Opinions published in The Markaz Review reflect the perspective of their authors and do not necessarily represent TMR.
The writer is a physician and journalist with experience in Iraq and other war zones. He argues that Hamas and ISIS cannot be compared.
I will never forget the eerie jet black clouds engulfing Nineveh when its oil fields were ignited by ISIS, signifying the beginning of the final wave to liberate Iraq from their domination. It was daytime, but the darkness from the smoke created a foreboding sense of gloom. I was a freelance journalist at the time as well as a volunteer doctor. I can recount each waking moment I spent in Mosul, either listening to the harrowing stories of Iraqis living under ISIS’s brutal control, or tending to the often ruthless wounds sustained by their innocent victims.
And so the more I hear Israel comparing its assault on Gaza to the war on ISIS, the clearer Israel’s disinformation campaign becomes.
The images from Israel’s attack on Palestinians are now forever etched into our memory. They have been nothing short of brutal, gruesome and horrific. With the death toll rising into the tens of thousands of innocent Gazans, the majority of whom are children, the destruction of entire hospitals and an ongoing blockade against aid, it is becoming increasingly evident that the Israeli army’s claim of being “the most moral army in the world” is mere rhetoric.
Throughout its unrelenting attack on Palestine, the Israeli government has constantly attempted to draw parallels between ISIS and Hamas, despite the two being incomparable. From Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stating, “Hamas is ISIS, and just as ISIS was crushed, so too will Hamas,” to the promotion of a hashtag on social media sites reiterating that claim (#HamasisISIS) and Youtube ads (targeting western children) also making the parallel explicit. The attempted association between the two is a concerted effort to make the siege on Gaza somewhat more palatable and justifiable to a Western audience, despite such a vicious siege never being deployed against ISIS-held Mosul.
As ISIS was deemed a worldwide threat, with attacks in London, Paris, the U.S. and elsewhere, a global coalition was set up — garnering vast international support — to destroy ISIS. Israel has preyed on this fear of international terrorism to justify its obliteration of Gaza, along with its civilian inhabitants. ISIS, however, was a transnational organization founded on the ideology of takfirism (advocating the killing of anyone who disagrees with your beliefs) versus Hamas, which was created to be a Palestinian nationalist resistance movement. Its means of resistance has landed itself on terrorists lists worldwide and any loss or targeting of innocent life is deplorable, however, the threat Hamas poses is not the same global threat of ISIS. So unlike what Netanyahu wants the world to believe, Europe will not “be next.”
But, let us — for a moment — play along with Israel’s comparisons. Mark Regev, a senior advisor to Netanyahu last month stated, “to get ISIS out of Mosul, there were civilian casualties.” And indeed, there were.
Having been present in Iraq during the war against ISIS as a volunteer MD and freelance journalist, I witnessed first-hand the liberation attempts as well as ISIS’s brutal tactics. If Israel wants to compare the current war in Gaza to the liberation of Mosul from ISIS control, then we should do just that.
Both regions have a similar population size. Prior to the war starting, the Gaza strip had a population of 2.2 million (most of whom are children under the age of 18) and Mosul has a population of around 1.8 million. Much like Gaza, Mosul too is a densely populated city, with some almost-impenetrable neighborhoods. Although just one civilian death is too many, in the 18 months of fighting it took to finally liberate Mosul, between 1,000 and 3,200 civilians were sadly killed by coalition forces. In comparison, as of this writing, 13,300 Palestinian civilians have been killed by Israeli forces in only six weeks. Whole families have been wiped from the civil registry. Not to mention the infrastructural devastation — rendering much of north Gaza uninhabitable — due to the viciousness of the air campaign.
Israel has killed more Palestinians in Gaza in the past few weeks than Palestinians have killed Israelis since 2008, according to UN statistics.
The stark difference between Gaza and Mosul is that the Iraqi special forces seemed to place some value on Iraqi life, whereas the Israeli forces lack any concern for Palestinian life, as made clear by the Israeli defense minister, Yoav Gallant’s, reference to Palestinians as “human animals.”
