The attack on a senior lecturer of the Islamic University of Gaza during Operation Guardian of the Walls emphasized once again the connection between the university, which enjoys EU funding, and Hamas.

Al-Jazeera correspondent interviews the Jamal al-Zebda family. At the upper right, a large Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades insignia (al-Jazeera YouTube channel)

Al-Jazeera correspondent interviews the Jamal al-Zebda family. At the upper right, a large Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades insignia (al-Jazeera YouTube channel)

Saja al-Zebda, Jamal al-Zebda's daughter, interviewed by QudsN TV (YouTube, May 21, 2021)

Pictures from the documentary about Jamal al-Zebda's academic career at the Islamic University in Gaza City (YouTube, May 23, 2021).

Pictures from the documentary about Jamal al-Zebda's academic career at the Islamic University in Gaza City (YouTube, May 23, 2021).

Signing the engineering faculty-German GIZ (Society for International Cooperation) agreement (IUG website, March 13, 2019).

Signing the engineering faculty-German GIZ (Society for International Cooperation) agreement (IUG website, March 13, 2019).

Overview
  • On the morning of May 12, 2021, the IDF attacked a location in the western part of Gaza City where senior Hamas figures had gathered, including Bassem Issa, brigade commander in Hamas’ military-terrorist wing. Fourteen people were killed, all of them Hamas operatives, some of them holding high-ranking positions. One was Dr. Jamal al-Zebda, who held a PhD in mechanical engineering. He studied in the United States and was a senior lecturer in the IUG’s engineering faculty. He also developed weapons for Hamas’ military wing and headed the rocket development program under the direct supervision of Muhammad al-Deif, the commander of the military wing. Jamal al-Zebda tutored an entire generation of engineers at the IUG, recruited many of them to the Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades’ weapons’ development program, especially the aspects dealing with rockets and UAVs (al-Akhbar, May 22, 2021). His son, Usama al-Zebda (who held American citizenship), also an engineer, joined him in serving Hamas. He was killed in the same attack.
  • The IUG is proud of the fact that its personnel are Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades operatives. The university issued a formal mourning notice for al-Zebda. During Operation Guardian of the Walls the university altered its Facebook page homepage to a notice of solidarity with those killed (shaheeds) in the Gaza Strip.
  • In a speech given before Gazan academics after Operation Guardian of the Walls, Yahya al-Sinwar, head of the Hamas political bureau in the Gaza Strip, thanked them and their colleagues who had practical academic training and who had joined the ranks of the “resistance” or enriched it with their knowledge. He said thanks to them Hamas’ rockets were now precise and had capabilities that had not yet been revealed (al-Jazeera, June 5, 2021).
  • The IUG is a radical Islamist academic institution, and since its founding has been an important source of military, political and ideological power for Hamas. It is a haven for the activities of the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip, some of whom also lecture there or belong to the administration. The university has provided fertile ground for the incubation of generation after generation of Hamas’ senior and middle leadership and sponsors Hamas activity in various fields, as well as research and development operatives for Hamas’ military wing.
  • For years the IUG, including the engineering faculty where Jamal al-Zebda worked, has enjoyed financial support from the West, including the EU, which designated Hamas as a terrorist organization, and IUG students are included in projects funded by the EU and in student and faculty exchange programs.[1]
Dr. Jamal al-Zebda
  • Jamal Muhammad Sayid Abd al-Rahman al-Zebda (Abu Usama), 64, was a senior lecturer in the IUG’s engineering faculty. He had a PhD in mechanical engineering from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. In 1994 he returned to the Gaza Strip and began teaching at IUG. In 2006 he joined a team of engineers working in secret for the Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades, developing weapons. According to reports he headed the rocket program. In 2012, during the final hours of Operation Pillar of Defense, he escaped a targeted killing attack (al-Akhbar, May 22, 2021).
  • His studies on aerodynamics and the delta wing (used mainly in fighter jets) served for the manufacture of various fighter jets, including the F-35, and were published in journals and scientific literature, forming the basis for the development of aircraft engines. He was a close associate of Muhammad al-Deif, who led the team and worked closely with him.
