By: Hanan Awarekeh
By killing the spiritual leader of the Islamic Resistance Movement, Israel wanted to deal a deadly blow to Hamas, however the act had backfired. Israel granted Sheikh Yassin his greatest wish, gave unprecedented boost to the resistance movement in occupied Palestine, and made of him a resistance icon in the Arab and Islamic worlds.
Sheikh Ahmed Ismail Hassan Yassin was born in the village of Al-Jora, Majdal district, in 1938 and sought refuge alongside his family in the nearby Gaza Strip following the 1948 Nakba or the usurpation of most of Palestine by the Zionist entity.
Sheikh Yassin was paralyzed when he was 12 years old as a result of an accident while exercising on the beaches of Gaza.
He worked as an Arabic language and Islamic religion teacher , then as a preacher in the Gaza mosques. He turned into one of the most outspoken preachers in the Strip following its occupation in 1967. He was married and raised 11 children in a three-room apartment in Gaza.
He also worked as a chairman of the Islamic Complex in the Strip before his arrest in 1984 for possession of weapons, establishing a military organization and championing the annihilation of the Zionist entity. Sheikh Yassin was court-martialed and the Israeli judges passed a 13 years prison term against him.
He was released in 1985 in line with a prisoners’ exchange deal between the Israeli occupation authorities and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – The General Command after spending 11 months in prison.
Along with a number of Muslim activists, Sheikh Yassin founded the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, in the Gaza Strip in 1987.
Israeli occupation forces ransacked his house in late August 1988 and threatened expel him to Lebanon.
On the evening of 18/5/1989, the occupation authorities arrested Sheikh Yassin along with hundreds of Hamas activists in a desperate attempt to curb the armed resistance that started to take the form of attacks occupation soldiers and Zionist settlements.
On 16/10/1991 an Israeli army court passed a life sentence in addition to 15 years imprisonment sentence against Sheikh Yassin after an indictment list leveled nine charges against him including inciting the capture and killing of Israeli soldiers and the establishment of the Hamas Movement’s security and military wings.
Sheikh Yassin was held from May 1989 until October 1997, when he was released in exchange for two captured Mossad agents following a failed assassination attempt of Khaled Mashaal, the politburo chief of the Hamas Movement, by the Mossad in Jordan.
Sheikh Yassin survived an assassination attempt on September 6, 2003 when Israeli F-16s fired missiles on a building in Gaza City. He was lightly injured in his right arm.
At that time, the Hamas leader had told the media that "days will prove that the assassination policy will not finish Hamas. Hamas leaders wish to be martyrs and are not scared of death. Jihad will continue and the resistance will continue until victory or martyrdom.”
Despite the Israeli assassination attempts, Sheikh Yassin did not take additional measures to protect himself from further attempts on his life or hide his location. Journalists sometimes visited his residence in Gaza and he maintained a daily routine pattern of activity, including being wheeled every morning to a nearby mosque.
Monday 22 March, 2004, Israeli helicopter gunships fired missiles at Hamas' spiritual leader as he was leaving a mosque after dawn prayers, killing Sheikh Yassin both his bodyguards, and nine bystanders. Another 12 people were injured in the deadly Israeli massacre, including two of Sheikh Yassin's sons.
Israeli security sources said then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had personally ordered and monitored the helicopter attack against the Hamas leader. The resistance movement stressed Washington had given the green light for Sheikh Yassin's assassination.
It was the highest-profile assassination of a Palestinian since the April 1988 killing in Tunis of Palestinian commando chief Khalil al-Wazir.
The strike at Sheikh Yassin was not completely unexpected. Following a double martyrdom bombing the week before, at the Israeli port of Ashdod that killed 10 settlers, the first successful Palestinian strike on a major Israel piece of infrastructure, Sharon’s government reportedly decided to resume the targeting of senior leaders of Palestinian resistance groups, a policy it had quietly put on hold.
The strike also seemed to be aimed at weakening Hamas to prevent it from claiming victory should Sharon go ahead with a planned unilateral pullout from Gaza.
Israeli then-Defense Minister, Shaul Mofaz, called Sheikh Yassin "the Palestinian (Osama) bin Laden" and pledged more Israeli attacks on Hamas's top echelon.
But a dissenting voice in the Israeli cabinet, then-Interior Minister Avraham Poraz, said Sheikh Yassin was not "a ticking bomb" adding that the assassination of Yassin “was a bad idea because I am afraid of revenge coming from the Palestinian side, from the Hamas side.”
Previous assassinations of Palestinian resistance leaders had triggered waves of martyrdom operations that turned Israeli buses, restaurants and cafes into charred wrecks and deepened violence that has stalled a U.S.-backed “peace road map”.
The Palestinian Authority declared three days of mourning and closed Palestinian schools. Hamas official Ismail Haniyyeh suggested, "This is the moment Sheikh Yassin dreamed about". The Hamas leadership said Ariel Sharon had "opened the gates of hell" and called for retaliation. About 200,000 people took to the streets of the Gaza Strip for Sheikh Yassin's funeral as Israeli occupation forces declared a national alert.
Abdel Aziz Rantisi was announced as the new head of Hamas. At a memorial service for Sheikh Yassin, he stated: "The Israelis will not know security... We will fight them until the liberation of Palestine, the whole of Palestine." Publicly addressing the "military wing" of Hamas, Rantisi added: "The door is open for you to strike all places, all the time, and by all means." Rantisi was himself assassinated by Israel April 17, 2004.
Beside his paralysis, Sheikh Yassin suffered a number of other disabilities and diseases including sight loss in his right eye due to Israeli torture during interrogation in addition to weakness in his left eye. He also suffered from chronic inflammation in his ear, lung infection and other diseases in his abdomen. His detention in jails further worsened his health condition, which necessitated admitting him to hospital on numerous occasions.
However, this great paralyzed leader had asserted that Palestine is a holy land "consecrated for future Muslim generations until Judgment Day" and that no Arab leader had the right to give up any part of this territory.
Sheikh Yassin's declaration that "we chose this road, and will end it either with martyrdom or victory" later became a frequently repeated mantra among Palestinians.