Hamas Leader Calls on Ra’am Leader to Leave the Israeli Government Coalition
In a speech on April 30, 2022, Yahya Sinwar, leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, outlined the group’s policy and directed a pointed message at the Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, the United Arab List (Ra’am) party, and Member of Knesset Mansour Abbas, leader of Ra’am and head of the Southern Branch’s political wing.
The following is translated from the relevant part of Sinwar’s speech:1
I would like to turn to those in the United Arab List and to Member of Knesset Mansour Abbas. Providing a safety net to this government, which makes decisions to desecrate the Al-Aqsa Mosque, is a crime for which we cannot grant you atonement, and a denial of your religion, of your Arab [identity], and of your nationality. This government, and not only this government but any government that makes a decision to invade [i.e., allow a Jewish presence in] the Al-Aqsa Mosque, may not be given a safety net by members of our [Palestinian] people inside the occupation [within the state of Israel]. Our position from the beginning is against your participation in [Knesset] elections in Israel, against taking part in elections. We are the first to oppose it. But you made a situation assessment and adopted a stance, and we respect your decision.
However, an Arab party that, out of circumstantial considerations, offers a safety net to a government that decides to invade the Al-Aqsa Mosque and apportion its use [i.e., to Jews as well]—this is forbidden. What is done will be recorded. Mansour Abbas is the current Abu Raghal [أبو رغال, a historical figure who became a symbol of treason in Islam]. Enough folly and enough nonsense. Things have reached a point where an Arab person [Abbas] will say that it [Israel] is a Jewish state, and this is an all-time low, and I tried to choose a somewhat delicate phrase, for an Arab to say that it [Israel] is not an apartheid state, an all-time low. Enough of the nonsense. You [Ra’am] have freedom of choice and what is done will be recorded.
O, our brothers in the Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement, today you must make a decision to leave [the coalition], and not to freeze or suspend membership or participation in meetings in what is called the Israeli Knesset. And this does not mean we support one prime minister or another. Learn from the current Zionist prime minister, [Naftali] Bennett. In six terms [of the Yamina Party in the Knesset], he exploits the prevailing political reality and becomes prime minister. In six terms.
You [Ra’am] have had four terms [in the Knesset]. At present you are engaged in commerce—the sale [unclear word] of any position, voting to secure an achievement for the Arab sector. That’s good. But if you bring the Arab sector meager achievements in return for desecrating our Al-Aqsa Mosque—[unclear words] someone who acts this way has no conscience. If you have a speck of conscience you must at once make a decision [to leave the coalition].
Ra’am Responds: We Are Determined to Realize the Interests of Palestinian Arab Society inside Israel
The next day, on May 1, the Islamic Movement issued an official statement in response to Sinwar’s speech:2
[Heading:] “The United Arab List: The residents of Mecca know the narrow paths better than others” [an expression meant to justify Ra’am’s policy].
The United Arab List derives its legitimacy from the members of the Palestinian Arab society inside [i.e., within Israel], who support its approach and vote for it. The List does not act as an attorney for the interests of one side or another. Its basic principles are clear, and it has only one compass, namely, the interest of the Arab society inside [Israel]. The United Arab List rejects any interference in its affairs and any arrogance toward its positions, especially those concerning Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa.
[Ra’am] stresses that the members of the Islamic Movement translate more than others their love for Al-Aqsa into reality and deeds. Ra’am froze its membership in the parliament as a result of recent incidents that infringed [the status of the city of] Al-Quds [Jerusalem] and Al-Aqsa, in an effort to put a stop to the events in Al-Quds and the violations of Al-Aqsa, and it adopted a clear stance and demand regarding the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque. On the ground, the Islamic Movement has continued its project of bringing thousands of buses to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and carrying out many projects in Al-Quds and Al-Aqsa, including presence [in the Al-Aqsa Mosque] as well as empowerment and safeguarding of the holy properties [the places sacred to Islam].
Ra’am is determined to keep its compass directed at realizing the interests of the Palestinian Arab society inside [Israel], and it will not allow foreign voices [alluding to Hamas and Sinwar] to divert Ra’am from its compass. The members of our society elected us to represent their problems and to exert influence toward solving them, whether on the issue of violence and crime, or the unrecognized villages, or the crisis of land and housing, and other issues that cause distress to the members of this society day and night. The Ra’am members of Knesset have brought these issues to the arena of [political] influence, which is the same arena of influence that Ra’am chose in 2005 when it was the deciding voice in favor of Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza.
