The Sirens Are Wailing Once Again

The sirens were silent when I was in Metulla two months ago today. After exploring the archaeological site of Hazor, my husband and I had headed north up highway 90 past Kiryat Shmona to Israel’s northernmost city, Metulla. I had always wanted to visit Metulla; I’m not sure why–maybe because of its precarious position right on the border with Lebanon, or maybe because it had made the news so often in the past. We spent two great hours in this charming–and oh, so vulnerable–little city. It was lunchtime and ‘stinkin’ hot’ when we arrived. We found a great restaurant alongside the main road. Seated in a tree-shaded courtyard with a water fountain burbling nearby, and dining on excellent Middle eastern food and wine, I felt like I was in some kind of oasis–it was so peaceful and pleasant. But I wasn’t. Taking a stroll after lunch, I saw a high tower with an air raid siren mounted on top, a stark reminder that I was in no oasis. Little did I suspect on the idyllic day in Metulla that the air raid siren I saw would be wailing its warning of incoming Katyusha rockets from Lebanon a mere eight weeks later.

The rockets launched by Hamas from the Gaza Strip in recent days have shown that almost all of Israel now, and not just Metulla, is vulnerable to rocket attacks. The terrorist organization Hamas has launched over 1000 rockets into Israel in the past eight days. Most of the rockets have been deflected by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system. There have been several Katyusha rocket attacks emanating from Hizballah-ruled southern Lebanon as well.

Israel’s response to the lethal rocket barrage has been to launch Operation Protective Edge to destroy the rocket-launching sites in Gaza. Inevitably, civilians in Gaza–many of them innocent women and children–have been killed. The number of Palestinian dead up to this point stands at 213 with more than 1500 injured. There has been one Israeli death: that of a 37-year-old civilian man delivering food to Israeli soldiers at the Erez Crossing. A couple of elderly Israelis have suffered fatal heart attacks trying to reach the shelters in time.

This disparity in the number of deaths suffered by the two sides had led to the demonization of Israel, the reasoning being: The Palestinians are dying in far greater numbers, therefore Israel must be the ‘bad guy’. Apart from Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Israel gets little in way of support or sympathy from the international community. However, anyone who has ever read Hamas’ founding charter would know–or should know–where to lay the blame for this tragic loss of life.

Hamas (Arabic acronym for the Islamic Resistance Movement) was founded in 1987 after the first intifada. In Article 8 of its 1988 founding charter, Hamas makes its raison d’être unmistakably clear:
Allah is its goal;
the Prophet its model;
the Qur’an its Constitution,
jihad its path
and death for the case [sic] of Allah its most sublime belief.

Furthermore, in Article 15, Hamas states:
When our enemies usurp some Islamic lands, jihad becomes a duty binding on all Muslims. In order to face the usurpation of Palestine by the Jews, we have no escape from raising the banner of jihad.

Many who denounce Israel do not know the history of the Gaza Strip. In 2005, Israel disengaged unilaterally from Gaza. The Israeli army withdrew; all Israeli settlements were dismantled; and all Israeli residents were evicted. Then, in 2006, elections were held in Gaza at the insistence of then-US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, despite Israel’s warning that the election shouldn’t be held as long as Hamas participated while refusing to lay down its arms. In a move that left the Bush administration utterly dumbfounded, the people of Gaza voted Hamas into office! No one in the Bush White House had contemplated a Hamas victory! In 2007, Hamas seized power in a coup d’état and ousted its rival Fatah. For the past seven years the Palestinians in Gaza have been subject to the oppressive rule of a terrorist organization whose primary goal is not the well-being of the people but the destruction of its neighbour Israel.

According to the latest news, Tel Aviv has been under a particularly heavy barrage of Hamas rocket fire today. I have good memories of my time in Tel Aviv in May: walking the beach promenade to the old port city of Yafo/Jaffa; sitting at an outdoor restaurant alongside the Mediterranean, watching the sun set–and people-watching, too. A seemingly never-ending parade of Israelis passed by me on Tel Aviv’s world-famous promenade: joggers, people on bicycles, people walking their dogs, couples pushing baby strollers, seniors out for an evening stroll, ‘foodies’ heading out to some restaurant. I was struck by the vitality and zest for life that I saw around me. Now, undoubtedly, most of these same Israelis are running for the lives to escape Hamas’ ‘rain of terror’.

