Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Masked in Gaza:
The Untold History of Palestinian Resistance
By Ramzy Baroud
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, December 20, 2011
Essam Al-Batsh and his nephew, Sobhi Al-Batsh, are the latest
in a long line of reported Palestinian resistance fighters killed by
Israel. The civilians were both targeted while driving in a car in
downtown Gaza on December 8. According to an Israeli army statement,
“(They) were affiliated with a terrorist squad that intended to attack
Israeli civilians and soldiers via the western border” (Reuters, December
Another resistance fighter had been killed two days earlier.
Israeli military aircraft “had targeted two militant squads that were
preparing to fire rockets into southern Israel,” according to the
Associated Press. AP quoted Israeli official saying the army would
“continue to take action against those (who) use terror against the state
It really doesn’t take much to kill a resistance
fighter in Gaza. Israeli military intelligence officers simply select a
weapon and zoom in on their chosen person on any given day. This is not a
difficult task really since the entire population of the Strip are
besieged in Gaza’s open air prison. The same statement issued regarding
the assassinated ‘militant’ can then be easily rewritten, using the same
Israel’s excuses actually tell nothing
of the history behind the phenomena of Palestinian resistance. To know why
some young men in Gaza decide to mask their faces and carry arms, they
need to abandon the media’s reductionist characterization of Gaza’s armed
struggle. This goes back much earlier than Hamas and Fatah, the 2006
selections, the 2007 siege or the 2008-09 war.
began shortly after the Nakba – The Palestinian ‘Catastrophe’ in 1948,
which saw the destruction of Palestine and the erection of today’s Israel.
During this time nearly a quarter a million were evicted or forced to flee
to Gaza. A displaced population then yearned to go home, and many wished
to recover the lifesavings they had buried under patches of earth in their
Palestinian villages. Some wanted to harvest their crops, and others
sought family members that had gone missing during the forced march out of
Once they crossed into newly established Israel, many
refugees never returned. But the boldness of the ‘fedayeen’ – freedom
fighters – now began to grow rapidly.
The refugees eventually
began organizing themselves, with or without help from the Egyptian army,
which was still stationed at the outskirts of Gaza and the southern
borders of the Sinai desert. Groups quickly assumed names and became
factions, and their members acquired military fatigues. The fighters used
kuffiyehs – traditional headscarves – to cover their faces to escape the
watchful eyes of Israeli collaborators, who were also growing in number.
Over time, Palestinian guerrilla commandos began carrying out daring
strikes deep inside Israel. The fedayeen were mostly young Palestinian
refugees, and some Egyptian fighters. Their operations grew bolder by the
day, as they snuck into Israel, like ghosts in the night, with primitive
weapons and homemade bombs. They would target Israeli soldiers, steal
their weapons and return with the new weapons the second night. Some would
sneak back into their villages in Palestine; they would ‘steal’ blankets
and whatever money they had saved but failed to retrieve in the rush of
war. Those who never returned received the funerals of ‘Martyrs’.
Following every fedayeen operation, the Israeli army would strike Gaza’s
refugees, inspiring yet more support and recruits for the young, but
growing commando movement.
The phenomenon quickly registered
among Palestinian youth in Gaza - not due to any inexplicable desire for
violence, but because they saw in the fedayeen a heroic escape from their
own humiliating lives. Indeed, the fedayeen movement was the antithesis of
the perceived submissiveness experienced by refugees. It was a
manifestation of all the anger and frustration they felt. They simply
wanted to go home, and freedom-fighting seemed the only practical way of
fulfilling this wish.
As refugees stayed put in their tents, and
as more Palestinians were killed by Israeli military incursions and
snipers, the numbers of fedayeen multiplied. In a historic visit to Gaza
in 1955, then Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser promised to fight on
until all of Palestine was liberated. Soon after, amid angry demands for
action, Egypt decided to establish ten battalions of the National Guard,
which were made up mostly of Palestinian fedayeen and led by Egyptian
officers. It signaled an Egyptian attempt to take charge of the situation
and control the scattered Palestinian leaderships and its armed factions.
Cross-border skirmishes culminated, at times, into full-blown border
battles. Israeli mortar attacks reached many areas in Gaza. There was no
safe place to hide.
The factions changed names. The fedayeen wore
different colored kuffiyehs. But in essence, little changed. Poverty
persisted. Human rights continued to be routinely violated. Not a single
refugee returned home. And three, if not four generations of Fedayeen,
carried on with the fight.
In some way, the media perception of
these masked men also remained largely unchanged. The ‘militant’ has
always been reported as an inexplicable irritant. At best, he served as a
reminder, not of a poignant history that must be unearthed and understood,
but of why Israel is, and will always remain, threatened by masked
Palestinians. When a resistance fighter is brutally killed, little
justification is offered. If any ‘militants’ respond to the killing, such
retorts could possibly serve as a casus belli for an already planned
Israeli military escalation.
It is important that we understand
that resistance in Gaza is not linked to any Palestinian faction per se,
nor is it incited by a specific ideology or individual. The phenomenon had
indeed preceded all the factions and individuals that dot Gaza’s political
landscape. It was caused by the single event of the Nakba, and all the
tragedies that manifested as a result of it.
Chances are, the
resistance fighter, or fidayeen, will continue to exist as long as the
conflict remains unsolved per the necessary standards of justice and
As for the media, it behooves reporters to dig a bit
deeper than an image of the charred remains of an uncle and his nephew -
and to see beyond the predictably false accusations that underlie official
- Ramzy Baroud
(www.ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the
editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a
Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story (Pluto Press, London).