Hamas Contained
The Rise and Pacification of Palestinian Resistance
Tareq Baconi



While finishing this book, I attended a performance of Les Blancs (The Whites) in London’s National Theatre. This was the last play written by Lorraine Hansberry, the celebrated African American writer and playwright known for her work on identity and race relations in the United States. Les Blancs is her only play set in Africa. It recounts the story of an African man who travels from Europe, where he lives with his child and white wife, back to his unnamed birthplace to attend his father’s funeral. The anticolonial struggle his father had started there has gained ground, and the nation is on the brink of revolution. Hansberry’s protagonist, imbued with European values and the sheen of London civility, is a firm believer in nonviolent protest. He is also a proud and confident man, bristling at the condescension of colonial masters.

Dueling emotions wash over our protagonist as he tries to straddle two worlds and reconcile his dedication to nonviolence with the urgent struggle on the ground. Political discussions in the powerhouse of colonial Europe appear futile and out of touch. Peaceful protest feels wholly inadequate as the protagonist’s countrymen and women are slaughtered around him by colonial rifles. Dissonant themes collide, from the incivility and barbarity of armed struggle to the ignorance of the native in refusing European modernity. Questions of identity, violence, race, and nationalism test deeply held convictions, values, and beliefs. Over the course of a few hours, painstakingly crafted worldviews unravel in slow and excruciating ways. Minutes before the curtain falls, the protagonist reaches for his knife, slaughtering his first victim. It is his brother, a priest who had joined a European mission to convert fellow Africans to the Christian faith. With this final act of brutal fratricide, the illusion of peaceful decolonization appears to have been shattered.

Hansberry’s eloquent and sophisticated play was unflinching in its depiction of the complex moral ambiguity inherent in the adoption of arms for the pursuit of freedom. I was mesmerized. My companions thought it simplistic and unoriginal. There was nothing innovative, in their view, about contending with the brutality of liberation struggles. A twenty-first-century London audience, it seemed, could grapple with the role of violence in the face of colonial rule. This was understood as a natural and desperate fight for dignity. It was reductionist to conflate anticolonial violence with native barbarism.

Sitting in the darkness of the theater, I thought of Palestine. Lacking the clarity of historical hindsight, the Palestinian struggle for self-determination seems frozen in time, in many ways an interminable anticolonial struggle unfolding in a postcolonial world. It is a world that has confronted the carnage of decolonization. But the battle is still raging in Palestine, with ever-present urgency. The simplistic binaries that frame conversations of Palestinian armed struggle evoke the condescension expressed by colonial overlords toward the resistance of indigenous peoples. “Palestinians have a culture of hate,” commentators blast on American TV screens. “They are a people who celebrate death.” These familiar accusations, quick to roll off tongues, are both highly effective at framing public discourse and insulting as racist epithets. On the other end of the spectrum, I recalled conversations with Europeans and Palestinians who critiqued my reference to Palestinian armed struggle as “violence.” They saw this framing as a form of condemnation, casting armed struggle in a negative light. Support of the rifle, they argued, was not only comprehensible and dignified, but necessary. It was the only way to secure Palestinian rights against a murderous and unrelenting occupation.

As the play ended, I reflected on the history of violence in the Palestinian struggle, the advances it secured and the tragedy it sowed. I considered the fratricide of the play’s finale and compared it to the state of the Palestinian territories today, where leaders have turned their guns inward on their people. I thought of Hamas, the movement currently most representative of the notion of armed resistance against Israel. The prevailing inability or unwillingness to talk about Hamas in a nuanced manner is deeply familiar. During the summer of 2014, when global newsrooms were covering Israel’s military operation in the Gaza Strip, I watched Palestinian analysts being rudely silenced on the air for failing to condemn Hamas as a terrorist organization outright.1 This condemnation was demanded as a prerequisite for the right of these analysts to engage in any debate about the events on the ground. There was no other explanation, it seemed, for the loss of life in Gaza and Israel other than pure-and-simple Palestinian hatred and bloodlust, embodied by Hamas. I wondered how many lives, both Palestinian and Israeli, have been lost or marred by this refusal to engage with the drivers of Palestinian resistance, of which Hamas is only one facet. I considered the elision of the broader historical and political context of the Palestinian struggle in most conversations regarding Hamas. Whether condemnation or support, it felt to me, many of the views I faced on Palestinian armed resistance were unburdened by moral angst or ambiguity. There was often a certainty or a conviction about resistance that was too easily forthcoming.

