By Muslim Imran
Ever since Palestine fell for foreign occupation, Palestinians took every effort to liberate their lands by all means possible. Among these efforts were political and diplomatic efforts as well as civil resistance and armed struggle. Usually diplomatic efforts were not fruitful due to the greedy and stubborn nature of the occupying authorities. Civil resistance and armed struggle were usually more effective in delivering results.
This form of hard struggle was manifested throughout the 20th century in several uprisings and revolutions such as Alburaq Revolution in 1929, the Mass Strike of 1936, the Palestinian Revolution in the 1960s, the First Intifada of 1987, the Second Intifada of 2000, the three Gaza Wars in 2008/9, 2012 and 2014, and the Intifada of Jerusalem in 2014.
Hamas, (Hamas is acronym for Harakat al-Muqawamah Alislamiah, which means The Islamic Resistance Movement) which was established on 14-12-1987, has emerged as the latest manifestation of the Palestinian will to struggle for freedom. The Movement made it clear since day one that Palestinians have the right to use any kind of resistance to free their land. Hamas favored armed struggle and therefore placed it on top of its agenda and formed its own military wing.
Izzudin Al Qassam Brigades
The Qassam Brigades was founded in 1992 to replace two other Hamas military groups; Abdullah Azzam Brigades and Almujahidun Alfilistiniyun (Palestinian Mujahidin) group. Among the key Hamas activists involved in the founding of Qassam Brigades in the West Bank and Gaza were martyrs Imad Aqel, Salah Shehadah, Yahya Ayyash, and current Qassam Brigades Commander-in-Chief Mohammad Deif.
The Brigades was established as an armed wing for Hamas and took the responsibility of carrying out military operations against the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
Over the years, Qassam’s resistance activities underwent a long process of development. The Brigades started as a small group of military cells scattered all over Palestine. Each group included few Palestinian fighters (usually 4-5) who used simple arms, such as knives and pistols, to attack Israeli soldiers and military targets.
One of the most notable Qassam fighters of this early stage (early 1990s) was Imad Aqel who was killed in combat in 1993 at the age of 22. Aqel carried out several successful operations against Israeli soldiers using a single pistol.
By the mid-1990s Qassam introduced detonated cars and other kinds of explosives into the struggle against Israel. One of the most notable Qassam leaders in this stage (1994 and 1995) was martyr Yahya Ayyash who was a professional Engineer. Ayyash was so good in making explosives that he earned the name “The Engineer” which almost all Palestinians still identify him with.
In the late 1990s, Israel relied on the newly established Palestinian Authority (PA) to repress Hamas and its armed wing the Qassam Brigades. Over the years, the PA carried out this task efficiently. Hundreds of Hamas and Qassam members were detained and interrogated. Dozens of them were killed in PA prisons due to harsh interrogation. This crackdown, however, failed to destroy Qassam Brigades.
By the year 2000, the 2nd Intifada broke out in the West Bank and Gaza. Qassam Brigades reflected the wish of the Palestinian people to escalate their struggle and advanced its tactics and capabilities.
One of the greatest achievements was the introduction of the locally made Qassam rockets in 2001.
Qassam Brigades realized the need to introduce new effective means into their struggle and therefore tasked its engineers the responsibility of making small rockets and projectiles to hit Israeli targets. Of particular importance here is Adnan Alghoul who helped advance these rockets before he was assassinated later (in 2002) by an Israeli airstrike.
As the second Intifada unfolded, Qassam Brigades affiliates continued to diversify their tactics and advance their weapons. The Brigades also managed to recruit hundreds of young and energetic Palestinians to advance the struggle against Israel.
Throughout the years of the Second Intifada dozens of Qassam leaders including some of its founding members, were killed by Israel. Salah Shehadeh, a senior founding member was assassinated by an Israeli air force attack in 2002. The Israeli raid, which killed 17 others (mostly family members) along with Shehadah, used tons of explosives in its attack.
By mid-2005, armed resistance resulted in an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip making it the first Palestinian land to be liberated by the force of armed struggle.
Over the following years, Qassam Brigades managed to create an organized army of fighters that is estimated (by observers) to exceed 20,000 fighters.
Other resistance factions like Al-Quds Brigades and Naser Salahidin Brigades are also estimated to have thousands of other fighters.
Since the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, Palestinians in Gaza continued to respond to the repeated Israeli attacks on them by firing rockets into Israeli settlements near Gaza.
The first real test of Qassam capabilities was the Israeli aggression on Gaza in 2008/9 in which the Israeli army failed to shake Hamas rule of the Strip.
In November 2012, the second Israeli War on Gaza proved that Qassam Brigades were well prepared. The war which was sparked by the Israeli assassination of Qassam Brigades chief commander Ahmad Jabari did not last long.
Qassam Brigades revealed in this war its possession of the locally made M75 rockets (named after senior Hamas leader Dr. Ibrahim Maqadmah who was assassinated in 2004 by an Israeli air strike). The M75 rockets unprecedentedly hit hard in the heart of Tel Aviv city. Something that Israel had not encountered in decades.
Two years later, Israel exploited the regional chaos (that followed the coup in Egypt in 2013) and started a new war on Gaza.
In this war, dubbed Al-Asf Al-Makul by Hamas, the Qassam Brigades surprised everyone by exhibiting some new advanced capabilities. Among the weapons used by Qassam were some long range locally-made rockets like R160 rockets (named after late Hamas leader Dr. Abdul Aziz Rantisi who was assassinated by Israel in 2004) that hit Haifa in addition to some other high-tech technologies like the Qassam-made Ababil drones.
Qassam Brigades also excelled in psychological warfare through an excellent use of Cyber warfare, Tunnel warfare, and Qassam frogmen.
By the end of the last war on Gaza Israel suffered hundreds of casualties especially of elite-unit soldiers from the Givati and Golani Brigades.
This rapid development of the Qassam Brigades proves that if there is a will, there will be a way!
Although Qassam Brigades has scored some great military achievements in its struggle, the more important achievement was its ability to produce and portray high moral standards even during the toughest times.
Qassam Brigades handled with care and professionalism the ex-Israeli captive soldier Gilad Shalit for five years and exchanged him for 1027 Palestinian prisoners. It also exhibited this high moral level in its targeting of military targets throughout the last war while Israel which has the most technologically sophisticated weapons killed civilians indiscriminately, and sometimes deliberately!
If the struggle of Qassam Brigades and other Palestinian resistance groups is to continue, the free people of the world have to stand by it and protect it.