By: Dr. Mohsen Mohammed Saleh.
In this article, we’ll highlight the historical background of its emergence from the womb of the Palestinian Muslim Brothers (MB) movement. This article is an abridged version of a study that hopefully will be published in the near future.
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The Palestinian MB do not link the start of resistance activities to the creation of Hamas in 1987. Indeed, they consider themselves the extension of the Islamic resistance movement that had been present and strong after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the beginning of the British occupation of Palestine in late 1918. This begins with Jam‘iyyat al-Fida’iyyah (lit. the Association of Commandos), established in early 1919 by a number of scholars led by Haj Amin al-Husseini, Sheikh Hasan Abu al-Su‘ud, and Sheikh Muhammad Yusuf al-‘Alami; then with al-Jihadiyyah organization established by Sheikh Izz al-Din al-Qassam, and not ending with al-Jihad al-Muqaddas, a movement established in 1934 by ‘Abdul-Qadir al-Husseini.
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Hamas is an extension of the MB movement established in Palestine in the early 1940s, which shortly before the war of 1948 had developed into 25 branches. The Palestinian MB movement participated effectively in the war, and had major roles to play in Jaffa, Jerusalem, and Gaza… and elsewhere. They soon gained broad popularity and respect among the Palestinian people.
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In the Gaza Strip (GS), which was placed under Egypt’s administration after the war of 1949, the Palestinian MB movement regrouped and soon, their branches spread across GS, under the leadership of an administrative bureau led by Sheikh ‘Umar Sawwan. They quickly became the most popular and most active organization, until the Egyptian regime cracked down on the MB movement in 1954, forcing them underground.
In the period 1952–1954, the MB movement in GS established a secret military arm (Special Apparatus) linked to Kamil al-Sharif (leading Egyptian MB commander in the 1948 war), who was living in al-‘Arish in Sinai. The Special Group in Gaza and northern GS was led by Abu Jihad (Khalil al-Wazir), Khan Yunus and central GS was led by Abu Usamah Khairi al-Agha (later comptroller-general of the Palestinian MB movement and first head of Hamas), and Rafah and the south was led by Muhammad Yusuf al-Najjar. The link between them and Kamel al-Sharif was Muhammad Abu Sidu.
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Following the severe crackdown, persecution, and smear campaign by the Nasser regime against the MB movement, the Brothers were forced to retreat. However, many of its members eager to engage in armed resistance sought to establish a national framework (without a stark Islamic identity) to avoid persecution by Egypt’s regime and others hostile to Islamists. Khalil al-Wazir thus proposed a project to MB movement leaders in this direction in 1957, but did not receive a positive response because of the circumstances at the time. Khalil al-Wazir then took the initiative with Yasir ‘Arafat (who was close to the MB movement) to create this framework, which became known as the Palestine Liberation Movement (Fatah). The new movement attracted some of the most active and competent MB cadres, such as Riyad and Salim al-Za‘nun, Muhammad Yusuf al-Najjar, ‘Abdul-Fattah Hammud, Yusuf ‘Umairah, Kamal ‘Idwan, Salah Khalaf, Sulaiman Hamad, Rafiq al-Natsheh… and others.
In the West Bank (WB), following the war of 1948 and Jordan’s annexation of the WB in 1950, the MB movement merged with the east Jordanian branch. The movement branches were active across WB, especially Jerusalem, Hebron, Nablus, and ‘Aqabat Jabr. The MB movement, under the banner of the Jerusalem Conference held in 1953, tried to develop their own military operations, and brought in Kamel al-Sharif to command under the cover of secretary-general of the conference. However, the efforts did not lead to training except for a limited number of operatives…for soon their work was stopped by Jordanian authorities.
The period 1957–1967 saw a decline in the activity and popularity of the MB movement, in light of fierce counter-propaganda and pressure from the Egyptian regime.
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The MB movement in GS regrouped in secrecy under young leaders such as ‘Abdullah Abu Izzah and Abdul-Badi‘ Sabir. In the summer of 1962, they convened a meeting attended by 15 delegates in Khan Yunus, and established the “Palestinian MB movement,” electing Hani Bseiso as leader (comptroller-general). Bseiso left teaching in Iraq, and settled in Cairo under the guise of pursuing post-graduate studies to focus on steering the group; ‘Abdul-Badi‘ Sabir was elected as his deputy. The Palestinian MB movement covered GS, the Gulf countries, and Syria but not Jordan (incl. WB), which had a standalone MB branch.
