Al-Sabireen: an Iran-Backed Palestinian Movement in the Style of Hezbollah

Wednesday 14 March 201809:10 pm
"Jerusalem will be liberated, God willing as the guide of the Islamic revolution in Iran, imam [Ali] Khamenei said," stated Hisham Salem, the Secretary General of the Palestinian Al-Sabireen movement, a statement likely to be uttered by a leader of Iran's Revolutionary Guards or Hezbollah in Lebanon. Its full name is Al-Sabireen Movement for Palestine, which many regard as an Iranian military wing in Gaza. The name Al-Sabireen, meaning patient people in Arabic, hit the headlines when the US State Department updated its list of groups and individuals accused of supporting international terrorism. Next to Hamas Chief Ismail Haniyeh as well as little-known Egyptian militant groups Liwa Al-Thawra and Harakat Sawa’d Misr (HASM), Al-Sabireen movement was added. The State Department said Al-Sabireen is an Iran-backed terrorist group that was established in 2014, adding that the movement "pursues an anti-American agenda". The movement sees this statement as "an honor medal on our chest and a milestone on our resistance path".

Striking Resemblance With Hezbollah

The resemblance between Al-Sabireen movement and Hezbollah is quite striking. Apart from the fact that both entities have very similar logos, the founding document of Al-Sabireen starts with the same words Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah usually uses at the beginning of his speeches. It reads, "peace be upon Allah's Prophet...and upon his chaste and pure Household and his chosen companions". The term "chosen companions" is used by Shiites to refer to the ones they glorify, with the intention of excluding those who prevented Ali Ibn Abi Talib from succeeding Prophet Muhammad, according to the Shia doctrine. In general, the wording and terminology used by Al-Sabireen movement and Hezbollah are quite similar, such as the "great devil America", "the just caliphate that will spread justice across the land" and "the Zionist occupation is tantamount to a cancerous gland". Meanwhile, all groups in Gaza say that Al-Sabireen movement includes Shiites within its ranks. However, the movement has not introduced itself as a Shiite  movement. Its secretary general says it does not represent a certain sect, stressing that sectarianism only serves the enemies' best interests. He also denies that the movement only consists of Shiites and does not accept Sunni members. In the "principles of jihadist action" document, the movement says one of its duties is to restore the "unity of the state based on the inclusiveness of Islam, respect for non-believers and acceptance of pluralism". In 2011, when Salem was heading a charity before the movement was established, he told AFP on the anniversary of the Islamic revolution in Iran that "sometimes I speak on behalf of Shiites in debates, I'm convinced with the Shia faith". In the same report, Salem accused Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad of "negligence towards Shiites". "Both movements have dealt with Iran the most, and ethically speaking they have to stand up against the fallacies that defame Shiites in the [Gaza] Strip," he said.

The Movement's Dogma

The movement's "jihadist vision" document shows that it has been affected by the Muslim Brotherhood, specifically the ideologies of founder Sayyid Qutb, as well as the Islamic revolution in Iran. "Islam is absent from people's lives and is only limited to mosques. It has no role in formulating [people's] values, awareness, culture, social life, politics and economy," the document reads. "Subsequently, Muslims are now under the rule of apostates that has expropriated their wealth, divided their countries and diminished their role." The movement argues that the only way to change the reality of Muslims is to stick to the genuine Islamic teachings. It also believes that the "beginnings of the new Islamic renaissance" started at the hands of jihadists who have "rebelled against the US, Israel and other oppressive regimes".

Loyalty to Iran

Al-Sabireen movement is seeking to be part of the "Islamic project that the devout Muslims embody across the Islamic world", according the "goals and purposes" document. Salem said: "We see that we are part of the Palestinian Cause's axis of resistance... and seek with all power to liberate it," adding that this resistance is led by Iran. Salem also calls on all Palestinian factions to "proclaim full allegiance to the axis of resistance" under the Iranian sponsorship. "We should disown all Arab and Islamic rules that have betrayed and conspired against our cause, people and nation -- on top of which is the Al-Saud rule," Salem said. The movement has also supported the Syrian regime and its allies, with Salem saying in a tweet in December 2016 that their dominance over Halab is a "victory that has provoked the enemies of Allah". He added in an interview that this was a "step to liberate Palestine" and that what happened in Syria was a "conspiracy against the Syrians who stood by Palestine, its people and its resistance". Salem claimed that this conspiracy is backed by the US, Tel Aviv and some Arab states with the intention to break the resistance in Palestine and Lebanon.


Al-Sabireen Movement was founded in May 2014 and its main strength is in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, according to the US State Department's statement. It also referred to the fact that Salem was once a leading figure of the Islamic Jihad, members of which have also joined Al-Sabireen. An active member of Al-Sabireen movement says it was initially formed in 2010 by individuals who wanted to promote ideologies of Fathi Shaqaqi, founder of Jihad who admired the 1979 Iranian revolution. He also wrote a book titled "Khomeini...The Islamic Solution and the Alternative". According to reports, this group of members, including Salem, were expelled by Jihad over ideological disagreements. Furthermore, rumor has it that Al-Sabireen Movement receives generous funding from Iran, which escalated tensions with Hamas and Jihad at times. According to the statement of the US State Department, the Palestinian Authority's security forces arrested five of the movement's "operatives who were working under Iranian orders and received funding in Gaza to carry out their attacks". Salem does not deny that the movement receives funds from Iran, saying it is part of the country's support for all "resistance" factions.

The Movement's Activities

The movement has lost three of its operatives in Nizar Saeed Eissa, Mosab Al-Kheir Al-Sakafy and Ahmed Al-Sarhy. The first two were killed in 2014 and the latter in 2015. On the attacks the movement has carried out, the US State Department said militants fired rockets into Israel in September 2015 and detonated an explosive device targeting an Israeli army patrol in December of the same year. More attacks targeting Israel were planned in February 2016, the statement added. The statement also says the movement has established in Gaza a rocket factory that was destroyed in the summer of 2014. Some reports said the number of the movement's members and its organizational structure remain totally unknown, adding that the group is well armed. A video that was posted in October 2017 shows the process of manufacturing a missile named "Ahmed Al-Sarhy". Another video shows a demonstration by Al-Sabireen movement's military wing.
Al-Sabireen's activities have angered Palestinian factions, including Hamas which arrested late in 2016 one of the movement's "intellectuals", Mohamed Harb, over his views on the Syrian war. He basically echoed the sentiments of Salem, who was also pursued for the same reason yet his connections kept him from being arrested. However, Salem was stabbed in 2015 by an "unknown" assailants while an explosive device went off in front of his house. Hamas cannot crack down on the movement because of its strong relations with Iran. Some reports suggest that a leading Hamas figure is pushing for providing protection for Al-Sabireen movement's members, even though Hamas arrest some of them every once in a while. Hamas believes the Shiite movement creates tension in the Sunni-dominant Gaza, especially after Salafist movements issued statements condemning Al-Sabireen and the Shia faith. Shiites have also accused Hamas of arresting and torturing them. After launching a project called Emdad Khomeini, meaning Khomeini's supply in Arabic, a charity named Al-Bakyat El-Salehat Society was dissolved by the interior ministry in March 2016 for its illegal political activities. The charity, headed by Salem, has been providing aid in Gaza since 2004. All Iran-loyal movements seek to expand their influence through charitable activities. Salem denies his charity was politically involved, saying security officials from Hamas told him that the name of the project had caused them a great deal of embarrassment.
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