Profile: Ismail Haniyeh, leader of Hamas

Born in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on 11 March 1953, Ismail Haniyeh grew up in a village near where Israel captured the area from Syria in the 1967 war.

The 52-year-old says his mother was killed by Israeli troops during the war. His father was held at an Israeli prison for more than 40 years, but released in 1990.

Haniyeh lost three brothers and a sister, along with several cousins, during the Six Day War.

His father worked as a taxi driver to support his family, while Haniyeh became interested in politics as a teenager.

His brother, Khaled, became the founding leader of the Muslim Brotherhood before helping lead the Ghanam movement which formed the Hamas movement in 1986. Haniyeh was one of the movement’s most prominent leaders and co-founded the Hamas political bureau.

Haniyeh’s father was heavily involved in teaching at the International Islamic University in Doha. He set up a small boarding school in Doha in 1994 which had over 100 students, aged 13-19. Haniyeh went to the school after he fled the 1967 war.

Haniyeh’s father asked the students of the school to swear to “safeguard the wealth and privacy of the Islamic nation and to abhor discord and hatred”.

Haniyeh was an advocate of a “right of return” for Palestinian refugees, but his views shifted as he travelled around the region after Hamas formed in 1987. He later advocated the idea of voluntary mass Palestinian emigration, possibly in exchange for a return to some parts of the Palestinian territories.

His work as a militant became increasingly out of the mainstream in recent years, in part due to the ability of Hamas to get hold of semi-automatic weapons such as the M-16.

Haniyeh’s political positions have remained similar despite the jihadi label. He rejects suicide bombings and strongly condemns the killing of civilians, but his supporters point to his support for Palestinian rights and among Palestinians he is often the only representative from the Palestinian political establishment.

His leadership style has changed in recent years: he used to be firm and authoritarian, and his fatwas on some controversial topics such as the destruction of Christian property in Gaza are frequently ignored by other senior members of the movement.

Haniyeh has moderated his rhetoric on criticism of his organisation, but is still harshly critical of any attempt to cut ties with or take him and his party off international lists of terror organisations.

He was stripped of his Egyptian citizenship in 2011 after he criticised Egyptian security forces. Although he remains on European and Arab lists of terror groups, he has never been blacklisted by the US.

Leave a Comment