Radical Islamic terrorism in Paris and Jerusalem has reignited the debate in the West over terrorist motivation.
Western leaders and observers continue to condemn Islamic State’s Paris massacres unconditionally.
However, Western response to jihad in Jerusalem suffers from a moral reflex that contextualizes radical Islamic terror against Israelis while ignoring jihadis’ self-declared motivations. Western leaders, policy makers and media pundits should listen carefully to radical Islamic jihadists’ declared motivations to murder, whether in Paris, Brussels, Bamako (Mali) or Jerusalem. Jihadists share the same end: the elimination of non-Muslim sovereign states and the establishment of a Islamic caliphate anywhere Islam has ever ruled and eventually over the entire world.
The Islamic State (IS) atrocities in Paris generated a cathartic moment for “root cause” rationalists. The well planned barbarism against “La Republique” seemed to eliminate doubt in many Western circles that IS’s slaughter of French citizens defied rational explanation and deserved unconditional condemnation. US President Barack Obama told reporters during a meeting of the G20 in Turkey on November 15 that, “The killing of innocent people based on a twisted ideology is an attack not just on France, it’s an attack on the civilized world... and the universal values that we share.” The president’s response begs a larger question: Who are “we” and what “universal values” do “we” share? IS leaders warned in their public announcement taking responsibility for the attacks: “Let France and all nations following its path know that they will continue to be at the top of the target list for the Islamic State and that the scent of death will not leave their nostrils as long as they partake in the crusader campaign, as long as they dare to curse our Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him), and as long as they boast about their war against Islam in France and their strikes against Muslims in the lands of the Caliphate with their jets, which were of no avail to them in the filthy streets and alleys of Paris.”
So the jihadis have told us what the root causes of their atrocities are: France’s “crusader” war against radical Islam and its insulting of their prophet. It may baffle Westerners but it makes sense to Islamic jihadists. One of the keys to defeating Radical Islamic terrorist organizations is understanding their culture and internal logic; one must avoid superimposing Western logic and rationales.
Palestinian jihadists say that Western observers have misunderstood radical Islamic Palestinian terrorism. Westerners condemn Palestinian terrorism conditionally. They rationalize deadly assaults by superimposing Western “root causes” invariably linking Palestinian terrorism to accusations of Israeli “occupation” and settlement building. A good example of Western thinking is the extraordinary comments of former French ambassador to Israel Jacques Huntziger, who three days following the September 11, 2001 attacks differentiated between Hamas and al-Qaida terrorism during a foreign diplomatic corps event hosted by president Moshe Katzav in Jerusalem. Referring to scores of Hamas terrorist attacks including one just several days earlier, Huntziger told this writer, then a reporter for Israel’s Channel One English News, that, “We all condemn the terrorism Hamas and Islamic Jihad perpetrate here, but this terrorism is linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which must be solved. One cannot compare this conflict to the tragic events in the US. Such a comparison would be politically irresponsible. Arafat must act to stop terrorism, but this conflict must be settled.”
Huntzinger’s differentiation between jihad in the US and Israel was broadly condemned by the Israeli leadership and Knesset at the time. But it reflects the double standard that continues to characterize Western responses to radical Islamic terrorist attacks in Israel – in stark contrast to the self-declared motivations of Palestinian and other jihadists themselves, whether loyal to Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al Aksa Martyrs’ Brigades, Hezbollah, al-Qaida or IS. Palestinian terrorists have long reminded us that their motivations are religious, ideological and maximalist. They murder and terrorize not to establish a Palestinian state, but to destroy the only Jewish state.
Palestinian terrorists have restated their motivations lately.
Declarations of “Allahu Akbar” (God is the greatest) as they stabbed, shot or hacked Israeli victims have characterized virtually every Palestinian terrorist attack over the past several months in Israel, whether committed by teenage girls and boys or terrorists affiliated and directed by Hamas.
Cries of “Allahu Akbar” also characterized the terrorism of the 2000 to 2004 “al Aksa” war of terrorism in which PLO jihadists, Islamic Jihad and Hamas terrorists competed for support of the Palestinian street.
Former PLO and Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat branded the Palestinian war of terrorism the “al Aksa intifada” to unite Palestinians and mobilize international Muslim support for Palestinian jihad. Arafat had called for jihad against Israel during a visit to South Africa in 1994 as chairman of the PLO and Palestinian Authority, which was largely ignored or excused in the West.
This Palestinian context is familiar to close observers of Palestinian Islamists. It also characterizes the current spike in Islamic terrorist attacks in Israel. According to IDF intelligence, in September 2015 a Hamas leadership tweet in Arabic pronounced, “We will not rest until Palestine is free... We are not tired nor weary, and we’ll continue on the path of Jihad with the help of God.”
The distinctly radical Islamic context of the current wave of terrorist attacks in Israel and particularly in Jerusalem is not new. It began in the 1930s under Jerusalem’s first Palestinian Mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, a close ally of Hitler, whose calls to jihad against Mandate Palestine’s British administrators and Jewish residents to pave the way to a Muslim caliphate paralleled the radical Islamic creed of the Muslim Brotherhood and, some say, the Islamic State.
Palestinian jihadis and their fellow travelers in IS, al-Qaida, Jabrat al-Nusra in Syria, Iran’s IRGC and its Hezbollah proxy have convinced the Israeli public that Islamic terrorism against Israel and France stems from the same radical root and has the same extremist end: the establishment of an Islamic caliphate across the lands of the Near East.
Hamas’s charter reminds us of the popular motivation of the Palestinian struggle. Its declares, “For our struggle against the Jews is extremely wide-ranging and grave, so much so that it will need all the loyal efforts we can wield, to be followed by further steps and reinforced by successive battalions from the multifarious Arab and Islamic world, until the enemies are defeated and Allah’s victory prevails.”
Palestinian jihad in Jerusalem has won PA support, at least rhetorically. Along with Hamas PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas also claims Israel is also destroying al-Aksa Mosque.
The Netanyahu government and the Labor Party-led opposition equally reject the double standards some apply to radical Islamic terrorism. Just hours after the recent IS Paris atrocities, opposition leader Issac Herzog underscored the magnitude of the jihadi challenge, telling Israel’s Channel 2 News: “This is a struggle against terrorism.
We need to be very precise: All the nations that seek peace and liberties, the democratic nations, are facing an enormous challenge from fundamentalist, extremist, Muslim terrorism – which is IS and all its precursors, al-Qaida and so forth. Terrorism is terrorism. There’s no two ways about it.”
Islamic jihadis in Paris and Jerusalem have clearly heeded Herzog’s latest warning in both rhetoric and action. That’s why jihadis in Paris and Jerusalem must be eliminated.The author is a Fellow and project director for Political Warfare at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is also a Research Fellow at the International Institute for Counter Terrorism, IDC Herzliya, where he hosts Counter Terrorism Today on IDC International Radio.