Islamic Jihad has been having something of a renaissance in Gaza. Islamic Jihad is smaller and less known internationally than the militant Islamic Hamas faction, who has ruled Gaza since 2007, but the group captured global headlines last month by firing a barrage of 100 rockets toward Israel in less than an hour. According to polls taken in the region, support for Islamic Jihad among residents of Gaza has seen an uptick as the group has built health clinics, opened schools, and expanded its family-mediation services. However, its popularity still remains far below that of the leading political factions
Founded nearly a decade earlier than Hamas, Islamic Jihad has focused on military resistance to the Israeli occupation and shunned electoral politics. Islamic Jihad has maintained relations with Syria, Iran and Egypt over the years and increased its activity in Gaza substantially. The Al-Quds Brigades, the armed wing of Islamic Jihad, stand ready to respond to any Israeli incursions and protect the Palestinian people. It has been five years since an Israeli soldier has stepped on the soil of Gaza City.
While Hamas is partly blamed for rampant unemployment and daily shortfalls of necessities like fuel, electricity and water, Islamic Jihad has asserted itself as the main military expression of Palestinian nationalism in the region. Some characterize Islamic Jihad as a rival Hamas struggles to control, but Islamic Jihad would join Hamas as part of the formal Palestinian leadership if the reconciliation pact between Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organization signed last month were implemented.
Nathan Thrall of the International Crisis Group wrote in a recent report, “They are a very distant second to Hamas in military power, in supporters, in civil society, in every dimension of strength that you could think of, but they’re growing for sure. They have similar visions and strategic ideas. Some of the tension comes from the fact that Islamic Jihad doesn’t govern Gaza and doesn’t really suffer the consequences. They’re ready to attack Israel all day long.”