I have struggled to find such certainty in my own study of Hamas, even as I remain unwavering in my condemnation of targeting civilians, on either side. For close to a decade, I have attempted to peel back all the layers that have given rise to the present dynamic of vilifying and isolating Hamas, and with it, of making acceptable the demonization and suffering of millions of Palestinians within the Gaza Strip. The product is this book, which seeks to explore Hamas’s world order and present the voice of a marginalized group that remains central to the Palestinian national movement. This book works to advance our knowledge of Hamas by elucidating the manner in which the movement evolved over the course of its three decades in existence, from 1987 onward. Understanding Hamas is key to ending the denial of Palestinians their rights after nearly a century of struggle for self-determination.

It is also a prerequisite to halting the cycles of violence that are intermittently unleashed on the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip. Nearly one year before that evening at the National Theatre, I was talking to a young boy in Gaza. The conversation was during the Islamic month of Ramadan in 2015, and everyone was sluggish from the June heat. I asked him about the school year he had just finished and whether he was happy to be on holiday. He shrugged. “Sixth grade was fine,” he said, “a bit odd.” He was in Grade A and he used to look forward to playing football against Grade B. That past year, though, the school administration had merged several grades together. The classes were crowded and the football games less enjoyable. I wondered aloud to the boy why the school administration had done that. Annoyed that I was not engaging with the issue at hand, that of football politics, he answered in an exasperated tone. “Half of the Grade A kids had been martyred the summer before,” he snapped. The kids who had survived no longer filled an entire classroom.

Gaza’s reality can be jarring to any outsider wading in. Tragedy has become routinized, almost mundane, particularly for a younger generation, many of whom know no other life outside this imprisoned land. Initially, one could be forgiven for being lulled into a sense of relative normalcy. During the short time I was allowed to spend there, Gaza bustled with life. Streets were filled with vendors. Cafés teemed with patrons breaking the fast. College campuses heaved with students and faculty attending summer courses. Traffic crept slowly. Night markets and thoroughfares came to life on piers that jutted out over the water from Gaza’s sandy beaches. Hotel lobbies were filled with journalists and filmmakers. Yet this illusion of life was shattered far too easily and often. Collapsed buildings sprung into view and humming drones interrupted conversations. Proud flags declaring Hamas’s military training sites fluttered as one drove through various cities. Life unfolded against a physical and mental backdrop of destruction. The daily hive of activity that one walked into was little more than a testament to what Gaza could be, in an alternate reality. The quotidian goings-on of Palestinians there spoke of the human spirit of survival and appeared to me, at least, to be a tragic manifestation of endless motion in stillness. Students graduated into unemployment. Vendors sold to cover their costs. Families shopped to survive.

Gaza is held in time, contained from the outside world, nurtured just enough to subsist, never to grow. My time there coincided with the anniversary of Israel’s 2014 operation on this narrow coastal enclave. Thousands of Palestinians had been killed. Major swathes of land had been bombed so thoroughly that whole neighborhoods were reduced to mounds of rubble. Infrastructure that was already depleted by years of deprivation under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade was wiped out. Walking through the remnants of neighborhoods, I saw how reconstruction had barely commenced. The landscape of chaos and devastation that had filled news screens a year earlier had given way to a state of controlled collapse. Debris had been swept aside, piled into empty plots of land or dumped in landfills where people hoped it would eventually be used as raw material for rebuilding. Rickety bombed-out houses reverted to homes for families who had nowhere else to go. Vanished walls were replaced with colorful cloths to give the illusion of privacy.

I stood in an open plain in north Gaza and looked over at Sderot, a town in southern Israel. If ever there was a reminder of the political nature of Gaza’s tragedy, it was that snapshot. The juxtaposition of Sderot’s manicured tree lines and white houses with Gaza’s postapocalyptic landscape elucidated the stark discrepancy in what constituted “life” across the few kilometers that separated those two places. I was one of the privileged handful able to move between those vastly divergent worlds. Standing there, I thought of the little boy whose classmates had been killed in 2014. I recalled speaking with an Israeli woman in a town north of Tel Aviv a few days earlier. As we sat around a dinner table, she bemoaned Israel’s militarization and compulsory army service. The woman was heartbroken that her eighteen-year-old son had been forced to participate in Israel’s operation that summer. He had returned a changed man, a hardened one, she cried. “Being forced to kill and to see death is a terrible burden on one’s conscience,” she protested.

