by Ido Zelkovitz
1st part of 2
use Islam as an instrument of mobilization.
Fatah Imagery in the Twentieth Century
In the 1970s, Fatah graphic art promoted the culture of armed struggle which was at the heart of Fatah's ideology. This enabled Fatah to mobilize the masses in the absence of a solid ideology among the divided and faction-ridden Palestinian society. Its imagery and texts sanctified violent struggle as the miracle cure for Palestinian problems. From the everyday struggle, they believed, would grow the formulas and theories for their ideology in the future.
Before the outbreak of the second intifada, a Palestinian public opinion survey (conducted between November 1997 and March 1999) revealed that 87.6 percent of Fatah supporters believed Islam should play a major role in the future life of Palestinian society, and 80 percent said that any future Palestinian state should be run according to Islamic law.
Fatah was the dominant political movement in the West Bank and
Previously, Palestinian figures embraced the sectarian diversity of Palestinian Arabs, especially for the Western audience. For example, in a
Fatah infused its icons with religious imagery in support of its fighters and suicide bombers. A proclamation in memory of Suhail 'Ali Bakr, an Al-Aqsa member responsible for producing and launching rockets and killed in a February 7, 2007 Israeli air strike, combined the traditional colors of the Islamic jihad flag with the black-and-white checkered headscarf (kaffiyeh), long the symbol of the Fatah movement.
Fatah has embraced Islamist discourse for several reasons. First, competition with Hamas led its leaders to invoke Islam as a way to create a system of symbols and images that, combined with the national struggle, would fuse past and present and pave the way to an ideal future.
In the mid-1980s, Fatah established satellite groups with an Islamic appearance in response to the activities of Islamic Jihad. Then, as Hamas became a competitor in the run-up to and after the outbreak of the second intifada, Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades printed a Qur'anic verse on their banner that read, "Fight against them! God will chastise them by your hands, and will bring disgrace upon them, and will succor you against them; and He will soothe the bosoms of those who believe." It is no coincidence that Hamas used the same verse on its proclamations during the first intifada.
Even Arafat embraced religious reference. Arafat often used the language of the Qur'an to mobilize the Palestinians, especially during times of war. For example, on July 22, 1981, in the months before the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Arafat told his followers, "Permission (to fight) is granted to those who are being persecuted, since injustice has befallen them, and God is certainly able to support them. They were evicted from their homes unjustly, for no reason other than saying, 'Our lord is Allah.'" Arafat then cites the Qu'ran to promise the afterlife to those who fight for God and
God has bought from the believers their lives and their money in exchange for
In response to allegations that the Israeli army planned to deport him from the West Bank and
There still exists a group in my nation that preserves its religion, vanquishes its enemy, and is not harmed by any one who attacks it, and its people are the victors, due to God's strength. It was said [to the Prophet Muhammad], "O Messenger of God, where are they and who are [these people]?" The Prophet answered:
"They are in
In many ways, Arafat paved the way for the growth of Islamism within Fatah.
Third, Islam may have provided a useful glue to overcome factionalization within Fatah. The second intifada left Fatah beset by internal divisions and rivalries. The clan and sub-clan nature of Palestinian-Arab society compounded the problem. Arafat empowered the biggest clans and extended families as a counterweight to the rising, young, local leadership from the "new middle class." Bodies which rely on a sub-national identity in the broader framework of a national movement need an additional element to broaden their power base. Islam provided a useful mechanism by which to hold the clans together.
Islam also provided Fatah a much-needed makeover. Implanted as a political entity in the West Bank and Gaza after the 1993 Oslo accords, by 2000, Fatah was associated with corruption in the minds of many Palestinians. An Islamist patina enabled Fatah to create an image of incorruptibility, purity, and devotion to jihad.
On September 28, 2000, followers of Marwan Barghouti, a West Bank Fatah leader convicted on May 20, 2004, of five counts of murder, formed the core of Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades. The brigades' operations are decentralized, in part because of the tension between the young guard, born in the West Bank and Gaza, and Fatah's old guard, who spent most of their lives overseas. Islam provided a bond to hold the factions together and, unlike Palestinian nationalism, also allowed the group to establish links to non-Palestinian movements under the banner of Islamic solidarity. Zakaria Zubaydi, the chief commander of Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades in the Jenin area, for example, said that his group receives funds from Hezbollah.
Fatah Factions Discover Islam
The change in the discourse can be seen in the case of the Fatah Hawks who, during the first intifada, both spearheaded the Fatah fight against
Hawks' communiqués abound in Islamic discourse. Reference to "pure soil" is also a frequent motif in Hawks' statements as the group seeks to claim the
Visual material about the Hawks also testifies to the importance of Islam in their ethos. The profession of faith and the cry of "God is Great," both of which fighters recite on their way to jihad, appear on their flag.
On their shield, the Hawks also use visuals, such as the Dome of the Rock, which reflect Palestinian folklore as national symbols. From the dome arises a map of
"salvation" and "victory." Fatah seeks to intertwine the two even further with its slogan, "Revolution until Victory" (thawra hata' an-nasr).
The Shahid Ahmad Abu'r-Rish Brigades, a Fatah faction centered in the Khan Yunis and Rafah areas, also accord Islam a central role. The brigades acknowledge a close relationship with Hamas based both on shared religious principles and on having fought together "in the trenches against the enemies of the motherland and religion." On their Internet site, they call themselves Ansar al-Islam (Supporters of Islam), an expression that refers to the companions of Muhammad in Medina.
The Abu'r-Rish Brigades declare their aims to be not only the liberation of
On an earlier home page, the brigades appealed to religious emotion, portraying the Qur'an and the Dome of the Rock on a green background. This page was shut down by the Canadian government in mid-2006 after a Canadian court accused the Abu'r-Rish Brigades of terrorism. Like their mother organization, the Fatah Hawks, they created a motif of a map of undivided
The Clear Victory Brigades, whose name in Arabic derives from the Qur'an, call for the continuation of the struggle by means of the word and the rifle and seek both moral reckoning and the preservation of social values now in decline. The use of names indicating the Islamic roots of Fatah falls into a pattern reminiscent of the first intifada when the political struggle between Fatah and Hamas was expressed in part through Fatah graffiti bearing a religious complexion: "Allah is my Lord; Islam is my faith; the Qur'an is my book; to the Ka'ba, I turn in prayer; Muhammad is my prophet; Fatah is my movement," or "There is no god but Allah—thus we have always believed (Fatah, Nablus)," and "Fatah everywhere—even in the Qur'an."
The Holy Warriors Brigade, active in the Sabra neighborhood of
The Pioneers of the Army of the People—The Brigade of the Return—is another clear example of the mixing of religious and national symbols. Its banner also features a green map of repartition
The picture of an activist of the faction sitting on what appears to be a rostrum reflects the depth of the blending of the symbols (see Figure 6): Behind the activist hangs a Palestinian flag decorated with the Muslim profession of faith, next to which is the logo of Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades. A Pioneers of the Army of the People flag covers the table. The activist himself chose to be photographed reading the Qur'an with weapons
placed beside him.
Despite their internecine struggles for prestige, all of these Fatah factions duplicate certain symbols: the Dome of the Rock and a green map of
only learn about Fatah's philosophy when in prison.