  • Al-Zebda taught an entire generation of engineers at the Islamic University, and recruited many of them to join the military wing’s program for the development of weapons and equipment, mainly rockets and UAVs (al-Akhbar, May 22, 2021). He was joined by his son, Usama al-Zebda, 39 (or 33), who had American citizenship and was also an engineer,. Usama worked with his father developing rockets, and was killed in the same attack.
Jamal al-Zebda's son Usama al-Zebda (Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades website May 23, 2021).      Jamal al-Zebda
Right: Jamal al-Zebda. Left: Jamal al-Zebda’s son Usama al-Zebda
(Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades website May 23, 2021).
  • The Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military-terrorist wing, commemorated Jamal al-Zebda on a page on its website dedicated to the movement’s operatives who had been killed. The caption under his picture read, “Terrorist engineer who devoted his life to Allah,” “Military commander” (Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades website, July 1, 2021). A joint mourning notice for him and his son was issued by the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and the Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades (Palinfo, May 23, 2021).
Joint mourning notice issued by the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and Hamas' military wing (Palinfo, May 23, 2021).    From the Jamal al-Zebda memorial on the Hamas military wing website (Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades website, July 1, 2021).
Right: From the Jamal al-Zebda memorial on the Hamas military wing website (Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades website, July 1, 2021). Left: Joint mourning notice issued by the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and Hamas’ military wing (Palinfo, May 23, 2021).
Reactions in the Palestinian media
  • An article published in Iran called “Science in the service of resistance” provided the following information: Jamal al-Zebda was referred to as a “professor” of engineering, science and mechanics at the IUG. He studied in the United States and remained there as a university lecturer. His family received American citizenship but instead of remaining there he returned to the Gaza Strip, where he worked in secret under the personal supervision of Muhammad al-Deif. He developed Hamas’ military capabilities and headed a group of local engineers and experts who worked to turn the “scarce” resources of the Gaza Strip into advanced equipment for confronting Israel (“the occupation”). He graduated a large generation of IUG engineers and secretly recruited hundreds of them to work on Hamas’ secret program for developing weapons, especially rockets and UAVs (Tehran Times, May 23, 2021).
  •  An al-Jazeera correspondent in Gaza interviewed members of Jamal al-Zebda’s family, including his wife, daughters and Usama al-Zebda’s wife, who was also killed in the attack. His wife said all her children had been raised in the path of jihad, as instructed by their father. He aspired, she said, to die as a martyr for the sake of Allah. She sent Israel the message that her husband had left behind him “thousands of Jamals.” She also said they were proud of him when Israel said he had developed the entire array of Hamas rockets in the Gaza Strip (al-Jazeera TV on YouTube).
  • Saja al-Zebda, Jamal al-Zebda’s daughter, told QudsN TV that while outside his house her father had a military image, he when he was home he spent most of his time with his children and was a good father. She said his work was secret and he never updated them about his work. Only after the attempt to kill him in 2012 did she understand that he was a senior operative in the Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades (YouTube, May 21, 2021).
The Islamic University engineering faculty
  • A documentary uploaded to YouTube issued about him after this death claimed he was a cofounder of the mechanical engineering faculty of IUG, and headed the faculty beginning from 2010 to the present. The documentary featured a selection of pictures of him as a tenured university employee. In addition, quoting the Palestinian media, he was reported as having developed Hamas’ rockets and was known as “Father of the rockets” (YouTube, May 23, 2021). The author of the documentary was not identified.
  • On May 17, 2021 (five days after Jamal al-Zebda was killed) the IUG’s engineering faculty issued a mourning notice for him. It said, “With pride and great glory mixed with the pain of parting, the dean of the engineering faculty and its entire academic and administrative population mourn the death of the engineer, scientist and shaheed Jamal Muhammad Sayid al-Zebda (Abu Usama), a pillar of the engineering faculty” (Facebook page of the engineering faculty of the IUG, May 17, 2021).

