Sunday,19 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1231, (29 January - 4 February 2015)
Sunday,19 August, 2018
Issue 1231, (29 January - 4 February 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Hamas is not the Islamic State

The Islamic State is a boon to Israel’s Netanyahu, who is using the terrorist group to stoke Western fears and conceal Israeli intentions, writes Sébastien Ponsford

Al-Ahram Weekly

Israel has always justified its war on the Palestinians on the basis of the right to defend itself. As early as the 1930s, when anti-colonial voices in the West were gaining resonance, the Zionist narrative shifted from an openly colonial discourse to justify its claims to Palestine, to a diametrically opposed anti-colonial rhetoric.

Zionism successfully adapted to the winds of change and began to define itself as a national force that was struggling to free itself from British imperialism and Palestinian presence in the “eternal homeland of the Jewish People.”

Security and self-defence became the central rhetorical devices on which Israel pursued its policies of home demolitions, expulsions, mass incarceration and harassment of the Palestinians, all the while largely avoiding international condemnation.

The latest massacre of Palestinians in the open-air Gaza prison has made it increasingly difficult for Likud’s right-wing coalition to use the “security” card. Although claiming to be the most moral army in the world, the Israeli military launched more than 6,000 air and artillery strikes on the densely populated and walled-off Gaza Strip. More than 2,000 Palestinians were killed, of whom 75 per cent were civilian “collateral damage.”

The 2014 Operation Protective Edge was not a surgical, precise and neatly planned effort to uproot Hamas but rather an imprecise and disproportionate bombardment. In the words of Professor Efraim Inbar, director of Bar-Ilan’s Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies, the operation was part of the Likud’s attrition strategy, to “mow the lawn” in the Strip.

The Netanyahu government has successfully framed the war as one exclusively targeting Hamas and, on a broader spectrum, Islamism. The emergence of the Islamic State (IS) group and the obsession in Western media to present the movement as a manifestation of the potential barbaric “nature” of Islam and Muslims has been a blessing for Binyamin Netanyahu and his increasingly right-wing coalition.

In his speech to the UN General Assembly in September 2014, the Israeli prime minister said that “Hamas is ISIS [the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria] and ISIS is Hamas.” Netanyahu’s conflation of these Islamic movements serves several purposes.

It first works to undermine Hamas’s Palestinian nationalist component. By equating Hamas to IS, Netanyahu is attempting to sideline, in the Western mass-media discourse, the fact that Hamas emerged at the end of the 1980s as a resistance movement to Israel’s occupation of the territories.

Unlike IS, that emerged and operates in a stateless arena, thus challenging the nation-state unit, Hamas’s military and political activities have worked along the lines of Palestinian nationalism. The movement’s territorial claims extend to no more than historic Palestine.

Describing IS and Hamas as “branches of the same poisonous tree” legitimises Israel’s attack on Gaza by framing the war as an effort to resist Islamism — both at home, in Europe and in the US. No longer fully able to present itself as the victim of Palestinian aggression, Netanyahu is benefiting from a new powerful source of legitimisation to justify the occupation and violence against Palestinians.

Adding to the “self-defence” discourse, Netanyahu and Likud are surfing the growing wave of Islamophobia in Europe and the United States to gain support for Israeli military actions. Blowing on the embers of Western paranoia around “Islamic extremism”, Netanyahu is no longer limiting the justification for attacks on Gaza to Israel’s security.

Rather, Israel’s prime minister is reframing Israel’s military operations as part of a necessary action to protect Europe and the United States from the looming “cancer” that, in his view, is about to reach the West.

In an interview with journalist Greta Van Susteren following his speech at the UN, Netanyahu marketed Israel as an effective rampart to protect the West from the geographical “expansion” of modern Islamist movements. It was an apparent effort to shore up Israel’s dwindling support after the worldwide waves of pro-Palestinian rallies in support to Gaza this summer.

Likud’s strategy to legitimise the killing of Palestinians is increasingly emphasising Israel’s position in the Middle East as an outpost of Western civilisation that is ready to invest all its energy in the protection of Western values. According to this strand of Zionist discourse, Israel does not wage war against Palestinian civilians, nor does it merely bomb Gaza for the sake of its own safety.

Its military action is framed as a part of a global struggle to contain radical Islam and uphold the beacon of democracy and human rights. In Netanyahu’s own scaremongering words, “Militant Islam is trying to … take over the world. Its number-one target is the United States … They want to destroy us so they can get to you.”

Similar to far-right movements in Europe that benefit from Islamic fundamentalism to alienate their Muslim communities, from an exclusivist idea of national identity, the Netanyahu government is co-opting and galvanising anxiety towards Islamism in the United States in order to ensure the continuing support and commitment — both political and economic — of US public opinion.

Zionism is losing the battle for legitimacy in Europe. Israel has never been so dependent on the $4 billion aid package annually disbursed to Israel for the funding of its military. By linking Hamas to IS, and arguing that the war on Gaza was part of a pre-emptive strategy to limit the spread of Islamism to the core of the “free world”, Netanyahu is taking advantage of recent events in the Islamic world and Europe to preserve international support for the “Jewish State.”

By branding Israel as a Western enclave in the Middle East, committed to the protection of its Western allies, Likud is creating a smokescreen meant to turn attention away from its continuous violation of international law and its war crimes in the Gaza Strip.

The war on Gaza has been labelled a war against Hamas and Islamism in order to align Israeli military action with Western calls for intervention in the Middle East against IS. The violence committed last summer in Gaza is, however, part of the endless Israeli effort to crush the Palestinian struggle and efforts to resist Israel’s ongoing occupation.

Israel is a state that possesses sophisticated, precise military technology. And yet it demolishes entire neighbourhoods, schools and universities and kills families trapped within the ghetto walls it built to contain them. Even if Israel’s claim to have exclusively targeted Hamas were true, the fact that they killed 2,191 civilians raises serious questions about Israel’s claims that it values and respects Palestinian lives.

Netanyahu’s strategy is to foment fear, uphold the dwindling legitimacy that his government enjoys in the West, and conceal the reality of Israel’s present objective: the collective punishment of Palestinians for their efforts to resist occupation, whether through guerrilla warfare or through their refusal to give up, continuing to live, work, study and rebuild the ruins of their destroyed ghetto.

The writer is a student of political science and Middle Eastern studies at Columbia University.

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