Breaking the Barrier: How Israel and Hamas Communicate

July 15, 2019

by: Kate Norman, BFP Staff Writer

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“Israel, by virtue of its being Jewish and of having a Jewish population, defies Islam and the Muslims.” So reads Article 28 of the charter of Hamas, the terror organization in political and military control of the Gaza Strip. The charter also reads, “Israel will rise and will remain erect until Islam eliminates it as it had eliminated its predecessors.” These are the unabashed words of a radical entity openly calling for the destruction of the Jewish state.

Hamas’s blatant hostility makes direct communication—much less negotiation—between the two parties nearly impossible. The terror entity treats any normalization with—or even acknowledgement of—the State of Israel as weakness at best, treason at worst. Since the two likely will not sit down at the negotiating table, they have developed their own language and means of communication. Col. (Res.) Grisha Yakubovich, who served as head of the Civilian Department of COGAT (Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories), said the situation is complex. “The reality of the situation on the ground is not black and white. It’s a little bit black and a little bit white.” Instead of direct talks, Yakubovich said, Israel and Hamas communicate via mediators, media and force.

Mediators

Though the Jewish state and the radical Islamic organization cannot sit down and hash things out, they have go-betweens to do it for them: mediators from the United Nations (UN), Egypt and Qatar. Qatar, a relatively small nation on the Arabian Peninsula, is eager to pour hundreds of millions of dollars from its oil reserves into buying tentative silence between Hamas and Israel. Why? Qatar wants to be important in the eyes of the world, Yakubovich said. He explained that the Gulf nation “wants to be shown as keepers, protectors, saviors of the Palestinians.”

Egypt’s involvement is more for self-preservation. Hamas has strong ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, a sharp thorn in the side of Cairo’s current leadership. As each flare-up in Gaza arises, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi sends his advisers to the enclave to intervene, lowering the probability of Hamas fighters fleeing into the Sinai Peninsula and joining their Islamic State brothers in wreaking havoc.

In January 2019, el-Sisi acknowledged in an interview with CBS “60 Minutes” that Israel and Egypt are cooperating in security matters more than ever before. The two nations have unofficially shrugged off restrictions imposed by the Camp David Accords, allowing for broader cooperation so Egypt can combat Islamic State terrorists in the Sinai Peninsula. Unfortunately for Hamas, who has close ties with said Islamic State terrorists, Egypt does not often have sympathy for the terror organization in the Gaza Strip.

Media

The media—both social and news media—is a powerful tool to influence the narrative in the conflict. “Social media is popular on the Palestinian street,” Yakubovich explained. “This is a very important tool when electricity isn’t available 24/7 in the Gaza Strip. So you have mobiles and can see videos, messages and incitement.”

Hamas and other pro-Palestinian activists flood Twitter, Facebook and other platforms with emotional images and videos to stir up passion and sympathy for their plight. Images of beautiful, wide-eyed children or weeping crowds carrying the lifeless bodies of Palestinian fighters through the streets accompany hashtags such as #FreePalestine and #GreatReturnMarch, spreading like wildfire.

In the last major skirmish in May, Hamas fired over 700 rockets into Israel, and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) responded by striking over 350 Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza. Then, as in all conflicts, the IDF published powerful graphics, videos and images to portray what was happening and to show how and why they responded. After the Israeli military retaliated to the barrage of rockets from Gaza, unconfirmed reports started swirling through the media that a cease-fire had been declared, though Israel never acknowledged or confirmed the reports. “Israel cannot say officially that they recognize a cease-fire with a terror organization,” Yakubovich explained. Hamas achieved the cease-fire by leaking to the media and letting the news spread without the two entities sitting down to negotiate.

Force

Both Israel and Hamas want to avoid another escalation, yet it is important for each to draw lines in the sand for the other. “Both sides don’t want to enter another round of escalation, but they want to send a message,” Yakubovich said.

The IDF treads lightly when retaliating after rocket barrages or other attacks from Gaza. The Israeli army has the difficult task of responding strongly enough to subdue Hamas without responding so strongly as to elicit international condemnation. Known as one of the most moral armies in the world, the IDF uses a special means to quell Hamas with minimal casualties: the “knock on the roof” method. The military drops a small mortar on the roof of a building it intends to strike, booming a warning to the inhabitants to exit. Anywhere from a minute to an hour later, the army strikes. Also, the IDF often warns civilians near a target to evacuate the area by dropping leaflets from the sky or via phone calls or text messages.

“I think that the obvious reality is that you can see the casualties,” Yakubovich asserted, referring to the low number of Palestinian casualties in each round. In the May escalation, there were less than ten Palestinians killed in the 350 IDF air strikes. It wasn’t because the Israeli military has dreadful aim—it was intentional. “The IDF is saying, if you want to mess with us, this is what will happen,” Yakubovich explained.

Looking Ahead

 Yakubovich said the future depends on several ifs. “The moment Hamas will understand there is no hope and no plans to change the reality in Gaza, I expect another inevitable round,” he predicted. “If they believe the mediators who are promising a lot of things, it will mean another round of discussions and trying to delay another war.” Either way, it looks like the status quo won’t change anytime soon, so expect to see more mediations, media exchanges and restrained Israeli retaliations.

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