Its political program and ideology were drafted in lofty Arabic rhetoric and religious symbolism. Hamas believed that “the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgement Day.”
Hamas regarded nationalism (wataniya) as an implication of religious faith and struggle against the enemy as a religious duty. Hamas declared itself to be a “humanistic movement, which cares for human rights and is guided by Islamic tolerance when dealing with the followers of other religions.”
According to its charter, “Under the wing of Islam it is possible for the followers of the three religions—Islam, Christianity and Judaism—to co-exist in peace and quiet.” Both its charter and many of its official statements are harsh and uncompromising.
Hamas is divided into two main spheres of operation: social programs such as building schools, hospitals, clinics, and religious institutions; and militant operations. The Hamas underground militant operations included a number of suicide bombings that killed a few hundred Israeli soldiers and civilians, especially in February and March 1996, and after the outbreak of the al-Aqsa Intifada in September 2000.
During this second intifada, when Palestinian towns and refugee camps were besieged by the Israeli army, Hamas organized clinics and schools that served Palestinians; it also summarily executed Palestinian collaborators with Israel.
Many Hamas leaders and activists, including its founder, Sheikh Yassin, and his successor, Dr. Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, were assassinated by Israel during the so-called targeted killing operations. Its leader, Khaled Meshaal, lives in exile in Syria.
The social programs and political and religious stance of Hamas contributed to its considerable popularity among the Palestinians. Hamas participated in the January/May 2005 Palestinian municipal elections and achieved control of some places such as Beit Lahya in northern Gaza, Qalqiliya in the West Bank, and Rafah. On January 25, 2006, Hamas won the parliamentary elections, taking 74 of 132 seats in the Palestinian parliament.
After the elections Hamas faced considerable diplomatic and financial pressure to adjust its ideology to Western and Israeli demands. In June 2007 Hamas attacked their Fatah rivals, resulting in Hamas taking control of the Gaza Strip, while the West Bank remained under control of the Palestinanian National Authority.