In 1965, the Egyptian regime arrested Hani Bseiso during its crackdown on the MB movement. He was sentenced to three years in prison, where he died in 1968 of meningitis.
Abdul-Badi‘ Sabir, who moved to Qatar, led the Palestinian MB movement in Bseiso’s absence. He was officially elected as comptroller-general at the meeting of the Palestinian MB Shura Council in Beirut in 1969. However, ‘Abdul-Badi‘ Sabir stepped down in 1970, replaced by his deputy ‘Abdullah Abu ‘Izzah.
The latter resigned in 1971, after his stand evolved towards criticism of the work of the MB movement and the ideas of Sayyid Qutb; the Shura Council approved his resignation after questioning him. ‘Umar Abu Jbarah (who was also in charge of the Palestinian MB movement in Kuwait) replaced Abu ‘Izzah, and was confirmed as comptroller-general by the Shura Council, which convened in 1973. Khairi al-Agha was chosen as his deputy, and with them in the executive committee, Sulaiman Hamad, Nadir al-Haj ‘Isa, and Khalil Hamad were elected members.
‘Umar Abu Jbarah died in early summer of 1975, and was succeeded by Khairi al-Agha as leader of the MB movement. Sulaiman Hamad succeeded Abu Jbarah as leader of the Palestinian MB movement branch in Kuwait. At the Shura meeting that same year, Khairi al-Agha was elected comptroller-general and Sulaiman Hamad as his deputy.
There was a lot of harmony between al-Agha and Hamad, especially with regard to military resistance in Palestine, and interest in students and youths. Al-Agha was one of the commanders of the military arm in GS (1952–1954), and Hamad was one of the founders of Fatah, which he left later. There would also be similar harmony with Sheikh Ahmad Yasin, who led the MB movement in GS after its 1967 Israeli occupation.
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In the period 1968–1970, the MB movement in Jordan, and other MB branches of Arab countries adopted the idea of establishing the “Sheikhs Camps” in Jordan to train resistance fighters, in collaboration with Fatah and under its umbrella. Seven bases were established along the border with occupied Palestine, and the MB carried out several daring operations. Although the Palestinian MB movement did not officially participate in these camps, it gave its members the choice to take part.
In the early 1970s, the Islamic movement began to regroup and recover in Palestine and abroad, appearing strongly at grassroots, student, and youth levels. The Palestinian branch (especially in Kuwait) decided in 1973 to spend 75% of its budget on student activism. Starting from 1979, Palestinian Islamists established student leagues and unions in Britain, Kuwait, Germany, and the United States…
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During the meetings of the Shura Council of the Palestinian MB movement in 1977, it was proposed to merge MB movement branches in regional frameworks. For examples, the MB chapters in Jordan, Syria, Palestine, and Lebanon would merge under the Bilad al-Sham branch, and likewise in Egypt and Sudan, and North Africa. The idea was proposed to the Shura Council of the MB movement in Jordan in the presence of Khairi al-Agha and Suleiman Hamad, receiving unanimous approval. In 1978, the Shura Councils of the Jordanian and Palestinian MB movements were dissolved, and a new council and leadership were elected under Muhammad ‘Abdul-Rahman Khalifah. The Palestinian MB movement branches in GS, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE joined the new framework, dubbed the Bilad al-Sham Organization – which kept its name despite the fact that Syria and Lebanon’s branches did not join it for operational and objective reasons.
The group created a specialist committee to follow up Palestinian affairs in the interior, particularly the WB and GS. Among the leading names in the committee were Qandil Shakir and Abu Bashir al-Zumaili, as well as Yusuf al-‘Azim, the secretary, who followed up its work.
In light of the freedoms enjoyed by residents of Kuwait at the time, where nearly 350 thousand Palestinians lived, Palestinian student Islamic activism came to the fore under the leadership of Khalid Mish‘al. Following his graduation from Kuwait University in 1979, Mish‘al’s interests expanded into developing Palestinian resistance activities at the levels of organization, preaching, and political action. From early 1980, he supervised the establishment and development of military and security nuclei, and the training of specialized cadres in these fields.
In GS, Sheikh Ahmed Yasin established the military arm. However, it was soon uncovered and was struck in 1984. It was rebuilt in 1986 as the “Palestinian Mujahidun.” The MB’s security apparatus (Majd) was established in GS in 1981, meanwhile, as part of military action, and rebuilt and expanded in 1985.
