Why Did Hamas Condemn Charlie Hebdo Attack?

Hamas has almost nothing to gain by endorsing such a brutal and bloody attack on French soil, and everything to gain by condemning it.

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Lit candles are seen on the ground during a protest against the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris outside the French Cultural Center in Gaza City, January 11, 2015.Credit: Reuters

As world condemnations of the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo weekly in Paris rolled in from around the world, a denunciation of the killings of 12 journalists at the satirical paper came from one corner that few would expect: Hamas in Gaza.

Does this mean Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, is deeply dismayed by the slaughter of editors and cartoonists who put out a magazine in which Islam and the Prophet Mohammed was a favorite target of its provocative and sometimes crude lampoons?

It seems some in Hamas movement do condemn the attack on the Paris weekly, whether out of actual disgust over the killing of people whose only weapons were their drawing pens, or because of the way the killings may only serve to tarnish Islam’s image in the West and embitter the lives of Muslims who live there. Others, however, would find it hard to summon sympathy for the victims, given the magazine’s utter disregard for Islamic sensibilities.

But perhaps most relevant, Hamas has almost nothing to gain by endorsing such a brutal and bloody attack on French soil, and everything to gain by condemning it.

In his first words following the attack, Netanyahu offered condolences to the French people, and in the next breath offered that Israel was facing the very same kinds of threats in the form of rockets being shot at Israel from Gaza.

“They bomb churches in Iraq; they slaughter tourists in Bali; they rocket civilians from Gaza; and strive to build nuclear weapons in Iranwe have to fight these enemies of our common civilization,” Netanyahu said in his Twitter feed on Friday.

This has become a regular pattern on the part of the prime minister. In Sydney in mid-December, when a self-styled sheikh of Iranian descent held people in a café hostage for hours, Netanyahu said "Israel and Australia face the same scourge of ruthless Islamist terrorism which knows no geographic bounds and targets innocent civilians indiscriminately.”

And since late last summer, when ISIS catapulted itself onto the world’s stage by slaughtering Shi'ites and Yazidis in Iraq, as well as beheading Americans and other foreign nationals, Netanyahu began arguing that ISIS and Hamas were one and the same. “There are branches of the same poisonous tree,” he argued in August, and again at the UN General Assembly in September.

But Hamas and its supporters elsewhere have refused to let Netanyahu stick an ISIS label on them, and in fact, even in Israel critics have called the analogy into question. To date, Hamas has so far limited itself to national aspirations only. It may think global, but it acts local. It hasn’t carried out known acts of terrorism beyond Israel, and has not participated, at least from any discernable account, in the global jihadist ideology that calls for the reestablishment of the caliphate.

In fact, Palestinians who find themselves unsatisfied with Hamas’ “limited” nationalist goals have sometimes left the movement for Islamic groups with a more global focus, such as Hizb Ut-Tahrir, founded by a Palestinian from a village near Haifa. And, of course, some Palestinians and even Israeli-Arabs have joined radical jihadist groups with an even more violent outlook, including the Islamic State and al Qaeda in Iraq.

"Hamas condemns the desperate attempts of Prime Minister Netanyahu to link our movement on the one side, and terrorism throughout the world on the other side These miserable attempts are doomed to fail,” Hamas said in a statement. In the Hamas release, provided in French to Agence-France Press, the group said that it “condemns the attack against Charlie Hebdo magazine and insists on the fact that differences of opinion and thought cannot justify murder."

The Hamas statement did not, however, make any mention of the attack on the Hyper Cacher supermarket on Friday, in which a man named Amedy Coulibaly killed four French Jews. A suicide mission video that surfaced on Sunday indicates that Coulibaly had sworn allegiance to the Islamic state. He had coordinated his attack with Chérif and Sad Kouachi, the brothers who carried out the attack on Charlie Hebdo, who were apparently followers of Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

Although Hamas declared victory at the end of a 50-day war with Israel last August, the truth is that after the ceasefire, Gaza woke up to a reality almost as devastating as the war. The rebuilding process is happening so slowly that it is almost like watching grass grow. On December 28th, the Gaza Power Plant was forced to suspend operations after exhausting its fuel reserves, due to a lack of funds, according the latest UN report from the Office of the Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

As a result, scheduled power outages across the Gaza Strip increased from 12 to 18 hours a day on average. Many families lack inadequate shelter or are living in war-tattered buildings. Two babies in Gaza died from exposure to cold over the frigid weekend. In short, life in Gaza is miserable, perhaps more miserable that ever before, and the last thing that Hamas needs is to associate itself with jihadists whose universal agenda is far removed from Hamas’ Palestinian one.

Hamas has been lobbying for more international legitimacy as a way to get funds to the Gaza Strip, and is worried about the slow progress on this front. There have been reports surfacing in the past week that Hamas leader Khaled Mashal was asked to leave Qatar and is seeking a new base. Hamas denies those reports. But it is clear that Qatar, once seen as a moderate country, was beginning to take on the taint of an extremist Gulf outpost because of its backing of Hamas, and seems keen to back down from that image. All of this adds up to a Hamas in which political expediency is much more attractive just now than jihadist ideology in Europe. 

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