“We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children,” Golda Meir, Israel’s first female prime minister, is rumored to have said. “We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children.”2

On both sides of the Erez crossing (known to Palestinians as the Beit Hanoun crossing), the main civilian border separating the Gaza Strip from Israel, dehumanization was rampant. I sat in the passenger seat of a speeding and poorly maintained car hurtling across Gaza’s traffic lights in an effort to reach my host’s home before the mosque’s muezzin announced the end of the fast. I was speaking with my driver, a teenager too young to be driving, who was coming up to his last year at school. I asked him what he wanted to do postgraduation—always a fraught topic in a place like Gaza. He said he “was thinking of joining the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades,” Hamas’s military wing. I had seen posters throughout the city and on mosque walls announcing that registration was open for their summer training camps. A few of his friends had apparently signed up. Why, I asked. He replied that he wanted to “fight the Jews.” He’d never seen one in real life, he added, but he had seen the F-16s dropping the bombs.

Almost a decade into the blockade of the Gaza Strip, which had begun in earnest in 2007, “Jew,” “Israeli,” and “F-16” had become synonymous. A few years prior, this boy’s father would have been able to travel into Israel, to work as a day laborer or in menial jobs. While it would have been structurally problematic, that man would have nonetheless interacted with Israeli Jews, even Palestinian citizens of Israel, in a nonmilitarized way. This is no longer the case. One could see in my driver how the foundation was laid for history to repeat itself. Resistance had become sacred, a way of living in which he could take a great deal of pride serving his nation. On the other side of the Erez crossing, he and his schoolmates were deemed terrorists. Gaza was viewed as a backward and enemy-ridden enclave, heavily populated and disintegrating under the weight of its own misery, loathing, and incompetence. An Israeli man reacted with horror when I told him I was going into Gaza. “Where will you stay? They have hotels there?” They do. Beautiful hotels. He shrugged. “They got what was coming to them last summer.” Against the backdrop of flares and explosions lighting up Gaza’s night skies during Israeli military incursions, some Israelis trek up to raised viewing points, sit on couches, and eat popcorn while watching the “fireworks” over the beleaguered land.3

More than two million Palestinians now live in the Gaza Strip. That makes it an urban population larger than most American cities. But the human dimension, so visceral to anyone who walks the streets of any city in the strip, is almost an afterthought, if a thought at all, to many who think of this place. The image of Gaza as a terrorist haven has been all-consuming. As has its image as a war-torn pile of rubble, sterile and devoid of life. The collective punishment of millions has become permissible, comprehensible, and legitimate. Destroying schools and targeting UN shelters, as Israel did in 2014, are military tactics that have been justified as essential for Israel to defend itself against terror. The killing of more than five hundred children during that same operation for many becomes little more than an unfortunate necessity.

Sitting at the heart of this perception, indeed the catalyst that produces it, is Hamas, the party that has ruled over the Gaza Strip since 2007. Given prevalent media discourse, one might be forgiven for thinking that Israel has besieged and bombarded Gaza because it has been faced with a radical terrorist organization in the form of Hamas. But as this book shows, the reality is more complex and is one in which the fates of Gaza and Hamas have been irreversibly intertwined in the Palestinian struggle for liberation from an interminable occupation.

My fixer in Gaza told me a story. There was once a village whose men were all drafted to fight in some faraway battle. While the men were gone, enemy soldiers invaded the village and raped all the women who had been left behind, and went on their way. The women, shell-shocked and bloodied, mourned their fate as they congregated to comfort one another in the village square. One woman was missing. They went looking for her and found her lying under the soldier who had tried to rape her. With her own hands, she had managed to kill him and save herself from the lot of her fellow villagers. Joy at her safety soon soured. The raped women now worried they would be judged by their husbands for not similarly fighting for their honor and fending off their rapists. In no time, this undefiled survivor became a symbol of their shame. Swiftly, they conspired to kill her.

