This year again, as every year, Israel was under attack. Only this time, a new type of assailant committed the atrocities. Some of the attacks earlier this year were inspired by ISIS, which is picking up ground within the West Bank and the Israeli Arab community. Most of the lone attackers were known to the Israeli intelligence services for their support of ISIS and even tried to reach Syria as fighters.
ISIS kept Israel out of its enemies’ list during its actions in the region, and this is the first time it claimed to attack inside Israel. This might be a new challenge to Israel and its intelligence services, which are used to the more secular Palestinian Authority dissidents and to a much-changing Hamas that is getting away from the concept of “jihad” and focusing on their social role in the Gaza Strip.
Both Hamas and Iran’s proxy, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, have been using the concept of jihad within their political agenda. Using jihad in a political context helped them amass large followers, not just in Gaza and the West Bank, but also in the Muslim world.
But is there an existing link between Islam, Jihad and Palestine?
Jerusalem, and especially al-Aqsa mosque, are central to the Islamic faith and are a special place for Muslims. The mosque was the orientation point for the first qibla (direction of prayers) and was the site of the miraculous flight whereby the Prophet traveled from Mecca to al-Aqsa mosque in a single night. This explains its use by Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad as a battle cry, starting already in the First Intifada.
Hamas and its ideologies can be traced back to the Muslim Brotherhood movement, which started in Egypt. At its inception, its main cornerstone was social impact to help the needy and poor. The Muslim Brotherhood did not have any nationalist endeavors, nor was it interested in opposing Israel.
Everything changed after the 1967 war when the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood were taken over by Ahmed Yassin’s Mujama al-Islamya. It later joined the First Intifada as Hamas. During and after the intifada, Hamas maintained a large social base and became popular among the Palestinians, helping them with their daily struggles.
On the other hand, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad that took hold in the mid-1980s, was also part of the Muslim Brotherhood, but with a different stance. It did not focus particularly on the needs of the Palestinians as a society, but on conducting violent resistance against Israel and spreading religious ideologies among the population. The main keystone of Islamic Jihad is that it stands for the Islamic ideology of holy war or jihad against the infidels. According to them, the only way to resolve the Israel-Palestine issue is through direct violent confrontations.
Other than violence, the PIJ blends its beliefs from other Palestinian nationalist movements, the Muslim Brotherhood and the teachings of Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of the Iranian revolution. Jihad for them is an eternal battle not just against Israel but against the Western world, which is being seen as the instigator of the conflict. They also see Palestine as a base to take over other Muslim lands from Westerners.
The latest rocket attacks by PIJ on Israel, after the arrest of one of their commanders, shows the rise of the organization. This also affects Hamas’s status as a security stabilizer in the Gaza Strip and its reach to a potential adaptation with Israel.
Hamas thinks twice about using violent confrontations, and sees Islamic Jihad’s growing influence as a provocation that takes “jihad” from their resistance and weakens them in the eyes of their followers. This might be a positive point for Israel if the Palestinian Authority would agree to take control of the Gaza Strip, but this does not seem to be happening anytime soon.
The involvement of Egypt’s intelligence services in the latest negotiations, after the attacks on Israel, attests to the PIJ’s rising status and the concern that the tensions between Iran and Israel will play out within Egypt’s borders.
Israel is now being attacked by a different kind of enemy that does not believe in peace but only in violence and helping Iran create chaos in the region.