Since 1996, Khaled Mesh’al has been the Chairman of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) Political Bureau. After the assassination of Hamas leader Abdul ‘Aziz Rantisi in 2004 by Israeli forces, Mesh’al became the movement’s overall leader. He lives in exile in Damascus, from where he oversees the movement’s activities both within Palestine and outside.
The most recent interview with Mesh’al was conducted by the Jordanian Arabic-language Al-Sabeel newspaper in July 2010. In it, Mesh’al laid out the policy direction of Hamas on a number of critical issues: negotiations with Israel, recognition of Israel, resistance, Jews, Christians, women, among other issues. In the Arab world, the lengthy interview is being viewed as highly significant, and is regarded as a clear indication of positions that Hamas wants to pursue, especially with regard to its future attitude towards Israel. The Afro-Middle East Centre (AMEC) translated the interview into English and publishes it here to make it accessible to a wider audience, and to allow for greater understanding of the political and other perspectives of a movement which has become one of the most important role-players in the Middle East today. It is an important piece articulating, in its own words, the perspectives of Hamas’ leadership, and is critical reading for observers of the Middle East, and policy-makers for whom the Middle East is important.
Do you reject, in principle, negotiations with the enemy? If negotiations cannot be conducted with the enemy, is it possible to do so with a friend? Does Hamas reject the principle of negotiations outright, or do you reject its form, conduct and results?
This is definitely a thorny and sensitive issue. Many people prefer to avoid any discussion of it, and tend not to take any clear position on it for fear of negative reactions or misinterpretations. The sensitive and critical nature of this issue is compounded by the dark shadows that are cast as a result of the bitter experiences of Palestinian-Israeli and Arab-Israeli negotiations. People are influenced by these experiences, and are extremely sensitive towards the idea of “negotiations”, particularly with regard to the collective mind and mood of the nation. There is now, in many quarters, loathing for and aversion to the concept of negotiations. This is quite understandable and natural, but this does not preclude us tackling the issue thoroughly, and sorting through matters carefully, so as to set every detail into context, God willing.
It is indisputable that negotiating with the enemy is not rejected, either legally or rationally; indeed, there are some stages during a conflict among enemies when negotiations are required and become necessary. Both from a rational perspective and from legal logic, it is true that negotiations as a means and a tool may be acceptable and legitimate at certain points in time, and rejected and prohibited at other times; that is, it is not rejected in itself nor is it rejected all the time.
In Islamic history, in the era of the Prophet (peace be upon him), and in subsequent ages – at the time of Salahuddin [Saladin], for example – negotiation with the enemy was conducted, but within a clear framework and a specific philosophy, within a context, vision, rules and regulations governing this negotiation. This is in stark contrast to the wretched approach taken by those negotiation professionals who consider it a way of life, and regard it as the sole strategic option in the service of which all other options are ruled out.
If resistance itself, honourable and esteemed as it is, is a means and not an end, does it make sense to make negotiations an end, an only option and a constant approach, rather than being a means and a tactic to fall back on when necessary and when the context requires it?
The concept in the Qur’an is clear, when God Almighty says: “And if they incline to peace, incline (you also to peace), and trust in God.” This implies that negotiation is acceptable, reasonable and logical for us as advocates of a just cause when the enemy is forced to resort to it, when they come to us ready for negotiation and for paying the price, and to respond to our demands. However, if we seek it desperately and consider it our only option, then we will be the ones paying the price. Those who are forced to negotiate are those who usually pay the price. Hence God Almighty says in another verse: “Do not weaken and call for peace when you have the upper hand.”
We go back to the first verse: “And if they incline to peace, incline (you also to peace), and trust in God,” which is preceded by God Almighty’s saying: “Prepare for them what you can of power, including steeds of war to terrify the enemy of God and your enemy.” What does this mean? It means that possessing power and its means is what drives the enemy forcibly towards peace, and that the enemy’s inclination to peace and negotiation is a result of jihad, resistance and the possession of power. Those who consider negotiation without resistance and without any power cards are virtually heading for surrender.