Iraqi security forces also set up humanitarian corridors to allow the safe passage of innocent civilians out of Mosul prior to and throughout the campaign in Mosul. We witnessed convoy after convoy of civilians braving the harsh route through the Nineveh plains to reach IDP camps set up via an array of international charities. On arrival, I saw Mosul civilians finally celebrating a breath of freedom. But despite fleeing their homes, they were guaranteed that they would be allowed to return to their homes if they garnered security clearance.
In contrast, however, no such escape route is available in Gaza. All access in and out of Gaza has been closed off by both Israel and Egypt. All civilians have been stuck inside a strip that is less than a third of the size of the City of Los Angeles and that is increasingly referred to as a concentration camp. Even the humanitarian corridors within Gaza’s confines that were alleged by Israel to be safe evacuation routes have been attacked.
Israel has often claimed that the reason the civilian death toll in Gaza is so high is because Hamas has prevented civilians from leaving their homes. No Palestinian has confirmed this claim, despite multiple journalists being present in Gaza. In Mosul, on the other hand, civilians were actually, sometimes even at gunpoint, stopped from fleeing for safety by ISIS.
With disturbing echoes of the first Palestinian Nakba (or great catastrophe) of 1948, there has been no guarantee that any displaced Palestinian in Gaza will ever be able to return. Even if they eventually can, what would they be returning to? Over 60% and counting of all residential units in Gaza have been destroyed, not to mention schools and hospitals.
In what can only be described as collective punishment, the Israeli government has disturbingly weaponized civilian infrastructure and cut off water and electricity to the strip — which also gives the lie to the claim that Israel stopped its occupation of Gaza when it formally withdrew in 2005.
The restriction of water and electricity was deemed a war crime by EU president Ursula von der Leyen when Russia did similar in Ukraine, but now that Israel is doing it, it is supported by Western politicians. The U.S. led coalition in Iraq never resorted to such collective punishment against the people of Mosul, and access to water was deemed paramount to civilian life. Perhaps it is more apt to consider that it was in fact ISIS that weaponized water and cut off its supply to Mosul’s civilians.
The provision of water became essential to helping the city’s civilians survive. As a doctor working in the IDP (internally displaced persons’) camps outside Mosul, I had access to basic medications, treatment and importantly, clean water. We medical staff had to spend the nights either in tents or sleeping in our cars, but at no point were we worried about coalition airstrikes targeting these safe areas. Medical resources were in constant supply, either via an array of international aid donations or the Iraqi government. Israel, however, has prevented aid from entering Gaza, resulting in a rapid depletion of medication in the strip, and the trickle they finally did allow in from Egypt barely amounts to 10% of what Gaza used to receive.
Shocking testimonials reveal that doctors are having to perform life-saving operations without anesthesia in Gaza. In one heart-breaking video, we see a Palestinian surgeon grieving after having had to perform an amputation on his own son without anaesthesia, only for his son not to survive the procedure.
In Iraq, if any critical treatment was required, patients were transported to Baghdad via a short helicopter flight. Gaza, however, has been a no-fly zone for decades now, except for Israel’s destructive fighter jets. Even in times of no conflict, it is exceedingly difficult for patients to secure a permit to receive critical care outside of Gaza.
When a permit is granted, Gazan ambulances are still not allowed to cross out of the strip. Instead, even the most grievously ill or urgently injured patient must endure something called a back-to-back transfer, where they are taken off the ambulance in Gaza and placed onto an ambulance on the Israeli side of the border – delays which could prove to be the difference between life and death. Like the permit, this needs to be arranged ahead of time, which makes it nearly impossible to provide the timely care that emergencies require.
Over the past few weeks in Gaza, Palestinian ambulances have come under fire from Israeli airstrikes. To be perfectly clear: attacks on emergency relief efforts are considered a war crime. In one assault, which left the U.N. Secretary General “horrified,” Israel attacked an entire convoy of ambulances in an airstrike. In Mosul, ambulances were not never considered targets by the U.S. led coalition.
Airstrikes in Mosul were far more contained. In order to keep them to a minimum, the Iraqi army would go door to door clearing neighborhoods of ISIS. Only when they found themselves surrounded and unable to proceed would they call in the U.S. coalition for airstrikes. In my capacity as a journalist, I often tagged along behind the army observing their conduct. And I remember the sound of airstrikes echoing through the narrow streets of the city. Despite such precautions, the coalition was still (and rightly) criticized for the civilian death toll incurred and were often investigated in the aftermath and on occasion compensation provided for victims.
