Ismail Abu Shanab

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Ismail Abu Shanab
Native name إسماعيل أبو شنب
Born Ismail Abu Shanab
Died 21 August 2003 (aged 52–53)
Gaza city
Nationality Palestinian
Alma mater Al Mansura University
Colorado State University
Occupation Civil engineer
Years active 1980s–2003

Ismail Abu Shanab (1950 – 21 August 2003) was one of the founders of Hamas, and one of its three most senior leaders in Gaza.[1] More specifically, he was the second highest leader of Hamas only after Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.[2] He was also the political leader of Hamas,[3] who argued strongly against suicide bombings and in favor of a long-term truce.[4]

Early life and education[edit]

Shanab was born in the central Gaza refugee camp of Nuseirat in 1950.[5] His family was originally from the village of Al Jayyeh, a village near Ashkelon and Yubna.[1] The family was expelled from the village and came the refugee camp in 1948.[5]

He graduated from high school in 1966 and was accepted at then newly opened Bir Zeit University in the West Bank. However, due to the 1967-Arab-Israeli War and Israel's subsequent occupation, he could not attend the university.[5] In 1972, he managed to go to Egypt to receive university education. He obtained a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering from Mansoura University in Cairo.[5][6] After working four years in Gaza city, Shanab went to the US and obtained a master of science degree in civil engineering from Colorado State University.[5][7]

Career and activities[edit]

Shanab returned to Gaza city in 1977 after completing his undergraduate studies and he worked at the municipal council until 1981.[5] Following the completion of graduate studies in the US Shanab began to work as an instructor in engineering at Gaza Islamic University.[7] During this period, Shanab met with the Hamas founder Ahmed Yassin, Ibrahim Magadmeh and the Islamic Jihad founder Fathi Shiqaqi, and eventually, he joined Hamas.[5] He was imprisoned in 1989 for his involvement in founding Hamas and being a deputy to Ahmed Yassin. On the other hand, Israel press statement argued that Shanab was detained since he had admitted to have participated in planning and carrying out the kidnapping and murder of an Israeli soldier, Ilan Sa'adon.[8] He improved his religious knowledge base during the his time in prison.[1] Shanab was freed in late 1996.[6] After his release, he was elected as the head of the Palestinian Engineers Association on the list of Hamas in 1997.[7][9] In November 1998, Palestinian police arrested Shanab and other top Hamas leaders, including Mahmoud Al Zahar, Ismail Haniyya and Ahmed Baher.[10] Then Shanab began to serve as Hamas observer in the Central Council of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. He also became one of the spokespersons of the Hamas' political wing in Gaza. However, his role as spokesperson was not ordinary in that he was Hamas’s most visible spokesperson in the western media.[11]

After suicide bombings killed 25 people in Israel in 2001, Palestinian police arrested Shanab and Haniya among the others in December 2001.[12][13] Shanab participated in the 2002 and 2003 peace talks as a Hamas representative.[7] He also functioned as Hamas’s link to Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas when Abbas was trying to persuade militant groups to stop attacking Israelis.[11][14] Shanab was one of the supporters of ceasefire declared by armed Palestinian groups including Hamas and Islamic Jihad on 29 June 2003.[5] The ceasefire was unilateral, called hudna in Arabic.[15]

Shanab was the third-in-command in Hamas, behind late Abdulaziz Rantisi and Mahmud Zahar and in front of Ismail Haniyeh before his assassination in August 2003.[16]


Abu Shanab represented the Hamas’s more moderate and pragmatic side, although he was subject to Yassin’s leadership and committed to Hamas ideology. Unlike Yassin, he supported a long-term ceasefire with Israel and a two-state solution.[11] On the other hand, he argued that group decision is better than individual decision, even though the individual is right.[1] Although he did not advocated suicide bombing attacks, he stated that it was a primitive weapon and added "But, it’s all we have and it’s less harmful than F-16s loaded with tons of explosives."[17]

Personal life[edit]

Shanab was married and had nine children, five daughters and four sons. His eldest son Hassan studied computer engineering in the US and his youngest son, Mesk, was two-years-old when Shanab was killed.[5] Son Hamza Abu Shanab (born 1984) heads the Palestinian Assembly for Supporting the Syrian Revolution, a nongovernmental organization.[18][19] Shanab lived in the community of Eshaikh Radhwan, north of Gaza City.[16]


On 21 August 2003, Shanab and his two bodyguards were hit and killed by an Israeli helicopter missile strike while travelling by car in Rimal neighborhood of Gaza City.[7][20] In the attack, an Apache helicopter fired three or four missiles at the car.[5][21] The assassination occurred in retaliation for the suicide bombing of a Jerusalem bus on 19 August 2003, killing twenty mostly orthodox Jews, including six children.[22] Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement after the assassination and described Shanab as a senior terrorist and Hamas operative.[8]

