Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) is often described as the most militant of the main Palestinian resistance factions yet, when compared with the likes of Hamas and Fatah, little is known about it, especially in Western media and academia. The author of A History of Palestinian Islamic Jihad: Faith, Awareness, and Revolution in the Middle East, Erik Skare, points out that there have been previous studies on the movement in the English language, but they have been limited in their scope or focussed on particular topics instead of Islamic Jihad as a whole. As such, there has been a gap in the literature, until now.
Building on a variety of sources, including its own publications, historical accounts, and interviews (some of which the author carried out with the group’s political bureau in Lebanon), the author has sought to answer the question, “WhyPIJ?” Extensive use of martyr biographies also enabled him to “develop a bottom-up analysis” of the movement.
A History of Palestinian Islamic Jihad… is divided into three sections, each relating to important periods. The first explores the history and formation of the movement following the 1967 Six-Day War through to the First Intifada in the late eighties. This is followed by the PIJ’s decline and decreasing relevance throughout the 1990s; and finally, the movement’s resurgence with the Second Intifada in 2000 and the ensuing political and regional developments over almost two decades.
Part of the mystery surrounding the movement is because, unlike Hamas, it emerged as a “revolutionary, small and anti-establishment” movement and can be distinguished by its “revolutionary vanguardism through which it has no desire to become a broad populist mass movement”. Skare takes the reader back to PIJ’s genesis in Egypt where the founding fathers, Palestinian students, and intellectuals formed what would become its “nucleus” upon returning to Gaza in the early 1980s.
The Arab defeat in the Six-Day War had a particularly profound effect on Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s founder, Fathi Al-Shiqaqi. Like several other students at the time, he embraced secular ideologies like Nasserism initially before turning to Islamism as he “was not able to find the answers to the defeat in Nasserist thought and ideology. Instead, he found his answers in religion.” Although there were initial interactions with the well-established Muslim Brotherhood, they’d eventually part ways over differences about how to liberate the Palestinian homeland, especially as the latter was accused of being too passive and ignoring the armed struggle. “It was only when the issue of armed struggle could not be resolved that the nucleus finally terminated its political work within the Brotherhood and developed into an independent organisation,” writes Skare.
This book is on the shortlist for the Palestine Book Awards 2021, please click here to read the full review on the Palestine book awards site.