It is crucial to recognize that a comprehensive approach must include the complete closure of UNRWA in order to effectively address Hamas’s presence in Gaza. Let’s delve into how Hamas gained influence within the community, shaping public sentiment and incorporating UNRWA into its da‘wa activities, which were fueled by generous funding from Western countries.

First, we need to understand what da‘wa means. Originally, it refers to encouraging people to become Muslims or to live a more religious life. In the context of the Muslim Brotherhood and later Hamas, da‘wa aims to propagate the doctrine of the Muslim Brotherhood among the broader population and garner popular support; activities are used to capture the hearts and minds and bring the public closer to the goals of the movement and Islam. The activities include providing charity, social aid, formal and informal education, organizing summer camps and youth movements, preaching in mosques, and more. The process involves a gradual social change that culminates in the implementation of Islamic law within the state.

Now, let’s delve into the history of Hamas. After Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, the West Bank and Gaza became disconnected, with the former falling under Jordanian control and the latter under Egyptian rule. This led to a physical and cultural divide between these two territories. In the West Bank under Jordanian rule, the Muslim Brotherhood was a legal organization; King Hussein saw them as legitimate allies, using them to strengthen his regime and its legitimacy. Consequently, the movement was able to build institutions in the West Bank and gain a foothold there. In contrast, in the Gaza Strip under Nasser’s rule, the Muslim Brotherhood was outlawed, its members persecuted, and their leaders were executed. Ahmed Yassin, a young and promising man, joined the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza and was imprisoned during Nasser’s reign.

In June 1967, the unexpected happened when Israel defeated the Arab armies in six days. As a result, Israel gained control of the West Bank and Gaza, marking a significant shift in dynamics. This turn of events presented a remarkable opportunity for the Muslim Brotherhood. After being separated for two decades, the Muslim Brotherhood movement in the West Bank and Gaza united under one umbrella. Their main adversary, Nasser, was defeated and lost control over Gaza. Consequently, Muslim Brotherhood activists in the Gaza Strip were liberated from his severe political persecution.

Unlike the Egyptian regime, the Israeli government gave the Muslim Brotherhood almost complete freedom of action, including the ability to move freely between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and refrained from interference; Israel perceived the Muslim Brotherhood as a religious force that could counterbalance the secular-nationalist PLO. Additionally, the Six-Day War delivered a significant blow to pan-Arabism and secular nationalism, leading Palestinian society to gradually shift toward religious and political Islam. Furthermore, the “Israeli occupation” served as an external unifying factor between Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Under the leadership of Ahmed Yassin, the organization’s infrastructure grew stronger, enhancing the capabilities of the Muslim Brotherhood among the Palestinians. The Muslim Brotherhood identified as a religious-social movement with the objective of molding Palestinian society in accordance with Islamic values and addressing its various needs, as a precursor to the violent struggle that would unfold two decades late. Their goal was to offer an Islamic alternative to the secular-nationalist movement of the PLO.

The organization expanded its presence across the Gaza Strip where it previously had been illegal, constructing its own mosques and continually broadening its range of social and educational services. A significant milestone occurred when the Muslim Brotherhood seized control of the Islamic University in Gaza, establishing it as the organization’s stronghold. As the First Intifada unfolded, the Muslim Brothers decided to move into a phase of violent struggle against Israel, leading to the establishment of Hamas as a military resistance organization.

Since its founding in 1987, Hamas has taken advantage of the Palestinians’ challenging socioeconomic conditions, thereby gaining widespread support. This support for Hamas has notably weakened the Palestinian Authority (PA),  which was established after the Oslo Accords and has often been criticized as collaborating with Israel. The PA has been viewed as corrupt, primarily catering to the interests of its inner circle and associates, in contrast to Hamas, perceived as a principled organization, dedicated to providing welfare services to impoverished Palestinians. Additionally, Hamas has invested substantially in higher education, universities, and student associations, solidifying its control over the educated sectors of society.

Hamas uses da‘wa as a strategic tool to spread its ideology and recruit supporters and activists to its ranks. The religious preaching and educational initiatives has enabled Hamas to establish widespread and deep-rooted control over large segments of the population. The support base built through da‘wa has been crucial for Hamas’s survival against Israeli counter actions, including numerous arrests and the targeting and assassination of its leaders over the years.

It is evident that da‘wa played a crucial role in laying the groundwork for Hamas’s surprising victory in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections—a severe blow to Fatah—followed by Hamas’s takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007, after the IDF’s withdrawal. Da‘wa has helped to build a social infrastructure, establishing the foundation of support for Hamas’s governance over time, despite the numerous military operations, wars, and sieges. Hamas has maintained its grip on power, highlighting the effectiveness of da‘wa in transforming Hamas into a resilient political-social phenomenon. Even if Israel succeeds in dismantling the organization’s military infrastructure, Hamas’s influence is likely to persist.

The success of the Hamas movement extends beyond its military achievements, heavily relying on its da‘wa activities. From a young age, children are indoctrinated through schools, camps, colleges, and universities, with some eventually becoming terrorists. Hamas engages with people for an entire life cycle, while the provision of welfare and social support constitute a long-term investment that secures the population’s  support, their recruitment, and even their willingness to engage in terror activities from within. This is why the population refrains from rebellion.

Since taking control of Gaza in 2007, Hamas recognized that the presence of UNRWA provided it a significant advantage. Over the years, Hamas has effectively integrated UNRWA into its da‘wa activities. Despite the West recognizing UNRWA as a legitimate UN agency and generously funding it, Hamas has used UNRWA to further its own agenda. Hamas influences UNRWA’s operations, particularly its schools and charity institutions, allowing Hamas to dictate their content. UNRWA’s managers are Hamas affiliates who oversee the allocation of money and resources. Consequently, international aid to UNRWA is inadvertently funding Hamas’s da‘wa efforts in the Gaza Strip, enabling Hamas to continue its indoctrination at the expense of international aid and to maintain control over the vulnerable Gazan population.

This situation highlights the global community’s unintended financial support for Hamas’s agenda, emphasizing the necessity of dismantling UNRWA to weaken Hamas and its power and control. It is imperative to transfer the responsibility for education and welfare to other, more moderate entities, preferably the Gulf states that are committed to promoting a moderate and inclusive Islam. To eradicate Hamas’s military wing, it is also essential to eradicate the organization’s da‘wa, for which the UN, through UNRWA, has inadvertently become a facilitating partner.