As the world is busy pursuing the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, the Iranian-backed Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) groups in the Gaza Strip have found the time to remind everyone that they remain committed to pursuing the fight against Israel. Pictured: Masked PIJ gunmen spray disinfectant in the streets of Rafah in the Gaza Strip, on March 26, 2020. (Photo by Said Khatib/AFP via Getty Images)
As the world is busy pursuing the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, the Iranian-backed Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) groups in the Gaza Strip have found the time to remind everyone that they remain committed to pursuing the fight against Israel.
While many international media outlets and human rights organizations, including the United Nations, are warning of a "catastrophe" in the Gaza Strip after the discovery of nine coronavirus cases there, Hamas and PIJ -- the two dominant groups that have been ruling the Gaza Strip since 2007 -- seem to care less about the safety and health of their people.
For these groups, the "struggle" against Israel is manifestly more important than the fight against the immediate threat of a pandemic.
On March 27, a rocket was fired from the Gaza Strip toward the Israeli city of Sderot. The rocket, which fell in an open area, did not cause any casualties or property damage. This was the first rocket attack on Israel since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Since the beginning of this year and until early March, the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have fired several rockets at Israel.
It remains unclear why the Palestinians chose to fire a rocket at an Israeli city at a time when Israel is busy trying to prevent the spread of coronavirus. It is also unclear why any Palestinian would think of launching a rocket toward an Israeli city at a time when Israel and the Palestinian Authority are working together to combat the disease.
Although no group has claimed responsibility for the March 27 rocket attack on Sderot, there is no way that it could have taken place without the knowledge or approval of Hamas or PIJ. The rocket attacks against Israel appear aimed at distracting attention from the failure of Hamas and PIJ to provide their hospitals with medical equipment and medicines to curb the spread of the disease. In the past decade, the two groups have invested millions of dollars in amassing weapons and building tunnels to infiltrate Israel and kill or kidnap Jews.
There is another reason why the rocket was fired from Gaza toward Sderot in Israel: to remind Palestinians, Israelis and the rest of the world that the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic has zero impact on the ideology and plans of extremist Muslim groups.
The rocket attack was aimed at sending the message that the desire to kill or harm Jews remains as strong and relevant as ever, even during a global health crisis, when tens of thousands of people are dying after being infected with a lethal virus.
Hamas and PIJ have also made their intentions clear through separate statements they published on March 30 to mark the anniversary of "Land Day" -- a day of commemoration of the events of 1976, when Arab citizens of Israel protested against the Israeli government's announcement of a plan to expropriate thousands of dunams of land for state purposes.
In their statements, the two groups again stressed their determination to pursue the fight against Israel by all means.
Ignoring the Palestinians' fear of the virus in the Gaza Strip, the PIJ statement said:
"The resistance and the Palestinian people behind it will remain in a state of endurance and confrontation that will stop only with the expulsion of the Zionists from every inch of this holy land. The sacrifices of our people will continue until the liberation of all the land [from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River]. Our people will not agree to give up one inch of the blessed land."
It is important to note that when PIJ talks about the "liberation of all the blessed land," it is actually stating its intention to destroy Israel and replace it with an Islamic state. That goal, according to the group, will be achieved after the "expulsion of all the Zionists." PIJ does not say where it wants to expel the "Zionists" to, but it makes it clear, through rockets, suicide bombings and other forms of terrorism, that it employs jihad (holy war) to achieve its goal.
PIJ is evidently more worried about normalization between Arabs and Israel than protecting the two million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip against a deadly epidemic. "Islamic Jihad stresses its rejection of all forms of normalization with the Zionist entity and calls for activating the work of anti-normalization and boycott committees of the Zionist entity," the group said in its statement.
By emphasizing their opposition to "all forms of normalization with the Zionist entity," the leaders of PIJ are announcing that they reject the current cooperation between Palestinians and Israel in combating the disease.
These leaders would rather see Palestinians die of the disease than join forces with Israel -- which has doing its utmost to help the Palestinians by providing them with tests kits and protective gear and training sessions for medical professionals since the first cases of coronavirus were discovered in Palestinian communities in early March.
The good news is that a majority of Palestinians disagree
s with PIJ. A public opinion poll published last week by a Palestinian center found that 68% of respondents support the medical cooperation with Israel. Unlike the leaders of the Palestinian jihadi group, these Palestinians do not consider the cooperation (with Israel) in fighting the virus as a form of normalization "with the Zionist enemy" or an act of treason. PIJ, of course, rejects the perspective of these Palestinians and, as its statement shows, it does not hesitate to warn its people about working with Israel to curb the spread of a disease.
In this regard, Hamas has again shown that it is no different than its friends in PIJ. A statement issued by Hamas on March 30 said that "the only way to liberate the land is through resistance." The only "resistance" Hamas knows is the one that includes launching rockets and missiles at Israel or carrying out suicide bombings against Israelis.
One would think that the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip would be preoccupied with trying to prevent the spread of coronavirus among their constituents. That, however, is not what has been taking place.
In its statement, Hamas seems to be implying that it is more worried about US President Donald J. Trump's recently unveiled plan for Middle East peace, known as the "Deal of the Century," than anything else, including the health conditions in the Gaza Strip. Something else that appears to worry Hamas is whether Israel defines itself as a Jewish state or not. Hamas wished to remind everyone that it remains opposed to both the Trump plan and Israel's right to define itself as a Jewish state.
The Hamas and PIJ statements serve as a reminder that even during these critical times, extremists do not abandon their goals and aspirations for "expelling the Zionists" and destroying Israel, even when these Zionists are helping to save the lives of Palestinians.
The last rocket that was fired from Gaza toward Israel cost money that could have been used to purchase ventilators and coronavirus protective gear for Palestinian patients and medical professionals in the Gaza Strip.
The leaders of Hamas and PIJ, however, believe that the jihad against Israel is worth more than the many lives threatened by a pandemic. For these leaders, a peace plan presented by a US president and Israel defining itself as a Jewish state are more dangerous than a disease that is claiming the lives of tens of thousands of people worldwide.
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are again paying the price of failed leaders who care more about fighting Israel than saving the lives of patients and medical teams. If and when the virus spreads in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinians living there can point the finger of blame directly at PIJ and Hamas.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem, is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at Gatestone Institute.