Gaza-based expert says local population exposed to the views of Salafi groups that embrace a more radical version of Islam, but offer an alternative to Hamas’ corruption.
By Elizabeth Blade
Earlier this month Hamas “police” stormed the Gaza home of Yunis Hunnar, believed to be a member of a Salafi group linked to ISIS. A Hamas spokesman later said Hunnar had carried out attacks against the ruling group in May. Nor was it the first time Hamas’ rule had been challenged by Islamists more radical than itself.
In 2006 – in tight cooperation with Hamas’ military wing – a Salafi cell called “Soldiers of Allah” kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. A year later, they repeated the move by abducting BBC correspondent Alan Johnston. In 2009, it was reported that a group of Salafists had managed to establish a caliphate in southern Gaza, sparking a bloody confrontation with Hamas that left 39 members of the Salafi group dead.
With the rise of ISIS and the establishment of a caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq, the voice of Gaza-based Salafi groups has become more prominent. In January of this year, following the bloody attacks in Paris, members of various Salafi groups took to the streets of Gaza to protest against Charlie Hebdo’s caricatures of the prophet Muhammed. Some of them went as far as to plant bombs near the French cultural center. Although no injuries were reported, Hamas got the hint and arrested hundreds of suspected radicals.
On the surface, most of Gaza’s 1.8 million residents claim to support Hamas. But they are constantly exposed to the views of Salafi groups that embrace a more radical version of Islam, and offer an alternative to the corruption of Hamas.
A Gaza-based political analyst and professor at Al-Azhar University, whose name cannot be revealed for security reasons, told Israel Today that these groups have growing appeal among downtrodden Gazans.
“Rampant unemployment and extreme poverty – most Gazans live on $1.5 a day – have radicalized our society. The Salafi groups have learned to play on the religious feelings of the masses, saying that Allah is punishing the population for its sins and the only way to end the Israeli occupation [sic] is through purification and Jihad in the name of Allah,” he explained to us over the phone.
While many fall into this trap, the expert believes Hamas’ grip in Gaza remains strong. “Hamas’ position in the Strip is still unshakeable. We are talking about some 35,000 trained fighters. Still, it would only take one suicide bomber to turn Gaza into a bloodbath,” he warned.
Perhaps wary of confronting Hamas directly, some Salafi groups have taken to lobbing rockets at Israel, hoping to trigger harsh enough a reaction by the IDF to dislodge Hamas.
Still licking its wounds from last year’s costly Gaza war, Hamas vowed to punish the perpetrators, rather than praise the latest attacks on Israel.
Surprising as it sounds, the rising threat of ISIS and its affiliates might be bringing Hamas and Israel closer together.
“Indirect cooperation is definitely possible,” said our Gaza source. “While Hamas and Israel can defend themselves, they also understand the threat of groups like ISIS, Jabhat al Nusra and Al Qaeda. For now, Israel views Hamas as its enemy, but if ISIS decides to strike, Israel might want to change its stance, opting for cooperation with the rulers of Gaza.”
View original Israel Today publication at: http://www.israeltoday.co.il/NewsItem/tabid/178/nid/26756/Default.aspx