Israel, on the other hand, has been blindly attacking in Gaza, with no effort to minimize civilian causalities as they supposedly seek to clear out Hamas. Unlike Iraq, for weeks there was no ground approach, only carpet bombing. In one shocking instance, Israel killed at least 50 Palestinians at the Jabalia refugee camp and later claimed, without evidence, that it killed one Hamas commander in the process. Hamas denied this.
These blind carpet bombings have resulted in the destruction of entire hospital complexes, to the extent that there are no more functioning hospitals in northern Gaza. A desecration of the sanctity of healthcare facilities is potentially a war crime. A children’s cancer unit was obliterated allegedly using the newly-designed RX9 Hellfire rocket (with its rotating blades, imagine a human meat grinder). At no point has Israel provided evidence of any of these hospitals being used as Hamas bases. And now that the damage has been done and the hospitals have been put out of commission, it is the innocent Gazans and its most vulnerable that suffer the most and referred to as a “self-sustaining catastrophe” by Dr. Ghassan Abu Sittah, a British doctor who had been volunteering in Gaza.
In contrast, in Mosul, strikes on healthcare facilities were kept to a bare minimum and only ever as at a last resort – after having confirmed that the buildings were being used as a military base by ISIS. The Iraqi military spent days locked in battle with ISIS fighters inside Mosul’s Al-Salam hospital complex; only when they were unable to progress did they request backup from the U.S. in the form of airstrikes. And even then, a precision strike was used to specifically target the building housing the ISIS fighters. Israel claims that Hamas has hidden its bases in bunkers below Gaza’s hospitals, which begs the question, why would you then destroy the life-saving facility that is above it?
Like these healthcare facilities, places of worship have not been safe in Gaza either; even those being used as shelters by civilians. Ancient mosques have been destroyed in what feels like an attempt to erase Palestinian identity. In October, Israel attacked the Greek Orthodox Saint Porphyrius church, destroying a 12th century relic that was housing Christians and Muslims seeking refuge from the violence. These attacks have caused Gaza’s Christians to fear extinction. It is ironic that while Israel has busied itself comparing ISIS with Hamas, it is in fact Israel behaving more like ISIS and threatening the region’s indigenous Christian community.
In Mosul, churches were ransacked by ISIS and Christians driven out of the city by the militants’ takfiri ideology. I witnessed churches that had been converted into shooting ranges due to their long and narrow designs. And yet despite these churches becoming known as ISIS military bases, they weren’t destroyed by the coalition and are still standing today — despite ISIS’s best efforts otherwise.
Likewise, the protection afforded to journalists in each conflict is another point of contrast. Not only has Israel attempted to silence press in Gaza by banning foreign journalists from entering the strip (until recently being allowed by IDF escort only), there have been what appear to be targeted attacks against journalists and their families, with over 50 journalists killed so far. In Mosul, less than a handful of journalists died during the conflict, with all the deaths attributable to ISIS. Journalism was in fact considered globally vital to the coalition’s success, and I remember a flood of foreign correspondents landing in Erbil in the days leading up to the assault on Mosul.
If Israel wants to compare Hamas to ISIS we should examine every aspect of this comparison. Israel claims that its war on Gaza is a war on Hamas, but it’s clear to observers that this is in fact a war against Palestine. What we are witnessing is not self-defense at all but a destructive campaign with minimal consideration for Palestinian life. Even Pope Francis has chimed in to announce, “we have gone beyond wars. This is not war. This is terrorism.”
Perhaps it is more accurate to compare ISIS and Israel? While to date ISIS has deplorably killed 33,000 innocents over five years, Israel has, in just one month, devastatingly killed over a third of that figure. Of course, none of what I have written absolves Hamas of any of its crimes by any means – that is not what is at discussion here – but what we do see is a recurrent pattern of violence conducted by an Israel which continues to act with impunity.
It is time the mirror is held up to Israel. Now really, the question you should be asking yourself is: do you condemn Israel?