Al-Sabirin: a new resistance movement in Gaza

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Palestinian protesters chant slogans to speed up the implementation of the national reconciliation and the announcement of the formation of a national unity government, during a rally in Gaza City on May 27, 2014. (Photo: AFP-Mohammed Abed)

By: Hani Ibrahim

Published Saturday, May 31, 2014

The flag and logo of an organization that was launched a few days ago in the Gaza Strip suggest a Hezbollah now exists in Gaza. The organization is called al-Sabirin (the patient) for the Victory of Palestine and its logo bears a striking similarity to Hezbollah’s logo. Local opponents accuse it of being a Shia movement but its officials deny the charge and stress that they coordinate with other factions to organize their positioning in the resistance.

Gaza: Despite all the major turning points in the lives of Palestinians over the past 10 years, no party has offered a new political vision except a few youth organizations that have been stamped out by factional strife. Domestic strife has primarily been between Fatah and Hamas as each organization has aimed to control the political and economic map in the occupied West Bank and Gaza over the past seven years.

The social makeup in Gaza, which prides itself on its strong family ties, was impacted by factional differences and clashes. However, on a religious level, Gaza does not tolerate diversity as Sunni Muslims constitute the overwhelming majority. Therefore, the creation of a new organization poses “serious concerns regarding the path it is going to take.” Al-Sabirin talks about fighting Israel but its slogan carries connotations that make some view it as a “sectarian movement.” The circumstances and timing that the organization chose to announce its creation further complicate the matter.

There is the reconciliation process between Fatah and Hamas while the Islamic Jihad expressed reservations regarding some of the terms dealing with the weapons of the Resistance. In the Arab world, there are tensions simmering against a sectarian and ethnic backdrop under the banner of the Arab Spring. In this context, the new organization puts itself in a position that raises a lot of questions and is even subject to numerous accusations.

Sources from al-Sabirin say that they are “well aware of the difficulty of the Palestinian and regional circumstances,” that is why the organization is presenting itself as a “Palestinian resistance movement that seeks to free all of Palestine and does not believe in any negotiated agreements or even long-term truces with Israel.” Nevertheless, it announced its creation after the death of one of its cadres (Nizar Issa) in an explosion they said was the result of a manufacturing error. It was forced to declare itself so it can claim responsibility for him but the organization pointed out that they have been operating for years.

An al-Sabirin spokesperson, known as Abu Yousef, addresses the question of their sectarian affiliation. He tells Al-Akhbar: “We believe in Islamic unity and we reject any sectarian discourse. Whoever raises this issue serves our enemies the Zionists and the global arrogance that stands behind it which seeks to fragment and divide this nation.” However, he added, “we do not deny any of our members the freedom to choose the sect according to which they worship God within the context of the sects recognized by Islamic law. But highlighting this issue as though it were a problem is the strategy of those who try to exploit differences and sow the seeds of sedition.”

He continued: “The similarity between the logos is not a reason to accuse us of being Shia. The logos of resistance movements are similar to each other. The logo we chose includes common symbols such as the rifle that is firmly gripped by the hand, the map of Palestine with a mark for Jerusalem and a reference to planet Earth because we are advocates of peace and humanism.”

The Palestinian resistance had spawned in the 1960s more than 27 military and political organizations. Some of them have survived until today while others have become less important. Some organizations ceased to exist altogether and others turned to political activism. Each landmark juncture in the history of the struggle against Israel was characterized by the declaration of a new faction. The Arab defeat after al-Nakba led to the founding of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Palestinian National Liberation Movement also known as Fatah. With the decline of the communist movement in the region, the PFLP’s role declined and so did the role of Fatah after it left Beirut and became distant from the geographic region surrounding Palestine.

Before Fatah turned to political action, the first intifada (1987) which began as a popular movement shored up two Islamist resistance movements, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. With the start of the second intifada, Fatah - armed with a quasi-official decision - returned to military struggle through al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and Ahmed Abu al-Rish Brigades. But President Mahmoud Abbas diminished the role and presence of the former and the latter disintegrated. Since then, no Palestinian organization with a new political program has been declared, except for small military organizations.

A Hezbollah connection?

