Photo Credit: screenshot
Armed Hamas militiamen on parade with a mock rocket in Gaza.

{Originally posted to the Gatestone Institute website}

Anyone with a serious interest in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians will be familiar with the oft-cited Charter (or Covenant [mithaq]) of the terrorist group currently ruling the Gaza Strip, Hamas. The Charter (in Arabic here) was published on 18 August 1988. Its proper title is “The Charter/Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement ‘Hamas’ Palestine”, Hamas being an acronym for “the Islamic Resistance Movement”.


This April, the Lebanese news site al-Mayadeen leaked a draft version of a much-revised version of the 1988 Charter, due to be released “in the coming days”. The anti-Israel website Mondoweiss subsequently provided an English translation of the draft, made by someone from the Ayda refugee camp in the West Bank. So far, I have been unable to find the Arabic text of the draft online, even though it has been discussed many times in the wider Arabic media. We shall turn to it later, but it is obviously sensible to look first at the 1988 version as a basis of comparison. And even before that, we need to see how the Hamas Covenant differed from, and resembled, the PLO Covenants of 1964 and 1968.

The full title of the movement is crucial to an understanding of the document and its aims. Hamas had been founded in 1987 as an intransigent extension of the Palestinian Mujamma linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, and was explicitly hardline and neo-Salafi in its religious orientation. This was in conspicuous contrast to its rival Palestinian movement, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), founded by the Arab League in 1964 as an overtly secular and nationalist entity. The two PLO National Covenants of 1964 and 1968 exclude religion as a basis for the anti-Israel struggle.[1]

But in those versions, that secular nationalism takes two distinct forms. The 1964 PLO Charter is based on the concept of pan-Arabism as inspired by the Arab League and Egypt’s president at the time, Gamal Abdel Nasser. Palestinians are simply Arabs among millions of Arabs, and their struggle for liberation was carried out with little emphasis on the creation of a Palestinian state. This view changed, however, after 1967, when the Six-Day War showed the powerlessness of the Arab states to resolve the Palestinian issue. When Egypt and Jordan attacked Israel (Egypt’s closing the Strait of Tiran was a legitimate casus belli, cause for war), Israel repelled them and ended up sitting on land — Gaza, the Sinai Peninsula, Judaea and Samaria — which it immediately offered to return in exchange for recognition and peace. That offer was rejected in a matter of weeks at the Khartoum Conference.

During and after the “peace process” and the Oslo Accords of the 1990s, the Palestinian leadership promised that it would delete the most offensive and anti-peace clauses of the 1968 Charter. Many years later, nothing has been done, and the existing Charter remains unchanged.

Nationalism is not an Islamic concept. Even pan-Arabism falls outside the remit of Islamic ideology and practice. Almost from the beginning, Islam has been predicated on the idea of a global community (the umma), which embraces all Muslims and Islamic regions, allegedly since the beginning of time, with a promise of eventual Islamic control over the Earth. According to a sound tradition in the canonical collection by al-Bukhari, among the five things given to Muhammad that had not been given to any previous prophet was that, “Every Prophet used to be sent to his nation only but I have been sent to all mankind.”[2] In another version, he is recorded as saying: “I have been sent to all mankind and the line of prophets is closed with me.”[3]

This sense of global scale has characterized the Islamic world from its beginning in the form of empires. These started with the Umayyads (661-750) and ended with the Ottomans (1299-1922). The long history of Islamic imperialism had two imperishable effects: it prevented the development of nation-state polity and imposed the theory of religious rule. Self-identification for imperial citizens functioned only through the family, clan, tribe, village or town or city; or according to religious affiliations of various kinds. Everywhere, the only true citizens were orthodox Muslims; subjugated minorities such as Jews and Christians were kept strictly as inferiors, with a separate set of harsh laws and a special tax, the jizya, to pay for “protection”.

This legacy of Islamic dominance, of jihad as a legitimate and regular policy towards non-Muslim Europe, African regions, Central Asia and India, combined with the illegitimacy and unacceptability of Jewish, Christian or secular rule over Islamic territory, has left a deep mark on the Palestinian sense of identity. Formerly subjects of the Ottoman Empire in Syria, almost overnight in the 1920s the Arab Palestinians found themselves adrift in a sea of international rules and regulations concerning territory and national identity. This was the never-acknowledged pivot around which the growing conflict with the Jewish Palestinians revolved — and still revolves.

The emergence of various nationalisms in the Islamic world since the early twentieth century (such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, or Syria) owes little or nothing to traditional Islam and much, if not everything, to the impact of the West, where nationalism first developed. Some Muslim states (such as Iran, Morocco or Egypt) have always had a sense of territorial identity, but most have been provinces of imperial systems. When the League of Nations set up three Class A mandates for Syria/Lebanon, Palestine/Transjordan, and Mesopotamia (Iraq), it created five nations out of two provinces. The Arab states that reject Israel today forget that they themselves would not exist without the Mandate system – a point seldom if ever acknowledged in public forums where the legitimacy of Israel is debated.

