After Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu recently equated Hamas with Islamic State, senior Hamas members immediately went on the defensive.
Qatar-based Hamas political chief Khaled Mashaal claimed that Islamic State is a “religious, violent group” that is a “totally different phenomenon” from Hamas. And in a rare English Facebook post, senior Hamas official Izzat al-Risheq said that “the attempt by Netanyahu and his spokesman Ofir Gendelman to link Hamas and compare us with other groups is a deception and a disinformation campaign that will not fool anyone.”
There was something to the claim made by both Mashaal and al-Risheq that, unlike Islamic State, al-Qaida, and other global jihad groups, Hamas’s goals are more “modest” – though no less despicable. Hamas fancies itself as a nationalist resistance movement committed to the goal of destroying the State of Israel and replacing the Jewish state with a caliphate run in accordance with medieval Islamic law – but its charter commits it to do so by eliminating the world’s Jews.
Still, like members of its mother organization the Muslim Brotherhood – and like members of Islamic State – Hamas officials such as al-Risheq and Mashaal certainly identify with the broader ambition of spreading Islamic hegemony throughout the region, to the Iberian Peninsula and beyond.
But when Mashaal attempted to claim that, unlike Islamic State, Hamas does not target civilians, he was engaging in base subterfuge. The 147 Hamas suicide bombers sent into Israel to blow themselves up on public buses, at discotheques, at wedding halls, at hotels, in markets, at restaurants, and shopping malls between 2000 and 2010 purposely targeted civilians. Most of these suicide bombings took place inside the Green Line, a fact which renders meaningless Mashaal’s distinction between “settlers and soldiers” – who are considered legitimate targets by the terrorists – and Israeli “civilians.”
Mashaal sounded no less mendacious when he claimed the only reason Hamas rockets and mortar shells like the one that killed four-year-old Daniel Tragerman of Kibbutz Nachal Oz on Friday hit civilian centers is because Hamas lacks “sophisticated weapons.” Mashaal went on to declare, “We promise that if we get more precise weapons, we will only target military targets.” This is the sort of promise best left untested, preferably by the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip.
Like any political movement based on a totalitarian ideology, the same rationale that justifies egregious violence against a perceived enemy is ultimately turned against itself.
This phenomenon was on brutal display last week when Hamas summarily executed 18 Palestinians who had purportedly collaborated with Israel.
After Friday prayers, as masses of men and boys cheered and clamored for a better view, masked Hamas gunmen in matching black T-shirts and pants paraded seven men suspected of “collaborating” with Israel, handcuffed and hooded, and executed them.
On Saturday, four additional “collaborators” were shot dead in a mosque courtyard in Jabaliya in northern Gaza as dozens of onlookers watched.
The same terrorizing tactics used against “the Zionist entity” are now being leveled against Palestinians who dare to criticize Hamas’s rule. Palestinians are rightly outraged, though only those living outside Gaza can speak their mind.
Tayeb Abdel Rahim, the secretary-general of the Palestinian Authority presidency, condemned the Hamas-ordered “random executions” and called the tactics unlawful and offensive “to our people and our families,” adding that they were not within the scope of the law.
Abdel Rahim also condemned Hamas’s terrorizing of Fatah members living in Gaza. A number of them were shot in the legs, purportedly for violating their house arrest or for daring to urge Hamas to accept a cease-fire with Israel.
Are Hamas and Islamic State equivalent? The similarities shared by the two terrorist organizations outstrip the differences.
Both organizations use violence and terrorism indiscriminately.
Both seek to reinstate a medieval caliphate that persecutes religious minorities and women. Both are made up of religious fanatics who share a blind faith. Their militant followers are capable of committing the worst atrocities with the absolute conviction that their actions are condoned by the highest moral authority.
Mashaal, al-Risheq, and other Hamas leaders might try to hide behind the claim that they are freedom fighters struggling against the “occupation.” But no underlying causes – whether they be Western imperialism, American capitalism, or Zionist occupation – can justify the sorts of crimes Hamas or Islamic State commit against both their enemies and their own people.