Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Islamic State (ISIS) And Palestine - Rhetoric vs. Reality - R. Green

by R. Green

Despite the Slaughter the Jews campaign, which has been aimed primarily at the Palestinians, and its impact, it should be stressed that the Palestinian cause is not a major issue to ISIS. 

The Islamic State's (ISIS) extensive information campaign, titled "Slaughter the Jews,"[1] that it recently launched in the wake of the recent wave of violent events in Israel and the Palestinian territories has had numerous reverberations. The campaign includes all the elements familiar from previous ISIS campaigns, including copious use of social media to encourage terror attacks, and videos featuring armed activists making threats and urging intensification and escalation of attacks. This ISIS campaign and the threats it has included have been covered extensively by media in the West and Israel, with excessive focus on threats to Israel and the Jews and on the campaign's colorful details, such as the fact that two of the activists in the videos issued their threats in Hebrew. This campaign, and the events of the past few months in general, have again raised the question of ISIS's view of the Palestinian issue and the war on Israel.

Despite the Slaughter the Jews campaign, which has been aimed primarily at the Palestinians, and its impact, it should be stressed that the Palestinian cause is not a major issue to ISIS. Unlike many Arab and Islamic movements and organizations for whom the liberation of Palestine, Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa mosque, and the fight against Israel head their priorities, or who at least claim this to be the case, ISIS perceives them as long term goals. ISIS's top priority is fighting what it considers to be Islam's internal enemies – the Shi'ites and the secular regimes. It sees conquering Baghdad, Damascus, Cairo, and Mecca as taking precedence over liberating Jerusalem.

Additionally, the idea of a Palestinian state goes completely against ISIS's religious and ideological idea; its vision is based on the establishment of a caliphate that is not subject to the modern geopolitical limitations, and under which there is no place for separate states. It also rejects outright democratic principles and any adherence to the international community's rules that the Palestinian movements, including the Islamic ones, have accepted. 

ISIS is highly capable of quickly launching an information campaign comprising videos produced by its official media wings, videos and informational material created by its unofficial media bodies, and very extensive discourse via social media, and this is what it has done in this case as well.[2] Therefore, despite the scope of this particular campaign, it should not be viewed as indicative of a significant shift in ISIS's focus or priorities.

To clarify: ISIS is not disregarding the Palestinian cause; it recognizes its importance for the Arab and Islamic world, and exploits it, as do other regimes, organizations, and movements, as an element in its arsenal of informational tools and as a means of recruiting supporters. Furthermore, it is riding the wave of media attention it gained with its threats of attacks against Israel in order to strike at its main rival in the Palestinian arena – that is, Hamas.

ISIS has no real organized presence among the Palestinians in either the Gaza Strip or the West Bank. Most of its manpower is directed to the Sinai, and to the combat arenas in Syria and Iraq, where training and fighting take place. The ISIS activists in the Gaza Strip are tasked with promoting ISIS's information enterprise and helping spread its ideology among the population there. 

ISIS's Leadership Devotes No Special Attention To Palestine

A look at statements by ISIS's leadership shows the organization's relatively low ranking of the Palestinian cause. In their speeches, ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi and its spokesman Abu Muhammad Al-'Adnani, the only top leaders who speak for the organization, barely mention it in their speeches. In his first address as caliph, in July 2014, Al-Baghdadi included Palestine in a long list of locations where Muslims are suffering and oppressed, but made no special reference to it.[3] In his most recent speech, released in May 2015, he mentioned Palestine not as an issue per se but only as a taunt to the Saudis; the speech itself rebuked the Saudi royal family and stated that Saudi Arabia had done nothing for the Palestinians. In that speech, he refers to the "Jews" as allies of the Christian "Crusaders," that is, the Western forces, and even as the instigators of the Western aggression against the Islamic world – a standard element of jihadi rhetoric, the most well-known example being Osama bin Laden's 1998 declaration of "jihad against the Jews and the Crusaders." Referring to his men in the Sinai, he takes care to praise them for threatening the "Jews," that is, Israel.[4] 

ISIS spokesman Al-'Adnani also has not specifically referred to the Palestinians in his speeches, aside from a mention of Palestine in a long list of countries where Muslims are under attack. Furthermore, in an address released in early October 2015, following the outbreak of the current violence and the headlines about the Palestinians that it garnered, he mentioned the Palestinians not at all.[5] This omission was harshly criticized by ISIS's Islamist opponents.[6] 

ISIS activists in Syria: "We will only defeat the Jews by purging the country of its Arab rulers"

ISIS Leader Al-Baghdadi Is Absent From The Videos In "Slaughter The Jews" Campaign

One feature of ISIS videos is the underlining of points and honing of messages by the use of audio segments from past speeches by leaders of ISIS and its precursor groups, as well as from speeches by deceased jihadi leaders, including from Al-Qaeda, who never criticized ISIS. However, the video series of the "Slaughter the Jews" campaign includes barely any audio statements by actual ISIS leaders, and none by Al-Baghdadi himself – though statements by Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda commander Abu Laith Al-Libi are featured. Statements by ISIS spokesman Al-'Adnani are included, but these are merely are non-specific calls for terror attacks in general, not for war on Israel. 

