A Hamas parade near the Israel-Gaza border marking the anniversary of the 2014 war (“Operation Protective Edge”) with Israel, July 19, 2023. Photo by Majdi Fathi/TPS.

by Rob Eshman

(The Forward) — Have you ever read the Hamas charter?

It’s worth taking a break from the unrelenting, tragic news to better understand the founding document of the group whose attack plunged Israelis and Palestinians into their current hell.

Founding documents are aspirational. It took well over 100 years for the United States to begin to live up to “All men are created equal.” And Israel, even within its pre-1967 borders, is still lurching toward upholding “the full social and political equality of all its citizens without distinction of race, creed or sex” promised in its Declaration of Independence.

Similarly, a close reading of Hamas’ charter, which was created in 1987 and revised in 2017, explains a lot about its decision to slaughter innocent Jewish civilians, and unleash a reaction that has inevitably claimed innocent Palestinian lives as well.

Hamas was founded in 1987 as an Islamic fundamentalist party — an offshoot, really, of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. In 2006, a year after Israel withdrew its armed forces and settlers from the Gaza Strip in what is widely known as the disengagement, Hamas won legislative elections, beating the rival Fatah party of Mahmoud Abbas, 74 seats to 45. A year later, it launched a bloody military campaign against Fatah, and took complete control of Gaza.

After Hamas’ takeover, Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza, controlling travel and trade in and out of the coastal enclave. Hamas, which the United States, Israel, the European Union, Canada, Egypt, and Japan designate as a terrorist organization, had by 2006 conducted terror attacks in Israel that killed 506 and wounded thousands. After the blockade, the number of attacks plummeted.

But Hamas has never changed its aspirations to wrest control of all of Israel by killing its Jews — a goal you will see clearly when you read the Hamas charter, as I did on Oct. 9.

The first version of the charter, adopted in 1988, begins with a preamble. Only instead of “We-the-People,” it reads: “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.”

The 36 articles that follow are buttressed by quotes from the Quran and lessons of the Prophet Muhammed… as interpreted by the militant Islamists of Hamas.

After establishing the primacy of Islam, the charter pivots to removing Jews from historic Palestine. “Nothing in nationalism is more significant or deeper than in the case when an enemy should tread Moslem land,” states Article 12.

The charter’s description of Jews echoes millennia of antisemitic tropes.

“With their money, they took control of the world media,” reads Article 22, “news agencies, the press, publishing houses, broadcasting stations, and others.”

The 9000-word document blames Jews for the French and Communist revolutions, World War I and II, and for the Rotary Club and the United Nations, “to enable them to rule the world through them.”

“There is no war going on anywhere,” it reads, “without having their finger in it.”

The charter directs the killing of Jews, drawing on a hadith (prophetic saying): “The Day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims fight Jews and kill them. Then, the Jews will hide behind rocks and trees, and the rocks and trees will cry out: ‘O Moslem, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him.’”

In 2017, Hamas issued a revised charter, which softens its Islamist rhetoric somewhat. While maintaining the right to Palestine “from the river to the sea,” this new version accepts the idea of a Palestinian state in territories occupied by Israel since the 1967 War — the so-called two-state solution.

Analysts say the group’s continued loss of popularity among Gazans — even in 2006 it won only a plurality of the total votes cast, 44 percent — forced the changes.

The new charter states that Hamas’ conflict is with Zionism, not Jews.

“Palestine is a land that was seized by a racist, anti-human and colonial Zionist project that was founded on a false promise (the Balfour Declaration),” the 2017 version says.

“Yet,” the charter continues, “it is the Zionists who constantly identify Judaism and the Jews with their own colonial project and illegal entity.”

The charter blames Europeans for “antisemitism and the persecution of the Jews” and says Zionism is a relic of European colonialism that “must disappear from Palestine.”

Crucially, the charter codifies Hamas’ commitment to violence, which it calls “armed resistance.”

“Resisting the occupation with all means and methods is a legitimate right guaranteed by divine laws and by international norms and laws,” the document declares. “At the heart of these lies armed resistance, which is regarded as the strategic choice for protecting the principles and the rights of the Palestinian people.”

The violent and vicious antisemitism embedded in the charter — and thus at the core of Hamas — raises uncomfortable questions.

Why did Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu support Qatar’s funding of Hamas? Was it, as the Israeli author Yossi Klein Halevi contends in this new Atlantic article, to prop Hamas up as a foil to the more moderate Palestinian Authority and forestall any hope of a two-state solution?

Why did Netanyahu and Israel’s military leaders relax their vigilance along the Gaza border, given the stated intentions of their adversaries?

If only 45 percent of Gazans say in a 2023 poll said they would vote for Hamas, why are all the strip’s residents — not to mention their children — being punished for its decision?

Will the hate and violence of the charter be the roadmap to Hamas’ doom?

In a 2014 essay in The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, called the Hamas charter “a frank and open call for genocide, embedded in one of the most thoroughly antisemitic documents you’ll read this side of the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’.”

He titled the essay with a question, “What Would Hamas Do if It Could Do Whatever It Wanted?”

Now we know the answer.

Rob Eshman is a senior columnist for the Forward. Follow him on Instagram @foodaism and Twitter @foodaism or email eshman@forward.com.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.