Debris caused by air strikes are piled up in Gaza City on May 26, 2021. Photo: AFP via The Yomiuri Shimbun / Atakan Kuso

After 11 days of violent conflict of a magnitude unseen since 2014, Israel and Hamas have reached a ceasefire brokered by neighboring Egypt.

Against the backdrop of “mutual and unconditional” cessation of hostilities, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh announced “victory” while sitting in Qatar.

Celebrations were soon to follow as tens of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank took to the streets chanting in support of “the resistance.” 

Haniyeh’s proclamation and the ensuing celebration by the public might seem somewhat peculiar. After all, Israel struck a range of Hamas’ military targets, eliminated 200 militants and destroyed miles of underground tunnels designed to smuggle arms and launch guerrilla attacks.

Meanwhile, thanks largely to Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system, 90% of the roughly 4,300 rockets Hamas fired into civilian territory were intercepted – 12 Israelis were killed. 

Such rhetoric from the exiled leader Haniyeh is nothing new. Hamas always claims to win the wars it loses. 

While people tend to focus on the kinetic dimensions of conflict, they often fail to appreciate the more cognitive elements. This aspect of combat is one that terrorists have long exploited to achieve their strategic objectives. Hamas is no exception.

Hamas, an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, has been designated as a terrorist organization by much of the world. 

Hamas leader Ismail Haniya (C) leaves a hospital morgue in Gaza City on March 25, 2017. Photo: AFP via NurPhoto / Majdi Fathi

People are inclined to look at terrorism as a group. But terrorism is also a strategy: typically employed by those who lack the resources to defeat an army, destroy a city, or occupy a country.

Rather than aiming to inflict significant material damage, the terrorist attack serves to create a condition of fear, uncertainty, and helplessness that acts as a punitive, coercive force.

The ancient adage of the famous Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu, “Kill one, [to] frighten ten thousand,” encapsulates the essence of the approach. Terrorism is psychological warfare. 

The strategy is designed to fragment society, diminish the will of a population, and manipulate governments to submit to their demands. Terrorists seek to provoke an overreaction to capture media attention to gain sympathy and support from abroad. 

As Haniyeh articulated in his “victory” speech, “We have destroyed the project of coexistence with Israel, of normalization with Israel,” Haniyeh said, adding: “what is coming after this battle is not what came before it…you will yet see many [diplomatic] contacts and successes.”

Hamas seems to be claiming that it has somehow fragmented Israeli society. By exploiting the contrived narrative of Palestinians being evicted from homes and claiming Al Aqsa mosque was under attack, Hamas was indeed able to mobilize support in Gaza and beyond. 

Among the rioters were Palestinians in the West Bank -controlled by Hamas’ arch-rival Fatah – and notably, Israeli Arabs across the country who have coexisted with their Jewish counterparts for years. The Mayor of Lod was so concerned he warned of civil war

The mayor was wrong. 

On May 22, thousands of Israeli Jews and Arabs took to the streets to rally for coexistence. The demonstrators marched from Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to the Habima Theatre Square chanting “This is all of our homes,” “We stand together without hatred and without fear.” 

To clarify, the eviction of Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah was a longstanding private legal battle whereby Jews who owned the deeds to the land since the 1800s took four residents to court for not paying rent.

In any other country, such an event would have garnered little to no media attention. But Hamas saw an opportunity to stoke chaos.

Palestinian protesters run for cover from tear gas fired by Israeli security forces amid clashes at Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa mosque compound on May 10, 2021, ahead of a planned march to commemorate Israel’s takeover of Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War. Photo: AFP / Ahmad Gharabli

Moreover, the alleged storming of Al Aqsa by Israeli police was not unprovoked. Many media outlets chose to ignore that protesters first hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails at officers stationed outside, provoking them to respond with force.

Perhaps the police should have known better. After all, claiming that Al Aqsa is under attack to incite unrest has been a regular tactic of Palestinian leadership since Israel’s inception. 

Nevertheless, twisted narratives rippled far beyond the borders of Israel. Celebrities like the Daily Show host Trevor Noah fell for the trap. Trevor argued that if people want to understand who is at fault, they should merely look at the number of casualties.

Such remarks fail to capture the complexity of the situation and do little but foster hostility towards Israel. Trevor is not alone. Other celebs like Bella Hadid, Dua Lipa and Mark Ruffalo also took to openly criticizing Israel.

Perhaps more concerning were the distinct antisemitic tones struck by protestors outside Israel’s borders. 