Al-Sabirin’s official spokesperson talked about their relationship with Hezbollah, especially after the controversy that erupted regarding the identity of the organization among Palestinians who received the news on social media: “There is no connection between us and Hezbollah. It is a Lebanese organization and we are a Palestinian movement.” He added: “We agree with our brothers in Hezbollah because we have chosen the same path, that is the path of resistance, we belong to the same axis, we confront the same enemy and we meet on the path of liberating Palestine. That, however, does not mean that we are opposed to dealing with them in order to learn from their experience and the expertise of other organizations.”

In 2008, an organization called the Palestinian Hezbollah was declared in the West Bank but the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas met this move with skepticism. This new faction, however, which described itself as “Sunni Jihadi Islamist and opposed to the political process,” did not last for long and no one has heard from them again. In addition, a military cell in Gaza named the Imad Mughniyeh Groups declared its responsibility for several operations. Eventually, it became evident that this cell was associated with Fatah.

Linking these organizations to Iran and Hezbollah is a very sensitive subject in Gaza. That is why some Arab and Israeli media outlets try to associate resistance movements with certain sectarian situations. Such as the incident years ago when the Palestinian police affiliated with the Hamas government attacked a group that was holding a consolation session on the 40-day memorial for Hussein in northern Gaza. The city of Khan Younis in the south of the Gaza Strip witnessed in the past months fist fights and armed clashes between the followers of a Salafi cleric who regularly attacked the Syrian regime, Iran, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad members before Islamic Jihad contained the situation.

Security sources familiar with the coordination effort between Palestinian factions told Al-Akhbar that a meeting was held between al-Sabirin and Hamas to sort out the former’s status as a Palestinian resistance movement that is going to work out of Gaza, as long as it is committed to the general framework of the agreements between the various organizations. But they refused to delve into other details about having al-Sabirin representatives at the Factions Coordinating Committee and their view on pacification. The new organization said that they established good communication channels with other parties and with the government.

The security situation in Gaza forces any political or military faction to coordinate with Hamas since it is the largest resistance movement in Gaza irrespective of how the reconciliation effort and the security issue will play out. The internal security agency affiliated with the government and the special security agency affiliated with al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, follow up with these organizations.

As to whether the Palestinian landscape needs another organization, Abu Yousef says: “In light of the new conspiracies to liquidate the Palestinian cause, the fact that the Arab and Islamic worlds are preoccupied with other issues and the two major Palestinian factions are heading towards a political solution, we concluded that we have a religious duty to step forward at this stage to help the Palestinian cause reclaim its rightful place and rectify the direction it is taking. Palestine requires sacrifices and this path does not end as long as our land is occupied.

Hezbollah’s announcement of the martyrdom of one of its leaders in Syria, Fawzi Ayoub, angered the Israeli media, which refocused on Hezbollah’s role in supporting the Palestinian factions inside Palestine. Especially Ayoub who was arrested in the West Bank in 2000 and was released as part of a prisoner swap deal. Tel Aviv always accuses Tehran, Damascus and Hezbollah of providing financial and military aid to Palestinian factions, training their fighters, sending experts to help them and creating sleeper cells.

In terms of arming them, Abu Islam said: “We are still a small group, which means our abilities are limited. But we depend on our morale which we consider the basis of our confrontation with the enemy.”

As for their funding, he refused to disclose a specific source. He said, however, that the financial support they receive is still limited and restricted to relationships with those he described as supporters of the Palestinian people in addition to personal donations. He said that, in the future, they are going to “open channels with parties that fund the Resistance and get the necessary support.”

The secretary general of al-Sabrin’s Shura Council

His nom de guerre is Abu Mohammed. Those close to him refuse to reveal his real name because he does not personally represent al-Sabirin as they say. “Rather, there is a Shura Council that takes decisions in the organization. This council is not new but its announcement was delayed because of certain circumstances that were preceded by a long latent period.”
Not much comes up on Abu Mohammed when you try to find out who he is because he is a mysterious figure and moves about secretly. He has been a wanted man by Israel for 18 years. His name became prominent in resistance circles after the Israeli forces tried to arrest him at the beginning of the Intifada for an operation that killed 35 Israeli soldiers in Tel Aviv. But he left his house before they arrived. So they decided to demolish his home, which consists of six floors. This led to the martyrdom of his father and displacement of his family. He is accused of having a strong relationship with influential figures in the Islamic Republic in Iran which means he is being watched by Hamas’ security agencies. They arrested him more than once without being able to prove anything against him. He was also imprisoned by Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the 1980s and 1990s.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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