Following morning prayers on April 22, 2022, the third Friday and the 21st day of the month of Ramadan, clashes broke out in the Al-Aqsa compound between Muslim rioters and Israeli police. During the incident Hamas flags were waved, fireworks were shot off at police, and calls praising Hamas military wing leader Muhammad Deif and Hamas leader in Gaza Yahyah Al-Sinwar were heard.
Senior Hamas officials and Hamas-affiliated media outlets expressed their pride in Hamas's role in these events, and also in similar clashes there several days previously in which Hamas supporters also played an active role. For example, Hamas leader abroad Khaled Mash'al asserted that "the Islamic Resistance in Gaza" had "forced the enemy to back down from its aspirations at Al-Aqsa," and went on to call for the establishment of an "Army of Al-Aqsa." Hamas political bureau member Khalil Al-Hayya stressed that "steadfast Gaza has managed to establish the Jerusalem-Gaza equation." Additionally, the Hamas mouthpiece Al-Resala wrote that the waving of the Hamas flags at the Al-Aqsa compound expressed the Palestinian people's trust in and support for the movement. The Hamas website, Hamas.ps, also stressed its diplomatic achievements following Hamas's involvement in the Al-Aqsa events.
However, the waving of Hamas flags at the Al-Aqsa compound aroused Palestinian criticism on social media and in the Palestinian press, with some critics affiliated with the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) party and with Fatah. The criticism alleged that Hamas was leveraging the religion for political gain. Critics said that the only flag that should be waved at Al-Aqsa is the Palestinian national flag, as a symbol of unity, and that Hamas must not be falsely represented as the only defender of Al-Aqsa, and of the entire Palestinian people.
DFLP member and former prisoner Esmat Mansour asked in a Facebook post: "What is the connection between a [political] party flag and worship [at the mosque]?" He went on to question whether Hamas was trying to gain political points from the affair. His criticism was harshly censured by Hamas supporters but cheered by members of his party, Fatah officials, and members of the Palestinian media.
This report will review the issue of Hamas symbols on display at Al-Aqsa and Palestinian criticism of this on social media and also in the Palestinian press.
Hamas Highlights Its Role In Al-Aqsa Events: Waving Our Flag At Al-Aqsa "Reflects The Public's Trust In The Resistance Option"
The Hamas-affiliated Shihab News tweeted, on April 22, 2022, photos of the flags being waved by the throng of Palestinians at Al-Aqsa, describing the scene: "Green flags flying at the blessed Al-Aqsa after prayers on the third Friday of Ramadan."
Hamas flags at Al-Aqsa (Source: Twitter.com/ShehabAgency, April 22, 2022.)
The website of Al-Resala, the Hamas mouthpiece, published a similar photo, writing: "The polarization of our people in Jerusalem and at the Al-Aqsa mosque plaza on the matter of the symbols of the Palestinian resistance, the calls of praise for its officials, and the waving of its flags reflect the people's trust in the resistance option as a means for settling the land and the holy places."
Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem was quoted by the outlet as saying: "The Jerusalem residents' faith in the resistance and its men intensifies the responsibility with which Hamas and elements of the resistance are charged with regard to the land and the holy places. We will continue [to adhere to] our commitment and our promise to achieve the liberation and the return."
Hamas flags at Al-Aqsa (Source: Alresalah.ps, April 22, 2022)
Hamas Leader Abroad Khaled Mash'al: The Al-Aqsa Events Prove That Real Life Is Life Under The Banner Of Jihad
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Hamas leader abroad Khaled Mash'al similarly emphasized the role of Hamas as the defender of Al-Aqsa, saying that the mosque belongs "only to Muslims, and the Jews never had and never will have a right to it." He added: "The [Al-Aqsa] events prove that real life is life under the banner of jihad, the resistance, and mobilization to join the battlefront [ribat]..." Praising "the role played by the wise and resolute leadership of the Islamic resistance in Gaza" that had "forced the enemy to back down from its aspirations at Al-Aqsa," he added: "This proves that resistance has become a [mark of] honor for all Palestinian people and the ummah [Islamic nation]." Mash'al also called for the founding of an "Army of Al-Aqsa," in which all members of the ummah would serve.
Criticism On Social Media And In The Press: Hamas Is Leveraging Al-Aqsa For Its Own Political Gain
The waving of Hamas flags on April 22 in the Al-Aqsa compound provoked Palestinian expressions of criticism and anger on social media. DFLP member Esmat Mansour argued, in two Facebook posts, that Hamas was politicizing the Al-Aqsa issue. In the first, he wrote: "I [can] understand waving the flags of factions in a faction's march in Gaza, for instance, like what happened today. But what was the idea behind waving Hamas flags at Al-Aqsa? Was [the message of doing so] that all the worshipers are [affiliated] with Hamas? Or that [Hamas] is the only defender of Al-Aqsa? Or perhaps [it was] a show [of strength], propaganda, and an attempt to reap gains? What is the connection between a [political] party flag and worship [at the mosque]?"... In a second post, he wrote: "When a purely religious event is taking place, and the public gathers to pray and prepare for battle [murabata], and you [Hamas] arrive waving your party flags, this can only be defined as leveraging a religious event for the sake of political propaganda."