In a May 1 interview to Nas Radio, Mansour Abbas defended himself against Sinwar’s grave charges of treason to Islam.3 He asked the interviewers: “Do you think Mansour Abbas is a traitor and a collaborator?” and “Am I Abu Raghal?” Abbas underlined that Ra’am has a reputation built on its positions on national issues and its devotion to the rights of the Palestinian people and to the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Abbas also expressed opposition to Sinwar’s call to Israeli Arabs to arm themselves with guns and knives for the great confrontation with Israel, asking rhetorically whether that would serve the Arab society’s interests and whether this society is required to take up arms.
On May 5, Abbas took a similar line in an interview to Elaph, a Saudi newspaper published in London. He also denied any link between, on the one hand, the Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement and Ra’am, and, on the other, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. As he remarked:4
I say clearly and candidly that in our current activity as an Islamic movement and as Ra’am, we do not, in what we are now doing as an Islamic movement and a united Arab list, we have no link to anyone outside the 1948 land [i.e., Israel], not to the Muslim Brotherhood, not to other actors apart from it, not to Hamas and not to Fatah. We are a movement that makes decisions independently in the local context as part of our understanding of [Islamic] law and jurisprudence and our understanding of the prescribed policy. And we are well aware of our need as an Arab society to strengthen our status. We hold steadfastly to this land, bolster our resilience, maintain our Arab society, safeguard the Islamic identity and the Palestinian Arab identity, and conduct our association with the State of Israel on the basis of citizenship.
Statements on the Question of the Islamic Movement’s Link with the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas
Yahya Sinwar’s pronouncements seem to reflect a process of dialogue and consultation between the Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement and Hamas on the question of Ra’am’s joining Israel’s coalition government. Sinwar said Hamas had opposed such a step from the beginning, but respected the decision that the Islamic Movement reached following a situation assessment.
In an interview to Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper on June 26, 2021, after Ra’am joined the coalition, Mansour Abbas referred to the Southern Branch and Ra’am’s dialogue with Hamas on the issue by stating:5 “No one can say what positions Hamas takes on this matter, since it left it to us on the basis of the people of Mecca understanding the narrow paths better than others” (i.e., trusting Ra’am’s judgment because it is familiar with the political circumstances in Israel).
The expression—“people of Mecca understanding the narrow paths better than others”—was paraphrased from Ra’am’s heading for its statement in response to Sinwar’s speech.
In the same interview to Al-Quds Al-Arabi, Abbas did not deny that there would be future contacts between Ra’am and “Gaza” (i.e., Hamas, the power broker there) to help promote the goals of the Palestinian people. Here is a translation of a segment of the interview:
Question: “Do you consider the idea of serving as a mediator between Israel and the Palestinian side, whether in Ramallah or in Gaza?”
Mansour Abbas: “I don’t want to go into details, but my role is always to be a positive factor who supports the cause of our Palestinian people through a clear and explicit vision of achieving peace, security, partnership, and tolerance between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.”
Question: “Have Palestinian actors involved in the issue of the conflict turned to you?”
Abbas: “Mansour Abbas spares no effort to promote a settlement and a solution for the good of our Palestinian people.”
Question: “That is a general statement. Have there been any preliminary contacts?”
Abbas: “We leave the matter for the right time.”
Question: “That includes contacts from the Gaza side?”
Abbas: “Let’s just say, why do we need to talk about it at this stage?”
Past Meetings between Islamic Movement Leaders and Hamas
A direct dialogue was held between Abbas and the Hamas leadership. In October 2016, Abbas, then deputy head of the Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement, and Mohammad Barakeh, chairman of the Israeli Arab Monitoring Committee, visited the principality of Qatar to take part in reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah.6
Abbas acknowledged that he had met in the past with Hamas leader Khaled Mashal, but said the meeting was “known about by those who need to know” and that it dealt with promoting a religious peace initiative in tandem with former Israeli cabinet minister Michael Melchior.7
In addition to his attempts to include Hamas as a legitimate political actor in the Palestinian leadership and in the Palestinians’ representative institutions, Abbas told the Hamas leadership that it should adhere to the political document formulated by Mashal (May 1, 2017), make it a Palestinian national plan of action, and maintain “the struggle/resistance in all forms” as a national asset. Hamas’ political document defines Zionism as an enemy of humanity and justifies the struggle for the liberation of Palestine in its current forms—that is, the armed conflict. It also legitimizes the existence and activity of “the struggle organizations”—that is, the Palestinian terror groups.8
In this regard, and under the heading “Gaza, therefore, conceded Palestine when facing difficult options,” Abbas wrote on June 15, 2017.9
Moreover, I do not recommend that Hamas consider other possibilities, such as reconciliation with Muhammad Dahlan and his supporters, or direct negotiations with Israel except on the issue of the prisoners and hostages. Instead, I recommend that it adhere to its new document and make it a Palestinian national plan of action.