Palestinian nationalism is, therefore, an extension of the wider Arab nationalisms created out of the mandates, both in terms of the Palestinian Kingdom of Jordan and the long-postponed future state of Palestine. If there is any Palestinian desire for a two-state solution, it is questionable: according to current maps of “Palestine,” and the New Hamas Charter, it is supposed to be on its neighbouring state, Israel; not next to it. The wish of Palestinian leaders to have a Palestinian state is never realized solely due to the unending rejection of their Jewish neighbour.

So long as the PLO dominated the political landscapes of the West Bank and Gaza, an eventual shift, through reasonable political compromise presumably from both sides, to a two-state solution, remained the only game in town. The secular-nationalist position of the Palestinians offered some hope of political normalization and the publication of a new Covenant. That changed in 1987 with the emergence of a major rival to the secular-nationalist position in the form of a new resistance organization, Hamas, founded shortly after the start of the First Intifada. Hamas is an acronym for harakat al-muqawama al-islamiyya (“Islamic Resistance Movement”). One year later, in 1988, Hamas made waves when it released its own Charter, an uncompromising document that took the PLO commitment to the abolition of Israel into deeper and little-charted waters, including the elimination of all Jews everywhere.

While both Hamas and the PLO/Fatah dreamed — and still dream — of a single Palestinian nation to replace Israel and its surrounding disputed territories, they differed in one major respect: the Hamas nation of Palestine would be an Islamic state, governed by Islamic values and shari’a law. Things had changed regionally since the two PLO Covenants were made public.[4]

The Middle East and the Islamic world in general were experiencing a shift: from Western-influenced political values based on modern states ruled by man-made law and based on secular governments whether democratic (as in Lebanon) or dictatorial (as in Syria) towards a return to and intensification of traditional Islamic theories of governance, made and governed solely by Allah (God, although their qualities are quite different, if not opposite).

Some form of Salafi Islam had existed from the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, together with the financial windfall from oil and the rise of jihadi movements such as al-Qaeda, brought violent radicalism to the fore, not only in the Shi’i world, but across Sunni countries from Egypt to Afghanistan.

Hamas had started life through connections with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which, although fundamentalist in orientation, originally was not particularly violent. Hamas, however, clearly engaged with the broadening current of anti-Western terrorism justified by jihad, a current that culminated later in the emergence of the Islamic State.

Hamas’s 1988 Charter reflects this. It notes more than once that Palestinian nationalism should be religious in nature and quite distinct from other secular forms of national expression:

“Nationalism, from the point of view of the Islamic Resistance Movement, is part of the religious creed… If other nationalist movements are connected with materialistic, human or regional causes, nationalism of the Islamic Resistance Movement has all these elements as well as the more important elements that give it soul and life. It is connected to the source of spirit and the granter of life, hoisting in the sky of the homeland the heavenly banner that joins earth and heaven with a strong bond.” (1988 Charter, Article 12)

“Nationalism of the Islamic Resistance Movement is part of its religion. Its members have been fed on that. For the sake of hoisting the banner of Allah over their homeland they fight.” (1988 Charter, Article 13)

Notably, other parts of the 1988 Hamas Charter resemble the 1968 PLO Covenant. For example, in Article 13, we read:

“There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors.” (1988 Charter, Article 13)

This comes very close to the PLO’s secular use of “armed struggle” (al-kifah al-musalah):

“Armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine. This is the overall strategy, not merely a tactical phase. The Palestinian Arab people assert their absolute determination and firm resolution to continue their armed struggle and to work for an armed popular revolution for the liberation of their country and their return to it” (1968 PLO Charter, Article 9).

And the use of “jihad” by Hamas comes even closer to the PLO’s “Commando action” (al-‘amal al-fida’i), literally “self-sacrificial action”. (1988 Charter, Article 10). Fida’i is from the same Arabic root that gives us fida’iyin (Fedayeen).

Hizbullah, Israel’s greatest military threat in Lebanon, is, like Hamas, a revolutionary religious organization inspired by the Shi’i clerical regime that has been ruling Iran since 1979. Although Hamas is a Sunni entity, it has been as happy to accept arms and money from the Islamic Republic as Iran has been delighted to give them. This is of major significance. The assault on Israel is only part of what we see now as an international religious undertaking, one that incorporates the Iranian regime, Hizbullah in Lebanon and Syria, the Islamic State in the Middle East and Europe, al-Qaeda, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and dozens of Islamic actors from ideological movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Pakistan’s Jama’at-i Islami to outright terrorists such as the Taliban in Afghanistan or Boko Haram in Nigeria.

Hamas, then, is far from being alone. While it may have ideological differences that make it hard to form a unity coalition with Fatah in Gaza and the West Bank, it is clearly open to alliances with Iran, Hizbullah, and whatever remains of the Islamic State in Sinai, Libya or elsewhere.

However, the announcement of a new Charter this year, along with its supposedly reformed content, has suggested to some that Hamas may be about to enter a new phase. But is this so? Even a cursory glance will show that it is not.

