Who is 'Abu Obeida', the iconic masked spokesperson for Hamas's Al-Qassam Brigades?

Who is 'Abu Obeida', the iconic masked spokesperson for Hamas's Al-Qassam Brigades?
Abu Obeida attracts a wide audience of Palestinians and Arabs due to his eloquence in the Arabic language and his creativity when he speaks.
7 min read
04 June, 2024
Over the years of battling against Israel, Abu Obeida was able to impact Israeli public opinion as well, with commentators suggesting that he is more believable than the Israeli leaders, especially during times of war. [Getty]

When a new recording of Abu Obeida, the official spokesperson for Al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, is aired, millions of people pay attention and tune in to hear him speak in a concise and eloquent Arabic.

His face is never seen, a Palestinian keffiyeh wraps around his head, and many say he has the power through mere words to shake the foundations of his enemies and melt the hearts of his fans. 

Who is Abu Obeida?

"Abu Obeida", a nomenclature, is a Palestinian militant of Al-Qassam Brigades. His first appearance occurred in 2002 in a documentary about the experience of fighters in Gaza and the tunnels. He was one of the main characters highlighted in the film's storytelling.

Back then, Abu Obeida was able to attract a wide audience of Palestinians and Arabs due to his eloquence in the Arabic language and his creativity in speaking in short phrases, rich in information and meaning.

He relied on appearing masked in imitation of the fighter Emad Aqel, one of the most important Hamas military leaders who was assassinated in 1993 after armed confrontations with more than 60 Israeli armoured vehicles in the Shujaiya neighbourhood in Gaza City. Aqel was described by Israel as "the seven-souled mutant". 

Abu Obeida's appearance imitating Aqel is a direct provocation towards Israeli authorities. 

Abu Obeida disappeared from the media seemingly with no trace until 2006, when he officially appeared as a spokesman for al-Qassam Brigades. He announced the kidnapping of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in a complex military operation in retaliation to a massacre committed by the Israeli army against the family of the Palestinian child Huda Ghalya. 

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The appearance of the masked Abu Obeid wearing the traditional Palestinian keffiyeh to send a message to the Israeli army that "the Palestinian resistance is capable of responding in kind to every Israeli massacre, threatening to carry out more qualitative military operations against Israel until the liberation of the Palestinian territories" was electrifying for many viewers. 

Abu Obeid appeared repeatedly in recorded television recordings (mostly produced in military sites affiliated with al-Qassam Brigades) during the subsequent Israeli wars that on the Gaza Strip from the 2008 war until 2024, and his name became associated with credible promises and threats to Israel.

For most viewers, Abu Obeida provided soul and heart to the role of a military spokesman, who tend to speak cold facts without seeking sympathy. Many consider him the voice of the armed resistance in Palestine, and a voice that inspires hope and silences the Israeli narratives.

A primary target for assassination

Over the years of battling against Israel, Abu Obeida was able to impact Israeli public opinion as well, with commentators suggesting that he is more believable than the Israeli leaders, especially during times of war.

With every Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip since 2008, Hamas has shown a remarkable development in its arsenal. From short-range missiles to more advanced, accurate and long-range missiles, as well as locally-manufactured drones that Hamas and used against Israel during its 2014 and 2021 wars on Gaza.

In tandem to Hamas's military evolution, Abu Obeida's star also shone. He had the creative ability to announce every development in Palestinian weapons in a particular style that punctuated the threats between his phrases and foment fears among the Israeli public.  

"Abu Obeida is considered one of the most powerful weapons that Hamas possesses because he has succeeded in reaching the conscience of all Israelis, Arabs, and Muslims, and he is considered a great power for the Palestinians," a source close to Hamas, who preferred not to be named, remarked to The New Arab.  "Abu Obeida is not just a person, but he has become an identity for the resistance and fighters. He completes the role of the military in the field through the true description of what is happening in the field, which refutes all false Israeli narratives."

On most occasions, the source added, Abu Obeida has succeeded in refuting the narratives of the Israeli army and intelligence services, proving to the world the falsehoods and propaganda from Israel. This, in turn, has made him trustworthy to everyone, especially the Israeli public.

A similar sentiment was shared by Abu Ahmed, a Fatah militant who was active in Gaza. "Abu Obeida has become a strong Palestinian voice that reflect not only the battalions Al-Qassam, but speaks for all the Palestinian fighters in the field despite their various political orientations (...) he was able, over all those years, to create a special identity for us that Israel fears and that the Palestinians are happy with," Abu Ahmed told TNA.

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Because of Abu Obeida's rising stardom, he became a source of interest and imitation from other Palestinian factions. The character of Abu Hamza, the official spokesman for the Al-Quds Brigades, Palestinian Islamic Jihad's (PIJ) military wing, was inspired by Abu Obeida's successes, according to a PIJ leader, who prefers to remain anonymous.

"There is no doubt that the media war is no less important than the military one because through this war we are leading the refutation of all the Israeli narratives that insist on always appearing as the victor while the field says the opposite (...) We confront the Israeli soldiers from zero distance and inflict casualties among them, and this is what Israel is working hard to hide in order to save face," the source said. 

Over the years of his tenure as head of the media office of Al-Qassam, Abu Obeida evolved his media tools to the point of documenting the military operations carried out by Al-Qassam Brigades with sound and footage. This was part of "refuting the lies of the Israeli army."

Israel's allegations about Abu Obeida

On 25 October 2023, the Israeli army spokesman Avichay Adraee posted a video on X, formerly known as Twitter, depicting a picture of a man he claimed was Abu Obeida and that his real name was Huthaifah Samir Abdullah al-Kahlout.

Neither Hamas nor al-Qassam have commented on the allegations.

Soon after, the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth claimed that Abu Obeida originally hails from the village of Na'iliya in Gaza, which Israel occupied in 1948, and he lived in Jabalia, northeast of Gaza. 

It further claimed that Abu Obeida received a master's degree from the Faculty of Theology at the Islamic University of Gaza in 2013, and he wrote a thesis titled: "The Holy Land between Judaism, Christianity and Islam," and that he was preparing to obtain a doctorate.

The Israeli newspaper further claimed that his house was bombed by Israel more than once in 2008 and 2012, in addition to being bombed in the current war on the Gaza Strip.

However, a source close to Hamas stressed this was all not true. "Because all of Israel, including the Mossad, the military intelligence (Aman) or the Israeli internal security service (Shabak), do not have a picture or file about his real personality, so it remains just guesses," the source said.

How Israel's current war doubles his popularity

Abu Obeida's popularity skyrocketed during Israel's current genocidal war on Gaza. He regularly appears to pass his media messages to the world, defying all Israeli attempts to silence or assassinate him.

He is exceedingly becoming an icon beyond Palestine and gaining ground in the Arab and Western countries, something he is aware of as he always addresses "the free people of the world" during his appearances.

In the era of diverse and multiple communication tools, Abu Obeida possesses the basic communication skills for influence, especially since he is the official spokesman for the most powerful Palestinian political and military faction in Gaza. This ensures audiences must follow him in some form.

Currently, more than 600,000 people follow him on his Telegram account, which he created in 2020 and is the only social media account he has at the moment.