In the science of strategy and conflict management, negotiation is an extension to war, and a form of war management. What you obtain by negotiating at the table is a product of your condition on the ground, and an outcome of the balance of power in the battlefield. If you are vanquished in the battlefield, you will certainly be defeated in the negotiations as well. Just as war requires a balance of power, negotiations and peace each require a balance of power, for peace cannot be made when one party is powerful and the other weak; otherwise, this will be surrender. The United States did not make peace with Japan and Germany after World War II, but, rather, imposed surrender and a pact of compliance and submission on them. In short, peace is made by the powerful and not the weak; negotiations may serve the powerful but not the weak.
The conflict with Israeli occupation is different, as this is a case of a body alien to the region, which came from outside and imposed itself on a land and a people, drove people away from their land, and replaced them with an immigrant diaspora from all over the world. This is, therefore, a complex situation which must be dealt with delicately.
When objective conditions and requirements for negotiation are available, especially the presence of sufficient balance and relative equilibrium; when there is proven need for it at the appropriate time – without hurry or delay – then it could be one of the options we resort to as a mechanism, means and tool, not as an objective or an end, not as a permanent condition or a strategic option. Negotiation is a tactical instrument, and just as war is not a permanent condition and has its requirements and conditions, so too does negotiation.
With this clear view of negotiations, and when it is exercised with great caution and under strict rules at the right time, it will be acceptable and useful in the context of conflict management; otherwise it will lead only to surrender and submission to the enemy’s hegemony and conditions, and will result in the neglect of rights and a continuous decline in the level of demands and political positions.
Unfortunately, the Arab and Palestinian condition regarding this issue is – mostly – very bad; it is a vulnerable position, with no bargaining chips, support, manoeuvre or margin for ambiguity. The Palestinian ranks are fully exposed, so they go to peace declaring it to be their only strategic option. When your enemy is aware that you have no option but to negotiate, and you talk of nothing but peace, and have no other option, what will force them to make concessions to you?
The Palestinian negotiators say: “Negotiation is the option, the course and the only plan.” They coordinate security with the enemy and implement the “Road Map” and its security requirements freely, with Israel offering nothing in return. What is there to force Olmert or Netanyahu to grant the Palestinians anything?
Negotiation in the Palestinian case is out of its objective context; it is, merely from the perspective of political logic, lacking resistance and not based on the necessary power balance. The Vietnamese – for instance – negotiated with the Americans as the latter were retreating. Thus, negotiations were useful for turning the last page on American occupation and aggression. You are successful in negotiations and in imposing your conditions on the enemy depending on the number of power cards you have on the ground.
Hence, for negotiations not to be a risky and onerous process, you need to make clear to the enemy – not only in words, but in deed as well – your message that you are open to all options. The negotiator cannot succeed without basing his position on the multiplicity of options, meaning that, inasmuch as you are ready for negotiations, you are also ready and able to go to war. If negotiations reaches a deadlock, you must be prepared to go to war, attrition or resistance; otherwise negotiation will be useless. We must remember that negotiations during the wars of old were often conducted on the battlefield, and the negotiators would either reach a solution, or resume the war. Negotiation is a tool and a tactic in the service of a strategy and is not a strategy in itself; it is not a substitute for a strategy of resistance and confrontation with the occupation.
Negotiation needs to be based on unity at a national level. If one party sees benefit in a certain step towards negotiation, and pursues such a decision alone and without referring to the people, they will be placing themselves in a difficult situation and will grant the enemy an opportunity which it will certainly use against them. This could also cause the negotiators to make significant concessions for fear that they might later be forced to acknowledge the failure of their negotiation option. Thus they prioritise their own interest over the national one in order not to be exposed in front of their people and others.
Negotiation has its specific spaces and domains and is not an absolute option in all matters. There are issues – such as critical constants – that should not be negotiated. Negotiation is a mechanism and a tactic within specific margins and domains; no one in their right mind would negotiate on everything, especially not on the principles. In business, negotiation is often on profits and not on business assets. Unfortunately, the current experience, especially of the Palestinian negotiations, is that all these rules have been abandoned.
