Having spent the past year undertaking postgraduate research on a number of Iranian-backed non-state actors and proxies in the Israeli-Arab Conflict at the University of Oxford’s St Antony’s College, I would like to present a brief digest of books on two of them: Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. While very large numbers of news articles and blogs are written about these groups (particularly Hamas), books on them are somewhat rarer, and given the fast-moving nature of this field, are quick to become obsolete. Nevertheless, they are important sources of information, and are often more informative and broader in scope than articles and op-eds reacting to specific issues.
One of the best books available is Matthew Levitt’s “Hamas: Politics, Charity, and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad“. Published in 2007, it offers an outstanding historical overview of Hamas, its foreign backers, and how it integrates its military and civilian wings. Levitt has a fairly easy writing style, and this is one of the more accessible books available on Hamas. Honourable mentions are also deserved for his analysis of Palestinian Islamic Jihad throughout. Levitt’s 2013 book on Hezbollah also mentions Hamas, but not in particular detail given its focus on a different group.
Also of interest, but more likely for an academic reader, is Berti and Gleis’s 2012 comparative work on Hamas and Hezbollah. This book provides good overviews of both insurgent groups, and makes a good first reference point. However, given how significantly the Arab Spring has altered Hamas’s relationship with Iran, it should not be relied on too heavily. Brenner’s “Gaza Under Hamas: From Islamic Democracy to Islamist Governance” was published more recently in 2016, and primarily analyses Hamas through the lens of how it governs the Gaza Strip rather than security. However, the most recent book to be released on Hamas is Baconi’s April 2018 “Hamas Contained: The Rise and Pacification of Palestinian Resistance“. Offering “the first history of the group on its own terms”, Baconi undertook extensive interviews with the group’s leaders, and analyses up until 2017. He also makes some interesting passing comments on Palestinian Islamic Jihad, but this book very much remains about Hamas.
For a more holistic analysis of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, I highly recommend Charles D. Freilich’s April 2018 “Israeli National Security: A New Strategy for an Era of Change“. In it, Freilich “presents an authoritative analysis of the military, diplomatic, demographic, and societal challenges Israel faces today, to propose a comprehensive and long-term Israeli national security strategy”. Naturally, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad are heavily featured, but as part of a holistic and synoptic argument. Similarly, while not directly about Hamas per-se, Ronen Bergman’s history of Israel’s targeted assassinations is also interesting. A relatively easy read, it has plenty on Israeli attempts to assassinate both Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad leaders, and is an admirable attempt at providing information on a generally classified field.