Saturday, February 24, 2024

Charisma and principles put together: Saleh al-Arouri’s life and legacy

As soon as the news of Saleh al-Arouri’s assassination came out, people in large numbers stormed the streets of West Bank, including in his village of Aroura, near Ramallah – in addition to the cities of Nablus, Ramallah, Hebron, Salfit, and Jenin.

The crowd while protesting in Arouri’s home village of Aroura, near Ramallah, was heard chanting:

“Oh Arouri, come and see. Your men are out in the open.

Oh son of Aroura, may Allah have mercy on the legend’s soul.

Revolt, O my homeland, revolt! This is what Arouri asked us.”

Echoing the same spirit the youth in Jordan raised slogans pledging their allegiance to their beloved leader:

“Oh Arouri, don’t worry!

A hit for a hit, and blood for blood

Oh martyr, we won’t leave your path”

Who is Saleh al-Arouri?

Saleh al-Arouri, the Deputy Head of the Palestinian Resistance Movement Hamas, was assassinated by Israel while in an office in West Beirut on Tuesday, January 2.

Aside from killing Arouri, the three missiles fired from the Israeli drone also killed two top Al-Qassam leaders in Lebanon, Samir Fandi and Azam al-Aqra’.

In an official statement, Hamas confirmed the assassination of Al Arouri with strong words.

“This cowardly assassination attacks, which the Zionist occupation is carrying out against our leadership and the symbols of our Palestinian people, inside and outside Palestine, will not succeed in breaking our will and the steadfastness of our people,” a top member of Hamas’ political bureau, Izzat al-Rishq, said. 

For Palestinians and those who stand for the liberation of Palestine, Arouri was not just a leader. His imagination of freedom and political vision were carved out of the workshop of his own life experience as a fighter who aims to end the Israeli occupation of his homeland.

Saleh al-Arouri, born in 1966 in the West Bank town of Aroura, had been a member of Hamas’s Politburo since 2010, and its deputy chairman since October 2017. Although based in Lebanon, he was considered the group’s leader in the West Bank and close to Hamas’s military wing — the Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades. 

A member of Hamas since 1987, he actively led the Islamic student movement while he was a student at Hebron University, and helped establish Hamas’s military wing in the West Bank.

Since the initial years of his political activism, he has been repeatedly arrested by Israeli forces, for long periods between 1985-1992, and 1992-2007.

He spent more than 18 years in Israeli prison before being deported to Jordan in 2010, soon after, he was exiled to Syria. Again, after strongly opposing Assad for his genocidal war against Syrian Sunnis, he had to leave for Turkey as the rift between Hamas and the Syrian regime intensified.

It was during his stay in Turkey, that Arouri set the ground for the West Bank headquarters of Hamas, which is in charge of recruiting cadre and planning operations against Zionist occupation. 

He has always encouraged his countrymen in the West Bank to support the resistance in Gaza in all possible ways. According to him, the movement in Gaza has always been performing par excellence even beyond the expectations of the leadership.

Later, from Turkey, he left for Qatar, and after a short period returned to find shelter in the Dahyeh region of Beirut, a stronghold of Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Because of his charisma and popularity among Palestinians, Israel has repeatedly threatened to kill him and accused him of being the mastermind behind the growing armed resistance in the West Bank. 

In addition, the US State Department has offered a bounty of up to $5 million for information on Arouri’s whereabouts for years.

The Palestinian revolutionary is politically noted for his advocacy of Wahdat Al Sahat, or unity of the squares, a resistance strategy that allowed Palestinians, Lebanese, and other Arab Resistance groups to find common ground and collectively fight against Israel. 

Arouri is also noted for his pivotal role in expanding Hamas networks and mediating conversations aimed at mending conflicts both internal and external.

Hamas and Fatah have been at odds for years; the clashes enlarged in 2007 when Hamas won elections and came into power in Gaza. During that period and even before that, he headed Hamas’s delegation in successive reconciliation talks with Fatah as well as the Palestinian Authority. 

In September 2020, he initiated talks with Fatah’s secretary general Jibril Rajoub in Istanbul, to strike a deal for conducting free and fair legislative and presidential elections in the following year. But unfortunately, the plans were eventually cancelled by President Mahmoud Abbas.

Despite the firm aversion to the policies of Iran and the Assad regime in Syria, in 2017 Arouri led a delegation to Iran, meeting with Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s National Security Council to re-establish diplomatic ties with Iran and its Revolutionary Guards. Two months later, in November, he met Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah with the same intent.

Arouri is also known for having played a key role in a prisoner exchange deal in 2011, which saw the release by Al Qassam of a captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including top leaders Yahya Sinwar and Rawhi Mushtaha.