In all honesty and courage I say: negotiation is not absolutely prohibited or forbidden, be it from a legal or political perspective, or in view of the experiences of the nation and humanity, or the practices of the resistance movements and revolutions throughout history. However, it must be subject to equations, regulations, calculations, circumstances, contexts and proper management, for without these it becomes a negative and destructive tool.
Regarding the Palestinian case, we say that negotiation with Israel today is the wrong choice. A proposal was put forward to Hamas directly to negotiate with Israel but we refused. Some from among the Hamas leadership received a proposal to meet with a number of Israeli leaders, some of them in power, such as [Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Shas Party leader] Eli Yishai, and others belonging to the peace camp. Hamas has rejected these offers.
Negotiations today – under the current balance of power – is in the service of the enemy, and does not serve the Palestinian side. The conflict on the ground has not developed in a manner that has forced the Zionist enemy to resort to negotiation; it refuses to this day to withdraw from the land, and does not recognise Palestinian rights. Thus negotiations in such conditions is a fruitless gamble.
In light of our weakness and the imbalance of power, Israel is using negotiations as a tool to improve its relations and polish its image before the international community, and using it to gain time so as to create new facts on the ground through settlement-building, expelling people, the Judaising of Jerusalem, and the demolition of its neighbourhoods. It also uses negotiations as a cover to distract attention from its crimes and to water down Palestinian demands. Israel is exploiting negotiations to normalise its relations with the Arab and Islamic world, to penetrate it, and to distort the nature of the conflict; Israel is the sole beneficiary of the negotiations as they stand.
Negotiations under the existing imbalance of power is a subjugation of the Palestinian side to the requirements, conditions and dictates of the Israeli occupation. This is not an equal process, for just as there is currently no parity in the field of confrontation, there is also no parity around the negotiating table.
On recognising Israel
The issue of recognising the Zionist entity raises much debate. There is also talk of legal recognition in contrast to realistic or pragmatic recognition. What is the position of Hamas on this issue?
Our position regarding the acknowledgement of the occupation’s legality is clear and settled, and we do not hide or conceal it. Recognising Israel has been laid down as a condition for the international community opening up to Hamas, and so this has become an obstacle in our way. But we did not care, and we showed determination to withstand this challenge. Recognition means legitimising the occupation and conferring legitimacy upon Israel’s aggression, settlement, Judaisation, murders, arrests and other crimes and atrocities against our people and our land. This is unacceptable according to international law and human values, not to mention our religion.
It is unacceptable to legitimise occupation and theft of land. Occupation is a crime, theft is a crime, and should not be legitimised under any circumstances. These are uncontroversial concepts in the common human understanding, and so is the conception of the Palestinian victim whose land was usurped. This is an issue tied to our human existence, and it contrasts with recognising the legitimacy of occupation and usurpation, not to mention the patriotic and religious feelings, cultural affiliation and historical presence, which all link us to this land.
Others have fallen into this trap due to their ineffectiveness and submission to external pressures, and they thought that bowing to these conditions and pressures may make it easier for them to advance in their political agenda. However, it was practically demonstrated that they have paid an exorbitant price for an illusion. They were wrong in their logic of interests, and wrong in their logic of principles.
We reject recognition in both legal and pragmatic senses. There is a difference between saying there is an enemy called “Israel” on the one hand, and acknowledging its legitimacy on the other; the former is not really recognition. In short, we refuse to recognise the legitimacy of Israel because we refuse to recognise the legitimacy of occupation and theft of land. For us, this principle is clear and definitive.
Are you not surprised at the Israeli and international insistence on your recognising Israel? Is this not, in some way, a sign of weakness, as Israel sounds like it is questioning its own existence, and demanding that others recognise the legitimacy of this existence?
Without a doubt, the enemy is concerned about the future of its entity, particularly in light of the latest developments. Its psychology is that of a thief and a criminal who ultimately feels like an outlaw lacking legitimacy, no matter how strong he may become. The demand for recognition is certainly a sign of weakness, an expression of an inferiority complex, lack of confidence in the future of this entity, a feeling that it is illegitimate and still rejected by the peoples of the region as alien, and that the mere presence of a steadfast Palestinian people is a practical expression of the rejection of the Zionist entity.
