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WEST BANK AND GAZA. The territories west of the Jordan River, lost by Jordan in the 1967 war with Israel, are known as the West Bank; the Gaza Strip, lost to Israel by Egypt in the same war, is a narrow strip of land on the Mediterranean coast. These territories have been the subject of dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, the majority population of both areas. Islamic tradition has considered Palestine central to the faith. The prophet Muhammad ordained Jerusalem the site of the first (qiblah). The city is also the location of the “Farthest Temple” appearing in the Vision of the Ascension of the Prophet (surah 17.1), which details a mystical night journey by the Prophet to Jerusalem. Muslim leaders throughout the history of Islam have fought against any power threatening Muslim rulership of the holy city. Thus, the nature of Islamic life in the territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is inextricably linked to the symbolism of Palestine to the Muslim faith. This link has meant that the Muslim community of the world feels a special affinity to the city of Jerusalem and feels compelled to protest and defend it when the Islamic sanctity of the shrines associated with the prophet Muhammad is threatened by rulership that is non-Islamic.

The links between religion, war, and politics were reinforced in the early decades of the twentieth century, following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I and the end of the caliphate. Palestine’s Muslim leaders assumed new roles under the mandate of the British colonial authorities (191’7-1948). The most senior religious figure, al-Hajj Am-in al-Husayni, mufti of Jerusalem and a British appointee, faced challenges from the growth of a secular and nationalist Palestinian movement, foreign authority, and the Zionist movement. Within the Palestinian Islamic movement he was confronted by the rise of a populist Islamic movement led by Syrian-born and Egyptian-educated Shaykh `Izz al-Din al-Qassam (d. 1935)

Such developments were new to Islam in Palestine and threatened to undermine traditional Islamic rule in Jerusalem, the third most holy site of Islam. Palestinian Islamic thinkers during this period were influenced by Islamic thinkers in Cairo, in particular Muhammad Rashid Rida (1865-1935), a follower of Muhammad `Abduh (1849-1905). `Abduh and Rida were the leaders of the Islamic modernist movement, which sought to combine the essentials of the Islamic faith with the modern political context of Middle Eastern society under Western influences.

Within the Palestinian context both al-Husayni and al-Qassam were disciples of the modernist movement. Yet these leaders employed radically different approaches to the political issues of the period. The most prominent of these issues were British rule and their policies toward the Zionist movement. In response to Palestinian isolation and marginalization, the leadership of the Muslim population responded to local grievances.

In the north of Palestine, in the area around Haifa, Shaykh al-Qassam organized a populist response in the predominantly peasant community. He encouraged the peasants to reestablish the basic principles of Islamic faith and to resort to armed resistance against the British authorities and Jewish targets. Although al-Qassam was killed by British forces in November 1935, his followers continued their campaign and were key figures in the leadership of the Palestinian uprising (19361939). As an activist, rather than as a thinker, alQassam has influenced recent Islamic and nationalist groups, including Hamas, who named its military wing after al-Qassam, the Islamic Jihad in Palestine, and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

Al-Hajj Amin al-Husayni played a pivotal role in the Palestinian uprising Of 1936, and, as a consequence, was stripped of his religious authority and forced into exile by the British authorities. He is criticized for mishandling Palestinian aspirations for political selfdetermination because he acted as a moderating and appeasing influence during the uprising. Like al-Qassam, al-Husayni was not an Islamic savant, yet his influence on the politics of Islam in Palestine and on its relationship with nationalist and other forces has endured.

The points of view of these Islamic figures during the early twentieth century persist in the politics, culture, and social relations of the predominantly Muslim community of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Regardless of political rule, that of the Jordanians and Egyptians from 1948 to 1967 and of the Israelis since 1967, the religious leadership of the Muslim population has reflected the pluralism of political viewpoints.

Since Israeli occupation in 1967 the traditional leadership, funded by Jordanian awqaf (sg., waqf), has sought to maintain the daily practice of Islamic religion and culture in a rapidly secularizing society. The Israeli authorities have confiscated Islamic lands, neglected Muslim shrines, arrested and deported preachers, censored sermons, and prevented worshipers from traveling to mosques to pray. These actions have radicalized sections of the Muslim clergy, who, following Shaykh alQassam’s example, have formed independent political agendas and concentrated their work and activities among the poorer sections of the refugee community of the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

Preachers such as Shaykh `Abd al `Aziz `Awdah, of the Islamic Jihad, and Shaykh Ahmad Yasin, the leader of al-Mujtama` al-Islami (the Islamic Assembly) and its intifadah offshoot Hamas, have built their own independently funded mosques, welfare, and health clinics. These radical Islamic leaders and their followers have distanced themselves from traditional figures like Shaykh `Abd al-Hamid al-Sa’ih, president of the Palestine National Council, and the late Shaykh `Izz al-Din al-`Alarm, the mufti of Jerusalem, who support the Palestine Liberation Organization. Thus, rivalry within the Muslim leadership of the West Bank and Gaza Strip now exists between those who support the PLO and those who, like other Islamic radicals, resist the influences of nationalist-secularism and Western mores and values in favor of a return to the principles of Islam. These divergences have come to the fore during the Palestinian intifadah (uprising), which broke out in 1987 and has continued in the early 1990s. In the Gaza Strip the strength of Islamic forces has affected ideology, religious practice, and social relations within the community, leading to rivalry between supporters of the national movement and Islamic activists.

In the 1990s the Palestinian Islamic movement opposed the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and Arab states that were initiated under international auspices. In addition it denounced the signing of a “Declaration of Principles” for peace between Israel and the PLO in September 1993. The Islamic movement has stepped up armed attacks on Israeli targets. The Israeli government has outlawed Hamas and Islamic Jihad, it deported more than four hundred in 1992, and it has imprisoned the leaders of both organizations.

[See also Arab-Israeli Conflict; Hamas; Israel; Jihad Organizations; Palestine Liberation Organization; and the biography of Husayni]


Abu `Amr, Ziyad. Al-harakah al-Islamiyah fi’l-Diffah al-Gharbiyah wa Qita` Ghazzah (The Islamic Movement in the West Bank and Gaza Strip). Acre, Israel, 1989. The best study to date of the Islamic jihad movement in the Israeli Occupied Territories.

Johnson, Nels. Islam and the Politics of Meaning in Palestinian Nationalism. London, 1982. Anthropological essay concentrating on the life of Shaykh `Izz al-Din al-Qassam.

Mattar, Philip. “The Mufti of Jerusalem and the Politics of Palestine.”,journal of Palestine Studies 42 (Spring 1989): 227-240. Milton-Edwards, Beverley. Islamic Politics in Palestine. London, 1995 Historical and contemporary examination of Islamic politics.

Porath, Yehoshua. The Emergence of the Palestinian National Movement, 1918-1939. London, 1974. Useful overview of Palestine under the British mandate.

Sahliyeh, Emile F. In Search of Leadership: West Bank Politics since 1967. Washington, D.C., 1988. Thoughtful account of issues of leadership, but like many other books, fails to address the Gaza Strip.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/west-bank-gaza/

  • writerPosted On: June 24, 2017
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