The major consequence of his assassination was that the three-month ceasefire that had been declared on 29 June 2003 was terminated by Hamas, Islamic Jihad[23] and Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades[5] two days after the assassination, on 23 August 2003.[24] The other consequence was that Hamas continued its suicide attacks that had been stopped for a while.[11]


Nearly 100,000 people attended the funeral ceremony for Shanab held in Gaza City on 22 August 2003.[2] Ahmed Yassin along with other top Hamas leaders participated in the ceremony in the Omari mosque.[25]


  1. ^ a b c d Jeroen Gunning (1 April 2010). Hamas in Politics: Democracy, Religion, Violence. Columbia University Press. p. 101. ISBN 978-0-231-70045-0. Retrieved 15 December 2012. 
  2. ^ a b "Tens of thousands attend Hamas leader's funeral". SMH. 23 August 2003. Retrieved 17 November 2012. 
  3. ^ Barbara Plett (6 June 2003). "Hamas' roadblock to peace". BBC. Jerusalem. Retrieved 7 December 2012. 
  4. ^ Nicolas Pelham; Max Rodenbeck (22 October 2009). "Which Way for Hamas?" (Book Review). The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 14 December 2012. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Khaled Amayreh (28 August – 3 September 2003). "Marked for liquidation". Al Ahram Weekly (653). Retrieved 25 July 2012. 
  6. ^ a b Brian Whitaker (22 August 2003). "Pragmatist whose two-state solution cut no ice with Israel". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 July 2012. 
  7. ^ a b c d e "Ismail Abu Shanab". Web Gaza. Retrieved 24 July 2012. 
  8. ^ a b "Hamas terrorist Ismail Abu Shanab" (Press Release). Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Jerusalem. 21 August 2003. Retrieved 25 July 2012. 
  9. ^ Joseph Contreras (20 October 1997). "Return of the Sheik". Newsweek. 130. Retrieved 14 October 2013.  – via Questia (subscription required)
  10. ^ Khaled Amayreh (4–11 November 1998). "Clampdown short of war". Al Ahram Weekly (402). Retrieved 18 November 2012. 
  11. ^ a b c d Nir Gazit (2011). "State-directed political assassination in Israel: A political hypothesis" (PDF). International Sociology. 26 (6): 862–877. doi:10.1177/0268580910394006. Retrieved 25 July 2012. 
  12. ^ "Arafat rounds up Hamas leaders after bombings". Independent Online. Gaza City. 3 December 2001. Retrieved 17 November 2012. 
  13. ^ "Palestinian police jail 100 militants". The Telegraph. 3 December 2001. Retrieved 17 November 2012. 
  14. ^ Wolf Blitzer (23 August 2003). "Who was Ismail Abu Shanab?". CNN. Retrieved 25 July 2012. 
  15. ^ Beverly Milton Edwards; Alastair Crooke (September 2004). "Waving, Not Drowning: Strategic Dimensions of Ceasefires and Islamic Movements" (PDF). Security Dialogue. 35 (3): 296–310. doi:10.1177/0967010604047528. Retrieved 25 July 2012. 
  16. ^ a b "Abu Shanab, a moderating voice in Hamas". Middle East Online. Gaza City. 21 August 2003. Retrieved 17 November 2012. 
  17. ^ Paul McGeough (2009). Kill Khalid: Mossad's Failed Hit-- and the Rise of Hamas. Crows Nest, N.S.W.: Allen & Unwin. Retrieved 14 October 2013.   – via Questia (subscription required)
  18. ^ "Hundreds of Gazans return home from war-torn Syria". The Egyptian Gazette. AFP. 25 July 2012. Retrieved 25 July 2012. 
  19. ^ Robert Plotkin (13 May 2002). "Ramallah Diary: J-School Student Drops In Uninvited". New York Observer. Retrieved 25 July 2012. 
  20. ^ Paul Hilder (July 2002). "The nail in the wood: an interview with Ismail Abu Shanab". Open Democracy. Retrieved 25 July 2012. 
  21. ^ Louay Safi (30 April 2008). "Elusive Peace: 60 Years of Pain and Suffering". Middle East Online. Retrieved 18 November 2012. 
  22. ^ Chris McGreal (22 August 2003). "Killing of Hamas leader, Ismail Abu Shanab, ends truce". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 July 2012. 
  23. ^ Roger Hardy (21 August 2003). "Analysis: End of roadmap?". BBC. Retrieved 25 July 2012. 
  24. ^ Graham Usher (21 August 2005). "The New Hamas". MERIP. Retrieved 26 June 2012. 
  25. ^ Inigo Gilmore (23 August 2003). "Hamas show of defiance at funeral". The Telegraph. Gaza City. Retrieved 18 November 2012.