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June 3, 2022 Special Dispatch No. 9999

Defensive Response By Hamas To Palestinian Criticism Over Its Lack Of Military Retaliation Against Israeli Flag March In Jerusalem

June 3, 2022
Palestine | Special Dispatch No. 9999

The May 29, 2022 Flag March in Jerusalem, held as part of Israel's Jerusalem Day celebrations, did not elicit a direct military response from Hamas, despite the movement's vociferous threats to renew the rocket fire from Gaza if the march took place.[1] Hamas' failure to make good on its threats sparked intense criticism from Palestinians, who accused the movement of spewing empty slogans, and especially mocked its  leader in Gaza, Yahya Al-Sinwar, who had called on the Palestinians to prepare for a large-scale campaign that would start with a salvo of 1,111 rockets fired into Israel.[2]

Hamas initially refrained from addressing this criticism, which apparently embarrassed it. In statements immediately following the Flag March and on the following day, most of its officials ignored these complaints, preferring instead to lavish praise on the Murabitoun in Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa[3] for confronting the Israeli forces.

But as the hours passed, Hamas spokespersons and officials began explaining the movement's inaction, providing numerous explanations and apologetic justifications for it. They claimed, for example, that numerous elements and mediators had beseeched the Hamas leadership to prevent the situation from deteriorating into another war, while stressing that the movement had refused to guarantee this. They also claimed that the movement had made an objective assessment of  the situation and of its strategic interests, which led it to decide against launching a military conflict while Israel was on high alert and expecting an attack. They also noted that the Israeli army was in a heightened state of readiness because it was in the midst of conducting a large military exercise involving all its units. The Hamas officials stressed that the response to the Flag March will arrive, but that Hamas will be the one to choose the time, place and manner of its response, so as to maintain the element of surprise.    

Hamas and figures close to it also tried to claim achievements in this affair. They said that Hamas had managed to deter Israel using threats alone and had compelled it to change the route of the march. One Hamas official stated that Israel continues even now "to send messages via mediators begging the resistance not to respond to what happened in the Flag March."


Hamas military wing spokesman Abu Obeida (Source: Arab48.com, May 14, 2021)

Similar arguments were made by journalists and analysts close to Hamas in articles in the movement's papers and on their personal social media accounts. Some of them wrote that Hamas' decision not to respond to the Flag March, despite pressure from the Palestinian public to do so, demonstrated the prudence and wisdom of the movement's leadership, which is guided by rational rather than emotional considerations.

This report presents the explanations provided by Hamas officials and by figures close to it for its lack of reaction to the Flag March, in response to the criticism directed against it by many Palestinians.

Hamas Spokespersons, Officials: Many Mediators Asked Us To Prevent Escalation; We Have Our Own Considerations; Only We Will Choose The Time And Place Of Our Response

As stated, Hamas officials initially refrained from addressing the movement's lack of response to the Jerusalem Flag March, and even continued to threaten a response in the future. In a statement he issued on May 29, several hours after the Flag March ended, Taher Al-Nounou, the media advisor of Hamas political bureau head Isma'il Haniya, said that various elements had contacted Haniya and asked him to keep the situation from deteriorating any further. But Haniya, said Al-Nounou, refused to provide any guarantees regarding the possible unfolding of events in occupied Palestine. He told these elements that what was happening in Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa was unforgivable, and that Hamas would continue its policy until the occupation was removed from Jerusalem and all the Palestinian lands.[4]

Another Hamas spokesperson, 'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Shadid, vowed that "the occupation will pay the price" for "invading" Al-Aqsa and  attacking the Murabitoun "sooner or later." He added that "the repeated statements by the resistance that the Sword of Jerusalem will not be returned to its sheath[5 are an indisputable truth"; moreover, "the decision as to the time, the place, the means and [the nature of] the action that will hurt the occupation are always in the hands of the resistance leadership and subject to its wise evaluation."[6]

However, as the criticism against Hamas mounted, its officials were compelled to provide explanations for their decision not to respond militarily to the Flag March. Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum said on Al-Ghad TV that the movement had been approached by numerous mediators asking it to keep the situation from escalating into an actual war with Israel. He added: "The Palestinian factions have their own considerations regarding the manner of confronting the Israeli occupation… The threats and statements of the resistance [caused] the route of the march to be shortened and the occupation government to make many changes… The factions managed to exhaust the occupation on the security, political and military levels, and to confront Israel's military and security forces with a popular Palestinian force that set out to express its anger over the violations against the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque. We are in the midst of an ongoing war of attrition with the occupation that will intensify until the conflict is resolved…" The Palestinian factions, said Barhoum, do not need to prove anything to anyone, since they have already fought four wars against the occupation, and waged struggles on the security, intelligence, military, popular, diplomatic and political levels, and made many achievements in the course  of the conflict. "This is not the last battle," he stated, "but only one of the junctures in the conflict with the occupation, which will end only when the battle for Jerusalem is decided and when Al-Aqsa is liberated from the defilement of the occupation."[7]

