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ISIS and Israel allies against a Palestinian state

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An image speaks a thousand words – and that is presumably what Israel’s supporters hoped for with their latest ad in the New York Times.

Two photographs are presented side by side. One, titled ISIS, is the now-iconic image of a kneeling James Foley, guarded by a black-hooded executioner, awaiting his terrible fate. The other, titled Hamas, is a scene from Gaza, where a similarly masked killer stands over two victims, who cower in fear.

A headline stating “This is the face of radical Islam” tries, like the images, to equate the two organisations.

We have heard this line repeatedly from Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who tweeted “Hamas is ISIS” after the video of Foley’s beheading aired. Last week, in a speech addressed to the family of Steven Sotloff, ISIS’s latest victim, he called Hamas and ISIS “tentacles of a violent Islamist terrorism.”

Netanyahu’s depiction of Hamas and ISIS, or Islamic State, as “branches of the same poisonous tree” is a travesty of the truth.

The two have entirely different – in fact, opposed – political projects. ISIS wants to return to a supposed era of pure Islamic rule, the caliphate, when all Muslims were subject to God’s laws (sharia). Given that Muslims are now to be found in every corner of the globe, the implication is that ISIS ultimately seeks world domination.

Hamas’s goals are decidedly more modest. It was born and continues as a national liberation movement, seeking to create a Palestinian state. Its members may disagree on that state’s territorial limits but even the most ambitious expect no more than the historic borders of a Palestine that existed a few decades ago.

ISIS aims to sweep away Palestine and every other Arab state in the region.

That is the key to interpreting the very different, if equally brutal, events depicted in the two images.

ISIS killed Foley, dressed in Guantanamo-style orange jumpsuit, purely as spectacle – a graphic message to the world of its menacing agenda. Hamas’ cruelty was directed at those in Gaza who collaborate with Israel, undermining any hope of Palestinian liberation from Israel’s occupation.

The extra-judicial execution of collaborators may be ugly but it has a long tradition among resistance movements fighting asymmetrical wars. Militants among the Marxist revolutionaries of Latin America and the Catholic nationalists in Ireland, as well as the Allied resistance in Nazi Europe and the Jewish underground against the British in Palestine, had nary a Muslim in their ranks but they brutally punished those who betrayed them.

ISIS’s reported 20,000 foot soldiers have quickly taken over swaths of Iraq and Syria in a murderous and uncompromising campaign against anyone who rejects not only Islam but their specific interpretation of it.

Hamas – split between political and militant factions – has shown itself both pragmatic and accountable to the Palestinian public. It won the last national election, in 2006, and after its recent fight against Israel in Gaza is by far the most popular Palestinian movement.

Despite being in control of Gaza for eight years, it has not implemented sharia law nor targeted the enclave’s Christians. Instead it has recently formed a unity government with its secular political rivals in Fatah, and has been more than willing to negotiate with Israel.

According to reports, Hamas leader Khaled Meshal has joined Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, in demanding the most diminutive Palestinian state possible, inside the 1967 borders.

Netanyahu’s fundamentalist right wing are the ones refusing to negotiate, with either Hamas or Abbas.

In casting a popular resistance movement like Hamas as ISIS, Netanyahu has tarred all Palestinians as bloodthirsty Islamic extremists. And here we reach Israel’s real goal in equating the two groups.

Netanyahu’s comparison has a recent parallel. Immediately after the 9/11 attacks on the US, Ariel Sharon made a similar equivalence between al-Qaeda and the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Israel’s intelligence officials even called the destruction of the Twin Towers a “Hanukkah miracle”, a view echoed by Netanyahu years later when he described the attack as beneficial, adding that it had “swung American public opinion in our favour”.

All of them understood that 9/11 had reframed the debate about the Oslo-inspired debate about the Palestinians needing statehood to one about an evil axis of Middle East terror.

Sharon revelled in calling Arafat the head of an “infrastructure of terror”, justifying Israel’s crushing the uprising of the second intifada.

Similarly, Netanyahu’s efforts are designed to discredit all – not just the Islamic variety of – Palestinian resistance to Israel’s occupation. He hopes to be the silent partner to Barack Obama’s new coalition against ISIS.

Aaron David Miller, an adviser to several US administrations on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, warned in Foreign Policy last week that the rise of ISIS would pose a serious setback to Palestinian hopes of statehood – a point underscored by the far greater concerns about ISIS than the Palestinians’ plight expressed by Arab League delegates at this week’s meeting in Cairo.

How Netanyahu hopes to follow Sharon in exploiting this opportunity was on show last week, when Israeli intelligence revealed a supposed Hamas plot to launch a coup against the PA.

The interrogation of Hamas officials, however, showed only that they had prepared for the possibility of the PA’s rule ending in the West Bank, either through its collapse under Israeli pressure or through a disillusioned Abbas handing over the keys to Israel.

