What Is Hamas and What Is Its Role in Gaza?

Hamas, the militant group that governs the Gaza Strip, has been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. and other Western countries.

Published Dec. 15, 2023

 ( Getty Images)
Image courtesy of Getty Images

The protracted, often bloody Israeli-Palestinian conflict exploded into a hot war on Oct. 7, 2023, when the militant Palestinian group Hamas launched a deadly attack on Israel and Israel retaliated by bombarding the Gaza Strip. More than 20,000 people, the vast majority of them Palestinians, were reportedly killed during the first two months of the war alone. The violence is driven by mutual hostilities and territorial ambitions dating back more than a century. The internet has become an unofficial front in that war and is rife with misinformation, which Snopes is dedicated to countering with facts and context. You can help. Read the latest fact checks. Submit questionable claims. Become a Snopes Member to support our work. We welcome your participation and feedback.

Hamas – an acronym for Ḥarakat al-Muqāwamah al-ʾIslāmiyyah (Islamic Resistance Movement) – is a militant group founded in 1987 during what Palestinians refer to as the first intifada (an Arabic word meaning rebellion or uprising) against Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories – the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Hamas rules one of those territories, the Gaza Strip, while the Palestinian Authority (PA) maintains governance of the West Bank. Israel maintains security control over both territories.

Hamas' primary aim, according to its 1988 charter, is to resist Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories and establish an Islamic Palestinian state in its place. Since 1997, the U.S. has designated Hamas a terrorist organization, due to its vow to overthrow Israel – a longtime U.S. economic and political ally – and the group's deadly attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers.

According to the group's 2017 updated document of principles and objectives, "Hamas does not wage a struggle against the Jews because they are Jewish but wages a struggle against the Zionists who occupy Palestine. Yet, it is the Zionists who constantly identify Judaism and the Jews with their own colonial project and illegal entity."

Iran, Qatar, Syria, and Turkey are Hamas's biggest economic and political allies.

Hamas governs in accordance with sharia-based Palestinian Basic Law. It is a common misconception that the majority of Gazans elected Hamas, a claim we have previously reported on. While is it true that Hamas won the majority of legislative seats using plurality voting, the first and only election ever held in Gaza took place in 2006. Given that approximately 44% of the current Gazan population is under the age of 18, and that many more were not yet of voting age at the time of the election, the current population does not necessarily have the same political interests as those held by the voting population in 2006.

Hamas supporters wave the group's flag outside Palestinian Legislative Council building in Ramallah, West Bank, January 2006. (Getty Images)

After the 2006 election, a brief civil war ensued in which Hamas violently seized control of the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, in April 2014 Hamas effectively "renounced its governing role" in Gaza by forming an agreement with Fatah [a rival political party that constitutes the Palestinian Authority] that outlined the formation of a new Palestinian Authority cabinet "composed entirely of nonpartisan ministers." Because Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the new agreement on the grounds that Fatah was jeopardizing a future peace agreement with Israel, the cabinet sworn in on June 2, 2014, was "unable to carry out the administration of the Gaza Strip." According to Haaretz, an Israeli news outlet, Netanyahu said at the time that such an agreement "will not strengthen peace, it will strengthen terror."

Hamas therefore remains the governing party in Gaza, though distribution of administrative responsibilities in Gaza is complex. Reuters has reported that "while Hamas controls Gaza and exercises tight control over information coming out of the enclave, formal responsibility for the health ministry still rests with the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank. The PA is dominated by Fatah, the main Palestinian rival to Hamas, and is responsible for paying salaries and providing equipment to Gaza hospitals."


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Taija PerryCook is a Seattle-based journalist who previously worked for the PNW news site Crosscut and the Jordan Times in Amman.