The prospect of long-lasting peace between Israel and Palestine relies on a piece of land, Gaza. Several wars have been fought to control this tiny strip of land that is one of the most densely populated areas in the world.
In 1948, when Israel declared its statehood, many Palestinians were pushed out of their homes from across Palestine. Several sought refuge in Gaza. Ever since, it became the home to a vast majority of the population displaced by constant land grabs that the Israeli state aided to settle tens of thousands of Jewish people fleeing from war.
In 1967, the neighbouring Arab nations launched a war against the settlers. But with the support of the US, the Israeli army occupied additional swathes of land, including Gaza, in just six days.
After years of clashes and negotiations, Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, and in 2006, Hamas was democratically elected. A year later, in 2007, Hamas took control of the strip from the forces loyal to Fatah.
This did not go well with the Israeli government, for whom Hamas is a “terrorist” organisation. It continues to tighten its grip on Palestinians imposing a blockade via land, sea and air, restricting the access to essential supplies and commodities.
It has been 10 years since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip, which it controls it independently.
So who are Hamas?
Hamas are a Palestinian political resistance movement that presents itself as the defender of the people in Gaza, that lies on the east, bordering Egypt. It also has an armed wing called the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades.
The group was elected by Palestinians in 2006, in the Legislative Authority elections defeating Fatah, and took control of Gaza Strip in 2007.
How did Hamas enter Palestinian politics?
Founded by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz al Rantisi in 1987, during the Palestinian uprising or Intifada against the Israeli occupation of West Bank and Gaza, Hamas set out as a welfare organisation providing education, setting up of food banks, medical facilities and other basic necessities.
In its formative years, Hamas’s leadership was closely associated with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. It didn’t pose any military threat to Israel in its initial years; some Israeli politicians even encouraged the group's welfare policies and began to perceive it as an alternative to the Fatah party and its leader, Yasser Arafat, who led an armed resistance movement against Israel.
But when Hamas revealed its founding charter in public in 1988, it called for war against the state of Israel. The group soon became Israel's major foe in the decades-old conflict.
On the other hand, Fatah softened its stance against Israel, shunning violence, turning to participatory democracy and fighting local elections in West Bank.
Initially like Hamas, Fatah also believed in liberating Palestine through armed resistance. But over the decades Fatah’s stance and relation with Israel evolved on peaceful terms.
In 1993, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), an umbrella organisation comprised of Fatah, Hamas and several other political outfits, accepted Israel's right to exist and in turn, it was recognised as the legitimate representative of Palestinians.
Thus began the negotiations for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. But this did not go well with Hamas. And when Fatah lost its majority in the parliamentary elections to Hamas in 2006, the two groups got further detached.
In May 2011, they signed a reconciliation deal. The differences were partially resolved with both the groups focusing on establishing the state of Palestine.
In April 2014, Fatah and Hamas agreed to form a national government and hold elections, but that did not mature because Israel launched a bombing campaign over Gaza in July 2014.
What does Hamas stand for?
Hamas, by many western countries, has been classified as a terrorist group over its failure to renounce violence, recognise Israel's right to exist and accept existing interim Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements.
With an aim to improve relations with the West, Gulf Arab states and Egypt, and change of image from a terrorist group to a political movement, Hamas in May this year, came out with a new charter that accepts the idea of a transitional Palestinian state along the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital.
It advocates the right of return for refugees and the displaced to their homes from where they were forcibly expelled.
The new document does not recognise the state of Israel and further mentions that the conflict in Palestine is a political one and not religious.
The charter also underlines that now the organisation has no links to the Muslim Brotherhood with which it had close ties during its formative years.
It further states that Hamas is not seeking war with the Jewish people, the enemy is Zionism, the driving force behind the occupation of Palestine and not the Jews.
However, Israel rejected the reported document, claiming it an attempt by Hamas to delude the world that it was becoming a more moderate group.
This new document presents a shift in their policy from the contentious 1988 charter where the goal was to annihilate the state of Israel.
It advocated the use of violence against Jews with the aim of liberating the occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
How many wars have Israel and Hamas fought?
Since 2007, Hamas has fought three wars with Israel and has carried out hundreds of armed attacks in Israel and in Israeli-occupied territories since its inception three decades ago.
In 2008, more than 1,000 people, were killed in Gaza, many of them civilians, before a ceasefire was declared. In 2012, during an Israeli operation that lasted for eight days, at least 167 Palestinians and six Israelis lost their lives.
However, the war in 2014 was the deadliest, lasting for about 51 days and reducing Gaza to rubble. More than 2,000 Gazans lost their lives and thousands were wounded.Among them were 66 Israeli soldiers and six civilians also.
In 2016, a UN report stated that an estimated 75,000 Gazans remained displaced and only 17 percent of the 18,000 homes destroyed during the conflict were repaired.
How does the international community view Hamas?
Hamas, that has been in a continuous battle with Israelis ever since it was founded, has never been able to secure a table for itself in the international platforms. The publishing of its new policy document is seen as an effort on the part of Hamas to change its image and a sign of “maturity and political development.”
Although media portrayed Hamas's new charter in a positive light, the world is still divided on whether it is a terrorist organisation or a genuine liberation movement.
Among the major powers that consider Hamas as terrorists are Israel, the US, the UK, Saudi, and the UAE. They reproach it for its failure to renounce violence and to recognise Israel's right to exist by accepting an interim Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
But for some of its major supporters – Turkey, Qatar, Russia and Pakistan – it is a genuine resistance movement that challenges the Israeli aggression and keeps the nation's legitimate demand for a separate statehood alive.