Two videos in the "Slaughter the Jews" series, one produced by ISIS's Al-Furat province (which covers the cities of Albu Kammal and Al-Qa'im) and one by its Al-Raqqa province, present audio statements from 2008 and 2009 speeches, respectively, by the head of the ISIS precursor group Islamic State of Iraq, Abu Omar Al-Baghdadi. 

Another video in the series includes audio of Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi, founder of the ISIS precursor Tawhid and Jihad, saying: "We fight in Iraq and our eyes are set on Bait Al-Maqdis [Jerusalem], which will be resored only by means of the guiding Koran and the victorious sword."[7] This particular statement has become a slogan for jihadis everywhere and sums up their view, i.e., while at this time we are not fighting Israel and are not actively working to liberate Jerusalem and its holy sites, we are still focused on that goal, and will liberate it according to our faith and principles – that is, we will act in accordance with the pure Salafi Islam and by means of a jihad war.[8] Many ISIS activists appearing in the videos also reiterated this, passionately promising the Palestinians, while pointing at their eyes to indicate sincerity, that ISIS has not abandoned them. 

ISIS fighter delivers threatening message in Hebrew and brandishes a knife in a video produced by the Damascus Province as part of the "Slaughter the Jews" campaign

The Main Thrust Of The Videos In The "Slaughter The Jews" Campaign: Anti-Hamas Rhetoric

Along with the calls and the encouragement to continue and step up the attacks, a large number, perhaps even a majority, of the videos in the "Slaughter the Jews" campaign are devoted to ISIS's ideological dispute with Hamas, and, to a lesser extent, with the PLO; these two movements control the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority, respectively, and vie with each other for support among the Palestinians. In the videos, ISIS repeatedly attacks both movements; this reflects its need to counter accusations about its inaction on the Palestinian issue and in the fight against Israel. 

A video produced by the ISIS province of Al-Barakah in Syria (Al-Hasaka) featured one Abu Osama Al-Falistini directly addressing the criticism of ISIS for its noninvolvement in the Palestinian issue. He hinted that the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, which he said is preventing attacks against Israel from being launched from there, was to blame for this: "Why don't the caliphate soldiers come to liberate Palestine? Why are the mujahideen leaving Palestine, the land of jihad, to begin with? We say to them [i.e. the critics]: We have only left [Palestine] because of the barrier between us and jihad there, and because of the barrier between us and the Jews. Those who are in Palestine know this."[9]

A video by ISIS's Al-Raqqa province featured an ISIS member from Gaza, Abu Annas Al-Ghazawi, saying: "This nationalist belief that inspires some fighters in Bait Al-Maqdis [i.e. Jerusalem, that is, all of Palestine] is part of the occupation carried out by the Jews. They have conquered the people's minds and inserted into them this failed and false belief – the nationalist belief in which loyalty is based on nationalism and on borders set by Sykes and Picot. This belief is part of the Jewish invasion of our people in Bait Al-Maqdis. 

"We [declare] before Allah that we are innocent of this failed nationalist belief. We believe that these nationalist organizations, that champion nationalist loyalty, that die for the nation, and that call themselves national liberation movements, are infidel cults, and their belief is unconnected to Islam, because a Muslim's faith is based on tawhid [the Islamic concept of monotheism]... Our men in Bait Al-Maqdis would do better to fight a jihad war based on this belief [i.e. tawhid]."[10] 

ISIS member Abu Al-Bara' Al-Shami stressed that jihad must be pure, and harshly attacked Hamas for turning to democracy and for failing to implement shari'a law: "The real thing is this religion, which can only be established by means of pure jihad for the sake of Allah, in order to make His word supreme, and to institute His laws rather than the laws of treacherous arrogant parties that have strayed from the path... Do you not see how Hamas, which speaks of nothing but liberation and resistance, ran for election on these slogans to attract your hearts and to fill the ballot boxes with your votes [for it]? Its wish came true, and then the mask came off; it attained its desire and seized power and ruled the Muslims not according to their shari'a; it hobbled them, and it fought anyone who called for implementing the shari'a [i.e. Salafi-jihadis], and called for [restoring] the glory of the caliphate [a reference to ISIS supporters]. 

