PROFILE: Who Was Ahmed Jabari?

The man considered the most dominant figure in the Gaza Strip had a long career in Hamas, but became known to the general public in Israel during the negotiations for the release of abducted soldier Gilad Shalit.

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

Ahmed Said Jabari, the head of Hamas' military wing, Azzadin al-Qassam, was considered one of the strongest people in the organization. He became known to the general public in Israel during the negotiations for the release of abducted soldier Gilad Shalit. Jabari was considered the most dominant figure in the Gaza Strip and was often described as the strongest person in the organization in the Strip, especially after the other senior leaders Sheikh Salah Shehadeh, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantissi were assassinated.

His position of strength among members of the armed wing and his control of the military infrastructure helped him bolster his position also in terms of the organization's political structure. This found expression in recent years in the negotiations for freeing the abducted soldier. Jabari took an extremely tough stance during the negotiations and was the person who eventually closed the details over the prisoner swap, since his organization held the soldier.

The best known and most up-to-date picture of Jabari was taken immediately after Shalit's release when Jabari personally held onto the soldier as he was brought to the Rafah crossing to be transferred, according to the agreement, to Egyptian army intelligence officers.

Jabari was born to a family that originated in Hebron and moved to the Gaza Strip at the beginning of the last century because of a blood feud. He lived there in the Sajaiyeh neighborhood.
He began his political activity in the Fatah movement in Gaza and as a result of this activity was jailed for 13 years in various Israeli jails.

A former inmate who shared his prison cell told Haaretz that Jabari was a dominant figure in the prison. "We would sit and drink tea. It was a different period, before the first intifada, and he wasn't considered a leader at that time and didn't think he would reach such a senior position," he said.

For a long time, Jabari shared a cell with Salah Shehadeh, who was considered the founder of the military wing of Hamas in Gaza and was assassinated by Israel in 2000. This friendship with Shehadeh was what brought Jabari into the military wing of the Hamas movement where, in the 1990s, Jabari was a middle-level activist.
One of his activities in the movement's charitable organizations was being in charge of coordinating between the collection of money and military activities.

Over time, Jabari became the central axis and created ties with senior Hamas activists abroad. In that position, he became very close to some of the senior members of the military wing of Hamas, such as Muhammed Deif and Adnan el-Ghoul.

In the middle of the 1990s, Jabari became directly involved in carrying out suicide missions. In 1998 he was arrested by the Palestinian Authority but was released when the second intifada broke out two years later.

After some of the movement's previous leaders, including Salah Shahadeh and Ibrahim Makadma, were assassinated and Deif, the head of the military wing, was seriously wounded in Israeli assassination attempts, Jabari took over command of the military wing in 2003. On August 18, 2004, an attempt was made to kill Jabari by firing a missile at his house from an Apache helicopter, but he was lightly to moderately wounded. However his son, brother and three other family members were killed.

As the military chief, Jabari led a process of developing Hamas' core military abilities in the Gaza Strip. Instead of concentrating on sending suicide bombers from Gaza into Israel, Jabari devoted resources to building widespread military abilities and turning the armed wing into a real military organization.

Jabari was also considered one of the initiators of the violent military revolt that Hamas carried out in the years 2006 and 2007 against the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas' military chief in Gaza Ahmed Jabari, left, escorting Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, center, upon his release from captivity, on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing, October 18, 2011.Credit: Reuters

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