Though the role played by Arouri in the October 7 military operation remains unclear, he is known to be among the major architects of the ongoing resistance operations against Israel’s genocidal war in Gaza. Simultaneously, the movements taking place in the West Bank are also said to be managed under his command.

For him, as Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is rampantly proceeding with settlements expanding at an unprecedented pace, Arouri said there was “no other option” but to engage in what he called comprehensive resistance.

A day after the historic “Al Aqsa floods” military operation of Qassam was successfully carried out, Arouri had called it an “open battle aimed at achieving the “liberation” of the Palestinian people and their holy places.

 “We have a plan for all stages of this conflict. Both in case of an Israeli request for a ceasefire and in case of a continuing escalation of the violence. We are prepared for all options. We entered this battle not just for a few hours. We entered it knowing that there will be consequences, and we have no choice but to fight it to achieve our high goals,” he told Al Jazeera.

Later, with the group’s Gaza leaders Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Marwan Issa being underground he was seen at the forefront of negotiations during the hostage deal that Qatar brokered during which hostages taken by Hamas were released in return for freeing Palestinian prisoners. 

Days before his death, Arouri took on the role of spokesperson and told Al Jazeera that Hamas would not discuss an exchange deal for the captives the group is holding before the war ends in Gaza.

World reacts to his death

Following the news of the death of Arouri, mosques in Aroura, the occupied West Bank town of north Ramallah, were filled with Palestinians mourning the loss of their leader, and a general strike has been called for Wednesday.

Ismail Haniyeh, the political chief of Hamas, while responding to the assassination of Arouri said, “Like the previous instances of the assassination of our leaders and members, the organization’s operation won’t be influenced, the fight will continue and the martyrdom of Arouri will not go in vain.”

Shortly after the attacks, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah stated that the killing of al-Arouri in Beirut was a “serious attack on Lebanon, its people, its security, sovereignty and resistance.”

He further asserted, “We affirm that this crime will never pass without response and punishment.”

Ziad Al-Nakhalah, Secretary General of the Islamic Jihad Movement, mourned Saleh Al Arouri, saying: “We lost a leader who believed in the justice of our people’s jihad until martyrdom.”

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh stated, “The act is a reflection of the criminality of those who carried it out.”

 “We call on the concerned countries to put pressure on Israel to stop its targeting. We also warn against the Israeli political level resorting to exporting its failures in Gaza to the southern [Lebanese] border. It has become clear to everyone near and far that the decision to go to war is in the hands of Israel, and what is required is to deter it and stop its aggression,” Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati wrote on X condemning the attack.

In a statement, the Iranian Foreign Ministry said that “the Zionist entity bears responsibility for the repercussions of its new adventure,” referring to the assassination of Arouri by Israel.

Arouri was a courageous fighter who anticipated the day he would die for his homeland.

“I am not afraid of their threats to kill me…I have already lived more than expected. I feel I passed the age I was supposed to die… When I die as a martyr, I will welcome it,” al-Arouri said in an interview on Hamas’s Al Aqsa television channel last August.

His aspiration for martyrdom was also reflected in the words of his sister: 

“He said he wished for martyrdom every day and prayed for it prostrating before God.”

“Saleh’s blood is not more valuable than the blood of Gaza children. Saleh’s blood will be a spark, it will mobilize the entire West Bank against the occupation, you lifted our heads, and you are a pride for us and the nation,” she added.

What distinguishes the leadership of the Palestinian Resistance from other movements in the world is its endurance. The death of one or multiple leaders will not lead to its collapse. It has seen the death of great leaders even before. What is discernible from history is that whoever will replace Arouri in his position will continue with his legacy guided by principles, not solely by charisma.

This belief is also entrenched in the collective psyche of Palestinians. We could feel it while listening to Arouri’s mother:

“May Allah be pleased with him. Every time a leader dies, a new one arises and turns out to be better. Allah is generous.”

“I have not seen him (Saleh) for 20 years or more. They exiled him. They imprisoned him for 15 years, freed him, and then arrested him again. They continued to pursue him. 18 years he spent in prison. They exiled him to Syria, from Syria to Turkey, from Turkey to Qatar, and from Qatar to Lebanon. Still, the Israeli occupation miserably failed, they are bankrupt in front of the might of the resistance,” she added.

The Resistance will likely respond, as they were already expecting the assassination. At the same time, it will focus on responding decisively to deny Israel any chance to succeed in the war or set new terms of combat. Critics have termed the event yet another proof of the fact that it is Israel who is looking for a permanent war. 

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