The storyteller turned to me and said, that woman, the survivor, is Gaza. She has refused to submit to Israel’s occupation and its rape and pillage of Palestinian land while other Palestinian and Arab leaders have succumbed. She has become a source of pride for Gazans who maintain their armed resistance against Israel. She is now a shameful reminder for those who have accepted their fate. Arabs and Palestinians elsewhere have looked away as she is bombarded, incessantly and mercilessly. Israel has focused all its efforts on shaming and breaking it. For she remains the only proud bit of Palestine that refuses to yield. One only needs to walk the streets of Gaza to feel the pride that people take in “the resistance.” In countless conversations, I was reminded that while the Israeli army can drive up to any house in the West Bank and arrest its members—even to the house of the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas!—it was unable to step foot in Gaza. At least not without incurring a beating. This strip of land is thought of as undefiled, Palestinian, sterile of Israel’s occupation.

Of course, the occupation persists, but it is no longer in people’s homes. Palestinians in Gaza celebrate being able to go about their lives without the daily indignities of having Israeli teenagers armed with rifles harass and humiliate them. Close to the buffer zone with Israel, Gazans have paved a road called shari‘ al-jakar, literally translated as “street of spite,” as a symbolic claim to sovereignty, spiting their previous overlords by proving they can pave their own roads without Israel’s permission. The deep satisfaction derived from such an action is easily understood. Driving around the land where the Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip had once stood, one can see the wide multilane highways that used to connect the Jewish-only settlement blocks where eight thousand inhabitants lived. Extending alongside them are the dusty, potholed one-lane roads that the 1.8 million Palestinians had been forced to use. Against this blueprint of Israel’s colonization of Gaza, Palestinians are now free to build their own infrastructure, wherever they want. And the pleasure felt from this sense of liberty, of quasi sovereignty, is immense. This is so even when everyone understands all too well how truncated such sovereignty is. In matters of life and death, Israel’s occupation grinds on relentlessly in the form of an external structure of control on a besieged population. But within this prison cell, Gazans have staked their flag.

Palestinian pride in the resistance has trickled down to the younger generation. I remember interviewing a senior member of Hamas’s government at midnight in the sitting room of his private home when his three-year-old son waddled out of his bedroom to embrace his father. He had donned a Qassam bandana and was playing with a plastic gun. The military paraphernalia reminiscent of any army’s elsewhere in the world stared back at me. This was an alternate reality, a space where the universe revolved around Palestinians facing Israel’s occupation. Gazans lived a life of resistance. This was the first plot of land within the boundaries of what was formerly Mandate Palestine to be governed by a Palestinian party that was unapologetically defiant to Israeli rule. There was dignity and a sense of promise that if “liberation” happened in Gaza, it could be replicated in the rest of the Palestinian territories. Complaining about Hamas’s governance of the Gaza Strip, even if in silent whispers, rarely extended to criticizing “the resistance.” For many Palestinians, this was the final frontline for guarding against Israeli atrocities.

In the recent past, this notion of armed struggle against Israel has been for the most part monopolized by Hamas, and resistance has become almost synonymous with al-Qassam. There is no doubt that Hamas carries out terror-inducing activities within Israel and the Palestinian territories. The movement itself, through its various publications, explains how it seeks to create terror to pressure the Israeli government to end its occupation of Palestinian land. Hamas’s actions fit into the definition of terrorism used by the U.S. Department of State, which notes that “terrorism is premeditated politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by sub-national groups or clandestine agents.”4 While Hamas itself admits that it has used such tactics, it vehemently rejects being designated a terrorist organization. The logic underpinning this seeming contradiction is the absence of a single definition about what constitutes terrorism.5 The term is malleable and subjective, and more importantly, it has been used as a tool of war.6 The definition put forward by the U.S. State Department has consistently and cynically been manipulated to justify illegal and morally reprehensible military measures, in this case by Israel. Furthermore, while the label of “terrorism” under this definition can be applied to Hamas, it fails to account for the terror caused by Israel’s relentless military regime over the Palestinians.