But talk of Hamas coups has melded with other, even wilder stories, such as the claims last week from foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman that ISIS cells had formed in the West Bank and inside Israel. Defence minister Moshe Yaalon underscored this narrative by hurriedly classifying ISIS as a “proscribed” organisation.

All this fear-mongering is designed both to further undermine the Palestinian unity government between Hamas and Fatah, and to sanction Israel’s behaviour by painting a picture, as after 9/11, of an Israel on the front line of a war against global terror.

“Israel’s demands for a continued Israeli presence [in the West Bank] and a lengthy withdrawal period will only harden further,” wrote Miller.

In reality, Israel should share common cause with Palestinian leaders, from Fatah and Hamas, against ISIS. But, as ever, Netanyahu will forgo his country’s long-term interests for a short-term gain in his relentless war to keep the Palestinians stateless.

A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.

Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His new website is

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22 Responses

  1. DaBakr on September 10, 2014, 2:32 pm

    the fact that so much ink has been spilled about this collage only confirms that power that the image conveys to the general public. and not just to a domestic American public but the image has universal appeal to anyone not fully familiar with the intricacies of regional ME conflagrations.

  2. just on September 10, 2014, 2:50 pm

    Thanks Jonathan.

    ISIS/ISIL/IS is the result of our own hegemonic actions in the region, imho.

    A total foreign policy failure. Hamas has nothing to do with ISIS, and Israel’s attempt to link them will prove a failure thanks to articles like yours.

    Hamas is resistance to an odious Occupation and Terrorism writ large by the GoI that the US gov’t supports unconditionally.

    • DaBakr on September 10, 2014, 3:52 pm

      wouldn’t go so far as saying they “have nothing to do with IS..” but its clear that Hamas was formed long ago with an agenda that is much more focused on regional power within the Palestinian resistance movement while IS is still a nebulous but interlaced with Jihadis group.
      My point is that articles ‘like this’ only appeal to those already invested in the I/P conflict while the other large % of people outside the region and or apathetic masses will understand an image long before they invest the time to educate themselves. Its not as if this ‘technique’ has not been used by the billion dollar Palestinian hasbara campaign to good effect in some cases.

      • DaBakr on September 10, 2014, 3:55 pm

        the point isn’t wether the image is true or false. its that Hamas apologists have been put to explaining the difference. PR 101

  3. ivri on September 10, 2014, 3:41 pm

    ISIS et al may be only a passing phenomenon whereas the Israel-Palestinian saga is a long term process – so Israel`s continual focus on that latter is justified. It was imperative for Israel to send a clear message to Hamas that a continual belligerent approach of it will be answered by force, to which Hamas cannot have an effective answer given Israel`s massive military superiority, and the “humanitarian shield” that Hamas banked upon, condemnations by the “international community”, cannot and will not stop Israel there.
    ISIS on the other hand is really only an internal Arab problem – just another new player, or a reconfigured old one, in an already turbulent Arab world. In the beginning, as always, you have the bravado phase which lasts until the other players, from the region and outside, formulate a response – and we are at this juncture now -and then it will be all streamlined.

  4. seafoid on September 10, 2014, 3:56 pm

    Israel’s insistence that the Palestinians are barbarians took a big hit during the last round of child killing.

    Israel runs a protection racket in Gaza and the currency of the system is massive doses of violence so nobody gets to uppity and starts looking for their rights.

    A lot of people saw that close up in July and August.
    And 95% Israel Jewish approval was the gilding of the turd .

    • just on September 10, 2014, 4:28 pm

      The nugget that nobody wants to talk about. 95-96% of Israelis approved of the massacre. Nobody in Britain’s govt allied themselves with Galloway or Trevor Hogan.

      Total silence in favor of ethnic cleansing.

      • DaBakr on September 10, 2014, 4:51 pm

        who didn’t “talk about” ? It was fairly well covered by most international media how those ‘irascible’ Israeli Jews were so ‘shockingly’ unanimous in their support of the 50 Day War. How the cabinet ‘came together’. You know, those crazy Jews who are never 96% on anything….

      • Eva Smagacz on September 11, 2014, 2:56 am


        who didn’t “talk about” ? It was fairly well covered by most international media how those ‘irascible’ Israeli Jews were so ‘shockingly’ unanimous in their support of the 50 Day War. How the cabinet ‘came together’. You know, those crazy Jews who are never 96% on anything…. – See more at:

        You will get closer to truth by loosing quotation marks…

      • PeaceThroughJustice on September 11, 2014, 11:31 am

        ” 95-96% of Israelis approved of the massacre.”

        I’m sure you know this, but it’s worth repeating: it was 95% of Israel’s Jewish population that was cheering, not the entire population. (Public polls in Israel often take it for granted that they’re only interested in what Jews think.)

  5. Jake on September 10, 2014, 4:19 pm

    Anyone really wanting peace in the region must see realize that the Palestinians have proven themselves to be reasonable, intelligent, reliable people. And that a truly just settlement with the Palestinians would strengthen the region against ISIS. But Israel wants all the land and the Palestinians gone, believing I guess that it can hold groups like ISIS off with military power. Stupid, shortsighted policy.

