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Le Monde
Le Monde
21 Oct 2023

Activists of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad parade in the town of Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on March 2, 2023, in support of Palestinians arrested in the West Bank.

Israel has accused the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) of being responsible for the explosion that killed hundreds of people on Tuesday, October 17 at the Al-Ahli hospital in Gaza. The Israeli army, which denies any involvement, claimed that it was a rocket misfired by the Palestinian group; the latter has condemned these accusations as unfounded.

Less well known than Hamas, the PIJ is characterized by its radicalism and uncompromising armed struggle against Israel. Classified as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, the Palestinian liberation movement is currently the second largest armed faction in the Gaza Strip after Hamas. How was this organization founded, what battles does it wage, and how does it differ from Hamas?

At the heart of the movement were students and intellectuals who had returned from their studies in Egypt, eager to fight Israel's colonial policies. Inspired by Fathi Chikaki – a Palestinian who had affiliations with the Muslim Brotherhood during his medical studies in Egypt and who viewed the 1979 Iranian Islamic revolution as a template for the Arab world – these youthful activists initially attempted to persuade the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood to initiate an armed campaign for the liberation of Palestine. However, the Brotherhood declined.

Fathi Chikaki and Abdelaziz Awda, a teacher from Gaza who had also studied in Egypt, joined forces to create the Islamic Jihad movement in Palestine in 1981, six years before the creation of Hamas. In its early days, the movement was made up of young Muslims whose backgrounds "blended European literary culture and the Muslim reformist movement," as noted by Wissam Alhaj, Nicolas Dot-Pouillard and Eugénie Rebillard on the "La Vie des Idées" ("The Life of Ideas") website in 2015. It seeks to distinguish itself from the Brotherhood, which they perceive as excessively rigid in its interpretation of Islam and having forsaken the anti-colonial resistance, as well as from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which they criticize for its secular approach. "The PIJ, conceived from the outset as a third way, was formed in opposition to these two movements," said Leïla Seurat, a political scientist and researcher at the Arab Center for Political Research and Studies (CAREP), to Le Monde in 2022.

Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982 triggered the movement's activism. The PIJ established itself in neighboring countries (Lebanon, Syria, Iran) and began to preach in universities and mosques (a former stronghold of the Muslim Brotherhood) to bring the armed struggle to the Palestinian territories. "While the movement spent its early years building its base in Gaza, it launched its first military operations in 1984, five years before Hamas," explained Erik Skare, a specialist in the movement and researcher at the University of Oslo, in a book published in 2021, A History of Palestinian Islamic Jihad: Faith, Awareness, and Revolution in the Middle East. Initially, due to limited resources, their operations consisted of knife attacks, which evolved during the first Intifada (1987-1993) into stone-throwing and Molotov cocktail attacks.

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