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Hamas leader Yehya Al-Sinwar Speaks at a Rally
Hamas leader Yehya Al-Sinwar speaks at a rally marking the 35th anniversary of the movement's founding, in Gaza City December 14, 2022.

In its original 1988 charter, Hamas states that “There is no solution for the Palestinian problem except by Jihad.” In a 2017 version of its charter, Hamas claimed to reject the “persecution of any human being or the undermining of his or her rights on nationalist, religious or sectarian grounds.” On October 7, 2023, it launched a terrorist attack that killed more than 1,300 people in Israel. 

Hamas was established in Gaza at the end of 1987 as both an arm of the Muslim Brotherhood and a rival to another designated terrorist group: the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. In line with its belief that "The day that enemies usurp part of Muslim land, Jihad becomes the individual duty of every Muslim," Hamas not only condemned the historic Oslo Accords but declares that international peace proposals and conferences are "but a waste of time, and vain endeavors."

Such pronouncements and a string of violent acts made it easy for the US State Department to designate Hamas a “foreign terrorist organization.” Others like the European Union, Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom have taken similar steps.

By 2017, it appeared that Hamas wanted to reshape, or at least clarify, its public image in some quarters. It took steps to soften some of the most extreme language of its 1988 charter by issuing new statements and declarations that, while not repealing or superseding the original document, supplemented it with more ambiguous terms and rhetoric. For example, the original charter called it "compulsory that the banner of Jihad be raised." In 2017, Hamas portrayed itself as a resistance movement aiming to “liberate Palestine and confront the Zionist project.” In 1988, Hamas explicitly acknowledged its links to the Muslim Brotherhood, but the 2017 Hamas Charter is devoid of references to the Brotherhood. In 1988, Hamas declared that the “Day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims fight Jews and kill them.” By 2017, Hamas claimed its mission wasn’t “a struggle against Jews or Judaism,” but a “struggle…against the Zionist occupation….”

While the tone and terms of the 2017 charter may be different from the extremist provisions of its 1988 predecessor, the newer document still hints at the violence and hatred at the organization’s core. Article 25 provides that “Resisting the occupation with all means and methods is a legitimate right guaranteed by divine laws and by international norms and laws. At the heart of these lies armed resistance…”

On October 7, Hamas terrorist forces attacked Israel by land, sea, and air, killing at least 1,300 people—including at least 31 Americans, most of whom were unarmed civilians—injuring thousands more, and taking over 150 civilians and soldiers hostage. 

In 2017, Hamas dressed up their terrorist objectives in more ambiguous, less violent terms. But in 2023, they made clear what they really stood for—in President Biden’s words, “the destruction of the State of Israel and the murder of Jewish people.” 

Little has changed since their anti-Semitic, anti-human, jihadist beginnings.

This blog was researched with the assistance of Caroline Moody.

About the Author

Ambassador Mark Green

Ambassador Mark A. Green

President & CEO, Wilson Center
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