(1937 - 2004)
Ahmed Yassin's Palestinian passport listed his date
of birth as January 1, 1929, but Palestinian sources listed his birth
year as 1937 (other Western media reported it as 1938). He was born
in Ashkelon. He was a refugee
in Gaza after 1948 and worked
as teacher, preacher, and community worker. At age 12, Yassin was paralyzed
in a sporting accident and spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair.
He was married and raised 11 children in a three-room apartment in Gaza
He joined the Muslim Brotherhood while studying at
Cairo’s Al-Azhar University and adopted the movement’s belief
that the rule of Islam should be imposed everywhere. After returning to Gaza, Yassin became
actively involved in politics. He founded of the Islamic Centre in Gaza
in 1973, which soon controlled all religious institutions. "In
1979, he founded the Islamic Organization," Gil Sedan noted, "a
body Israeli military authorities initially hoped would reduce the political
influence of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement. At the
time, the Islamic Organization dealt mostly with welfare. But the ideology
of the Muslim Brotherhood fueled Yassin’s belief that the Israelis
occupied an Islamic land whose ownership was not negotiable, and the
sheik gradually shifted from social and religious activity to clandestine
activities against Israeli rule in the West Bank and Gaza."
Yassin was arrested in 1984 and sentenced to 13 years
in jail for illegal possession of arms, the establishment of a military
organization and calling for the annihilation of Israel. Yassin acknowledged
that he founded an organization of religious activists with the goal
of fighting non-religious factions in the territories, and carrying
out "Jihad" operations
against Israel. This organization used monies from Islamic activists
in Jordan to acquire large
quantities of weapons. Yassin was imprisoned until May 1985, when he
was released in a prisoner exchange deal between Israel and the terrorist organization
of Ahmed Jibril.
During the first intifada in 1987, Sedan notes, "Yassin transformed his Islamic Organization
into a new body called Hamas.
An acronym for the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas means zeal in
Arabic. In Hebrew, it means evil."
The organization gained popular support in the territory
in part because of its uncompromising position toward Israel, expressing
in its covenant the conspiracy theories of the Protocols
of the Elders of Zion and a commitment to wage war against the
Jews and “raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.”
It also filled a vacuum left by Arafat's failure to provide basic services
to the Palestinians in Gaza. By establishing a social welfare system
of schools, clinics and hospitals that provide free services to Palestinian
families. Hamas also established charitable funds in the territories,
Israel, and around the world, which financed both its social and anti-social activities.
In 1989, Yassin ordered Hamas to kidnap Israeli soldiers
inside Israel, to murder them and bury their bodies in a manner that
would allow Hamas to negotiate the exchange of bodies for Hamas prisoners,
who would be released from jails in Israel. Yassin was arrested after
the abduction and murder of IDF soldier Ilan Sa'adon, and the discovery of the body of IDF soldier Avi
Sasports, who was also abducted and murdered. Yassin confirmed during
his interrogation that he ordered the establishment of a military element
within Hamas and approved the drafting of terrorists, as well as the
carrying out of terrorist attacks. He was tried in Israel and received
two life sentences for his involvement in these attacks.
Yassin was held from May 1989 until October 1997, when
he was released in exchange for two Mossad agents following a bungled assassination
attempt in 1997 by the Mossad on a Hamas activist in Jordan.
Yassin was a leading opponent of the peace
process with Israel. He believed that Palestine belongs to Islam and advocated an Islamic state in all of Palestine. Sedan noted that
he repeatedly said, “The so-called peace path is not peace and
it is not a substitute for jihad and resistance,” and insisted
that "Palestine" should be “consecrated for future Muslim
generations until judgment day” and that no Arab leader had the
right to give up any part of its territory."
Hamas became the principal instigator of suicide
bombings and other terrorist
attacks beginning in 2000. Although he was not a religious authority,
he was referred to as “Sheikh Yassin,” because of his status
as leader of Hamas. Yassin was sometimes referred to by the media as
the “political” leader of Hamas, but he was responsible
for authorizing and encouraging many terrorist attacks.
On September 6, 2003, the Israeli air force dropped
a bomb on a Gaza building where Hamas leaders had gathered, but Yassin
escaped with a small wound on his hand. On March 22, 2004, he was not
as lucky. He was killed in an Israeli helicopter missile strike on his
car as he was leaving a mosque in the northern Gaza Strip.
Sources: PASSIA; IDF; Associated
Press and CNN.com,
(March 22, 2004); Gil Sedan, “Over the years, Sheik Yassin grew
in status, violence and radicalism,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency,
(March 23, 2004)