Analyst: Hamas Down in Popularity after It Sits Out Fight with Israel
Islamist Jihad leaders say they needed no help in mid-November battle, though some call it ‘betrayal’
[Gaza] A well-known analyst and commentator from the Gaza Strip says the popularity of Hamas, the Palestinian enclave’s ruler, has dropped since it sat out fighting this month between Islamic Jihad and Israel.
“Hamas has been heavily criticized by the Palestinian street due to its absence from the scene,” Mohammed Hijazi told The Media Line.
“If we observe social media, which is considered a typical measurement tool, we can easily see that people have the impression that Hamas is primarily looking out for its own interests,” he explained, noting a truce with Israel that has allowed the group to receive outside funds to revive the Gaza Strip’s economy and thus firm up its rule.
Two days and nights of fighting broke out on November 12 when Israel used its air force to assassinate the commander of Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip, Baha Abu Al-Ata. The Islamist group responded by launching hundreds of rockets or mortar shells into Israel, drawing heavy Israeli retaliation, mostly with air strikes.
Gaza’s Health Ministry said 34 Palestinians were killed and dozens more were wounded. Israel said that most of the Palestinian dead were from Islamic Jihad. Several Israelis were injured, according to hospitals.
Hamas officials have provided numerous justifications for staying out of the fight.
“Al-Quds Brigades [the armed wing of Islamic Jihad] acted directly and quickly after the assassination,” Saleh al-Arouri, the deputy head of Hamas’s political bureau, said in an interview on Al-Aqsa TV, one of the group’s media outlets. “The other military wings [in the enclave] didn’t have a chance for the usual planning and coordination due to the nature of the Israeli occupation’s crime.”
Dawoud Shehab, spokesperson for Islamic Jihad, told The Media Line that “there was no need for consultations” after Israel killed Abu Al-Ata.
“Al-Quds Brigades are capable of responding to maintain the rules of engagement,” he stated.
Mohammed al-Hindi, a leading member of Islamic Jihad, agreed, telling Al-Aqsa TV that “Hamas’s refraining from intervening in the latest escalation was a wise thing to do.”
Nevertheless, Hijazi says not all Islamic Jihad personnel are happy.
“Some Islamic Jihad members considered Hamas’s standing on the sidelines a betrayal,” he told The Media Line, explaining that when Israel assassinated senior Hamas figure Ahmed al-Jabari in 2012, Islamic Jihad “was the first” to respond.
“Why didn’t Hamas do the same when Israel assassinated Abu Al-Ata?” he asked.
Hijazi added that the latest round of fighting “showed that Islamic Jihad, unlike Hamas, is not concerned about a truce with Israel.”
Talal Abuzarifa, a senior official with the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), told The Media Line that a “joint operations room” is a “national achievement” that must be maintained. He was using a term denoting close cooperation among the leaders of armed Palestinian groups in their fight against Israel.
“A party may not make decisions alone regardless of the causes or the motivations,” he said. “A general meeting of the joint operations room leadership needs to take place to discuss a response, defense strategies for Gaza and the framework that runs the political battle.”
Yet Fawzy Barhoom, a Gaza-based spokesperson for Hamas, told The Media Line that cooperation with Islamic Jihad remained robust.
“There is strong coordination among all Palestinian factions at the political, information, security and military levels, and the ‘joint operations room’ succeeded in counteracting the Israeli hostility,” he said. “It’s not the Israeli occupation that decides who participates and who doesn’t.”
(Sanaa Alswerky is a student journalist in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Studies Program)