Hardly a week passes without another report of a Palestinian killed while fighting for the Islamic State terror group.
The reports have raised deep concern among many Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. A recent report estimated that some 100 Palestinians have already joined Islamic State. Other reports claim that the number is much higher.
According to the report, most of the Palestinians who joined the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria are from the Gaza Strip. Another 1000 Palestinian men are believed to be preparing to join Islamic State, but have been unable to fulfill their dream for various reasons, the report revealed.
It is no surprise that most of the Palestinians who have joined the Islamic State are from the Gaza Strip, which has been under the control of Hamas since 2007.
In the past year, various reports have suggested that Islamic State and its supporters have managed to infiltrate the Gaza Strip, where they pose a major threat to Hamas's rule over the area, home to some 1.6 million Palestinians.
Earlier this year, Islamic State supporters organized their first public appearance on the streets of Gaza City, where they called for an Islamic army to destroy Israel and the "enemies of Islam."
Palestinians waving Islamic State flags attempt to storm the French Cultural Center in Gaza City, in January 2015. (Image source: ehna tv YouTube screenshot)
Earlier this week, the Islamic State informed the Yehia family from the West Bank city of Jenin that their son, Said, had been killed while fighting for the terror group near Aleppo in Syria.
The family was told that Said had joined the Islamic State seven months ago. Said's family members said he told them he was travelling to Europe to look for work. Later, however, they learned that he had headed to Syria to fight for the Islamic State.
The two strangers who arrived at the family's home even provided Said's parents and brothers with a photograph of Said's dead body.
In recent months, at least four Palestinians from the Gaza Strip were also reportedly killed while fighting for the Islamic State.
One of them, Abed al-Elah Kishta, 29, of the southern town of Rafah in the Gaza Strip, was killed while fighting for the Islamic State in eastern Libya. Weeks before he was killed, Kishta contacted his family to inform them that he had joined the group.
The second Palestinian from the Gaza Strip was identified as Musa Hijazi, 23. His father, Hassan, said that his son was killed while fighting for the Islamic State in the Iraqi city of Fallujah. The Islamic State later mourned Hijazi as one of its martyrs, referring to him by his nickname Abu Mu'men al-Maqdisi.
A third Palestinian was identified as Wadi Washah, 21, from the Jebalya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. Washah's family said they were shocked to hear about his death while fighting for the Islamic State in Syria. The family said their son had previously joined Palestinian Islamic Jihad before escaping the Gaza Strip through a smuggling tunnel along the border with Egypt. Wadi's father said that his son had travelled to Syria on instructions from Islamic State-affiliated salafi-jihadi leaders in Gaza. According to the father, Wadi had told him that he had managed to kill dozens of Iranians in Syria.
The fourth Palestinian was identified as Ahmed Badwan, 26, nicknamed Abu Tarek al-Ghazawi, of the Al-Bureij refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. Sources close to the family said that Badwan had left the Gaza Strip through a smuggling tunnel run by Hamas, and had first joined the Islamic State in Syria, before moving to the group's branch in Iraq. He was killed in a U.S.-led coalition airstrike on an Islamic State base in Iraq, the sources said.
Although the number of Palestinians who have joined the Islamic State remains relatively low, it is evident that the terror group has become extremely popular among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Four public opinion polls published a few weeks ago showed that at least a million Palestinians support the Islamic State.
The polls found that 24% of the Palestinians hold positive views about the Islamic State. Given that there are 1.8 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and another 2.7 million in the West Bank, this means that there are more than one million Palestinians who support Islamic State.
Commenting on the results of the polls, Christian activist Sam Butrous noted that the widespread support for the Islamic State among Palestinians is a sign of increased extremism and a denial of Christians' rights in the Holy Land. "Apparently, 20% of the Palestinians have no problem with expelling their Christian brothers and destroying their churches and turning them into mosques," he wrote. "This is what the Islamic State terror group is already doing in areas under its control."
Christians are not the only ones who should be worried about the Islamic State's growing influence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Palestinians' two governments, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA), also have good reason to be worried. In recent weeks, Islamic State spokesmen have issued threats against both the PA and Hamas, accusing them of "collaboration" with the "Zionist entity."
But the PA and Hamas can only blame themselves for the surge of Palestinians joining the Islamic State. The two governments allow anti-Western incitement in their mosques and media outlets. Their leaders regularly glorify and endorse Palestinians who carry out terror attacks against Israelis, thus encouraging other Palestinians to follow suit. And if these Palestinians are unable to carry out attacks against Israel from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, they travel to Syria and Iraq to join the jihad against Israel's allies, namely the U.S. and other Western countries.
Palestinian leaders in the West Bank and Gaza Strip cannot evade responsibility for inspiring dozens of Palestinians to join the Islamic State. The fiery rhetoric of these leaders, in addition to the ongoing incitement against Israel and the West, is further radicalizing Palestinians and driving them into the Islamic State's open arms.