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Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, 10 years


Ten years ago today, Israel assassinated Sheikh Ahmad Yassin.  Israeli helicopters fired missiles directly at him as he left a mosque after Fajr prayers near his house in Gaza City.

At the young age of 12, Sheikh Ahmad Yassin witnessed the ‘Nakba’ catastrophe of his people. Born in the picturesque village of Al-Joura in 1936, he with his family and 700, 000 other Palestinians were forced from their homes by invading Zionist forces as the state of Israel was created in 1948. As his homeland was stolen, he with his family faced great loss and trauma and sought refuge in Gaza. A further much greater personal tragedy ensued in his youth, when an accident during his teens left him quadriplegic and wheelchair bound for the remainder of his life.

Despite his disability, in the mid 1950’s, Sheikh Yassin went to Cairo to study. During his time there, he was introduced to the Ikhwanul Muslimeen (Muslim Brotherhood) and became a member of the movement which advocated the spreading of Islamic knowledge at grass roots level for the betterment of people and Muslim societies as a whole.

Between 1957 and 1964, Sheikh Yassin returned to Gaza to work as an Islamic teacher and a community worker. Once again in 1964, Sheikh Yassin returned to Cairo to study at the Ein Shams University. He only spent a year there before being deported back to Gaza by the Egyptian government who were clamping down on the Muslim Brotherhood.

Upon his return to Gaza, Sheikh Yassin continued his work of Dawah and social welfare until 1984. During 1973, he founded a movement called al-Mujama al-Islami (the Islamic Charitable League). At this time, Israel was encouraging the development of Palestinian groups that would challenge Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement. Therefore, Sheikh Yassin initially worked without hindrance from the Occupation Forces. Thus enabling him to expand his health and educational programmes; open mosques; hospitals; and libraries and participate in other philanthropic work that benefited hundreds of thousands.

During the early 1980’s, Sheikh Yassin began the first real struggles for freedom for Palestine. His Mujama al-Islami group developed into Al-Majahadoun Al-Philastiniyun with the main purpose of ending the Israeli occupation.

By 1983 Sheikh Yassin was emerging as the main leader of the Palestinian people. His fame and respect was not constrained to Gaza Strip but he was a renowned figure throughout the Middle East and the wider Muslim world. As a result, he also attracted the attention of Israel. He was imprisoned in 1983 on charges of possessing illegal weapons and sentenced to 13 years. However, he was released in 1985 following a prisoner exchange deal. Despite Israeli intimidation and threats immediately upon his release, Sheikh Yassin continued with his community work from curbing drug dealers to establishing universities.

His work with Hamas began during the time of the First Intifada and it is this, which earned him notoriety in the West. ‘HAMAS’ is an Arabic acronym for “Islamic Resistance Movement”. Since that time, Sheikh Yassin had been the Hamas spiritual leader and concentrated in guiding projects to provide essential aid and services by establishing schools, hospitals and clinics for Palestinians to use free of charge. However, this work was always overshadowed by the one wing of Hamas which developed in to a resistance movement against the brutal occupation of Palestine. Sheikh Yassin once stated: “The Jewish people have drunk from the glass of suffering and lived dispersed around the world. Today this people want to force the Palestinian people to drink from the same glass.”

Despite the brutal occupation and all its constrains, his charitable work earned Sheikh Yassin the status of a revered leader in Palestine and the Arab world despite his weak physical condition. He was in need of assistance with all daily activities; he suffered from muscular deterioration; he had chronic breathing problems and some loss of hearing and sight. Despite this, he was blessed with a family and he was the father of 11 children.

Following the beginning of the First Intifada, Hamas’ real struggle for liberation began. Sheikh Yassin never accepted the borders of Israel or Israel’s right to exist as an exclusive racist Jewish State. Israel’s initial ambivalence of Hamas deteriorated rapidly into hatred after Hamas began retaliating against Israel’s brutality. In May 1989, Sheikh Yassin was once again arrested and sentenced to life in prison.

Israel’s policy of assassinating its opponent’s dates back to its very inception, and Sheikh Yassin was released after servicing 8 years in prison following a botched assassination attempt by the Israeli secret service Mossad against Khalid Mishal, a Hamas leader in Amman. His release was a ‘gesture of good will’ by Israel to King Hussein of Jordan. Sheikh Yassin was taken to Jordan following his release for medical care, but returned to Gaza shortly afterwards. By this stage, the Israeli imprisonment had taken its toll and he was frail and ailing.

Sheikh Yassin received a hero’s welcome back to Gaza and was greeted by thousands of Palestinians. Despite a troublesome relationship with Yasser Arafat’s PA in the past, Sheikh Yassin now called for unity between the Palestinian people under the banner of the PA. Despite demands in the past for the return of the whole of historic Palestine to its people, in July 2000 Sheikh Yassin offered a truce to Israel if they withdrew from the West Bank and Gaza, back to the 1967 borders. This was rejected by Israel whose expansionist agenda was well underway with the building of settlements on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Following the inception of the second Intifada, the scale of the brutality, violence and aggression against the Palestinian people drew a relentless resistance from all Palestinians and Hamas. Between 2003 and 2004, Sheikh Yassin was involved in the Egyptian-mediated ceasefire talks between Palestinian factions and Prime Ministers Abbas and Qurei. Hamas also launch an initiative for a cease-fire with the Israelis and even observed unilateral truce for fifty days in a bid to give peace a chance. Israel rejected the ceasefire and continued to use brutal force against Palestinians, with many being killed during the entire period until the ceasefire broke down.

In line with Israeli demands, the USA and much of Europe have branded Hamas a terrorist organisation and shut down many charities that funded the greatly needed social work. In reality, Hamas never instigated any war and was created in resistance of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian lands.

Israel made their first assassination attempt on Sheikh Yassin’s life in September 2003 when a quarter ton bomb was dropped on a housing complex injuring many innocent civilians, including several children. Sheikh Yassin survived this attempt on his life, although he was injured.

Sheikh Yassin was assassinated on 22 March 2004 when Israeli helicopters fired missiles directly at him as he left a mosque after Fajr prayers near his house in Gaza City. The attack killed six of his companions and one of his sons. Countless others were injured. His death was mourned by millions. The physical assassination of Sheikh Yassin was coupled with character assassination in Israel and the West. Yet to millions who seek justice for Palestine, Sheikh Yassin remains a symbol of resistance against the most brutal and powerful army in the region.

Of the Israeli’s, Sheikh Yassin once said “History will not pardon you, and God will judge us all.” Friends of Al-Aqsa

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