Ramallah, Asharq Al-Awsat- It is no secret that the line adopted by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Palestinian territories contradicts that of the Hamas movement, which controls the Gaza Strip. Their disagreement dates back to the time when they were first established in the late 1980s and has clearly manifested itself in the Palestinian street, institutions, universities, associations, and prisons. By simply raising a political or religious discussion among the members of both movements, one can realize that they disagree over everything.
A well-informed Palestinian source have asserted to Asharq Al-Awsat that “the dispute between Hamas and Islamic Jihad reached its peak when Hamas tried to take over mosques belonging to the Islamic Jihad in Gaza and tighten the noose on its leader in Damascus and prevent them from establishing any relations with other states in the region.”
According to the source which spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, “Hamas seeks to benefit solely from Sunni and Shiite support. In order to achieve this goal, Hamas has made great efforts to convince Sunni states that Islamic Jihad members are adopting Shiite Islam.”
“Hamas has also made an effort to convince Iran, which is a Shiite state, that it has power over the land and Islamic Jihad as well.” The source added.
The Palestinian source noted that “the dispute between Hamas and the Islamic Jihad is old.” and that “it started years ago as a result of Hamas accusing Islamic Jihad members of adopting Shiism and spreading it in Palestine to the advantage of Iran. There was questioning in this regard at the highest echelon of the Islamic Jihad.”
The source made clear that such accusations against the Islamic Jihad have declined recently as a result of Hamas embracing Iran, adding that, “today, Hamas has fallen into the arms of Iran, which is providing it with more support than it is providing for the Islamic Jihad. This is despite the fact that the Islamic Jihad’s relationship with Iran is older and was stronger than Iran’s [current] relationship with Hamas. Consequently, the tune that the Islamic Jihad is Shiite is being played less often.”
the source also revealed that, “up until recently, Hamas had claimed in front of Sheikh Yusuf al- Qaradawi that Islamic Jihad members were converting to Shiism. On one occasion, they deliberately published a photo of Ramadan Shalah, an Islamic Jihad official, visiting Khomeini’s grave. This caused tension in the relationship between Shalah and Khalid Mishal, head of Hamas’s Political Bureau.”
“What seems strange is that at that time, Hamas elements were visiting Iran in secret. Also, soon after, Mishal visited and recited Surat [chapter of the Koran] Al-Fatihah at Khomeini’s grave.” The source added.
Despite Hamas’s confirmation that it has a well-established relationship with Islamic Jihad, the Palestinian source emphasized that, “Hamas is upset because it considers that the Islamic Jihad movement is outbidding it through the line it is pursuing, manifest in its continued resistance and its refusal to participate in the legislative election or to join a Palestinian Government.”
However, official sources from the Islamic Jihad told Asharq Al-Awsat that, “We adopt a fixed position on everything, but Hamas’s position is changing. In 1996 they said that it was illicit to participate in the elections, and then they nominated themselves. (Deposed Prime Minister) Ismail Haniyeh ran for the legislative election the first time an election was held. Hamas said that he was a dissenter. Haniyeh formed a new party then withdrew from the elections. They are erratic.”
The Islamic Jihad sources went on to say, “as a result, people trust the Islamic Jihad more, thus causing problems with Hamas. In Gaza, mosques are divided. Everyone knows that this mosque belongs to Hamas and that mosque belongs to the Islamic Jihad.” In the West Bank, the situation is similar to that in Gaza. Islamic factions, in particular, are competing to control mosques, which are transformed into bases for party propaganda. Islamic Jihad is complaining that Hamas is working toward imposing its control even on the West Bank.
The sources pointed out that “In Al-Shuja’iyah, they [Hamas elements] raided Islamic Jihad mosques and dismissed imams and muezzins belonging to Islamic Jihad and replaced them by Hamas-affiliated imams. However, the high-level of tension that such actions created forced Hams to return control over these mosques to Islamic Jihad after direct intervention by Fatah leaders.”
The source continued that, “In the past, disputes affected everyone. However, recently, they were limited to the supporters of both factions as a result of them mixing together. Nevertheless, disputes have once again worsened on the level of high commands. The [controversial] issue that has been raised recently involves the failure to invite Islamic Jihad Secretary General Shalah and movement leader Anwar Abu-Taha to attend the sixth annual conference on Jerusalem in Qatar, which was organized by the Al-Quds International Institution.”
The Al-Quds International Institution, which is based in Beirut, said that “Shalah and Abu-Taha are founding members.” Despite the institution’s denial that it overlooked their invitation, the Islamic Jihad sources said that “Shalah and Abu-Taha were not invited because Hamas cancelled out their names and replaced them with the names of Hamas leaders.” adding that, “No Islamic Jihad leaders attended the conference, at a time when everyone, including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine [PFLP], was present there. The goal is clear. It is manifest in distancing the Islamic Jihad from Sunni states like Qatar, thus becoming the only party to receive Qatari support.”
The sources affirmed that “the conference has ruptured relations between Shalah and Mishal.” But that disputes were heading towards a resolution.