Al-Ahram Weekly Online   13 - 19 August 2009
Issue No. 960
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Hamas faces Gelgelt

Under permanent pressure on all sides, Hamas must also confront radical Salafist groups who contend that the movement has strayed from the true path of jihad, writes >Saleh Al-Naami

Suhail Magari, 35, was giving instructions to the band onstage when a huge explosion tore through the wedding party and injured some of the groom's relatives, who were joyously dancing on this happy day. Suhail did not realise what had happened until two hours after being rushed to the hospital along with 60 others from the party who were injured in the explosion, two in serious condition.

This explosion happened three weeks ago in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, and it targeted one of the weddings that are commonly held in summertime in Gaza. It is one of a series of attacks attributed to the Islamic group calling itself 'Gelgelt' and whose ideas are based on "Salafist jihad," which is considered to be part of the 'Al-Qaeda' network led by Osama bin Laden. Gelget is one of the most prominent jihadist organisations formed so far. Gelgelt bombers have targeted beauty salons, Internet cafes, and some Christian churches. They are also responsible for bombing occupation forces stationed in Gaza, in the latest of which 10 Gelgelt members attacked an Israeli military post on the border between Gaza and Israel. Gelgelt raided the camp on horseback and five of them were killed, leaving no wounded Israeli soldiers. Another Gelgelt bombing killed an Israeli officer and wounded three others.

Gaza observers believe that Gelgelt includes a number of smaller groups with Salafist jihadi ideas who go by different names, including "Salafi jihad," "--Ansar Al-Sunna," "Supporters of God's Soldiers," and the "Army of Islam." Observers in Gaza believe the small groups emerged as a reaction to Hamas winning the 2006 parliamentary elections, for these groups -- according to Islamic law -- may not participate in such elections. Gelgelt's smaller organisations began a series of bombings, targeting foreigners, kidnapping a number of foreign journalists as well as humanitarian relief workers in Palestine. Gelgelt also targeted Palestinian Christians for the simple reason that they are non-Muslims, which has led to outrage among Gazans.

A Palestinian security source said to Al-Ahram Weekly that talk is circulating about the very smallest of these groups, each consisting of only a few individuals. These groups were used in the past by Hamas's opponents to embarrass and demonise Hamas's political movement. The Weekly's source said that Mohammed Dahlan, a key Fatah leader, succeeded in recruiting some of these groups to work against Hamas during the period between the parliamentary elections in January 2006 and Hamas taking control of Gaza in mid-June 2007. The source noted that Dahlan managed to use the leaders of Gelgelt groups to destabilise Hamas's rule. During that period, Gelgelt groups abducted a large number of foreigners, including British journalist Alan Johnston. The Palestinian security source added that Hamas's takeover in Gaza eroded the power of Gelgelt groups, and Hamas security forces freed Johnston. However, the last six months have witnessed a number of bombings, which confirms Gelgelt's resurgence. This activity appears in the shadow of an undeclared truce between Palestinian factions and Israel.

As for the formation of Gelgelt's groups, in many cases, they are formed randomly by Palestinian youth who share the same religious convictions. According to Palestinian security sources, members of Gelgelt groups are at the base of other Islamic and non-Islamic organisations in Gaza, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the Popular Resistance Committees and other groups. What brings together young people, mostly between the age of 20 and 30, in these organisations is their enthusiasm to apply Islamic law. Hamas treats these groups sensitively and does not hesitate in dealing with them, for Gelgelt and Hamas are quite similar at heart. Hamas, however, is strongly opposed to the idea of "global jihad," which is espoused by Gelgelt organisations, allowing for attacks on Western and Christian targets.

Moreover, Hamas is aware that because these organisations adopt Islamic rhetoric, they may have greater success in winning over Palestinian youth. With all the challenges facing Hamas and its government, the proliferation of such groups is not a security issue, but a political burden. The success of Gelgelt groups gives credibility to Hamas's opponents and Israel, who say that Hamas has turned Gaza into the "Islamic Emirate." Hamas leaders are aware that these groups, which currently focus on attacking net cafes and weddings, would not hesitate to attack Hamas leaders and activists, claiming that Hamas is no longer committed to the teachings of Sharia law.

Hamas warned these groups that they will not be allowed to "tamper with the security of the people." Hamas's security officers have arrested everyone connected to the bombings in Gaza. One security source told to the Weekly that it is important to enforce the law strictly and decisively. "No one has the right to attack others or to destroy their property. Tolerance for such violence would mean the return of the security crisis that we eliminated in June 2006, when we overwhelmingly defeated the Israeli and American forces led by Dahlan. We are not willing to return to that chaos," he said.

The Weekly has learned that both Hamas and its government have decided to wage an "intellectual war" on the followers of Gelgelt organisations, along with security measures. A source from the Hamas movement told the Weekly that many of the Hamas clergy have begun to visit members of Gelgelt organisations, and those who show sympathy with their ideas, inviting them to a private forum to persuade them to alter their ideas. According to the source, this move by the Hamas clergy has achieved great success, as dozens of young people have withdrawn from the ranks of Gelgelt organisations.

For his part, Yahya Musa, vice-chairman of the Hamas bloc in parliament, does not seem too worried about these organisations. "There is talk all over the Arab world about small groups based on misunderstanding the principles of religion, but the phenomenon of the Gelgelt groups cannot compare in size with this fundamentalist phenomenon in other Arab states. The phenomenon in Gaza is not only shrinking, but will completely disappear." As for the reason such groups emerge, Musa said it is Palestinians copying what they see in other Islamic countries like Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan. "These groups are formed especially in response to what Palestine was subjected to during Israel's war on Gaza."

Musa does not rule out the presence of foreign intelligence agencies in these groups, spurring their resurgence. Indeed, Musa thinks it likely that foreign intelligence forces were behind recruitment to these groups, in order to destabilise Gaza's security. Musa said that this problem must be addressed comprehensively, not simply restricted to the security aspect. Musa noted that he is already engaged in awareness campaigns. Musa noted that many Gelgelt members who were involved in these operations are now being held and are awaiting trial.

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