In Egyptian universities, the Palestinian Islamic movement also rose to prominence, with names such as Musa Abu Marzuq, Bashir Nafi‘, Fathi al-Shaqaqi, and ‘Abdul-Aziz ‘Odeh… There was a strong impetus among MB cadres in Egypt to engage in armed resistance, and the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 galvanized this bid, prompting Fathi al-Shaqaqi to split with the MB movement with a number of his comrades and establish the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine (PIJ) in 1980.
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In March 1983, Khalid Mish‘al presented Yusuf al-‘Azim when he visited Kuwait with a proposal to convene an internal conference on Palestine to discuss unifying visions and principles regarding action for Palestine. The conference was held in Jordan in 20–21 October 1983, in the presence of representatives from the various MB branches including GS.
Its decisions, published in ten pages, affirmed that work for the Palestinian cause and liberation does no conflict with the project for the restoration of the Islamic state, being two parallel, complementary tracks. Up to 26 decisions were issued to develop and support action on the Palestinian arena, including dedicating a special organization or committee…
for Palestinian MB activity to plan, study, and prepare the establishment of a unified leadership for the group in Palestine for political action and preaching. It was agreed to focus on the city of Jerusalem, to become the focal point of unified Islamic action.
The conference’s outcomes also tackled military action on the Palestinian arena, reaffirming the necessity of military preparation and readiness.
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At the initiative of the MB movement of Bilad al-Sham in Kuwait, student leagues were established in 1982, and soon expanded to encompass committees working for Palestine in various Arab countries. The leagues and committees held a series of meetings between 1983 and 1984, and following extensive discussions, an idea was developed to establish a central body to follow up pro-Palestinian action at home and abroad, with close involvement from Khaled Mish‘al. The project was submitted to the MB leadership in Jordan, which agreed to establish it under the name of the “Palestine Division” in 1985, later known as the “Palestine Apparatus.” Khairi al-Agha agreed to lead it, following which its work began in earnest. This apparatus directed Palestinian action with broad powers, but continued to act under the ceiling of the MB of Bilad al-Sham.
In the summer of 1985, the MB leaders involved in the Palestinian action decided to take advantage of any opportune events to take part in the confrontation with the Israeli occupation. The leaders based abroad gave the Palestinian interior cadres the authority to choose the appropriate timing to launch the MB’s resistance activities, which then began to escalate. In the clashes at Birzeit Univeristy in 1986, two of the MB trend youths were killed thereafter.
The MB movement in the WB and GS had an Administrative Office that coordinated and steered action in the two region. It was led by Haj Radi al-Salaymah (from Jerusalem), who was succeeded by ‘Abdul-Fattah Dukhan. On 23/10/1987, the office, which was convening at the home of Hasan al-Qiq in Dora, Hebron, decided to launch resistance against the occupation; present were ‘Abdul-Fattah Dukhan, ‘Adnan Masawadi, Hammad al-Hasanat, Naji Sabhah, Ibrahim al-Yazuri, and Hasan al-Qiq. They decided to give every city/area the choice to work in the way it saw fit.
Following the killing of four Palestinian workers run over on 8/12/1987, the MB movement leadership met in GS that night, including Sheikh Ahmad Yasin, ‘Abdul-‘Aziz al-Rantisi, and ‘Abdul-Fattah Dukhan… They decided to launch confrontations in all areas of the Strip, which began after the dawn prayer on 9/12/1987, when the protests emerged from the Jabaliya refugee camp. Two MB activists, Hatim Abu Sis and Ra’id Shehahdah, were the first to be killed, triggering the Intifadah in Palestine. On 14/12/1987, the Islamic Resistance Movement issued its first statement.
During the meeting of the Administrative Office on 10/1/1988 at the home of Hasan al-Qiq in Jerusalem, it was decided to continue and escalate the Intifadah in all cities, villages, and refugee camps. At his home, Hasan al-Qiq suggested the acronym “Hamas” for the Islamic Resistance Movement.
Thus emerged Hamas, which published its charter on 19/8/1988. The Palestine Apparatus continued operating, and Al-Qassam Brigades appeared in May 1990, replacing the “Palestinian Mujahidun.” Hamas convened its first Shura Council in August 1991, electing Sheikh ‘Umar al-Ashqar as its chairman. Khairi al-Agha stepped down in 1993, to make room for younger leaders, and was succeeded by his deputy Musa Abu Marzuq. The Palestine Apparatus continued to be under the leadership of the Bilad al-Sham MB branch until relations were officially ended in October 2011, when Hamas and the Palestinian MB movement formally split from the Jordanian one.