It is exceedingly difficult to engage in a discussion on terrorism, which is precisely why it is a powerful device to undermine any legitimacy that organizations such as Hamas may have. Like all definitions of terrorism, the one put forward by the U.S. State Department is highly contested. Why is terrorism limited to subnational groups or clandestine agents if states are the biggest perpetrators of organized violence against civilians?7 How does one differentiate between indiscriminate violence aimed solely at terrorizing civilians and legitimate armed resistance aimed at securing internationally sanctioned rights that invariably ends up killing civilians? How are civilians defined in a world where the notions of war and peace are increasingly difficult to ascertain, and where the form of warfare has outgrown the very laws that define it?8

Classifying Hamas as a terrorist organization has justified sweeping military action against Palestinians, depoliticizing and dehumanizing their struggle. It has also prevented the possibility of viewing Palestinian armed resistance as a form of self-defense within the context of war. The notions of war and peace are subjective for Israel and the Palestinians. For the former, war begins when rockets fall on its territory or when suicide bombers invade its streets. For the latter, war is constant, manifest through a brutal military occupation that has persisted for more than half a century. The transition between war and peace for Palestinians is an imaginary one. Where rocket attacks and suicide bombs trigger claims of self-defense and ostensibly justify Israeli military operations, no similar mechanisms are in place for Palestinians reacting against the act of war inherent in an occupation that is both terror inducing and intentional. While international law has made exceptions for viewing Israeli military operations in Gaza through the lens of a security paradigm, security for Palestinians against consistent Israeli aggression appears to be absent.9

In thinking of the morality of Palestinian armed struggle, the knowledge that violence has animated numerous anticolonial liberation trajectories somehow dissipates. The historical context within which Hamas operates, and which has given rise to Hamas as an armed resistance movement in the first place, is overlooked. Palestinians instead are collectively demonized as a people that celebrate death. Their political struggle for self-determination is eclipsed by indictments of their bloodlust. In one of the carnivals in Gaza before the 2014 escalation, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh blasted through the loudspeakers to a vast crowd, “We are a people who value death, just like our enemies value life.”10 A few weeks later, as Hamas was boosting the morale of Gazans amid Israel’s onslaught, another Hamas leader called on people to face the occupation “with their bare chests,” and to embrace death if it came their way.11 These remarks were used throughout global media channels to signify that Hamas was using civilians as human shields and that Palestinians revere a culture of death where martyrdom is a goal to be rejoiced. While self-sacrifice in the context of national armies and the defense of one’s homeland is celebrated the world over, indeed is a foundation of nationalism, Palestinian self-sacrifice is studied as a perplexing anomaly. What compels suicide bombers to don a vest? Why are teenagers eager to join Hamas’s military training sites? Why is resistance praised when it has brought catastrophe on Palestinians?

The worldview of Palestinian resistance fighters is that they are engaged in a justified war against a violent and illegal occupation that terrorizes them and their family members. Their adoption of armed struggle, in this particular context, draws on its own legal, political, and theological justifications governing the laws of war and its conduct.12 Without justifying this resort to violence, one has to see and understand it from a center of gravity that is rooted in the Palestinian territories, not in the West. One has to grapple with the organic thoughts, emotions, and feelings that give rise to a universe that is often at odds with the dominant Western-centric framing of political violence. It is my aim in this book to trace the architecture of this alternate reality from the perspective of Hamas. Stepping away from polemics associated with the use of a deeply charged and ultimately ineffective term such as “terrorism,” this book describes violence, military attacks, occupation, suicide bombings, assassinations, rocket fire, and air-raids in their most basic characteristics, while acknowledging and mourning the devastation and human suffering that underpin these acts. The book will have fulfilled its purpose if it presents Hamas’s counternarrative on its own terms. Such an undertaking is made with the hope that the movement will emerge and be understood in a wider space where such critical examination has so often been lacking.

In presenting such a counternarrative, the history recounted in this book is by default approached from the perspective of one actor. The book does not claim to offer either a comprehensive history of the three decades between 1987 and 2017 or a review of Israeli policies toward the Palestinian territories. Rather it offers an overview of Hamas’s trajectory over the course of this period. This is done while acknowledging that there is no single “Hamas.” It is an exercise in futility, as well as fundamentally inaccurate and reductionist, to try to suggest that the movement is some form of monolithic actor. In narrating Hamas’s travails, it is important to understand that the movement is a complex and decentralized organization with different facets. Its constituents, like the Palestinians more generally, are fragmented and facing vastly different challenges in their local arenas. A predictable number of contradictions and inconsistencies emerge when studying the movement’s different foci. As a multifaceted organization, one that engages in political, social, and military operations, Hamas is an actor with a host of internal tensions that are constantly being balanced.