Hamas official in charge of Jerusalem affairs, Haroun Nasser Al-Din, said in a June 1 interview with the Hamas mouthpiece Filastin: "The Israeli occupation continues to send messages begging the resistance not to respond to what happened in the Flag March… The only thing that kept the resistance from responding was its desire not to let the occupation decide the circumstances of the campaign – especially since the occupation has been ready and waiting for the campaign for [the last] three weeks, during which it has been conducting a military exercise, involving all its military units, that is scheduled to continue for another week." Stressing that "it is the resistance that will decide on the right time to respond," he too claimed that "the occupation stopped the Judaizing march at Damascus Gate and did not let it continue into the Muslim Quarter, as had been planned, because the resistance deterred it [from doing so]." Another reason Hamas refrained from responding, he said, was that "the occupation government is in the grip of an internal [political] crisis and wants to extricate itself by means of an external [military] campaign. The Gazan resistance refrained from being dragged into [this] Israeli plan, for the resistance will be the one to choose the zero hour for the response to all of Israel's violations against Al-Aqsa."[8] 

Article In Hamas Mouthpiece: The Wisdom Of The Resistance Thwarted The Occupation's Plans; The Response Will Come At The Appropriate Place And Time

An article published May 30 in Hamas' mouthpiece Al-Risala, titled "The Resistance – Between the Demands of the Public and an Assessment of the Situation," claimed that the resistance had decided not to respond to the March Flag based on a number of  considerations, after it assessed the situation and concluded that a response would be imprudent and would in fact serve Israel, which is currently prepared for conflict. This prudence, the article added, reflects the wisdom and maturity of the resistance and shows that it acts objectively and correctly.

ThE article said: "Everyone knows that the Palestinian resistance could have rained down rockets on Israel yesterday and spoiled the Flag March celebrations as it did last year, but it did not do so. This gave rise to the question,… 'When, where and how will the resistance respond?'... The answer came from the head of the Hamas movement, [Isma'il Haniya, who said,] 'What took place in Jerusalem will not be forgiven,' thereby clarifying that the resistance will respond, but not at the moment when the occupation is prepared for this response… The resistance left the matter open so that the occupation will worry [about it] while [Hamas] prepares for it. Perhaps the Palestinian resistance – worn out by the contacts with the mediators in the past week and by their firm demand, whose source was the occupation [itself], not to fire rockets at Jerusalem as happened in May 2021 – listened to the voice of reason and heeded its innate wisdom [which compelled it to forgo a reaction for now]. At the same time, it stressed its right to respond whenever it feels confident of its ability to hurt the occupation..."

The article quoted Husam Al-Dajani, a pro-Hamas political analyst and a columnist for Hamas' mouthpiece Filastin, who said that "the main factor that caused the resistance to postpone the decision about confronting the occupation was the role played by the mediators. The resistance faced a barrage of mediation efforts, contacts and requests by the UN, Cairo, Doha and others." Al-Dajani added that "The general national interest compels the resistance to assess the situation by analyzing Gaza's strategic environment. Had widespread confrontations erupted in the West Bank and Jerusalem, the position of the resistance would have no doubt been different. But since the confrontations were limited, the resistance could act moderately so as to keep the compass from pointing only to Gaza [i.e. so that the Israeli reaction would not focus exclusively on it], especially considering that only a year has passed since the Sword of Jerusalem campaign [i.e., the round of fighting in Gaza in May 2021]." Al-Dajani stressed that the resistance had acted out of consideration for the circumstances: "the economic situation in Gaza, the delay in its reconstruction, and the [need] to keep the public which supports the resistance steadfast in preparation for the coming stages, which will be more difficult."

