Hamas and the thousands of Palestinians who chanted slogans in support of Hamas and terrorist mastermind Mohammed Deif have a solution in mind: the annihilation of Israel and the deaths of Jews -- the more the merrier. Pictured: An apartment building in Ashkelon, Israel that was damaged by rockets fired from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip during the night of May 10-11, 2021. (Photo by Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images)
When former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein fired 39 Scud missiles at Israel in 1991, many Palestinians took to the streets to celebrate the attacks. Many demonstrations took place in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem even while Palestinians were being issued gas masks by the Israeli authorities to protect them against a possible chemical attack by Iraq against Israel.
The Los Angeles Times reported back then that "several Palestinians expressed joy at last week's [Iraqi] missile assault on Tel Aviv and Haifa."
When the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorist group launched rocket attacks on Israel from Lebanon in 2015, Palestinians took to the streets to celebrate, holding Hezbollah flags and handing out sweets to drivers and passersby.
For the Palestinians, anyone who attacks Israel or threatens to destroy it is a real "hero."
In the past few days, the Palestinians have been cheering another "hero": Mohammed Deif, the shadowy figure who heads the military wing of the Palestinian Islamist movement, Hamas.
Deif has been Israel's most wanted terrorist for the last 25 years because of his involvement in several terror attacks, including the killing of Israeli soldiers, suicide bombings and kidnappings. In 2015, the US State Department added Deif to its list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists.
Because of his direct involvement in terrorism against Israel, Deif has always been regarded by many Palestinians as a "hero."
Now, after Deif warned Israel of retaliation if it does not change its policies in east Jerusalem, he seems to be even more popular among the Palestinians.
In a rare public statement, the arch-terrorist, who is based in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, said that Israel will pay a "heavy price" if it does not stop the eviction of Palestinian families living in Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. "This is a clear and final warning," Deif threatened, hinting that Hamas would resume its rocket attacks and other forms of terrorism against Israel.
The threat came after a Jerusalem court approved the eviction of a number of Arab families in Sheikh Jarrah from homes that had belonged to Jews before the establishment of Israel in 1948.
During mass demonstrations in Jerusalem and some parts of the West Bank over the past few days, thousands of Palestinians chanted slogans in praise of Deif and urged him to carry out his threat to fire rockets at Israel. The Palestinians also chanted slogans in support of Hamas's military wing, Izaddin al-Qassam, which is responsible for thousands of terrorist attacks against Israel during the past three decades.
"We are the men of Mohammed Deif," thousands of Palestinians chanted during a demonstration at the al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. They also called on him to "strike" Tel Aviv with rockets, thereby echoing the 1991 call to Saddam Hussein: "O' beloved Saddam, strike, strike Tel Aviv!"
The demonstrations in Jerusalem began on the first day of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, when scores of youths attacked police officers and Jewish residents with rocks, firebombs and other objects. The protesters initially justified the attacks by arguing that the Israel Police had set up barricades at one of the entrances to the Old City of Jerusalem, thus preventing them from gathering at night to celebrate Ramadan.
The riots, however, continued even after the police removed the barricades. The rioters said that they were protesting the possible eviction of the families from Sheikh Jarrah and attempts by Jews to "storm" the al-Aqsa Mosque, a reference to routine visits by Jews to the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism.
So how does Deif, the chief Hamas terrorist, fit into the clashes between Palestinians and the Israel Police in Jerusalem?
By invoking the name of Deif and calling on him to bomb Tel Aviv, the protesters exposed the truth: that their protests were less about the al-Aqsa Mosque or the controversy surrounding the Sheikh Jarrah houses or the police barriers at the Old City than about the elimination of Israel.
It is worth noting that Israel has not taken any new measures to "alter the historical or legal status" of the al-Aqsa Mosque, as the Palestinians and other Arabs have claimed.
The Palestinians are upset because Jews are being permitted to tour the Temple Mount. The Palestinians do not want to see Jews visiting their holy site; they do not want to see Jews in Jerusalem, and they do not want to see any Jew at all in the land that stretches from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.
How does the bombing of Tel Aviv help the cases of the Arab families in Sheikh Jarrah, who are challenging the eviction order in Israeli courts? How does calling on Hamas to launch terrorist attacks against Israel assist the Palestinians in their campaign to stop Jews from touring the Temple Mount?
By raising Hamas flags and chanting slogans in support of an arch-terrorist at the al-Aqsa Mosque, the demonstrators desecrated the holy site, not the Jews. Those who used the mosque compound to throw rocks and other objects at police officers are the ones who defiled the holy site. You cannot attack police officers and then complain that Israel sent police to "raid" and "desecrate" the al-Aqsa Mosque -- unless your mind has been twisted by terrorist logic.
No one is disputing the Palestinians' right to protest Israeli policies. Yet when the protests turn into large pro-Hamas demonstrations, with calls for bombing Tel Aviv and killing Jews, they expose the true deadly intention of the protesters.
When thousands of Palestinians chant "We are all Mohammed Deif," they are saying that they see themselves as terrorists ready to attack and destroy Israel. They are also saying that Deif is their role model because he managed to murder many Jews and remains at large, despite Israeli attempts to apprehend or kill him.
The violence that erupted in Jerusalem over the past few days shows that Hamas has a large following among Palestinians, including residents of east Jerusalem who hold Israeli-issued ID cards but are not Israeli citizens. After Israel annexed east Jerusalem in 1968, it gave the Palestinians living there the right to apply for Israeli citizenship. Most of them, however, chose not to ask for Israeli citizenship out of fear of being branded traitors.
As permanent residents of Israel, the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem enjoy all the rights bestowed on Israeli citizens with one exception: the right to vote for the Israeli parliament, the Knesset. At the same time, these residents are entitled to apply for Israeli citizenship any time they wish and several thousand have already done so.
Hamas's popularity is on the rise not only in east Jerusalem, but also in the West Bank, where some Palestinians also heaped praise on Deif and urged him to unleash a new wave of terror against Israel.
Hamas owes its growing popularity to the anti-Israel inflammatory campaign waged in the Palestinian media, especially social media platforms, the mosques and public rhetoric of Palestinian leaders. Hamas also owes its popularity to the ongoing corruption and incompetence of the Palestinian Authority and its autocratic president, Mahmoud Abbas.
Abbas had good reason to delay until further notice the parliamentary and presidential elections he was planning to hold on May 22 and July 31. He knew very well that his rivals in Hamas were headed toward a victory similar to the one they scored in the last parliamentary election in 2006.
Yet Abbas did not have the courage to admit that this was the real reason why he called off the elections. Instead, he chose to blame Israel by falsely accusing it of preventing the Palestinians in Jerusalem from participating in the elections.
As he sits in his living room and watched thousands of Palestinians in Jerusalem denouncing him as a traitor and hailing Hamas and Deif, Abbas must have heaved a sigh of relief that the elections were indefinitely postponed. The pro-Hamas demonstrations in Jerusalem should worry not only Israel, but Abbas and his Palestinian Authority as well.
The demonstrations in favor of Hamas should also sound alarm bells with the Biden administration and serve as an accurate indicator as to Palestinian priorities. The Biden administration is talking about reviving the stalled peace process between Israel and the Palestinians on the basis of the "two-state solution." Hamas and the thousands of Palestinians who chanted slogans in support of Hamas and Deif, however, have a different solution in mind: the annihilation of Israel and the deaths of Jews -- the more the merrier.
Bassam Tawil is a Muslim Arab based in the Middle East.