The mourning notice issued by the engineering faculty of the Islamic University for the death of Jamal al-Zebda (faculty website, May 17, 2021).

The mourning notice issued by the engineering faculty of the Islamic University for the death of Jamal al-Zebda (faculty website, May 17, 2021).

  •  The same day the engineering faculty changed its Facebook page profile page to read, “In mourning for the souls of our shaheeds of the engineering faculty, we pray Allah will allow them his many mercies” (faculty Facebook page, May 17, 2018).[2]

     

The engineering faculty's Facebook page, May 17, 2021.

The engineering faculty’s Facebook page, May 17, 2021.

  • The engineering faculty was founded in IUG during the 1992-1993 schoolyear (about a year before Jamal al-Zebda returned to the Gaza Strip). According to its website, it was founded because of the growing need in the Gaza Strip for graduates with engineering degrees. Today it has seven departments: construction engineering, electrical engineering, computer engineering, civil engineering, industrial engineering, ecological engineering and mechanical engineering (IUG website, July 4, 2021).
  • The engineering faculty (like the other faculties in the university; see the Appendix) enjoys Western financial support. Three recent examples:
  • On June 12, 2021, the engineering faculty held an online conference about smart cities. It was part of project funded by the EU (IUG website, June 12, 2021).
  • On June 8, 2019, the engineering department cooperated with Austrian Development Cooperation to train students in the Gaza Strip to construct “smart” energy-saving houses in the Gaza Strip (engineering faculty website)
  •  On March 13, 2019, an memorandum of understandings was signed between the engineering faculty and the German GIZ (Society for International Cooperation) to fund energy producing and manufacturing projects in the Gaza Strip (IUG website, March 13, 2019).
The Islamic University of Gaza
  • The Islamic University of Gaza (IUG) is a radical Islamist academic institution which has been a Hamas stronghold since its founding. Generations of Hamas’ military and political leadership grew out of the university, and Hamas holds political, ideological and military activities within its walls. The IUG has enjoyed EU support for many years, manifested by the EU’s integrating the university into projects it funds and the exchange of students and faculty, even though the EU regards Hamas as a terrorist organization. The EU support for the IUG is part of its support for “Palestine,” that is, the Palestinian Authority (PA). The EU has a representative in Ramallah through whom support is transferred to the IUG, although it is aware that in reality the PA has no real influence on what happens inside the university.[3]
  •  On May 16, 2021, at the height of Operation Guardian of the Walls in the Gaza Strip, the IUG changed its profile picture on Facebook page, dedicating it to the Gazans killed in the operation. It quoted a convention usually uttered as condolence, “We belong to Allah and to him we return.”

The altered Islamic University of Gaza Facebook page during Operation Guardian of the Walls (Islamic University of Gaza Facebook page, May 16, 2021).
  • The Islamic University refers to itself as an independent academic institution supervised by the PA’s ministry of higher education. However, in reality it is a radical Islamist institution which has been controlled by Hamas since its founding, and the supervision of the PA’s ministry of higher education is nominal at best.
  • Since the university’s founding, a great deal information has been compiled about Hamas’ extensive political, ideological and military activities: senior Hamas figures, including senior operatives in Hamas’ military-terrorist wing, have held teaching or administrative positions at the IUG; its students have been recruited into Hamas’ military wing and have participated in terrorist attacks against Israel, including suicide bombing attacks; the university facilities were exploited for developing and storing weapons; and since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 there have been riots between Hamas operatives, who turned the university into a military compound, and Fatah operatives. On December 28, 2008, during Operation Cast Lead, Israeli aircraft attacked Hamas’ center for weapons development, located in the Faculty of Science laboratories’ building.
  • According to intelligence information revealed at the time by the ITIC in response to the Goldstone Report,[4] the Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military-terrorist wing, made extensive use of IUG facilities. Hamas exploited its laboratories for developing and manufacturing weapons, including long-range rockets. The activities were supported by students and lecturers, who were used as sources of knowhow. Hamas sent students involved in rocket development to Iran, Syria and Lebanon for advanced training. The IUG facilities were used to store weapons and served as covert meeting places for military wing operatives. Many IUG students were recruited into the Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades’ ranks and participated in military-terrorist activities, including suicide bombing attacks.
  •   The IUG has a large student body which is indoctrinated in the Hamas movement’s radical Islamic ideology, and while still students, or shortly thereafter, join Hamas’ military-terrorist wing. Many of Hamas’ founders and senior figures, operatives and activists belonged to the movement as students at the IUG. Some have had administrative positions at the university, others have lectured there, and some are student activists. Over the years several have been killed while carrying out terrorist attacks, and others, who were involved in Hamas terrorist activities, were killed by Israel in targeted killings.
   
Right: A banner bearing a picture of Muhammad al-Deif during his student days at the IUG, brought onstage by masked Hamas operatives during a ceremony held for excelling students (YouTube, May 11, 2020). Left: Muhammad al-Deif (upper right-hand corner, circled), distributes chocolate to the parents of IUG graduates during the degree-granting ceremony in 1985. In front of him is Sami Abu Zuhri, former Hamas spokesman, who issued the picture
(nesannews.org, May 4, 2015).
  • For years the IUG has enjoyed support from the EU, which includes the university in projects it funds and in student and faculty exchanges, regardless of the fact that the EU has designated Hamas a terrorist organization. The EU’s support for the IUG is part of its assistance for “Palestine” (i.e., the Palestinian Authority), transferred by the EU’s representative in Ramallah, although the EU is aware that the PA’s influence on the university is nominal at best.

[1] For further information, see the September 10, 2020 bulletin, "The Islamic University of Gaza, A Hamas Stronghold, Has Been Supported by the EU for Years."

[2] It is possible Jamal al-Zebda was not the only engineer from the university killed during Operation Guardian of the Walls.

[3] Ibid.

[4] For further information, see the March 14, 2010 bulletin, the ITIC response to the Goldstone Report: "Hamas and the Terrorist Threat from the Gaza Strip The Main Findings of the Goldstone Report Versus the Factual Findings," p. 191 ff. (Response to the Goldstone Report)