Hamas is the reactionary Islamist organization that controls the Gaza Strip region of Palestine. Hamas launched a brutal multi-pronged attack on Israel on October 7 that took hundreds of lives, most of whom were intentionally targeted noncombatants, and seized hostages. In response, Israel has launched an all-out air attack against Gaza, killing, one week after the Hamas attack, nearly 2,000 people, including almost 600 children. More than 400,000 people in Gaza have already been driven from their homes. Israel instituted a siege to cut off food, water, medicine, and fuel from Gaza. After years of blockading and strictly limiting food and medical supplies to Gaza, Israel has now instituted a total cutoff of the essentials for human survival, and is embarked on a clearly genocidal assault against the Palestinians in Gaza as a people.
At this writing, Israel is demanding half the population of Gaza—starved, without means of transportation, or a way to live—immediately evacuate northern Gaza. The World Health Organization has called this a “death sentence.” While the amount of death and destruction caused by Israel with U.S. backing towers over that caused by Hamas, the nature of Hamas is no less reactionary. And there can be no real struggle for the liberation of the Palestinian people without completely rejecting the outlook, objectives, and methods used by Hamas.
Where Did Hamas Come From?
Hamas was formed in 1987, nearly 40 years after the bloody creation of Israel as a settler state outpost of imperialism in the Middle East in 1948.1 Today Hamas is engaged in a deadly clash with Israel, but in the early 1980s, Israel itself helped spawn Hamas. In 1981, Israel’s military governor of Gaza told the New York Times that Israeli authorities funded the organization that later became Hamas in order to counter the secular, nationalist Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Gaza, which Israel considered more threatening.2 Israel enabled Hamas to set up an Islamic university, build mosques, organize clubs and set up Islamic schools. And the Israeli military, which officially occupied Gaza at that time, stood by, at first, when Hamas developed paramilitary organization of its own and then later when it fought armed clashes with the PLO.
With retreats by, and defeats of the PLO’s forces,3 and the collapse of negotiations for the so-called “two-state solution” in the early 2000s,4 and with the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East and beyond, Hamas won an Israeli-sponsored election to rule Gaza in 2006. Through armed clashes where Hamas forces routed the PLO, Hamas consolidated control over Gaza by 2008.
In a development that has been compared to the way the U.S. funded and backed Osama Bin Ladin and Islamic fundamentalists to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, only to have those forces turn against the U.S., Hamas has become increasingly aligned with Iranian-sponsored anti-U.S. forces in the region. And that alignment takes place in the context of potentially explosive contention between the U.S. and its capitalist-imperialist rivals Russia and China to dominate this strategic region with a large share of the world’s accessible oil.
Hamas: A Product of Capitalism-Imperialism
Beyond the maneuvers of Israel (backed by the U.S.) that helped spawn Hamas, the workings of global capitalism-imperialism created fertile ground for the rise of Hamas. In Bringing Forward Another Way, Bob Avakian speaks to the appeal of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East:
There is the corruption of the regimes there, and the repressive nature of those regimes. There is the worsening of the material conditions of the masses of people and, along with that, the tremendous upheaval and dislocation of millions and millions of people in those societies, with the "traditional way of life" significantly uprooted but with no real positive radical alternative possible within the dominant social and international relations—none that would really meet the needs and serve the interests of the masses of people. Is it really surprising that this situation and its driving dynamics would lead people to gravitate to extremes? And there is a force of "Islamic extremism" which has been and is moving to organize people in relation to this—organize them around precisely an extreme version of traditional relations and traditional values and culture, which seem to be, and in a real sense are, under attack from many sides, especially as the effects of globalization, and the imperialist system as a whole, increasingly penetrate into and make themselves felt within these societies.
All these factors exist in extreme in the hellish outdoor prison that is Gaza.5 Since coming to power, Hamas’s rule over Gaza has taken place under Israel’s brutal chokehold on Gaza’s access to food, water, fuel, medicine, construction materials, electricity, and the ability to travel to or connect with the outside world. That chokehold has now grown unimaginably tighter.
Another major factor in the rise of Islamic fundamentalism was the defeat of genuine socialism and restoration of capitalism in China after the death of Mao Zedong in 1976. Socialist China was a beacon for the world revolution, and that defeat had a terrible global ideological impact.6
Hamas’s Reactionary Outlook and Vision
Hamas’s outlook and vision is exactly an “extreme version of traditional relations and traditional values and culture.” That includes misogyny, and endless, vengeful, religious war.
Hamas’s founding and defining document, “The Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement,” defines the role of women as an Islamic fundamentalist version of the Handmaids Tale, declaring, “She is the maker of men. Her role in guiding and educating the new generations is great. The enemies have realized the importance of her role. They consider that if they are able to direct and bring her up the way they wish, far from Islam, they would have won the battle.” As for those enemies of the enslavement of women, the Covenant declares, “The day Islam is in control of guiding the affairs of life, these organizations, hostile to humanity and Islam, will be obliterated.”7
In opposition to educating the masses in the nature of capitalism-imperialism, and how Israel and Zionism serve as enforcers of a world of exploitation and oppression, and the need and basis for all of oppressed humanity to unite and struggle for real revolution, Hamas’s Covenant demands that schools and teachers “instill in the minds of the Moslem generations that the Palestinian problem is a religious problem, and should be dealt with on this basis.”
The Covenant is virulently anti-Semitic with genocidal aspirations. For example, it cites Islamic scriptures as saying, “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla [servant of god], there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”8
Needed: Another Way
Nowhere in its Covenant does Hamas pose a challenge to the imperialist system of economic and political domination of the oppressed nations of the world, including Palestine. They are, at most, fighting for a better deal within the confines of that system. And in the social relations they promote and enforce, they maintain backward and reactionary relations of even older, more archaic forms of oppression.
The strategic objectives of the October 7 attacks in terms of Hamas’s goals are not clear, but what is clear is that they have nothing to do with liberating the Palestinian people, or bringing an end to exploitation and oppression.
What is needed, everywhere, is a radically different way, a pathway that breaks out of the clashing and reinforcing poles of western imperialism and Islamic fundamentalism. That other way is the new communism developed by Bob Avakian, which provides a scientific way to understand the sources of oppression, to carry through an actual revolution, and to go to work on uprooting the exploitation of billions around the planet and the oppression of whole nations and peoples, women and LGBTQ people, and all antagonistic relations between people.