According to Al-Dajani, another reason for Hamas' inaction is that the Israeli army has just conducted its large "Chariots of Fire" military exercise, "the largest in the history of Israel," and is at a high level of readiness. Therefore, confronting it right now would not have been wise from a military standpoint. "We must not let the occupation choose the zero hour [of the campaign]," he said. He clarified that "the resistance grit its teeth in an effort to refrain from being influenced by the reactions and the pressure of [Palestinian] public opinion. This reflects political maturity on its part and proves that the resistance is wise and mature, capable of assessing the situation so as to benefit itself and the people…"

Another pro-Hamas political analyst quoted in the article, Mustafa Al-Sawwaf, said: "Resistance is no longer unplanned or emotional action. It is calculated and planned action. It considers the means at its disposal and those at the enemy's disposal, follows [the developments] and makes plans based on the information that reaches it and that it collects. On this basis it chooses the appropriate time [to act]… The wisdom of the resistance, and the fact that it read and understood the situation correctly, caused the occupation to miss the opportunity it had been waiting for from the start of its 'Chariots of Fire' military exercise… The resistance caused the occupation to miss the opportunity [to carry out] what it had prepared for Gaza and for the resistance within it. It thwarted its plans… [But] the campaign is not over yet… The response is ready. It's a matter of time."[9]

An article published the same day by the Gazan news website Palestine Now, titled "The Flag March – Did the Resistance Handle the Campaign against the Occupation Successfully?", likewise quoted political commentator Husam Al-Dajani. He assessed that the resistance did handle the campaign successfully and that its threat of military response constitutes a success in and of itself. "The  confusion and fear among the occupation leaders and the settlers is plain to see," he said. "The resistance managed the campaign successfully… It managed it by using the language of weapons without [actually] employing them. The conflict must erupt in all of Palestine; moreover, resistance is not only rockets, but has various means."[10]

Articles In Hamas Dailies Provide Various Justifications, Call To Punish Whoever Questions The Capabilities And Judgement Of The Resistance, Promise Rocket Attack During Next Year's March

In the days after the march, the Hamas press published many articles in a similar spirit, which provided many apologetic explanations and excuses for the lack of a response by the movement's Gaza-based military wing. Some of the articles were titled "The Silence of the Resistance Was Wise and [Is Part of Its] Preparations," "Resistance Means Planned Action," "Jerusalem – The Political Considerations and Considerations on the Ground," and "The Silence over the Zionist Terror Will Not Last Long." Their authors repeated the same claims: that the resistance was guided by prudent considerations and plans, rather than momentary emotion; that it chooses the time and manner of its actions according to its interests; that it preferred to maintain the element of surprise and not respond while Israel was on high alert, immediately following its large military exercise, and that a response to the Flag March will eventually come.[11]   

One of the articles also attacked those who questioned the abilities of the resistance due to its failure to respond, suggesting that these critics are "guided by dubious elements… that abet the resistance in its crimes against Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque." It called "to find [these people] and punish them properly, [because] defending the internal front and the [Palestinian] awareness is no less important than the action of the resistance fighters."[12]      

Yousuf Rizqa, a columnist for the Filastin daily, attempted to allay the criticism against Hamas by stating that on next Jerusalem Day, in 2023, it will respond to the Flag March with rocket fire: "The resistance factions," he wrote, "did not respond to the 2022 flag dance with rockets, as they did in 2021, but sufficed with deterring [Israel] so as to minimize the aggression against Al-Aqsa. But in 2023, they will have to use rockets to keep the Temple gangs from being too aggressive, and therefore we expect 2023 to resemble 2021 [in this respect]…"[13]

Figures Associated With Hamas: The Resistance Handles The Conflict Prudently; A Response Will Arrive Soon Enough

Similar explanations and excuses for Hamas' lack of response were also provided by figures close to it on their social media accounts. In a series of tweets on May 30, Hamas-affiliated journalist Fayez Abu Shamala, who writes a column in the Hamas daily Filastin, attacked the Palestinians who had criticized Hamas' inaction and promised that a response will arrive. He wrote, "Rest assured! Gaza is not fleeing its destiny and will not shirk its obligations, nor has it abandoned the battlefield. We have assessed every [aspect of the situation]."[14] In another tweet in Arabic and Hebrew, he wrote: "To our Israeli enemies: Do not rejoice that the rockets of the resistance were not fired in response to the Flag March. The response will reach you from a place you don't expect!"[15]


Fayez Abu Shamala tweet: "To our Israeli enemies: Do not rejoice that the rockets of the resistance were not fired in response to the Flag March"