The truth is that the new Charter, though vaunted as a major shift for the group, is, in reality, little more than a public-relations exercise. Hamas leaders have got smart, but have not changed their spots.

The most obvious change lies in the wording concerning Jews and Israelis. Whereas the Charter Mark I of 1988 contained numerous examples of pure anti-Semitism, singling Jews out as repellent enemies of God and calling for their wholesale destruction, it has finally dawned on the leadership that racist, anti-Semitic and genocidal words do not fare well in many Western states, even in ones with an anti-Zionist agenda.

The result is now a presumed distinction between Jews and Zionists/Israelis. Thus, we read:

“Hamas differentiates between Jews as people of the holy book, and Judaism as a religion and the occupation and the Zionist Project as something separate, and it sees that the conflict is with the Zionist Project not with the Jewish people because of their religion. And Hamas does not have a conflict with the Jews because they are Jews, but Hamas has a conflict with the Zionists, occupiers and aggressors.” (New Charter 2017, Article 15)

However, this article follows one that is quite different:

“The Zionist Project is a racist, aggressive and separatist project based on violating others’ rights and is against Palestine’s people and its vision for freedom, liberation, sovereignty and the return of the refugees. And the Israeli state is the tool of this project and its foundation.” (New Charter 2017, Article 13)

Needless to say, it is alleged that Hamas cannot possibly be anti-Semitic — evidently trying to block out the 3,000 years of documented history that took place before World War II:

“Hamas sees that the Jewish problem and the “anti-semitism” and the injustice against the Jewish people is a phenomenon related to European history, not to the history of Arabs and Muslims or their heritage.” (New Charter 2017, Article 16)

This is, of course, mere bluster that ignores the fact that outright anti-Semitism is to be found in the Qur’an, the Sacred Traditions (ahadith), shari’a law regarding the treatment of Jews and Christians as dhimmi inferiors to Muslims, or the countless persecutions and pogroms carried out against Jews in Muslim countries.[5]

In Article 16 of the New Charter, propaganda dominates the narrative and distracts us from Hamas’s underlying commitment to traditional Islamic thinking about Jews and Judaism.

The difference between Hamas’s unchanged jihad ideology and the image it now wants to project may be found in Articles 8 and 9 of the New Charter:

“8. Hamas understands Islam in all its details, and it is appropriate for all places and times in its neutral spirituality, and Hamas believes that it is the religion of peace and forgiveness, and under its shadow all different religious followers live safe and in safety. As well as it believes that Palestine was and will stay as an example of coexistence, forgiveness and civilian innovation.” (New Charter 2017, Article 8)

“9. Hamas believes that the message of Islam came with morals of justice, truth, dignity and freedom, and is against injustice in all its shapes, and criminalizes the criminals whatever their sex, color, religion or nationality are. Islam is against all shapes of religious extremism, sectarian extremism and ethnic extremism, and it is the religion that teaches its followers to fight against the tyranny and help weak people and it teaches its followers to sacrifice their time, money and themselves in the defense of their dignity, land, people and holy places.” (New Charter 2017, Article 9)

Here, we see in a fuller form the same connectivity to religion that characterized the first Charter.

Despite the claim that Islam is “the religion of peace and forgiveness, and under its shadow all different religious followers live safe and in safety”, it soon becomes clear that Hamas’s intentions towards Israel and the rest of the non-Muslim world have not changed in the least. First, the New Charter declares the Balfour Declaration, the British Mandate, and the 1947 UN partition resolution to be “illegal from the beginning” (New Charter 2017, Article 17), meaning that there can be little room for manoeuver about Israel’s right to exist. That is driven home in the next article:

“We do not recognize the Zionist state. All shapes of occupation, settlements, Judaization and the forgery of truth are illegal. These rights do not dissolve with time.” (New Charter 2017, Article 18)

And that is followed by a return to the jihad doctrine:

“Hamas confirms that no peace in Palestine should be agreed on, based on injustice to the Palestinians or their land. Any arrangements based on that will not lead to peace, and the resistance and Jihad will remain as a legal right, a project and an honor for all our nations’ people.” (New Charter 2017, Article 21)

Article 19 of the New Charter repeats that there will never be peace so long as Israel still exists. It declares:

“We do not leave any part of the Palestinian’s land, under any circumstances, conditions or pressure, as long as the occupation remains. Hamas refuses any alternative which is not the whole liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea.” (New Charter 2017, Article 19)

The New Charter is mere window-dressing; even a casual reading of it should show that the new Hamas is the old Hamas wearing a different face to try to disguise the true intransigence and hatred that have always characterized it.

Dr. Denis MacEoin is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute, where he writes about Islam, Israel, Left-wing and Christian anti-Semitism and the Middle East.

[1] For the Arabic originals see here and here

[2] Narrated Jabir bin ‘Abdullah, in Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 7, Number 331

[3] Narrated Abu Hurayra, Sahih Muslim 4:1062

[4] A short but scholarly comparison of the three charters by Philipp Holtmann is available here.

[5] See Andrew Bostom (ed.), The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism: From Sacred Texts to Sacred History, reprinted 2008.