Some 300 members of the Palestinian Fatah faction, headed by Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, have begun receiving "military training" in the Gaza Strip in preparation for war with Israel.
The armed wing of Fatah, Aqsa Martyrs Brigades - The Martyr Nidal Al-Amoudi Division, announced that its members have been enrolled in a new military academy for training "fighters" in the Gaza Strip. The academy, inaugurated recently in the Gaza Strip, would train the "fighters" on various fighting methods "in the context of a program for preparing for any future battle" with the "Zionist enemy."
The Nidal Academy was named for Nidal Al-Amoudi, a top Fatah militant killed by the Israel Defense Forces on January 13, 2008, after he carried out a series of armed attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers during the Second Intifada. "The academy has been named after the commander Nidal Al-Amoudi (Abu Hussein) to fulfill his dream of qualifying the fighters militarily, morally, religiously and revolutionarily," explained a statement released by the Fatah armed group. Noting that some 300 "fighters" have already joined the academy, the group said that they have begun undergoing training in various methods of warfare.
"We have pledged to prepare an army of fighters by devoting our full abilities and energies to consolidate the option of armed struggle as the only means to liberate Palestine," the group declared.
The Martyr Nidal Al-Amoudi Division is one of several Fatah-affiliated militias that continue to operate in the Gaza Strip despite Hamas's violent takeover of the area in the summer of 2007. These groups pose no threat to the Hamas regime, which is why they are allowed to operate freely in different parts of the Gaza Strip. The groups' explicit policy is to prepare for war with Israel and launch terror attacks against Israelis. Hamas, however, which expelled their leaders from the Gaza Strip and continues to persecute dozens of Fatah activists in the Gaza Strip, is not on their hit list.
The Fatah-affiliated militia inauguration of its own "military" academy in the Gaza Strip is a novel move. In recent years, Fatah armed groups have posted videos of their men undergoing military training orchards and fields, far from the watchful eyes of their rivals in Hamas. Now it seems that Hamas has nothing to fear from the Fatah militants, as Israel is the sole target.
Thus instead of training their men to retake the Gaza Strip and liberate it from the oppressive regime of Hamas, the Fatah "fighters" are busy preparing for war with Israel or fighting among themselves. Indeed, it appears that the Fatah armed groups are actually competing with Hamas for the title of "Most Prepared to Destroy Israel." Like Hamas, they wish to win the hearts and minds of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip by showing that they too support the "armed struggle" against Israel and seek to "liberate Palestine."
Fortunately for Hamas, the Fatah militias are rather preoccupied with internecine struggles. This leaves precious little time to think about ways of improving their people's lives.
Today, at least five other Fatah armed groups function in the Gaza Strip: The Abu Rish Brigades, the Jihad Jibril Brigades, the Abdel Qader Husseini Brigades, the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and the Fatah Sukkur (Hawks). Some of these groups have in the past claimed responsibility for firing rockets at Israel. And there is not much harmony or love between these Fatah groups, whose members regard each other as rivals and political foes rather than comrades and colleagues.
Sources in the Gaza Strip point out that many of the members of these groups are former Palestinian Authority policemen who lost their jobs after the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip. As such, many of them remain on the payroll of the Palestinian Authority, despite the fact that they are more than willing to lambast Mahmoud Abbas and his policies. In other words, these Fatah gunmen who are preparing for war with Israel are indirectly receiving their salaries from Western donors, including the US and many EU countries, who fund the Palestinian Authority.
The Martyr Nidal Al-Amoudi Division recently launched a scathing attack on Abbas for attending the funeral of former Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem. Masked members of the group posted a video on social media in which they strongly condemned Abbas for attending the funeral, saying they are opposed to any form of "normalization" with Israel. They demanded that Abbas apologize to the Palestinians and Fatah, adding that the "armed struggle was the only way to "liberate Palestine."
More recently, the same group "welcomed" the shooting attack that was carried out in Jerusalem by Musbah Abu Sbeih and in which two Israelis were killed -- a 60-year-old grandmother and a 29-year-old police officer. "This heroic operation is a clear message that the armed struggle is a deeply-rooted doctrine among Palestinians," the group stated. "The operation is a natural response to the crimes of the occupation."
Make no mistake. These groups believe that they represent the real Fatah, the one that never recognized Israel's right to exist and holds on to armed struggle as the only way to "liberate Palestine." They are not breakaway groups. That is why they continue to operate under the name of Fatah. In their view, they are following the principles of their former leader, Yasser Arafat, who launched Fatah as a "national liberation movement" and never truly abandoned the option of an armed struggle against Israel. It is Abbas and his colleagues in Fatah, they say, who have deviated from Fatah's doctrine and true goals.
The power play among Fatah militias in the Gaza Strip reflects the wider division among Fatah's political leaders. According to Palestinian sources, Fatah leaders in the Gaza Strip have truly become disassociated from the faction's leadership in the West Bank. Abbas's aides blame exiled Fatah strongman Mohammed Dahlan for the schism, claiming that he provides dissenting Fatah officials with money, in an attempt to undermine the Palestinian president, who is also head of Fatah. Abbas recently summoned Fatah leaders from the Gaza Strip to an emergency meeting in Ramallah to discuss Dahlan's growing influence in the Gaza Strip and the rifts in Fatah. The move came after thousands of Fatah members who are loyal to Dahlan staged a large demonstration in the Gaza Strip against Abbas. During the protest, they burned and trampled on pictures of Abbas.
Such developments in Fatah are notable for a specific reason: by and large, the international community continues to perceive Fatah as the "moderate" Palestinian party with whom Israel should make peace. Yet Fatah is far from a single united bloc; many groups within the faction, in their own words, continue to seek the "liberation of Palestine" through armed struggle. Moreover, neither Abbas nor any of his senior Fatah loyalists in the West Bank have repudiated the war-set Fatah militias. Crucially, many of these Fatah militiamen continue to receive salaries from the Palestinian Authority.
Fatah is, in fact, a two-faced hydra; one face tells the English-speaking international community what it wants to hear, namely, that it supports a two-state solution and seeks a peaceful settlement to the conflict with Israel, while the other tells the truth: it is committed to an armed struggle and the "liberation of Palestine" and is even preparing for war with Israel. Worth noting as well is that some of these Fatah militias also continue to operate in some parts of those territories controlled by Abbas's security forces in the West Bank. And like their cohorts in the Gaza Strip, they too receive salaries from the Palestinian Authority.
Abbas has lost the Gaza Strip not only to Hamas, but also to his own erstwhile Fatah supporters, who are marching in a totally different direction from the Fatah leadership in the West Bank. The dispute between Fatah and Hamas, which has effectively split the Palestinians into two entities, one in the West Bank and the other in the Gaza Strip, is one reason Palestinians are farther than ever from achieving an independent Palestinian state. The infighting in Fatah and the gulf separating its leaders is another. Abbas's claim to sole Fatah leadership is hardly credible to even the most credulous of Abbas backers: thousands of his "fighters" are preparing for war with Israel.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist, is based in Jerusalem.