A convoy of some six private vehicles flying Palestinian flags drove through St. John’s Wood in north London shouting: “F**k the Jews,” “F**k their daughters,” “F**k their mothers,” “Rape their daughters,” and “Free Palestine.”

While four people were arrested, their hateful sentiments likely remain unchanged. In some instances, words have turned to action, as demonstrated by pro-Palestinians in Toronto who beat an elderly Jewish man with a stick. 

Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and even Fatah have long hijacked narratives that resonate deeply with the progressive left to evoke emotional responses and rally support for their cause.

Incorrectly framing Israel as an apartheid state, when Israeli Arabs share the same rights as their Jewish counterparts and even have their own political party, is but one compelling example. Social media has only helped further proliferate such distorted narratives. 

Palestinian citizens of Israel protest in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood and around the Al Aqsa mosque compound, May 9, 2021. Photo: AFP via NurPhoto / Mati Milstein

As director of the Washington institute’s Palestine and Palestinian-Israeli Affairs program highlights, “that Palestinians and the Black Lives Matter movement gained support concurrently is not a coincidence.” Both, he claimed, “are rooted in similar anger over a lack of accountability, police brutality and systemic racism.” 

However, equating the two narratives that exist in totally divergent social and historical contexts is spurious at best. Doing so is not only manipulative but also serves to grossly undermine the plight of African American people. 

Palestinian political analyst Adnan Abu Amer told Qatari-based news outlet Al Jazeera, “despite… …comparatively causing little material damage to the Israeli side, Hamas has nevertheless inflicted a heavy blow to the image of Israel around the world.”

Aside from the misinformed celebs on social media, it’s hard to identify who exactly Abu Amer is referring to. European governments that have traditionally supported the Palestinian cause seem to have changed their tune. In an unusual public display of solidarity, Austria, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, and Germany’s ruling party ordered the Israeli flag to be flown over official buildings. 

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said that “Austria stands behind Israel,” adding there should “never be neutrality in the face of terror.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel affirmed Israel’s right to self-defense, declaring that “It is right that Israel strikes back…and strikes back hard.” French President Emmanuel Macron offered France’s “unwavering attachment” to Israel’s security. 

Foreign ministers from Greece, Germany, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic even visited the Jewish state, expressing solidarity and firmly condemning Hamas. Over in the UAE, officials warned Hamas that if they don’t stop the violence it would halt all infrastructure projects in Gaza. They went on to state “if Hamas does not commit to complete calm, it is dooming the residents of the Strip to a life of suffering.” 

China was among the few who adopted a different tone. In an open debate on the escalating tensions at the United Nations, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called for calm but singled out Israel. Wang also criticized the US, stating that “due to one country’s obstruction, the [United Nations] Security Council has so far failed to make a unanimous voice.”

But China’s remarks are likely more about discrediting the US and promoting its image as a responsible global power than about Israel.  Like many observers, China has called for a “two-state solution.” Beijing has even kindly offered to mediate talks between the two sides.

China’s President Xi Jinping (R) and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands ahead of their talks at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on March 21, 2017. Photo: AFP/ Etienne Oliveau / Pool

Israel’s ambassador to China Irit Ben Abba told Caixin that she agrees that the two-state solution is the “only feasible” option. However, Irit explained that there is no possibility to launch such negotiations, especially before the Palestinian elections. 

There is another problem that is often lost on many in the international community. Hamas doesn’t want a two-state solution, and regularly calls for the total destruction of Israel. The official Charter of Hamas is clear on its position as articulated in article 13: 

“[Peace] initiatives, the so-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement.” 

A 2019 RAND study revealed that most West Bank residents believe a two-state solution is viable, but the same cannot be said of those in Gaza where the majority back a one-state solution. Nevertheless, the Joe Biden administration has reinstated millions in aid, much of which will likely be spent purchasing more missiles. 

Peace is not in the interest of Hamas, Islamic Jihad or Fatah for that matter. The current status quo ensures that these organizations enjoy a stream of funding in international humanitarian aid.

An independent Palestine would quickly cease to be an international cause celebre. Palestine would subsequently emerge as just another third-world state with little more than a flag and a seat in the UN.

Meanwhile, terror organizations like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad will continue to propagate fear and hatred to manipulate people to back their cause, albeit at the expense of ordinary Palestinian people.

Dale Aluf is the director of research and strategy at SIGNAL, Sino Israel Global Network & Academic Leadership.

Dale Aluf

Dale Aluf is the director of research and strategy at SIGNAL (Sino Israel Global Network & Academic Leadership), a member of China’s Silk Road Think Tank Association (SRTA).