In other tweets, Abu Shamala wrote, "The cowards [among the Palestinians] who found fault with the results of the Sword of Jerusalem campaign and doubted the capabilities of the resistance are the same ones who are now whining and asking, 'Where are the rockets of the resistance?'"; "Those who surprised the army and security apparatuses of the Israeli enemy in the Sword of Jerusalem campaign [i.e., Hamas] are aware of the alliances and schemes [taking shape] behind the scenes. The war with the Israeli enemy is open, and the campaign is likely to start at any moment!"; "The second Sword of Jerusalem campaign is [only] hours, days or weeks away. It is approaching, as surely as the coming of summer… the rising of the sun and the waxing of the moon."[16]

Senior Gazan journalist Ayman Daloul, who works for Hamas' Voice of Al-Aqsa radio station, wrote in a similar vein on his Facebook page: "Whoever reads the picture accurately, though the eyes of an expert and not from an emotional perspective, understands that the Palestinian resistance handled the campaign skillfully and scientifically, rather than spontaneously. In handling the campaign it relied on the two most important principles of warfare: 1. Do not attack an enemy at the height of readiness; 2. Do not let your enemy choose the course and the rules of the campaign according to the timing and manner that suit him. The Flag Marches ended with advantages and disadvantages [for the resistance], and the long military exercise the Israeli occupation has been conducting for several days will necessarily come to an end, but I do not believe that what happened [i.e., the Flag March] will be omitted from the calculations of the Palestinian resistance. On the contrary, [responding to it] will be a top priority, and [the resistance] will choose the timing that will yield the best results. We have tested [the mettle of] our resistance more than once, and it did not disappoint. Rest assured, [a response] that will be a balm for our hearts will come." [17]        

Telegram Channel Associated With Jenin Militants: It Makes No Sense To Confront The Enemy Precisely When The Enemy Is On High Alert

The claim that Hamas' inaction was justified from a military perspective was also voiced by elements in the West Bank. On the morning after the Flag March, a Telegram channel identified with militants in Jenin refugee camp posted the following: "Upon the dawning [of this new day], which is quiet [but] full of rage and devotion to Jerusalem, we can only say that 'we have no recourse but to trust in Allah,' and stress our steadfast support for our resistance, which has not and will not abandon us. With Allah's help, we avoided falling into the same trap twice. It makes no sense to confront the enemy when he is on the highest alert, along with his entire arsenal, which is considered to be the greatest and most powerful in the region. This is not an excuse, it is common sense…    

 "Let's think logically: What would have happened had the resistance bombarded our occupied territories in those charged hours, when the enemy was ready with all his [military] gear[?] Would the attack have been beneficial, considering the lasting devastation that would have [ensued] and boded ill for the beloved Gaza Strip?... Have we forgotten that one of the basic principles of warfare and attack is the element of surprise, without which all warfare is pointless? [Have we forgotten] that war means deception, and that the enemy deliberately increased his attacks so as to trick the resistance [into responding]?... We are not making excuses. We all feel the oppression and the heartache of what happened today in our Jerusalem. But in principles of warfare, wisdom supersedes emotion."[18]

 

[2] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 9992, Palestinians Slam Hamas's Lack Of Response To Jerusalem Flag March: All You Do Is Sell Empty Slogans And Spew Baseless Threats, June 1, 2022.

Palestine | Special Dispatch No. 9992

[3] The Murabitoun (literally, "fighters on the front lines"), and their feminine counterparts, the Murabitat, are groups of Palestinian activists at the Al-Aqsa compound who maintain a constant presence there to prevent and protest the entry of Jews.

[4] Hamas.ps, May 29, 2022.

[5] This is a reference to a statement made by Hamas' leader in Gaza, Yahya Al-Sinwar, in an April 30 speech, in which he threatened that the military conflict could re-erupt. Hamas.ps, April 30, 2022, see MEMRI TV Clip…

[6] Felesteen.news, May 29, 2022.

[7] Alghad.tv, May 30, 2022.

[8] Felesteen.news, June 1, 2022.

[9] Alresalah.ps, May 30, 2022.

[10] Paltimeps.ps, May 30, 2022.

[11] See alresalah.ps, May 30, 2022; felesteen.news, May 31, 2022; palinfo.com, May 31, 2022.

[12] Alresalah.ps, May 30, 2022.

[13] Felesteen.news, May 31, 2022.

[14] Twitter.com/fayez2013851, May 30, 2022.

[15] Twitter.com/fayez2013851, May 30, 2022.

[16] Twitter.com/fayez2013851, May 30, 2022.

[17] Twitter.com/ayman33dalloul, May 29, 2022.

[18] T.me/jeninqassam, May 30, 2022.

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