Most of today’s Salafist jihadist movements have no interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for the time being regarding it as irrelevant. Instead, their call is to engage in intense, bloody confrontations involving bombings, executions, and suicide attacks against governments headed by Muslims and against Muslim civilians.
Al-Qaeda has followed this course for decades, and now the Islamic State (IS) is following in al-Qaeda’s footsteps, fighting a brutal war across swathes of Iraq and Syria and in an effort to “purify” these areas through killings and population displacement. Once taking territory, it is not mobilizing the populations under its control in opposition to the Israeli military operations in Gaza. Why is this?
Some jihadists or pro-jihadist Salafists have issued video clips and tweets explaining their lack of assistance to the Palestinians. One tweet stated, “The Hamas government is apostate, and what it is doing does not constitute jihad, but rather a defense of democracy [which Salafists oppose].” Another tweet said, “Khaled Meshaal: Hamas fights for the sake of freedom and independence. The Islamic State: it fights so that all religion can be for God.” Meshaal is head of Hamas’ political bureau.
On July 22, the Egyptian Salafist sheikh Talaat Zahran declared that it is inappropriate to aid the people of Gaza because they do not follow a legitimate leadership, and because they are equivalent to Shiites since they follow them, referring to Hezbollah and Iran, with which the Sunni Hamas movement has been allied. Thus the jihadists’ position is not simply a political stance, but stems from Salafist theological principles.
Salafists believe that jihad must be performed under legitimate leadership. This argument is advanced through the “banner and commander” concept, which holds that whoever undertakes jihad must follow a commander who fulfills the criteria of religious and political leadership and has raised the banner of jihad. Given that there is neither a legitimate leader nor a Salafist-approved declaration of jihad in Palestine, fighting there is forbidden.