The only logical, responsible, national, Islamic, and Arab option is the option of the Palestinian national partnership between Fatah, Hamas, and all the Palestinian factions, and that is the choice of the Palestinian people—to rebuild the organization for the liberation of Palestine and the other united national institutions on a basis of reconciliation and natural partnership and a basis of an equation without a winner or a loser, and to create a Palestinian civil framework that ensures pluralism and safeguards the freedoms of the public, honors human rights, and maintains the struggle/resistance in all its forms as a national asset, with the help of which [the Palestinian people] will wage the battle for liberation and independence.
The link between the Islamic Movement and Hamas originated at the time of the former’s establishment in 1970. Sheikh Hamed Abu Dabas, leader of the Islamic Movement from April 2010 to January 2022, said at an event honoring the founder of the movement, Abdullah Nimr Darwish, on October 8, 2016:10
Sheikh Abdullah Nimr Darwish took upon himself the management and monitoring of the Islamic activity in Rahat, which was then a village and eventually became a city, directly and firstly of course from the benevolence of Allah, may His name be praised and exalted, and afterward in direct guidance/coordination between the honored Sheikh Abdullah [Nimr Darwish] and the honored martyr Ahmed Yassin [founder of Hamas and its leader until 2004], Allah’s mercy be upon him.
Mansour Abbas brings out a close link between the Islamic Movement, located in the Palestinian “inside,” and the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. In a Facebook post on May 14, 2017, Abbas shared a call to mourning by Abu Dabas for Darwish, in which Abu Dabas stated: “He [Darwish] was loyal to the path of the martyr Imam Hassan al-Banna [founder of the Muslim Brotherhood], Allah’s mercy be upon him, and he was the twin of the martyr Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, God’s mercy be upon him.”11
On May 14, 2017, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh telephoned the mourning tent for Darwish and, in a statement carried by a loudspeaker, eulogized him as a mujahadid (one who fulfilled the jihad command) and praised his Islamic activity in “occupied Palestine.” After he finished, one of the participants (possibly Darwish’s son) expressed thanks for “the good things” that Haniyeh spoke “from a good heart.”12
In an interview to the Bokra site on September 16, 2018, Abu Dabas, then head of the Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement, said he was “a disciple of the late Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.”13
Abdulmalik Dehamshe, former chairman of Ra’am and one of the two people (along with Abdullah Nimr Darwish) who inspired the worldview of Mansour Abbas, lauded Yassin. In an Islamic Movement event on October 8, 2016, Dehamshe said:14
Allah, may his name be exalted and praised, privileged and honored me in being near to the two giants, and they are the giants of the entire Palestinian people, at least in the new era, devoting their lives to the struggle against injustice and the agents of wrongdoing, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Allah’s mercy be upon him, who was martyred in the path of Allah, and Sheikh Abdullah [Nimr Darwish], Allah preserve him and grant him the honor of the martyrs for the path of Allah.
Dehamshe portrayed the link between the Islamic Movement and the Islamic movements outside of Israel as between the branch and the tree, while asserting that the source of authority remains local. As he put it:15
The source of authority of the Islamic Movement is within it and solely within it. Along with its love and esteem for all our brothers who work for the sake of Islam and its dissemination, including individuals and institutions in Israel and in the Palestinian homeland occupied [since] 1967, and along with our interactions and ties with the Islamic activity in the land and outside of it, similar to the link between the branch and the tree, our source of authority as an Islamic movement in Israel is in our local and national dawah institutions and within this movement only.
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15 Hosni Adham Jirar, Abdulmalik Dehamshe: Landmarks of His Life (Jordan, Dar al-Mamoun), p. 38.