Over the years, Sheik Yassin grew in status, violence and radicalism.
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
of Arab refugees who fled from the Ashkelon area to
the Gaza Strip. The family settled in a refugee camp.
Limited in his physical movement, Yassin devoted
himself to political activities. He joined the Muslim
Brotherhood while studying at Cairo's Al-Azhar
University. The movement's message was that the rule
of Islam had to be imposed wherever possible, whether
in Egypt, Israel or other parts of the world.
Islamic rule was one of the inspirations for the
Palestinian intifadas started in 1987 and 2000, and it
serves as the ideological backbone of Osama bin
Laden's Al Qaida terrorist network.
After returning to Gaza, Yassin became actively
involved in politics. In 1979, he founded the Islamic
Organization, a body Israeli military authorities initially
hoped would reduce the political influence of Yasser
Arafat's Fatah movement. At the time, the Islamic
Organization dealt mostly with welfare.
s a journalist, I met Sheik Ahmed Yassin
twice during my visits to the Gaza Strip.
The first time was when I attended a mili-
tary court hearing in 1984, when Yassin was
sentenced to 13 years in prison for anti-Israel activities.
Only a year later, Yassin was released in a prisoner-
exchange deal, and a few years after that, I visited him
at his home in Gaza.
On both occasions, I was left with the impression
that this seemingly vulnerable quadriplegic was as
strong as a rock, outwardly unmoved by the course of
events. He set a target — the establishment of a Muslim
state in all of historic Palestine — and was determined
to achieve it at any cost.
When he appeared in court, he wore an indifferent
smile on his face, clearly despising his captors.
When I visited his home in the late 1980s, Yassin
already was a respected local leader, but he did not yet
But the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood fueled
have the stature he achieved after his release from an
Yassin's belief that the Israelis occupied an Islamic land
Israeli jail in 1997, where he had been sent for inciting
whose ownership was not negotiable, and the sheik
gradually shifted from social and religious activity to
During the 1980s visit, Yassin's assistants showed me
clandestine activities against Israeli rule in the West
into a modest room. Though I was Israeli, Yassin treated Bank and Gaza.
me with respect. I was seated on the floor opposite the
In the mid-1980s, a military court in Gaza convicted
crippled sheik, who sat on a mattress supported by pil-
him for illegal possession of arms, the establishment of a
lows, wearing that indifferent smile on his face.
military organization and calling for the annihilation of
He answered my questions politely and in an orderly
Israel. He was sentenced to 13 years in jail in 1984. But
fashion. No question threw him off balance. At the
a year later, he was released in a prisoner exchange deal
time — before the Oslo Accords — Yassin did not
between Israel and the terrorist organization of Ahmed
speak about eliminating the Jewish state, a call he later
would adopt with great frequency. Instead, he spoke of
Yassin made his big plunge into national politics in
the need for an unconditional Israeli withdrawal from
1987. With the start of the first Palestinian intifada,
all "occupied territories."
Yassin transformed his Islamic Organization into a new
Later, however, Yassin served as the inspiration for
body called Hamas. An acronym for the Islamic
young Palestinians to sacrifice their lives in the killing of Resistance Movement, Hamas means zeal in Arabic. In
Jews. He promised that suicide bombers who were will-
Hebrew, it means evil.
ing to die for the Palestinian cause and in service of a
Hamas succeeded not only because it raised the ban-
victory over the Zionists would achieve martyrdom.
ner of Islam in the battle against Israel, but also because
A senior Israeli intelligence officer said March 22 that
it built an effective social welfare system of schools, clin-
Yassin's death would create a vacuum in Hamas leader-
ics and hospitals that provide free services to Palestinians.
ship that would be difficult to fill. Abdel Aziz Rantissi
It set up charitable funds in the West Bank and Gaza
— another target on Israel's hit list — succeeded Yassin.
Strip --- and in Israel proper — and raised millions of
The contrast between Yassin's poor physical shape and dollars from the Persian Gulf and elsewhere.
his enormous political and spiritual power was astonish-
In 1989, Yassin again was arrested and sentenced to
ing. Yassin was a classic example of an Islamic leader
life in prison for issuing a religious order to kill
who derives his political power partly due to his handi-
Palestinians who collaborated with the Israeli army. He
cap — like Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman, the blind sheik became one of the harshest critics of the Oslo Accords,
from Egypt now in prison in the United States for con-
signed. between Israel and the PLO in 1993.
spiracy to commit terrorism.
"The so-called peace path is not peace and it is not a
Yassin was a frail quadriplegic who could barely see.
substitute for jihad and resistance," he said repeatedly,
His voice was thin and quavering. But to the ears of
insisting that "Palestine" should be "consecrated for
millions of Muslim supporters throughout the Middle
future Muslim generations until judgment day" and
East, it was thunder.
that no Arab leader had the right to give up any part of
Born in 1938 in the village of Joura, near present-day
Ashkelon, Yassin was hurt during a soccer game at age
Yassin was released from jail in 1997 in a deal with
12 and became quadriplegic. During Israel's 1948 War
Jordan for two Israeli agents involved in a botched assas-
of Independence, Yassin was among tens of thousands
sination attempt on a Hamas leader in the Jordanian
Sheik Ahmed Yassin
Hamas gradually undermined the authority of the
Palestinian Authority. Every now and then, police forces
under the command of PA. President Yasser Arafat put
on a show of force against Hamas. Yassin was put under
house arrest several times, but the Palestinian Authority
always was forced to lift it.
As recently as last week, P.A. policemen took to the
streets to scare Islamic gunmen off the streets. However,
the armed militia of Arafat's own Fatah organization,
the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades, increasingly cooperates
with Hamas, imitating its suicide bombing attacks and
conducting joint attacks on Israelis.
Last year, Yassin gave his blessing to the hudna
reached among Palestinian terrorist factions to tem-
porarily curtail their attacks against Israel. However, the
cease-fire collapsed after less then three months, when
.Patestinians resumed attacks and Israel resumed its mili-
The Israeli army attempted to kill Yassin on Sept. 6,
2003, while he was at the house of a Hamas colleague
in Gaza. He was only lightly wounded, however, and
In January, there was a flicker of hope that Hamas
might adopt a more moderate course. Yassin suddenly
announced that his movement was ready to accept a
Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as an
interim measure. "We are leaving the rest of the occu-
pied territories for history," Yassin said in an interview
with the London-based Arabic language -newspaper Al-
However, hopes faded Jan. 15 when Rim a-Rishi, 22,
a mother of two, pulled the trigger of her explosive vest
during a security check at the Erez crossing from the
Gaza Strip into Israel, killing four Israelis. It turned out
that the attack had taken place with Yassin's blessing —
the first official Hamas endorsement of a female suicide
Two weeks later, on Jan. 30, Yassin said Hamas was
trying to kidnap Israeli soldiers to use as bargaining
chips for the release of Palestinians in Israeli jails.
Hamas also was behind the March 14 double suicide
bombing at Ashdod's port, which killed 10. Some Israeli
observers said the bombing actually was an attempt to
set off a chemical explosion at the port with the poten-
tial for killing thousands.
Indeed, Hamas staged terrorist attacks whenever pos-
sible. It's not clear whether Yassin was actively involved
in planning the attacks, but he openly gave his blessing
for the strategy of terrorism. ❑