Hamas’s massacre of Jews on October 7 stands out not only in its scale — the deadliest and most comprehensive act of mass violence against Jews since the Holocaust — but also its depravity. Words such as “barbaric,” “perverse,” “gruesome,” and “savage” only hint at the nature of the atrocities inflicted on the kibbutzim, towns, and villages near the Gaza Strip. Those who stormed into southern Israel murdered some 1,400 Jews and raped, tortured, slashed, burned, beheaded, and mutilated their victims. They shot parents in front of their children and children in front of their parents. They live-streamed many of their acts, so all the world could witness the spectacle of Jews hunted down and slaughtered or abducted.
“Terrorism,” although accurate in its application to what took place, doesn’t fully capture the nature of the cruelty inflicted on Jewish babies burned alive and elderly grandparents wrenched from their homes and hauled off to Gaza. President Biden came closer to the truth when he called such acts “pure evil.” But this evil has a particular source — a religious one. I suggested this to a knowledgeable Muslim friend. I also asked him what could be done. This is what I got back:
The orgiastic Jew-killing was accompanied by shouts of “Allahu Akbar” — “Allah is the greatest” — a victory cry of defiance and determination. Hamas is and always has been a jihadist organization that sees the existence of the State of Israel as an intolerable intrusion into the Domain of Islam (“Dar al-Islam”) and is committed to removing it by whatever means it takes. As the Hamas Charter records, “Allah is its target, the Prophet is its model, the Koran its constitution: Jihad is its path and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of its wishes.”
Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, does not represent all Palestinians, let alone all of Islam. But its success on October 7 has incited the passions of many in the broader Arab and Muslim world and has greatly strengthened the Islamist reading of the Arab–Israeli conflict as a Muslim–Jewish one.
This reading, far from new, differs from most mainstream attempts to understand and resolve the conflict. The West sees the problem as political and territorial in nature. It is that. But for Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and their sponsor, the Islamic Republic of Iran, it is primarily religious, and at its heart is the annihilationist fantasy of ending the Jewish state by killing as many Jews as possible. The goal is not a two-state solution but the Final Solution. October 7 was an extravagant rehearsal of a larger, genocidal drama.
All this is spelled out in Hamas’s 1988 Charter. Its preamble and 36 articles are all formulated in religious terms, and it frequently validates its points by reference to the Koran and other sacred Islamic texts. Israel, we read, “exists and will continue to exist until Islam obliterates it, just as it obliterated others before it.” The “Palestinian problem,” it affirms, “is a religious problem” and is not amenable to a negotiated political settlement. The only way to “raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine” is through “jihad,” a holy war that is a “duty for every Muslim wherever he may be.”
The Charter is openly antisemitic — “our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious” — and extends beyond the borders of the Holy Land. The Jews must be vanquished “until Allah’s victory is realized.” The charter cites the fraudulent, antisemitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion as proof of malign Jewish influence everywhere in the world: “There is no war going on anywhere without their having a finger in it.” Further conspiratorial thinking follows: “With their money, [the Jews] took control of the world media, news agencies, the press, publishing houses, broadcasting stations, and others. With their money they stirred revolutions in various parts of the world with the purpose of achieving their interests and reaping the fruit therein.” For these and other reasons, the faithful are called upon to join “the struggle against the Jews,” liquidate the Jewish state, and “raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.”
To achieve this goal, Hamas named its operation against Israel “Al-Aqsa Flood,” justifying its murderous assault of October 7 as a response to the alleged Jewish desecration of Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest shrine in Islam.
One of the most influential portrayals of the conflict is the explicitly religious “Our Struggle with the Jews,” by Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian writer sometimes referred to as the godfather of Islamic fundamentalism. First published in the early 1950s, Qutb’s essay was reprinted in Saudi Arabia in 1970 and widely disseminated throughout the Muslim world. It has had an enormous influence on the development of an Islamist view of the Arab–Israeli conflict as a centuries-old Muslim–Jewish conflict.
For Qutb, the Jews are a decadent, dangerously influential, and eternal enemy of Islam. “The Jews have confronted Islam with enmity from the moment that the Islamic state was established in Medina….[They] will be satisfied only with the destruction of this religion [Islam].” This war of the Jews against the faithful has “not been extinguished even for one moment, for close on fourteen centuries.” Whenever the Jews return to their “evil-doing” by trying to take possession of the land, writes Qutb, “Allah sends against them others of his servants,” including, in more recent times, “Hitler to rule over them.” So it is to this very day: “If you return, then We return,” and what awaits you will be “the worst kind of punishment.”
The war in Gaza continues and is becoming more intense, but politicians, diplomats, and commentators are already looking beyond the fighting for solutions to the Arab–Israeli conflict. But there can be no easy solution to an eliminationist ideology inspired by religion.
On multiple occasions in the past, a two-state solution has been proposed by diplomats, endorsed by Israel, and rejected by its Arab adversaries. Especially in the aftermath of October 7, however, it is unlikely that Israel would agree to one. The same is true for the fantasy of a one-state solution; in this scenario, the fate of the Jews may be easily gauged by the tragic fate of Arab Christians in the lands of Islam.
Progressives in the West are the inheritors of a secular conviction that all humanity’s problems are solvable. They typically look at the Arab–Israeli dispute only as a clash of national, political, and territorial claims. Problems of that kind can be solved. But the absolutist tenets of fundamentalist Islam cannot be compromised with. And nothing is gained by pretending these founding principles don’t exist.
October 7 put the lie to all this all over again. Whatever its other aims on that day, Hamas was looking to win a “Victory for Allah.” Fueled by religiously inspired hatred of Jews, they will keep at it unless and until they are decisively defeated. That must include defeating their ideology, which is shared by others in the region and well beyond. It will be a task for the generations.