Hamas is a radical Palestinian Muslim organization with political and militant branches. It is probably most famous for its militant activities, which include acts of terrorism such as suicide bombings, but the role of Hamas in the Palestinian Authority and Occupied Territories is actually much more complex. The stated goal of Hamas is the elimination of the State of Israel, leading many people and organizations to classify it as an anti-Semitic group.
The word “hamas” means “zeal” in Arabic, and it is also an acronym for Ḥarakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya, or “Islamic Resistance Movement.” The organization was founded in 1987 as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni Muslim organization based in Egypt. From the beginning, the founders of Hamas were very clear about the goals of the organization, and as of 2008, the organization had at least 1,000 active members, along with large numbers of supporters, including Palestinian expatriates all over the world.
Within the Occupied Territories, Hamas runs a number of social programs which are designed to win over the Palestinian population; the organization funds hospitals, orphanages, and schools, for example. Funding for Hamas operations comes primarily from expatriates in oil-rich Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia. The classification of Hamas as a terrorist organization by the US, Japan, Israel, Canada and the European Union means that it cannot access some international aid funding designed to help the Palestinian people. Hamas also engages in the political field; in 2006, it successfully defeated the Fatah party in elections, taking over the majority of government.
While the social programs of Hamas may be laudable, the actions of the militant wing are much more questionable. In the 15 years between 1993 and 2008, Hamas was responsible for the deaths of over 500 people, many of whom were innocent civilians killed in suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks. The group has been blamed for slowing the Middle East peace process, with the State of Israel being reluctant to negotiate with a terrorist organization which has the stated goal of eliminating Israel. International mediators have attempted to broker an understanding which has been hampered by violations of ceasefire agreements and radical Islamist rhetoric.
Support for Hamas among Palestinians is split. Some people certainly support the organization's operations, believing that Hamas is engaged in jihad, or holy war. Others disagree with the tactics of Hamas, and would prefer to see the goal of a Palestinian State achieved in a more peaceful way, if at all.