Yet, there is another dimension, which is the feeling of superiority. This is the logic by which Western nations deal with third world countries. The Zionists adopt the same logic based on military supremacy, and feel that they are the party that has the right to dictate terms to others, including dictating preconditions for any negotiations.
Some Palestinian and Arab parties have, unfortunately, responded to this logic. This is unacceptable imbalance. In our dialogues with foreign delegations, we hear them constantly talking about the conditions of the Quartet; some of them introduce revised conditions to make it easier for us to accept them. We refused all conditions on principle, and refused discussing them even in the context of seeking revised formulas. We reject the principle of conditions, for it suggests that there are two levels of human beings, and one party can dominate the other, one party having the upper hand and the other the lower. Our humanity, dignity and self-respect state that we are on par with others even if they are militarily stronger; hence we refuse to be dealt with through preconditions.
Unfortunately, one of the mistakes causing them to persist in this approach is that some people have accepted these conditions, including the issue of recognition. They then made another mistake by not exchanging the recognition of Israel for the recognition of Palestinian rights, but preferred, rather, to be recognised themselves. This is a significant flaw added to the original one, namely recognition! It is preposterous to recognise Israel in return for its recognition of the Palestine Liberation Organisation or another movement instead of recognising the Palestinian people or state or rights. This implies that you have swapped public interest for personal interests, and have swapped the grand national objective for a petty partisan one. As we say this, we emphasise our rejection of the issue of recognition, regardless of the price.
Therefore, in our conversations with those Western delegations [who ask us to recognise Israel], we tell them: “Although we are eager to communicate with you and open up to the world, we are not begging or looking for Western recognition of Hamas. This does not concern us. Our legitimacy stems from the Palestinian people; the ballot boxes; Palestinian democracy; the legitimacy of struggle, sacrifice and resistance; and our Arab and Islamic depth. We are not looking for legitimacy from abroad; what we are seeking to achieve and obtain is recognition of Palestinian rights and the right of our people to freedom, deliverance from the occupation, and the right to self-determination. This will not be in exchange for recognition, because recognition is ultimately an acknowledgement of the legitimacy of occupation, aggression and land theft.”
In your opinion, why do the international community and the Israelis reject the long-term truce proposed by Hamas?
This rejection by the Zionist entity, the US administration, and other international parties is due to several reasons.
The first reason: the logic of power, superiority and hegemony of these parties. They believe that their superior power allows them to impose what they want on us, and to consider us Arabs and Palestinians as the defeated party which has no choice but to sign the instrument of surrender in the same way as Germany and Japan did in the aftermath of World War II, and not to provide solutions and ideas such as the truce.
The second reason: they see Arab and Palestinian parties making more enticing offers. So how would they respond to a truce offer when others offer to recognise Israel in return for a solution based on the borders of 1967, with a willingness to negotiate on the details of that solution, namely: borders, Jerusalem and the right of return?
The third reason: the experience of the Americans, the Zionists and other parties in the region tempts them to conclude that further pressure will drive us into a state of desperation as happened previously; they tried the policy of pressure and extortion with others and it succeeded. This prompts them to say: “Let us try the same thing with Hamas, for it may submit like the others did.” Add to that the fact that some Arabs and Palestinians – regrettably – advise them: “Surround Hamas, financially and politically, and incite against them; do not open up to them directly, maintain your conditions, and do not hurry. Hamas will ultimately succumb!”
These reasons, and perhaps others, prompt them to reject the truce offer. In our conversations with Western delegations, we tell them: “Yes, the positions of others are easier, and ours is more difficult; yet our advantage is that, when we make an offer or take a position, we strive to ensure its applicability on the ground and its potential to win the confidence of the Palestinian people and the Arab and Islamic public, and it is so only when it does not run counter to the national constants, rights and interests of the people.” As to the positions of others in the Palestinian arena, they are easy but lack the approval of the majority of the Palestinian people, its national forces and intellectual elites. What is the practical value of these positions, and the value of reaching agreements and finding solutions with some leaderships that were rejected by the majority of the people? The Oslo Agreements were imposed in the past, and they failed because they were unfair and did not meet the aspirations of our people, and thus remained alien to the Palestinian and Arab reality.