There is an inherent challenge, therefore, in seeking to offer a high-level reading of Hamas while wishing to remain sensitive to the nuances within the movement. I dealt with this dilemma by expanding the diversity of voices I quoted and the breadth of the archival sources I drew on. But I confess that this is not a study that will manage to render the intricate complexity of Hamas, for instance, by providing a comprehensive review of internal relations between Hamas’s inside and outside leadership or between the movement’s military and political wings, or the movement’s robust social welfare infrastructure. Furthermore, this study has proceeded from the premise that Hamas is at its core a political, not a religious, party. Of course, through its own declaration, Hamas is an Islamic movement by charter and by the faith of its leadership and its member base. While this book has addressed how this belief system impacts Hamas’s political outlook, it has not explored the theological underpinnings of the movement’s ideology. In other words, this is not a book about Islam, but Islam has a key presence within the book.

To elucidate the arc of Hamas’s trajectory since 1987, I relied on an extensive archival source base that was gathered from the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and the United States. The collected sample comprised thousands of Arabic documents that contain oral, visual, and written discourse published by Hamas between 1987 and 2017.13 These include the comprehensive collection of Filastin al-Muslima (Muslim Palestine), one of the movement’s main mouthpieces; the comprehensive collection of Hamas’s local mouthpiece in Gaza, Al-Resalah (The Letter, or The Message); samples of the publication Assafir (The Ambassador), which is circulated within the Gaza Strip; bayanat (leaflets) issued by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah, and other factions and their military wings; local, regional, and international news publications that report on Hamas and that include interviews, quotations, or statements made by Hamas members; and electronic publications posted by the movement through its various online channels. Alongside this archival research, I carried out interviews with members of Hamas across all levels of seniority in Lebanon, Jordan, Qatar, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, as well as with Israeli and Palestinian politicians, analysts, academics, and activists.

Filastin al-Muslima offered the backbone for this study given its uninterrupted print run.14 This publication employs writers, researchers, and contributors within the Palestinian territories and abroad who are either openly affiliated as Hamas members, are sympathetic to its cause, or are analysts with significant insight into the movement’s operations. It publishes extensive interviews with Hamas’s leaders as well as leaflets that are issued by Hamas and distributed to its constituents. It also publishes articles by academics, journalists, and members of other factions to debate issues of importance to Palestinians. I have attempted to highlight where possible when articles were written by members of Hamas or otherwise. Collectively, through the pages of Filastin al-Muslima, I was offered a powerful window to understand Hamas’s worldview, the manner in which the movement attempts to communicate with its constituents, and the thinking it cultivates.

I systematically reviewed these monthly publications while working to mitigate key concerns that might arise from the use of a publication to gain insight into Hamas’s thinking. Acknowledging these publications as the movement’s “party line,” I couched my analysis of this discourse within the wider reality that Hamas operates in. To do so, I adopted a methodical discourse analysis approach that relied heavily on contextualization, whereby the pieces being reviewed were assessed against a broader reality that drew on secondary literature and alternative media sources.15 I used news reports as well as studies by think tanks and other organizations operating on the ground to get a sense of the environment in which Hamas’s actions were unfolding. Comparing rhetoric with practice offered great insight into the movement’s thinking. Therefore, alongside Filastin al-Muslima, I systematically reviewed local and regional media outlets that reported on Hamas during this period, as listed in the bibliography. I supplemented this Arabic source base with both international news sources and secondary literature in Arabic and English.

To compile my source base, I relied on the extensive repositories of local and international news articles on Israel-Palestine that are collated in two archives. The first is the Institute for Palestine Studies in Beirut, which collects and saves all news publications on Israel-Palestine in Al-Watha’iq al-Arabiyeh (Arabic Documents) Collection. The second is al-Zaytouna Centre in Beirut, which published Al-Watha’iq al-Filastiniyyah (Palestinian Documents) for the years 2005–11. These two sources are extensive collections from which even the most obscure reactions to various events can be located. I also benefited greatly from the support and cooperation of Al-Resalah’s employees in Gaza City, who were kind enough to share with me the publication’s archive, given that these are not housed in other repositories outside of Gaza City to my knowledge.