Esmat Mansour's post: "What is the connection between a [political] party flag and worship?" (Source: Facebook.com/profile.php?id=100078404617292, April 22, 2022)
In a similar vein, Palestinian Twitter user Karim Jouda, who says in his Twitter description that he supports the Palestinian struggle in all its forms, tweeted on April 22: "The [group] that leveraged the religion to win the 2006 [Palestinian Legislative Council ] elections, with the song 'Oh Muslim, Do Not Betray the Religion,' and [the motto] 'Islam is the Solution' [i.e. Hamas], [is the same one] that does not hesitate to leverage the purest site, and an ordinary religious event, to call on its people in Jerusalem to blend into the crowd and wave its party flags. I do not know what message they hoped to convey – [perhaps that] that the [entire] Palestinian people is [affiliated] with Hamas? For shame."
Karim Jouda's tweet (Twitter.com/karimjo12, April 22, 2022)
Gaza journalist Ayman Al-Aloul, known as a critic of Hamas, tweeted that he supports "burning all party flags in the Al-Aqsa courtyard."
DFLP member Esmat Mansour's posts were criticized by pro-Hamas users, who called him an "apostate" and "a mouthpiece of the [Israeli] entity." At the same time, senior DFLPofficial Nihad Abu Ghosh took his side, defending him against the attacking commenters and speaking out against Hamas but without explicitly naming it: "A group of people were ordered by a certain element to attack Esmat simply for criticizing the waving of a party flag [i.e. Hamas' flag] instead of the national flag. Some even attacked the national flag itself... What is unfortunate about this attack is that its instigators are assuming that the confrontation with the occupation has ended in a clear victory, and that the time has come to reap the gains."
Naturally, criticism of the Hamas flags at Al-Aqsa was also expressed by elements within Fatah. The spokesman of Fatah's Recruitment and Organization Commission, Monir Al-Jaghoub, tweeted: "No flag surpasses the flag of the homeland. Party flags are not an alternative to the national flag, no matter how important a party is within its country. Party flags may be raised beside the national flag only at party headquarters; in public spaces and gatherings, the national flag [is what] brings people together, and [when it is raised], the message of the event is legitimized, as if endorsed by people representing all groups..."
Fatah official Monir Al-Jaghoub's tweet: "Political flags are not an alternative to the national flag"
Criticism of the Hamas flags at Al-Aqsa was also expressed in the Palestinian press. For example, Palestinian political analyst Akram At'allah addressed the issue in his column in the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam, arguing that the Palestinian flag should be the only flag raised in public spaces. He wrote: "The gathering in Jerusalem was intended [as an expression] of fortitude and standing against the settlers' invasion [of Al-Aqsa]... But some of the crowd raised Hamas flags, causing [DFLP member Esmat] Mansour to express some criticism, and the hope... that Hamas will raise the flag of Palestine. This is the same critique that is directed at the [various Palestinian] factions that fly their own flags instead of the unifying [Palestinian] flag, which represents the historical heritage and collective struggle of the Palestinian people, while the party flags reflect partisanship..."
 Palinfo.com, April 25, 2022.
 The "Jerusalem-Gaza equation" refers to a situation in which any Israeli action which Hamas interprets as a violation of Muslim holy places or Muslims residing in Jerusalem will be met with a response from Gaza. Hamas.ps, April 25, 2022.
 For example, Hamas leader Ismail Haniya spoke with many officials around the world, including UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Arab League secretary-general Ahmad Abu Al-Gheith, and Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, and with other foreign ministers of Muslim and Arab countries. Hamas.ps, April 15, 17, 21, 2022.
 Twitter.com/ShehabAgency, April 22, 2022.
 Alresalah.ps, April 22, 2022.
 Palinfo.com April 25, 2022.
 Facebook.com/profile.php?id=100078404617292, April 22, 2022.
 Facebook.com/profile.php?id=100078404617292, April 22, 2022.
 Twitter.com/karimjo12, April 22, 2022.
 Twitter.com/aimanalaloul, April 22, 2022.
 See for example a post on the Al-Ahrar w'ad Facebook page, Facebook.com/profile.php?id=100080473530129, April 22, 2022.
 Facebook.com/nihad.abughosh, April 22, 2022.
 Twitter.com/MonirAljaghoub, April 22, 2022.
 Al-Ayyam (Palestinian Authority), April 24, 2022.