Palestine Pulse

How the Islamic State is looking to capitalize on Israeli-Palestinian unrest

Article Summary
The Islamic State's recent threats against Israel could be designed just to gain support among Palestinians.

It appears the Islamic State (IS) is trying to take advantage of the popular uprising against Israel to woo more Palestinians to join its ranks. In a video released Oct. 23, IS warned it would soon be “beheading the Jews." IS is showing interest in entering the Palestinian scene and has called on Palestinians to carry out more stabbings against Israelis. IS seems to be targeting Palestinians who feel Hamas is not acting aggressively enough.

Abu Mutasim, a pseudonym for an IS supporter in the Gaza Strip, told Al-Monitor, “The uprising taking place in Palestine is a good opportunity for IS to enter the Palestinian arena and confront the Jews, because they are damaging our shrines at Al-Aqsa Mosque, despite any differences between IS and the rest of the Palestinian movements. The IS threat could be implemented in the upcoming period, through armed operations carried out by its members against the Jews, inside or outside occupied Palestine.”

Ibrahim al-Madhoun, a Palestinian author close to Hamas and editor-in-chief at Seraj, a local Palestinian news agency, told Al-Monitor that IS’ statements "encourage the uprising and call on Palestinians to break up with Hamas."

"Yet Hamas is smarter than to get involved in a media rivalry against IS, because it has focused on its struggle against Israel. This is while IS considers that hostility against Hamas is an introduction to confront Israel. This is why, through its recent videos, [IS] is attempting to attract Hamas members to its ranks, as it is the largest Palestinian armed faction that is active on the ground. Its attempt is, however, a failure.”

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There are no accurate statistics on the number of Palestinians who have joined IS and traveled to fight within its ranks in Syria and Iraq. Yet, it is clear that the number of Palestinians killed while fighting for IS has increased since the US-led coalition started to raid IS strongholds in Iraq and Syria in September 2014.

Most recent among these deaths is that of Khalil Najjar of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. He was killed Oct. 17 during clashes with armed militias in Beiji, Iraq. His death was preceded by the killing of Saed Yahia of Jenin, in the northern West Bank, in an Aug. 19 raid by the US-led coalition on an IS stronghold in northern Syria.

Some Palestinians killed appear to have held high positions within IS, especially those who were part of Palestinian military wings before joining IS. One such person was Abdullah al-Jamal, one of the former cadres of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, who was killed Aug. 28 in Iraq in IS battles; another is Issa al-Qatta, also a former al-Qassam Brigades member, who appeared in a July 5 video threatening Hamas.

The Oct. 23 video in which IS threatens to behead Jews came immediately after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of joining Hamas and IS on Oct. 20. The accusation came after Abbas, in accusing Israel of changing the status quo at Al-Aqsa Mosque, used the same religious rhetoric adopted by both Hamas and IS.

That video might mark the first time since IS was formed in April 2013 that the group has threatened Israel, as IS leaders believed the fight against Arab regimes, infidels and the Shiites had to come first.

The armed masked man in the video was not wearing the yellow uniform that IS usually wears with a black banner as a background. He spoke Hebrew with the accent of a Western Ashkenazi Jew, which indicates he probably has Israeli citizenship or lives in Israel.

Walla, an Israeli news website, said Oct. 26 that more than 50 Arab citizens of Israel have joined IS.

Rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel during the current uprising, most recently on Oct. 26. The Omar Hadid Brigade of the Salafist Aknaf Bayt al-Maqdis battalion, which is close to IS, claimed responsibility for most of them. That action goes against the wishes of Hamas and Palestinian factions to preserve Gaza as a quiet front with Israel.

It seems Palestinians are preoccupied with the popular uprising against the Israeli occupation more than ever. They want to preserve it as a Palestinian national and local uprising that is not involved in regional and international developments in order to throw international support behind it. At the same time, they are aware that IS involvement in the uprising could obstruct its goals and allow Israel to successfully characterize it and its operations as being similar to what IS is doing. Israel could claim it is fighting IS within its borders, just as the international community is fighting it abroad. This will prompt Palestinians to not welcome IS involvement, without declaring it explicitly.

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Found in: palestinian uprising, mahmoud abbas, izz ad-din al-qassam brigades, is, hamas, gaza strip, al-aqsa mosque

Adnan Abu Amer heads the Political Science and Media Department of Umma University Open Education in Gaza, where he lectures on the history of the Palestinian cause, national security and Israel studies. He holds a doctorate in political history from Damascus University and has published a number of books on the contemporary history of the Palestinian cause and the Arab-Israeli conflict. He also works as a researcher and translator for a number of Arab and Western research centers and writes regularly for a number of Arab newspapers and magazines.

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