Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has felt desperate recently with the massive popular criticism of his country’s savage war against the people of the Gaza Strip, which so far has claimed the lives of more than 2,100 Palestinians and wounded more than 10,600 others. He also has been furious over the popular support that the Gaza Strip, and Hamas, has gained. As such, he wants to find any way to demonise the Palestinian resistance movements in Gaza, mainly Hamas.
It is for this reason that he has sought to link Hamas with ISIS in the public mindset. It is a totally false connection.
Hamas is first and foremost a national liberation movement, whose members belong to the country they are fighting for. Their aim is to end the Israeli occupation, which stole their land and expelled them. Not one of its members is ambiguous or unclear about this. ISIS, on the other hand, has ambiguous goals; I do not believe that it is seeking to establish a caliphate for the simple reason that the historical precedents for this are based on justice, which is lacking in ISIS. Its members are recruited from different countries and many of them, including the leadership, have uncertain origins and history; some even have alleged links with international intelligence services.
Despite the fact that Hamas is primarily a resistance group, it has a very broad network of social welfare programmes across the Palestinian population. The movement is not known for attacking or harming its own people; when it was pushed by Arab and international bodies to participate in democratic elections it won an overwhelming majority.
The international community, as well as some Arabs and the Israeli occupation authorities, of course, have been trying to make Hamas an enemy to the Palestinians since that surprise 2006 victory. They have failed to do so and are shocked by seeing people, whose homes and properties have been destroyed by the Israelis because of the Islamic movement’s resistance operations, standing defiant and still supporting Hamas. The so-called Islamic State has none of these things; if it stood in democratic elections it might only get the votes of its members.
Although it is a religious movement, Hamas respects all faith groups and minorities. During a meeting with Hamas founder Shaikh Ahmed Yassin, I once asked him why he fights Jews. “We do not fight Jews,” he insisted. “We respect them and our fathers and grandfathers have lived with them for hundreds of years. We fight an occupier.” This is the point which was lost on the Israelis when they assassinated the wheelchair-bound paraplegic in March 2004.
Despite its alleged “Islamist” agenda, Hamas was the only Palestinian movement which supported a Christian parliamentary candidate in the 2006 elections; he was on its main list. When I asked Father Manuel Musallam, a Catholic priest in Gaza, about Hamas’s attitude towards Christians, he said that they are best friends: “Hamas’s top leaders are the first people who congratulate me on our holidays.”
ISIS has attacked religious minorities and wants to expel them from the areas it controls. They regard them as servants and, it is claimed, rape their women and slaughter them. This is what is happening with Iraqi Christians and Yazidis.
Hamas has a clear political vision for the ideology it holds. It says that its aim is the liberation of the land of Palestine in order to enable Palestinians to return to the land from which they and the families were expelled. To achieve this goal, it has offered several political and interim solutions, such as a Palestinian state on all of the lands occupied in 1967 with full sovereignty over the land, air and sea. There is no political vision for ISIS other than the establishment of a caliphate.
Almost all of Hamas leaders and more than 70 per cent of its members hold higher education degrees; most of its leaders hold doctorates in various sciences. While ISIS leaders and members claim that they are Muslim scholars, their deeds on the ground suggest very clearly that they are nothing of the kind.
The differences between Hamas and ISIS are many but appear to have escaped Benjamin Netanyahu in his political (and very cynical) opportunism. I want to conclude with just one. Hamas is supported by the majority of the world’s Sunni Muslim scholars, while it is unclear if any scholars support ISIS and believe that its ideology reflects genuine Islam. Hamas is a player on the political stage, overtly so, whereas ISIS is under a lot of suspicion about the connections of its leaders to security agencies, especially Saudi intelligence and the CIA. This is something of which not even its worst enemies have accused Hamas.
It is clear, therefore, that the claim made by Netanyahu is totally false and is nothing but a clumsy attempt to gain political capital out of nothing. The reality is obvious: Hamas is not ISIS and ISIS is not Hamas. Any suggestions to the contrary can and should be dismissed out of hand.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.