"At the same time, [Hamas] shamelessly embraced the Zoroastrians [pejorative for Iranian Shi'ites] who invaded the land. They fought the shari'a, but welcomed the spread of the Shi'a [in the Gaza Strip], and, as is their custom, claim that this is all for the sake of the [Palestinian] cause. Their self-righteousness is like the chastity of a whore with nine bastard sons."[11]

Palestinian ISIS activists in Syria with a sign reading: "Oh our men in Gaza – by Allah, there is an enemy preventing us from coming to your aid." (Source:, June 7, 2015)

ISIS In Sinai To Palestinians: "We Have Not Forgotten You"

One final note about ISIS's Sinai Province: Situated at Israel's border, it is one of ISIS's most formidable extensions. In ISIS's view, the Sinai Province is its spearhead in the war against Israel, as conveyed by Al-Baghdadi himself in his May 2015 speech: "We ask Allah the Glorified to allow us to see you in Bait Al-Maqdis [Jerusalem] very soon."[12] 

However, since July 2013, the jihadis in the Sinai are completely dedicated to their jihad against the government of Egypt,[13] to the point that in the Sinai Province's video for the "Slaughter the Jews" campaign, its spokesman, Abu Osama Al-Masri, felt compelled to promise the Palestinians: "Oh Muslims in Bait Al-Maqdis, we in Sinai have not forgotten you... The banners of the caliphate shall reach you." He too accused Hamas of preventing ISIS from fighting Israel: "You are standing between us and them [the Israelis]! You have dug trenches between us and them. You are protecting your allies, the Jews."[14] 

Another recent video[15] by ISIS's Sinai Province specifically threatened the Egyptian military; the ISIS fighter appearing in it also stressed that his organization has not abandoned the fight against Israel and threatened: "As for you Jews, you people of the gharqad tree, know that the time has drawn near. Do not think for a second that our war with your apostate lackeys will keep us away from you for much longer. We shall renew our punishment operations, like the one at Umm Al-Rashrash [Eilat, in August 2011], very soon. You will regret everything that you did to the Muslims. 

"We have a meeting with the rocks and the trees. The time has drawn near for them to call to us and say: 'Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me. Come and kill him.' The [Jews] think that this day is far away, but we know that it will come soon. When the day comes, you will be surprised to see that the nation that you have tried for decades to make disappear has arisen to fight you, in order to eradicate you." 

To be sure, such threats should be taken with all seriousness. Yet the context of the threat is noteworthy: It came at the very end of a video in which ISIS lashed out at the Egyptian military and vowed revenge for its operations against it; it promises vengeance against the Egyptian military in the near future, whereas with regard to "the Jews," the speaker invokes the hadith about Jews hiding behind trees and stones, which will take place on Judgment Day. 

Abu Osama Al-Masri, prominent figure in ISIS's Sinai Province

* R. Green is a research fellow at MEMRI


[2] Other examples of recent coordinated campaigns by ISIS's propaganda machine include a campaign against Muslim emigration to Europe in light of the refugee crisis, and a campaign calling on Somali jihadi members of Al-Shaba Al-Mujahideen to join ISIS.

[6] See, for example, tweet by Salafi cleric Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi., October 15, 2015.

[7] The comments were featured in a video posted on jihadi message boards. Al-Jazeera, April 26, 2006.

[8] The expression "the guiding Koran and the victorious sword" that Zarqawi cited is taken from the writings of 14th century Islamic thinker Ibn Taymiyyah. By quoting him in this context, Al-Zarqawi means that Jerusalem will be liberated by a jihadi organization that operates on the basis of a pure Salafi-jihadi ideology, thereby rejecting the attitude of Arab nation states, secular nationalist movements such as the PLO, and the Muslim Brotherhood and particularly its Palestinian branch Hamas.

[9], October 19, 2015.

[10], October 20, 2015.

[11], October 20, 2015.

[12] For an in-depth look at how ISIS views its Sinai Province, see MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1201, ISIS In Sinai Increases Military, Propaganda Pressure On Egypt, November 8, 2015. For Al-Baghdadi’s speech, see MEMRI JTTM, In New Audio Speech, Islamic State (ISIS) Leader Al-Baghdadi Issues Call To Arms To All Muslims, May 14, 2015.

R. Green is a research fellow at MEMRI


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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