In late July while Israel’s 50-day offensive Operation Protective Edge was in its final weeks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-hand man met with a group of journalists in Jerusalem. Tensions were at a peak; the ground invasion had just ended and the air campaign was at an unstable pause. The Israeli Minister of Intelligence Yuval Steinitz was about to give the first political strategy briefing on what the Jewish state would want for the future of Gaza, what it would go on to lobby for in truce talks once reconvened in Cairo.
Meanwhile in another part of the Middle East, ISIS carried out its first public decapitations that grabbed Western headlines– they killed over 50 Syrian soldiers and mounted their heads in a town square. Gaza and Israel were overshadowed by the Islamic group that had declared a new caliphate.
Back in Jerusalem on that July afternoon the Steinitz made the case for the de-militarization of Gaza and to strategically turn the besieged coastal strip “into Ramallah.” It would have been a blockbuster announcement, if not for ISIS. For years the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had centered around the status of the West Bank, but over the summer it became clear that Gaza was going to dictate the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations, and either shore up or break Palestinian national unity.
Steinitz continued that weapons were still in the hands of Hamas, the root of the current strife, and removing those weapons was a “precondition for any serious relief” to the Gaza Strip. “You cancel the terror threat, the rocket threat from Gaza on Israeli citizens and you can cancel the restrictions so the so-called siege on Gaza,” he said.
Steinitz debuted the Israeli government’s most powerful argument for de-legitimization of Hamas: the ISIS comparison.
“The final goals are similar, to make an Islamic hegemony, not just in Israel, Iraq or Syria. But all over the world,” said Steinitz as the lights lowered and the slides were cued up. Yet as Jonathan Cook reviewed earlier this month, Hamas does not, never has, and likely never will call for Islamic hegemony. Christian Palestinians who live in Gaza endure the same life quality as their Muslim counterparts under the authoritarian and elected government of Hamas. There was no great purge of Christians—as ISIS is carrying out—when Hamas came to power in 2006, and no Christians have ever been asked to pay jiziya, a special tax dating to the Ottoman era where non-Muslims would be taxed in order to be exempt from military duty– a tax ISIS briefly implemented. If Christian Palestinians chose to do so, they can even fight in Hamas’s armed wing. In short, they have the same status as Muslim Palestinians. And it has to be stated that whatever torment Hamas has inflicted by policing the Palestinians in Gaza with an iron fist, it pales in comparison to the broad scale poverty inflicted by eight years of siege and erasure of entire towns during Protective Edge.Breaking News“It’s the same organization and it’s the same aim,” said Steinitz. He then turned the platform over to another Israeli government official to present a PowerPoint presentation of “a short comparison between Hamas and other Sunni Islamic terrorist organization,” noting, “It is one family of different organizations.” Then, fumbles over technical difficulties and swallowed laughter from the foreign press corps as the purpose for this meeting became clear: the West v. ISIS.
An opening image in the PowerPoint displayed Hamas’s political bureau leader Khaled Meshal with a child of no more than five years wearing a green Hamas headband, with green flags. The adjacent image was of a child decorated in the black flag used by all Salafi Islamic groups, including ISIS. But in the Palestinian context, there is no love for ISIS. Though local Salafi group called Hizb-ut-Tahrir has sported the black flag for the past decade when calling for the return of the caliphate, Hizb-ut Tharir’s dissidence is aimed at the Palestinian Authority. One protest was held outside of an equal opportunity job office, another called for unity between Hamas and Fatah. And last spring they raised their flags against America, chanting “No, no Obama!”—and as I photographed the event the Palestinian protesters kindly greeted me explaining they like the American people, just not the government. It was clear then, as now, that Palestinian groups, even Salafis, are more concerned with the policies that dictate their lives under Israeli occupation than the esoteric call for a global caliphate. Moreover, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have both cracked down on Salafi groups as they represent a row over domestic power.
And herein lies a major failing of the Hamas-ISIS comparison. If Salafis have been around in the West Bank calling to re-make the caliphate for nearly a decade, why is it that Hamas is suddenly being compared to ISIS? During the PowerPoint, the Israeli official said, “We chose them [ISIS] because they are also in the news these days.”
“Hamas, ISIS, al-Qadea,” were all listed in a spreadsheet projected onto a white screen, as groups having a “global outlook” calling for the “establishment of a global caliphate.”
Boko Haram, though also cited, had no “global outlook.”
