Michael J. Salamon

The Psychology Behind Hamas’ Ceasefire Rejection

Israel offered Hamas a two-month ceasefire just a few days ago. Hamas, within moments, rejected it. Some commentators are offering a variety of reasons and excuses to rationalize Hamas’ rebuff of the offer. They range from the political to the social. Why would the leadership of Hamas accept a ceasefire that Israel offered when most nations of the world have turned against Israel, have accused Israel of genocide in the International Court of Justice and even within Israel there are strong divisions regarding the goals and likely outcomes of the war? All of them good strategic motives to deny any offer made by Israel. But these reasons only scratch the surface of the deeper psychological motives, even pathology, for declining the ceasefire offer.

Hamas is more than a liberation movement. It is a religious cult whose primary goal, like that of Hezbollah and Iran, is the establishment of an international caliphate, an Islamic religious state, in which Jews and Judaism are, if not completely eradicated, are perfunctorily maintained in a subservient manner. There would be no Jewish state and Jews would be forced to pay a high tax to the Caliph rulers. The same rules would likely apply to Christian believers should a caliphate exist.

One may debate the differences between the original Hamas Charter and the more recent revision but the vision at the heart of Hamas’ goals, aside from the destruction of the state of Israel is the establishment of a religious state guided by the Quran. To achieve that Hamas must maintain an overwhelming degree of power and control, not just over their adherents, but also among those who live alongside them. It is notable that when Hamas came to power in the Gaza strip, they received only about 30% of the votes in their favor. Regardless of the limited results they took control via intimidation, manipulation, and murder. And they have maintained control in the same manner since.

This pattern of threats and fear is mixed with a style that is seen among religious cult leaders. Devotion and charm are bundled with intimidation and fear. Devotion is essentially acquired in two ways, using persuasion, usually through the promise of a better life that is combined with a charming approach or charismatic leadership style. The leadership possesses a determination that promises a return to a life of dominance and riches while exhibiting a series of achievements that add to their charisma. The leadership of these cults are often highly narcissistic with a constant need for ego boosting. They also have great delusions of power, to the point where they likely suffer from antisocial personality disorders, or are psychopathic, having little to no regard for who they may harm. There is a delusional belief system that is used to rationalize the controlling behaviors to which they adhere. For them there is no nuance. Everything must adhere to their rigid mythical ideas.

All these descriptors of cult leaders match the Hamas leaderships’ personalities. Hamas’ leaders have amassed great wealth for themselves which they display, likely as a means of boosting their own egos, while using it as a tool to keep adherents – “If you follow us, you too will have wealth.” They have built great castles for themselves, albeit underground in the Gaza strip but above ground in other areas of the world. They care little, if at all, for human life, psychopathically murdering those who oppose them, operating in environments where they eagerly use residents as human shields, and not simply boasting about the worst pogrom perpetuated against the Jewish people since the Holocaust but continuing to use it for their own propaganda and salacious purposes. They likely view the hostages they took not so much as bargaining chips but delusionally as spoils of war to be used psychologically and sexually. And, like all cult leaders, once they have a following, they do whatever it takes to maintain their own status of wealth, power, and control, none of which is shared with their followers who continue to blindly follow them.

Cult leaders and their reign of power end only when they are forced out from within. Even when their followers begin to leave their sphere of influence the paranoia of their delusional narcissism causes them to believe that they are still all powerful even as they rage against their dwindling flock. Even now, with the destruction that Hamas has brought upon itself and the residents of Gaza, their leaders continue to speak about the “river to the sea” as if it is presently occurring. There is a disconnect with reality that can spread and create offshoots, other cults, following the lead of the dying ones, supported by the cognitive dissonance that the following has been enmeshed in. The prospects for dealing with such destructive cults are not good. They have the ability with their charismatic control over their followers to turn failures into successes in all of their minds. The only one consistent historical way for cults to diminish in power is for their followers to peel away from their leaders. Time, determination and confronting the follower’s belief in their delusional leadership can enhance that prospect.

About the Author
Dr. Michael Salamon ,a fellow of the American Psychological Association, is an APA Presidential Citation Awardee for his 'transformative work in raising awareness of the prevention and treatment of childhood sexual abuse". He is the founder and director of ADC Psychological Services in New York and Netanya, the author of numerous articles, several psychological tests and books including "The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures" (Urim Publications), "Every Pot Has a Cover" (University Press of America) and "Abuse in the Jewish Community: Religious and Communal Factors that Undermine the Apprehension of Offenders and the Treatment of Victims."