not civilian services. Additional support includes the smuggling of high-quality weapons and the training of Hamas fighters in Lebanon and Iran. There have been recent reports of Iran training the terrorists behind the October 7th attacks on Israel. 

Qatar:

Qatar allows Hamas to hold offices in the country, where leaders stay for extended periods as well as fundraise through “charities and telecoms”. The most important leaders of Hamas aren’t based in the Gaza strip; rather they fluctuate between Syria and Qatar. Given Qatar’s ties to Hamas as well as America home to one of America’s biggest regional bases- you could see Qatar come up in question as a potential mediator(they facilitated the release of 2 hostages recently).

  • Businesses/ Individuals:

Hamas receives funding and services from sympathetic individuals and organizations in the Muslim world. The largest individual donors hail from Saudi Arabia, where members of the country’s elite have laundered millions to Hamas, Al-Qaeda, and other terrorist groups. In light of the attacks, Saudi Arabia may be under increased scrutiny from the US to crack down on laundering schemes.

Charities:

Groups like the Al-Aqsa International Fund and Interpor, which has spanned across major European countries like Germany, Holland, England, and France as well as American groups, provide Hamas support through the trojan horse of humanitarian assistance for Palestinian civilians. You might hear about international efforts to ensure that aid/charity given to Palestinians doesn’t fall into the hands of Hamas, especially during this war.

**Understanding who supports Hamas and how is critical to questions surrounding how to diminish the group’s capabilities for carrying out terrorist attacks.  

Could Hamas attack the United States:

Hamas frequently expresses violent anti-American sentiments. However, the group has never facilitated a terrorist attack outside of Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. Many people within the American intelligence community point to Hamas’s global reach, threatening rhetoric, and past lone-wolf attacks as a sign that they may attack America in the future. Others counter that this is unlikely as Hamas considers itself to be a “regional resistance force” and would face great organizational collapse if it attacked America. You may see this idea come up since there have been recent reports of Hamas fighters potentially entering the United States through its southern border with Mexico.

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