Next the Hamas Charter appeared on screen quoted as, “The enemies have been scheming for a long time…they also used the money to establish clandestine organizations which are spreading around the world…such organizations are the Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, Lions Clubs, B’naith B’rith and the Like…they stood behind WWI so as to wipe out the Islamic Caliphate…”
But Hamas was not advocating for a return of the caliphate. When Hamas referenced the caliphate, that had more to due with seeing Israel as the next in a series of foreign rulers than wanting to turn the clock back in time. Western intervention into the Middle East during World War I ended in formal European colonization of the region. As the treaty of Versailles was inked, the borders of every country in the region were drawn by Europe, except for Iran and Turkey (Iran’s independence was compromised by deep economic imperialism from the U.S. and the USSR and Turkey went fascist, hardly leaving the region free and independent.)
Even in its contradictory statements on establishing a state, Hamas has never advocated for boundaries beyond the June 1967 lines, or in all of historic Palestine (occupied Palestinian territory and Israel minus the Golan). They do retain leverage in negotiations with Israel by not recognizing Israel, but that’s a far cry from wanting to take over the world. Hamas also has an “open door” policy of meeting with Western diplomats, as noted by Cata Charrett in her researched backgrounder on the group.
Within days of Minister Steinitz’s resounding pound against Hamas as comparable to the most violent Sunni Islamist group to date, Netanyahu parroted his remarks, calling Hamas and ISIS both “branches of the same poison tree.” From then on, ISIS and Hamas were echoed as evil equals. When US congressmen Elliot Engel and Ed Royce visited Netanyahu at the beginning of September, Netanyahu told them, “We’re fighting not just Israel’s war, but I think a common battle against enemies of mankind – Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, ISIS.” In turn the Engel said, “we in the United States in a bipartisan way certainly agree with that assessment,” promising to lobby the U.S. foreign affairs committee on behalf of Israel.
In August days after journalist James Foley was gruesomely beheaded on camera by ISIS, the Israeli government again reached out to journalists emailing a “background document,” because, “over the past few days, the issue of the similarities between the Hamas and ISIS terrorist organizations has been in the headlines.”
I’m including the full factsheet entitled “Operation Protective Edge – Similarities between Hamas and ISIS – Background Doc.” There’s the usual brainwashed children, women’s rights material, but the poetry is in the framing of international law:
25 August 2014MFA: Similarities between Hamas and ISIS:Background DocumentOver the past few days, the issue of the similarities between the Hamas and ISIS terrorist organizations has been in the headlines.The following points demonstrate the similarities between the two organizations:Worldview and Aspirations1. Both terrorist organizations share a global expansionist worldview which aspires to establish a caliphate: a Muslim regime ruled by Sharia (religious Muslim laws).2. Both organizations are extensions of global movements of radical Islam: Hamas is an extension of the Muslim Brotherhood while ISIS is an offshoot of al-Qaeda.The Centrality of the Use of Violence1. Both terrorist organizations view jihad (holy war) and suicide attacks as primary tools for obtaining their goals. The meaning of the name Hamas is “the Islamic Resistance Movement” (the term “resistance” is a codeword for terrorism and armed struggle).2. Both organizations have seized territory by force: Hamas took Gaza in a coup against the Palestinian Authority in 2007 and ISIS has taken control of large parts of Iraq and Syria.3. Both organizations imposed radical Islamic rule on the territories they captured, through the use of armed force and violence devoid of any red lines.4. Both organizations have executed defeated opponents: Hamas murdered members of the Fatah Movement’s Force 17 following its takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007, while ISIS indiscriminately murdered Iraqi and Syrian soldiers after they surrendered.5. Both organizations terrorize the territories they control through intimidation, threats, executions and efforts to apply the most extreme Sharia laws, including the stoning of women suspected of adultery and the execution of homosexuals. ISIS is already applying these edicts, while Hamas parliament members have prepared legislation in this spirit.6. Both organizations educate (read: brainwash) children to sanctify death and to die as a martyr (shahid) in jihad.Intentions to Commit Genocide and Mass War Crimes1. Both terrorist organizations strive to commit genocide against their opponents: Hamas has stated its intention to wipe Israel off the map and inscribed the killing of Jews in its charter, while ISIS commits systematic mass murder of populations in Iraq, including Christians, Yazidis and even fellow Muslims, especially Shiites.2. Both organizations execute people who are suspected of being close to or supporting their opponents. ISIS executes all those who are suspected of sympathizing with Assad’s regime in Syria or the Iraqi government, while Hamas executes Palestinian opponents as well as anyone suspected of having ties with Israel.Even the executions themselves are similar – a “drum-head court martial” in which masked people violently murder the victim in a public area with the intention of terrorizing the public.
From the time of Israel’s first declaration that “Hamas is ISIS” it has concurrently conducted indirect negotiations with Hamas to come to an agreement on Gaza—hardly the treatment due to a radical jihadist group. Meanwhile, on the northern border the United Nations have decamped hundreds of peacekeepers this week as the Syrian strife neared the Golan Heights. Israel may have a scrimmage ahead with ISIS, but ISIS is not Hamas.