The civilized world deplores the deaths of innocent Palestinians, and rightly so. But, I wonder, how does Hamas view these deaths if it truly believes, as it states in its charter, that death for the cause of Allah is its “most sublime belief,” that jihad is incumbent upon every Muslim? Hamas has come to recognize the PR value of each and every civilian death in Gaza. With each death, outrage in a largely ignorant West grows against Israel, when the responsibility lies solely with the ‘death cult’ known as Hamas.

Restoring the Caliphate: A Declaration of War

As the month of June drew to a close, our thoughts naturally turned back in time to that fateful June 28th in Sarajevo one hundred years ago when Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were assassinated by Gavrilo Princip. No one at the time could have ever imagined the scale of the destruction that would result from this one act.

Our time for reflecting on a past war and its causes was abruptly cut short on Sunday, however, with a chilling announcement from the brutal terrorist group, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). ISIS’ announcement was nothing less than a declaration of war. On Sunday, June 29, the first day of Ramadan, ISIS declared that all territory now under its control formed the new ‘Islamic State’. (I found the timing of their announcement most interesting.) According to ISIS, there is only one Muslim country now: the Islamic State, or IS. The acronym ISIS is now defunct. And the head of the new Islamic State is none other than ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi or ‘Caliph Ibrahim’ as he is now to be referred to. Spokesman for the terrorist group, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, made the proclamation in Arabic into an audio file, stating that “The legality of all emirates, groups, states, and organizations becomes null by the expansion of the caliph’s authority and arrival of its troops to their area.” ISIS spokesman called on Muslims everywhere to declare allegiance to their new caliph.

With Sunday’s proclamation, ISIS had restored the caliphate. What exactly is the caliphate? The word caliphate is defined as the ‘concept of a nation of Muslims worldwide ruled by Sharia law under a caliph who holds both spiritual and secular authority’. And caliph means ‘successor’ or more precisely in this case, ‘successor of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad’. An institution established at the time of Muhammad’s death, the caliphate existed in an unbroken chain throughout 1400 years of Islamic history until 1924 when the Turkish reformer Atatürk abolished the institution. The last caliph was the Ottoman ruler, Abdulmedic II. Convinced that all the old Islamic institutions had to go in order to bring Turkey into the 20th century, Atatürk dispensed with the caliphate.

And now ISIS has revived it, or so it claims. By reinstating the caliphate, ISIS means to restore the unity of the Islamic ummah, the worldwide Muslim community, that once existed under the caliphate. More importantly, with the restoration of the office of caliph, the Islamic State believes that it can now launch an offensive war. According to Sunni law, only the caliph can issue the call for an offensive war. For the last 90 years, all Islamic military actions have been defensive ones (right!). Any future war that ISIS undertakes is now valid, if the caliph so orders it. The proclamation issued by ISIS on Sunday was, in essence, a declaration of war. The caliphate throughout history was synonymous with empire–an empire achieved largely through warfare. Think of the extent of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century. ISIS is not content with the territory it now holds in Syria and Iraq. In fact, it has Jordan and Lebanon in its immediate sights.

The big question is, then: How many of the world’s Muslims, particularly Sunni Muslims, will recognize al-Baghdadi aka Caliph Ibrahim as their spiritual and political leader? Some jihadist groups have already rallied to ISIS’ cause; others have rejected ISIS’ claims outright.

The so-called restoration of the caliphate by ISIS brings to mind the Mahdist Revolt in Sudan in the late 19th century. In that instance, a man by the name of Muhammad Ahmad claimed that he was the long-awaited Mahdi and invited all true believers to join him in a holy war against the Christians. Turned out he wasn’t the Mahdi–the Muslim End-times figure–after all, and his movement ultimately failed, but not before a lot of blood had been shed, tragically. Will ISIS’ caliphate meet the same end?

ISIS has just issued a call for Muslims, particularly professional people, to immigrate to the new Islamic State in order to populate and build up the swathe of territory in Syria and Iraq now under ISIS’ control. The world will be watching to see who responds.