Using this material, Hamas Contained offers an overview of the three decades of Hamas’s existence, primarily as narrated from the movement’s perspective. In so doing, the book covers the major milestones that Hamas went through as it expanded its notion of resistance from the military arena into the corridors of government. Hamas Contained seeks to contextualize these developments within the broader arc of Palestinian nationalism as it explores Hamas’s role within the Palestinian struggle for self-determination. In viewing the movement primarily through the lens of its political ideology, the book attempts to elucidate the dynamic that has emerged between Hamas and Israel, as well as Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, over the course of this period.

In the following six chapters, the book covers the movement’s trajectory in phases, from the prehistory of its creation in 1987 through its unsuccessful decision to relinquish its government in the Gaza Strip in 2014. The Conclusion opens with the 2014 Israeli operation on the Gaza Strip and brings the story up to the fall of 2017. It then breaks from the narrative approach adopted in the rest of the book to make a number of analytical interventions about Hamas and the current phase of Palestinian nationalism. By eliding the movement’s political ideology, as was done to the PLO before it, Israel has maintained policies aimed at depoliticizing Palestinian nationalism, and sustained its approach of conflict management rather than resolution. Through a dual process of containment and pacification, Hamas has been forcefully transformed into little more than an administrative authority in the Gaza Strip, in many ways akin to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. At the time of its thirtieth anniversary, the movement appears temporarily—if not conclusively—pacified, and Israel seems to have succeeded in maintaining the permanence of an occupation long deemed unsustainable.


1. See, for example, “Sean Hannity Heated Exchange with Yousef Munayyer,” YouTube, July 29, 2014.

2. There is a debate about whether Golda Meir actually said these words. See Harvey Rachlin, “Misquoting Golda Meir: Did She or Didn’t She?,” Haaretz, June 16, 2015.

3. The viewing spot is known as Kobi Hill. See Robert Mackey, “Israelis Watch Bombs Drop on Gaza from Front-Row Seats,” New York Times, July 14, 2014. Similar scenes happened in 2009, as depicted in the Israeli documentary Matador Hamilchama (The war matador). See “War Matador: Trailer,” YouTube, December 1, 2011.

4. U.S. Department of State, 2002, as per 22 USCS 2656f.

5. See Teichman, “How to Define Terrorism,” 505–17; and Primoratz, “What Is Terrorism?,” 129–38.

6. For more on the loaded term and its manipulation, see Freedman, “Terrorism as Strategy,” 314–18.

7. On the differences between “civilized violence” and “barbaric violence,” see Asad, “Thinking about Terrorism and Just War,” 3–24.

8. The role of law in governing liberation struggles is increasingly coming under review, not least because of its historic relation to imperialism and colonialism. See Anghie, Imperialism, Sovereignty, and the Making of International Law; and Kennedy, “The International Human Rights Regime,” in Dickinson, Examining Critical Perspectives on Human Rights.

9. For more on notions of self-defense and preemption, see Gray, International Law and the Use of Force. For more on Israel’s quest for security and the prolonged occupation see, Moses, “Empire, Resistance, and Security.”

10. “Speech for Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh,” Hamas Info, March 23, 2014, Al-Watha’iq al-Arabiyeh (Arabic Documents) Collection, Institute for Palestine Studies (IPS) Archive, Beirut, Lebanon [hereafter IPS].

11. “Al-Qassam Release,” Al-Qassam, July 18, 2014, IPS.

12. Asad, “Thinking about Terrorism,” 14.

13. All translations are the author’s own.

14. This publication is considered a mouthpiece by other scholars. See Nüsse, Muslim Palestine, 6. Scholars from within Gaza have also relied on Filastin al-Muslima and expressed a view regarding its broad circulation and accurate reflection of Hamas’s thinking. Ahmad al-Nuwati, Hamas Min al-Dakhel. Filastin al-Muslima [hereafter FM] in any case presents itself as the official mouthpiece. See “Goodbye . . . Onto a New Arena of Struggle and Liberation,” FM, July 19, 2013, 2–3.

15. Discourse analysis allows researchers to critically study various discursive elements by taking into account social, historical, and political considerations with the aim of developing an empirically assessed reality or elucidating a forgotten historiography. See Jørgensen and Phillips, Discourse Analysis as Theory and Method; Torfing, New Theories of Discourse; Der Derian, “Imaging Terror”; and Doty, Imperial Encounters. For discourse analysis on Islamic movements, see Khatib, Matar, and Alshaer, The Hizbullah Phenomenon.