  6. a blah chick on September 10, 2014, 4:22 pm

    Wow, there was a time when IS couldn’t bum a cup of coffee in DC, now they’re Human Animal #1! They must have a great press agent, though I would suggest that tying them to Scottish independence is overreaching just bit.

    Fortunately I gave up network news after 9/11, so I have been spared daily doses of what the evil IS people will do once they have captured America. I’m sure that Fox has been filled with lurid descriptions of decapitated heroes and ravished virgins as the IS flag is raised over the White House. Though if it’s heroes and virgins they’re after I would suggest somewhere else than DC.

    • bilal a on September 10, 2014, 6:08 pm

      Even if was not staged, it shows a high degree of video production sophistication, and was distributed over an Israeli front’s IP address.

      Not to mention the superfluous “Cui Bono” argument, and the fact that ISIS operates along Golan and supplies oil to Israel.

      • DaBakr on September 12, 2014, 7:51 am

        great logic. this is why the two allies were not able to ‘get together’ and solve the Sotloff hostage issue and Israel went to extremes to hide his Israeli and Jewish identity for a long time previous to his murder. Why didn’t some other brilliant mind come up with this theory of Israeli/IS alliance before the guy was bought by IS and beheaded. I guess all the ‘imbedded’ mossad agents in IS didn’t want to blow their ‘deep cover’.

        So…just a quick tally of things Israel is responsible for according to many on MW:

        a) planning a genocide of the Palestinian Arabs from before 1948

        b) Starting every war ever fought with Arab neighbors.

        c)causing almost every American FP failure since at least the end if the VN war.

        d)Controlling the mass media

        e)running the worlds banking system to enrich Jews at the expense of all others

        f) taking on the attributes of the last nation that tried to obliterate them by emulating Nazis (even
        though many other Europeans were willing to help Germany accomplish its goal.)

        g)being in on and/or planning the 9-11 attack

        h)urging the Bush admin to attack Iraq even though almost all Israeli FP experts advised the US to
        attack Iran if they had to attack anybody

        and the lastest…….Creating IS (but of course it requires a twisted path through history starting with the Saudi royal regime and its support of Wahabbi’s…..really an Israeli area of expertise.

        please feel free to add any i left out.

        and as for “the bibi comparison”? If Hamas executed 5, 15 or 50 collaborators there still would be no comparison as Israel does no execute its own ‘collaborators’ be they nuclear spies, Jewish radicals or Hostile citizens. The most they will suffer is life and more often 25yrs or less in a reasonably comfortable Israeli jail.

      • W.Jones on September 13, 2014, 11:48 pm


        As for the last point, who was prisoner X and how did he die?

  7. seafoid on September 10, 2014, 4:25 pm

    The other thing about the stupid Bibi comparison is that Hamas executed maybe 15 collaborators while Israel blew up more than that number of whole families.
    But you won’t hear that in Israel. So many key points never make it into the discourse in Hebrew.

  8. DICKERSON3870 on September 10, 2014, 4:47 pm

    RE: “Netanyahu’s depiction of Hamas and ISIS, or Islamic State, as “branches of the same poisonous tree” is a travesty of the truth.” ~ Jonathan Cook


    ~ ~ ~ The Dr. Joseph Goebbels Centre for the Advancement of the Propaganda Arts ~ ~ ~

    ■ Our Mission Statement: “A travesty of the truth can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

    ■ Our Inspiration:
    Official portrait of Dr. Goebbels as the Minister of Propaganda
    • Dr. Goebbels speaking at a political rally against the Lausanne Conference (1932)
    The Goebbels family. In this vintage manipulated image, Goebbels’ stepson Harald Quandt (who was absent due to military duty) was added to the group portrait.
    • Dr. Goebbels’ on the appropriate role of the press/media.
    • Dr. Goebbels’ incredibly timely prophecy!

  9. Binyamin in Orangeburg on September 10, 2014, 6:23 pm

    The Haganah conducted a “drumhead court martial”, i.e. a kangaroo court, and then shot a Jew they believed had collaborated with the Arabs during the 1948 war.
    Here’s the link:'eri#Tobianski_drumhead_court_martial
    Before the war, the Haganah also murdered Jacob Israël de Haan, a Haredi leader, for secretly meeting with Arab leaders and opposing the founding of a Zionist state.

    The Lehi, a terrorist splinter group, was even more ruthless. Of 42 assassinations it carried out, more than half of those killed were Jews deemed to be collaborators.

    • lyn117 on September 12, 2014, 6:23 pm

      Not to mention the assassination of Folke Bernadotte, who had helped rescue many Jews during and after WWII.

  10. Martin Edwin Andersen on September 11, 2014, 11:03 pm

    For a new, realistic and fair paradigm, focusing on the indigeneity of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, see “Pyrrhic victories and glass houses: the Palestinians, the Jewish State of Israel, and the Wobbly Ceasefire” @

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