by Khaled Abu Toameh
Now almost everyone is talking about the Islamic State threats in Gaza against poets, writers and women. The leaflets mention the poets and writers by name — a move that has created panic. The leaflets also include an ultimatum to Palestinian women to abide by Islamic attire or face the Islamic State style of punishment — presumably being stoned to death.
Of course, all this is taking place while Hamas continues to insist that that the Islamic State is not operating in Gaza. Those who are taking the threats seriously are the writers and women whose names appeared in the leaflets.
Islamic State flags can already be seen at football stadiums, on windshields of vehicles, mosques, educational centers and wedding invitations.
It is also clear that if and when the Hamas regime collapses, the Gaza Strip will not fall into the lands of the less-radical Palestinians.
It is important to keep in mind that the counties in Europe now voting for a Palestinian state may effectively be paving the way for a takeover by Islamic State.
It is always dreamlike to see one Islamist terror group accuse the other of being too "lenient" when it comes to enforcing sharia laws. But it is not dreamlike when a terrorist group starts threatening writers and women.
That is what is happening these days in the Gaza Strip, where supporters of the Islamic State are accusing Hamas of failing to impose strict Islamic laws on the Palestinian population -- as if Hamas has thus far endorsed a liberal and open-minded approach toward those who violate sharia laws.
Members of Islamic State, in Gaza. (Image source: Islamic State YouTube video)
Until this week, the only topic Palestinians in the Gaza Strip were talking about was how to rebuild homes and buildings that were destroyed during the last war between Hamas and Israel.
Now, however, almost everyone is talking about the Islamic State threats against poets, writers and women.
It is no secret that the Islamic State has a presence in the Gaza Strip. According to sources there, many disgruntled members of Hamas and other radical salafi-jihadi groups have already joined the Islamic State, with some fighting together with ISIS groups in Syria and Iraq.
Earlier this year, it was revealed here that Islamic State has already begun operating inside the Gaza Strip -- much to the dismay of Hamas.
Hamas, nevertheless, continues to deny any presence of Islamic State inside the Gaza Strip. "There are no members of Islamic State in the Gaza Strip," said Eyad al-Bazam, spokesman for the Hamas-run Interior Ministry.
Many Palestinians, however, do not seem to take Hamas's denials seriously, and remain unconvinced.
Over the past few days, two separate leaflets signed by Islamic State threatened to target Palestinian poets and writers for their "wantonness" and "atheism." The leaflets mention the poets and writers by name -- a move that created panic among many Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
The leaflets also included an ultimatum to Palestinian women to abide by Islamic attire or face the Islamic State style of punishment -- presumably being stoned to death. The threat leaves one with the false impression that, under Hamas, women can wear swimming suits at the beach and walk around the streets of Gaza City in mini-skirts.
But this is what happens when one fundamentalist group believes that the other is not radical enough.
"We warn the writers and poets of their wanton sayings and atheist deeds," one of the leaflets read. "We give the apostates three days to retract their apostasy and wantonness and enter the religion of Islam anew."
The threats issued by Islamic State have drawn strong condemnations from many Palestinians. This is the first time that such threats have been made against poets and writers or women.
Although Hamas has denied any connection to the threats, Fatah officials in the West Bank were quick to accuse the Islamist movement -- which has been in control of the Gaza Strip since 2007 -- of being behind the leaflets.
Palestinian political analyst Naji Sharab explained that any attempt to deny the presence of Islamic State terrorists in the Gaza Strip was "unrealistic."
"There's no denying that Islamic State exists [in the Gaza Strip] as a small group or as individuals," he said. "The leaflets that were distributed this week could not have come from any Palestinian organization."
Palestinians point out that the two leaflets were not the only sign of the presence of Islamic State inside the Gaza Strip. They say that Islamic State flags can be seen in many parts of the Gaza Strip, especially at football stadiums and public buildings. In addition, Islamic State stickers can be seen on the windshields of many vehicles.
More recently, Palestinians say, families have begun attaching the Islamic State emblem to wedding invitations sent out to friends and relatives. Photos of Palestinians who were killed while fighting with Islamic State in Iraq and Syria appear in many places, especially mosques and educational centers.
Of course, all of this is taking place while Hamas continues to insist that the Islamic State is not operating in Gaza.
Those who are taking the threats seriously are the women and writers whose names appeared in the leaflets.
Amal Hamad, a member of the Palestinian Women's Union, expressed deep concern about the threats made by Islamic State. "We are headed toward the worst in the Gaza Strip," she complained. "We hold the Hamas security forces responsible for the leaflets of intimidation and terror." She and a large group of women in the Gaza Strip held an emergency meeting to discuss the repercussions of the threats.
Judging from reactions, it is clear that many Palestinians -- including Hamas -- are extremely worried about Islamic State's presence in the Gaza Strip. Even if the terror group still does not have many fighters in the Gaza Strip, it already has countless followers and admirers.
It is also clear that if and when the Hamas regime collapses, the Gaza Strip will not fall into the hands of less-radical Palestinians.
The Gaza Strip has already been turned into an "Islamist Emirate" that is run by Hamas and other radical groups such as Islamic Jihad.
While Islamic State may have succeeded in infiltrating the Gaza Strip, its chances of entering the West Bank are zero. This is thanks to the presence of the Israel Defense Forces [IDF] in the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority and its President Mahmoud Abbas are well aware that without the Israeli security presence in the West Bank, the area would easily fall into the hands of Hamas or Islamic State.
It is important to keep in mind that the countries in Europe now voting for a Palestinian state may effectively be paving the way for a takeover by Islamic State.
Khaled Abu Toameh
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.