- Member of the Muslim Brotherhood
- Co-founder of Palestinian Islamic Jihad
- Rejected the Oslo peace accord
- Was assassinated in 1995
Fathi Shikaki was born in Gaza in 1951, to a family that hailed originally from Rehovot, near Tel Aviv. The older brother of Khalil Shikaki, he was educated at the local United Nations school and then studied physics and mathematics at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank. From 1970-74, while attending Bir Zeit, Fathi Shikaki worked as a mathematics teacher in Jerusalem. After graduating college in 1975, he studied medicine at Mansoura University in Egypt. There, he became involved in the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and studied the writings of its founder, Hasan al-Banna. He was also deeply influenced by the Brotherhood’s leading theorist, Sayyid Qutb, whose book Under the Shadow of the Koran became a seminal text of the radical Islamic movement in the mid-1970s. Qutb’s works convinced Shikaki that the Arab world needed to dispense with its existing secular governments and replace them with Sharia-based models.
But Shikaki remained a member of the Brotherhood for only a few years, after which, he explained, he “rejected their conceptions and moved to new ideas.” Specifically, he sought to balance the views of “the nationalists, who talked about liberating Palestine but who forgot about Islam, and the traditionalists, who talked about Islam and an Islamic state but who forgot about Palestine.” Thus Shikaki and his ideological allies decided, as he once put it, that “Islam would be the idea we would start with, Palestine the goal to liberate, and Jihad would be the way, the method.” They believed that by launching a campaign of spectacular terrorist attacks against Israel in the name of revolutionary Islam, they could inspire a popular revolt.
Also during his years in Egypt, Shikaki immersed himself in the sermons of Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, the Islamic Group leader who would eventually be incarcerated for his role in masterminding numerous terror plots; he met Salah Sariya, the Palestinian radical executed for attempting to overthrow President Anwar Sadat in 1976; he read the complete works of Karl Marx without ever embracing socialism; and—under the pseudonyms Fathi Ibrahim and Izz al-Din al-Faris—he wrote a number of articles for the Cairo journal Al-Mukhtar Al-Islami, which served as a mouthpiece for Islamic Jihad ideology.
In 1979 Shikaki published the book Khomeini: The Islamic Solution and the Alternative, which praised Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and his approach to creating an Islamist state. The book sold 10,000 copies in its first two days of availability.
After graduating from medical school in 1981, Shikaki worked as a doctor at the Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem until 1983. He then opened a medical clinic in Gaza.
In 1981 Shikaki collaborated with Sheikh Abdel Aziz Odeh and approximately 50 Palestinian allies in the Gaza Strip to create the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine—a.k.a. Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). Its aim was “to liberate Palestine from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea”—i.e., to eliminate Israel from the globe not by political or diplomatic means, but through armed and uncompromising jihad, or holy war. The nascent organization received vital political and material support from Iran as well as Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.
Israeli authorities arrested Shikaki for his political activities in 1983, released him in 1984, then re-arrested in him in 1986 and sentenced him to four years behind bars. After serving roughly half of that sentence, Shikaki, on the personal orders of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, was released from prison and deported—along with Abdel Aziz Odeh—to southern Lebanon in August 1988. During this period, Ramadan Abdullah Shallah played a major role in maintaining the integrity of PIJ’s infrastructure.
Notably, PIJ at this time was beginning to thrive more than ever before. According to Shikaki, it had been “difficult” for his organization “to recruit for military cells” prior to the First Intifada, which began in 1987. “But, afterwards, many of the young wanted to do military operations … [or] lead a suicide operation.”
In late 1988 Shikaki traveled to Tehran to meet Ayatollah Khomeini, who pledged his support for PIJ. In 1990 Shikaki settled in Damascus, with the full protection and support of Syrian President Hafez al-Assad.
In January 1994 Shikaki was a key organizer of the National Alliance, a coalition of eight PLO groups that joined Islamic Jihad and Hamas in rejecting the recently negotiated Oslo Peace Accord.
In a January 1995 interview that took place just days after PIJ’s infamous Beit Lid suicide bombings that killed 21 Jews at a bus station in Western Israel, Shikaki giggled when asked whether he had known in advance about that terror plot. “This is something I will not talk about,” he said, while vowing that similar “operation[s]” would take place in the coming weeks.
In October 1995, Shikaki—using a Libyan passport and the false name “Ibrahim Ali Shawesh”—visited Libyan President Muammar Qadhafi in Tripoli. On his way back to Damascus following that meeting, Shikaki stopped on the island of Malta. There, two agents of the Israeli Mossad—which believed that Shikaki and Qadhafi were plotting a terror attack against the Jewish state—assassinated the PIJ leader on October 26. Some 40,000 mourners attended his funeral in Damascus six days later.
Shikaki’s replacement as the head of PIJ was Ramadan Abdullah Shallah.
Further Reading: “Fathi Shikaki” (Jewish Virtual Library, Encyclopedia of Modern Worldwide Extremists and Extremist Groups, Encyclopedia of Political Assassinations); “The Doctor Who Finds Death a Laughing Matter” (Independent.co.uk, 1-30-1995); “Obituary: Dr Fathi Shkaki” (Independent.co.uk, 10-31-1995); “Khalil Shikaki and His Role in the Formation of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad Network in the United States” (Investigative Project on Terrorism); “Intifada’s Gentle Man of War” (Independent.co.uk, 12-15-1992).