HAMAS, an acronym for Harakat al-Muqāwama al-Islāmiyya, or the “Islamic Resistance Movement,” founded in 1987, is an offshoot of the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood. The group aims to end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory. HAMAS receives support from Iran and sympathizers worldwide.
The US State Department designated HAMAS as a foreign terrorist organization in 1997 after its armed element, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigade, began conducting attacks against Israeli civilians in pursuit of its goal to establish a Palestinian state.
Since 2007, HAMAS has served as the governing authority of the Gaza Strip, a small self-governing territory on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea bordering Israel. HAMAS continues to target Israel through terrorist and rocket attacks, largely emanating from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Threat to New Jersey: Low
HAMAS poses a low threat to New Jersey due to its regional focus and goals of creating a Palestinian state. Nonetheless, the group has supporters and sympathizers in the United States, including in New Jersey, who focus on fundraising.
In November 2008, a federal court in Texas convicted representatives of the Holy Land Foundation (HLF) charity, including a New Jersey representative responsible for the Paterson (Passaic County) office, for funneling $12.4 million to HAMAS. In 2009, the founders of HLF received prison sentences of 15 to 65 years.
On May 5, HAMAS fired over 600 rockets into Israel, killing at least four Israeli civilians. In response to the rocket attacks, Israel launched numerous airstrikes into Gaza against over 300 targets in the region, killing at least 23 Palestinians. This was the highest level of violence in the region since the Israel-Gaza conflict in 2014.
Since 2015, HAMAS has carried out large-scale arrests of ISIS supporters in Gaza. In January 2018, the official ISIS affiliate in the Sinai region released a video calling on its followers to attack HAMAS and featured the execution of an alleged sympathizer. ISIS accused the group of failing to prevent the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and criticized it for cracking down on local Islamist groups in Gaza.
In December 2017, Ismail Haniya—the vice president of HAMAS’s political bureau and leader of the movement in Gaza—stated that the US decision to name Jerusalem as Israel’s capital “is an aggression, a declaration of war on us, on the best Muslims and Christian Shrines in the Heart of Palestine.” HAMAS further instructed followers to attack “Israeli occupation soldiers and settlers everywhere.”
On December 11, 2017, the head of HAMAS’s political bureau contacted the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran to discuss the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Iran renounced the American policy decision and “stressed that Iran will support Palestine with all capabilities at hand and stand with the Palestinian people till they liberate their country with Jerusalem as its capital,” according to the official HAMAS political website.
In response to the US policy shift, HAMAS, Hizballah, and five other armed groups active in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip formed a “coordination room” to “confront Israel” and the US decision, according to a Lebanese media outlet.