The Jewish state of Israel in the Levant (JSIL) and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are different in many ways. The most fundamental difference is that the former is a recognized state and a member of the United Nations, while the latter is not recognized as a legitimate polity and is considered a political/military terrorist organization. However, the two share core characteristics that define them and by recognising these similarities observers may be able to make predictions about their futures.
Divine right to exist
As such, the Palestinian people are depicted in the official Israeli narrative as the bad people who work hard to inflict damage on the good Israeli Jews.Both JSIL and ISIS display what might be termed “self-defined righteousness.” Although Israel is a modern state, its politics and treatment of others (Palestinians) are based on religious concepts and principles that can be traced back to the first century BC and the teachings of Rabbi Hillel, someone who would be considered a fundamentalist today. He instructed Jews to have a religious and social identity separate from those of other people (tribes).
Israel introduces itself to the international community as a Jewish state and, based on this interpretation of Zionist Judaism, is a home to Jews wherever they are in the world. In other words, it is a state which includes all Jews but excludes the indigenous people of Palestine, the Palestinians. It uses its interpretation of Judaism to deny Palestinians equal rights and prevent them from accessing their lands.
ISIS believes that it is enacting God’s will and defines itself as the force to enforce the Islamic moral code, religious rituals and law (Sharia). ISIS’ interpretation of Islam goes back to Ibn Taymiyyah (1263-1328) who promoted the idea that Muslims are different from non-Muslims both in their way of life as well as in religious instruction. This notion of non-acceptance together with cultural differences led Ibn Taymiyyah’s followers to the practice of excluding others and in some cases putting them to death. This particular interpretation of Islam also means the rejection of other branches of Islam.
The form of righteousness practiced by ISIS leaders and Israeli politicians is also used to set apart the “good” people from the “bad” ones. The good are those who believe and support their respective political projects while the bad ones are those who stand against them. It is this stance that makes it permissible for Israel to inflict damage on the bad ones and reward the good. As such, the Palestinian people are depicted in the official Israeli narrative as the bad people who work hard to inflict damage on the good Israeli Jews.
Historically, the state of Israel was established on the self-proclaimed primes of the Zionist movement, that anti-Semitism and murder might surge again in the world. Thus, the resurgence of another wave of anti-Semitism will inflict another Holocaust on the world’s Jews. The Zionist movement took anti-Semitism and the Holocaust out of their historical context. In other words, the concepts were given an absolute ahistoric “religious” meaning. Consequently, the “Jews” started to become reified as an ethnic identity and Israel as a refuge for the world’s Jewry from harm.
For ISIS, one of the underlying reason for Muslims’ degeneration over the centuries is that too many people have strayed far from the fundamental principles of Islam. The role of ISIS is to establish an Islamic state ruled by the caliph. It considers itself to be the force that will revive true Islam and create a state in which all Muslims can live in under its interpretation of Islam. Similarly to Israel, where non-Jews are discriminated against, there is no place for non-Muslims to live as equal citizens in the so-called Islamic State.
Both JSIL and ISIS use the self-serving interpretation of religious texts to enact pragmatic politick. The Zionist narrative that gave birth to the state of Israel and is now its official ideology starts with the idea that the Jews are God’s chosen people and that God promised them the holy land. These two concepts of chosenness are ahistorical, unconditional, and self-limited. Thus, settler colonial expansion in Palestine beyond the 1948 borders is seen as the redemption of the biblically named Judea and Samaria for the Jewish people. Putting Palestinian communities under closure during Jewish holidays is usually disguised as a religious instruction and therefore not seen for what it is: a measure of control.
ISIS also claims it is justified in its actions; it considers itself the group fighting for God and enforcing the latter’s instructions on earth. The group’s interpretation of religious texts is based on its spiritual-political leaders’ rulings that place people into two main categories – believers in ISIS’ ideology are viewed as being on the right path for following the “correct” version of Islam while everyone else, including followers of other branches of Islam, is on the wrong path. Thus the expulsion or execution of Iraqi Christians and Yazidis in Mosul who refuse to convert or pay Jizya (a tax paid by non-Muslims) is introduced as a religious instruction that permits politically motivated discrimination.
Indiscriminate attacks on perceived “enemies”
International humanitarian law forbids parties in armed conflict from deliberately launching attacks against civilians but both Israel and ISIS carry out indiscriminate attacks against their enemies, and they cite similar justifications for such attacks, mainly operational reasons.
International humanitarian law forbids parties in armed conflict from deliberately launching attacks against civilians but both Israel and ISIS carry out indiscriminate attacks against their enemies, and they cite similar justifications for such attacks, mainly operational reasons.JSIL, like ISIS, says that engaging in conflict in residential areas makes it difficult to avoid harm to civilians. Israel, which deems itself “superior” to others, says it launches military operations to prevent harm to its own people whose lives are worth much than those of “others.” ISIS believes it is on the right path and views everyone else as living in a state of sinfulness and, according to the group, sinners deserve to be put to death. Ultimately, ISIS and Israel attack civilians as part of their strategy to dispose of the natives and remove them from their lands. As such, in their quest for control of the land they both practice ethnic cleansing under a myriad of guises.
In areas controlled by ISIS, in both Syria and Iraq, the group has carried out the mass executions of opposition militants captured by its forces and any person who assists its enemies is liable to be sentenced to death. Israel carries out a similar strategy of collective punishment against Palestinian resistance. It used it in its latest war on the Gaza Strip and during the so-called Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09. Even when Israel states that its attacks are intended to kill only resistance fighters, its bombardment of residential areas always leads to the killing of civilians. These attacks are clearly designed to target and punish the combatants’ families and homes.
During Israel’s latest war on Gaza in the summer of 2014, the Israeli army intentionally converted 40 percent of the Gaza Strip into uninhabited land. The Israeli army displaced up to 500,000 Palestinians out of their neighborhoods. This is the same tactic ISIS has been using in vast swaths in Syria and Iraq. The latest incident is the ongoing fighting in Kobane, the Kurdish city under Syrian jurisdiction, where ISIS’ shelling of the city forced the majority of its citizens to be displaced.
Displacement, collective punishment, terrorism and ethnic cleansing in the name of God are but a few similarities between the two entities. It is worth considering how the state of Israel has embraced the legend of the Maccabees, a sect of Judaism which fought other Jews and foreign powers in the name of piousness and righteousness, and how it has incorporated it within the contemporary ethos. The Maccabees were fundamentalists who used violence against their enemies, both Jewish and non-Jewish, and carried out forced conversions much as ISIS does today.
By: Samer Jaber
He is a political activist and researcher.