Recent clashes in Gaza reflect challenge to Hamas nationalist ideology by groups affiliated with IS

Activists belonging to militant, zealous Islamic groups of the Jihadi Salafi ideological movement have recently launched a series of sabotage attacks in Gaza, including on Hamas’ facilities. For now these groups - which unlike the nonviolent Salafi Da'wah movement - champion violent terrorism, do not pose a threat to Hamas’ regime in Gaza, nonetheless they have become a serious nuisance and are disrupting the rule of law and order in the Strip.


The Muslim activists have a similar worldview as the terrorists who are operating in the Sinai Peninsula and belong to militant organizations such as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis (“Supporters of Jerusalem”) and Jundallah (“soldiers of God”), which are affiliated with the Islamic State.

Their activities in Gaza have included so far placing explosive devices near Hamas’ and UNRWA’s welfare and employment facilities; placing bombs near the home of Fathi Hamad, former Hamas Interior Minister, and near Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ former villa. The militants have also threatened to expend their operations and attack Hamas officials in Gaza, whom they view as traitors and heretics. Recent incidents of missile launching into Israel are also believed to be part of their operations.

Hamas’ security services are retaliating with full force. One of the militants’ leaders, radical Salafist imam, Adnan Khader Maya, from Bureij Palestinian refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, was arrested by Hamas after attacking the regime and affiliating himself with IS. 30 additional activists were arrested and some 30 others were declared 'wanted' by the internal security services. Hamas has also destroyed a mosque visited by those militants.

The radicals are operating against a background of a dispute that begun more than seven years ago, when Hamas rose to power in Gaza. Jihadi Salafi activists in Gaza helped at the time Hamas to drive out Fatah officials out of the Strip and forced hundreds of the Palestinian Authority supporters to escape to Ramallah. In exchange for their help, the radical activists demanded that the Sharia law would become the sole, official constitution of the regime in Gaza, similarly to the way IS imposed the Islamic law in Iraq and Syria.

Ahmad al-Rubaye (AFP/File)

Hamas refused and during violent clashes that erupted three years ago Hisham al Saedni, also known as Abu Walid al-Maqdisi, a Palestinian military activist and a Muslim leader, was killed. The tension between Hamas and the radical Salafists have been growing ever since.

But what is the difference between Hamas - a terrorist organization with devout Muslim followers - and the Jihadi Salafi terrorists who are loyal to IS? Why are they fighting so violently against each other in Gaza?

You say Hamas, I say Islamic State

The first and foremost ideological difference is that Hamas is also a national Palestinian organization. Its goal is to fight solely against Israel inside the borders of the Palestinian homeland. Hamas’ leader, Khaled Mashal, has declared on numerous occasions that Hamas will not operate outside of Palestine. Those declarations earned the group the opportunity to participate in the 2006 election in Gaza and enter into a unity government with Fatah.

This is not the case with the Salafist groups affiliated to IS. Their ideology is anti-national. They have and still are attacking Muslim Brotherhood’s leaders, such as the founder of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Ismail Hassan Yassin; the leader of the Global Muslim Brotherhood and the spiritual leader of the movement, Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi; the leader of Tunisia’s Muslims Rashid al-Ghannushi, and even former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi - all of whom incorporate a national component in their ideology.

It is no wonder that those zealous, anti-national Muslim groups are flourishing in places where the national Arab leadership has failed. The Arab nationality has enabled the establishment of states within borders set by the Imperialists. Now, when one by one those countries disintegrate, the Islamic state movement, unbound by national borders, rears its head. We see this happening in Iraq and Syria and to some extent in Libya and Yemen, as well. Is this also the fate awaiting the Palestinians, who have not yet succeeded in establishing their own national state? Not likely, but in the meantime the violence is raging.

Danny Rubinstein lectures on Arab issues at Ben Gurion University and Hebrew University, and is a columnist on Palestinian economic issues at Calcalist.



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