So we are aware that they will be forced finally to deal with the vision of Hamas and the vision of forces and leaders committed to national constants. We tell them: “If you think that you are able to achieve success in the region through other schemes, try and you will reach a dead-end.”
It might be easy for the major powers to incline towards easy solutions with certain leaders and rulers, without considering the importance of these solutions being convincing and satisfactory to the people. These powers overlook the fact that reconciliation with the leaders and governments alone is temporary and short-lived, and does not create stability in the region – no matter the extent of pressure and oppression exercised against the people. However, the success of any enterprise is realised only when the people are convinced and believe it to be satisfactory and equitable, even if temporarily. Some in the West are beginning to realise the importance of this perspective and are, consequently, developing their positions – albeit slowly – in the direction of dealing with Hamas. There are still obstacles in the effort to translate this limited development into real and serious steps. We, in turn, are not in a hurry because what matters for us is not our role but our commitment to our people’s rights and interests.
Hamas’ Model of Resistance
What contribution did Hamas make vis-à-vis jihad and the struggle? What distinguishes its model of resistance?
It must first be emphasised that Hamas as a movement of resistance against the Zionist occupation is a natural and authentic part of the experience of the Palestinian struggle, an extension of it, and one of its circles that is continuing from a hundred years ago, starting with the first revolution and the first martyr and all its icons and leaderships and their great struggle – despite adverse circumstances in their time. These were people such as ‘Izzeddine al-Qassam, Haj Amin al-Husseini, Farhan al-Sa’adi, Abdul Qader al-Husseini, among others, up to the contemporary Palestinian revolution with all its factions, forces, leaderships and icons of struggle. The march of the Palestinian struggle continues today, thanks to God, and will continue until the goals of liberation, return and deliverance from Zionist occupation are realised.
This means that Hamas, as a resistance movement, is not separate from this struggle, nor does it exist without roots in a desert, but is rather a part of a whole. It is part of our people’s history of struggle and its jihadi march – full of sacrifices, challenges, creativity, patience, endurance, and determination to continue the march and overcome all obstacles, challenges and adverse and unfavourable circumstances until the ultimate goal is achieved, God willing.
This sense of belonging and extension has infused Hamas – as it has infused other forces of the Palestinian resistance – with the legacy of that history and its originality, spirit and distinctive identity, and made us grasp that long and rich experience and benefit from its various stages with all its successes and achievements, and some failure as well. For us and our people, these experiences are a rich and valuable reservoir. The choice of the name of Martyr ‘Izzeddine al-Qassam for our military wing and its brigades is but an expression of this affiliation and a manifestation of it.
Our asserting this fact here is necessary and very important in order for each of us to know our roots and factors of real power on the one hand, and also to know our real size and specific position in this long march. Just as belonging to such history and course gives people or movements the strength and self-confidence that are necessary, especially in difficult moments, it also gives them the necessary humility and respect for the roles of others. We and the others are part of this blessed course; we were not the first and will not necessarily be the last.
We and the others build on the experience of our forerunners and benefit from them, then we create our own experiences with their positives and negatives, and interact with our associates in the march. All this will be a legacy for future generations who will carry the flag and continue the struggle until victory and liberation are achieved, God willing. This is the goal which everyone will have contributed to – even if they do not witness the final outcome.
We have striven to form our model of resistance, which we established as a contribution to this great struggle, and we were keen to offer – through it – a notable addition to the march of the Palestinian struggle. We have ingrained in it a host of important and necessary concepts, policies and regulations, and given it much spirit, creativity, perseverance and determination.
Among the most prominent of these visions, concepts and policies are:
First: Resistance is our means to achieve the strategic objective, namely, the liberation and restoration of our rights and ending the Zionist occupation of our land and our holy sites. That is to say, resistance is a strategy of liberation, and is the main axis in our work as a resistance movement rather than being a mere choice we have made. It is the backbone of our project. Despite the importance of our programme and the other work that is done in the course of implementing the movement’s programme – such as the political, popular, social, charitable, and economic work, the true value and impact of these activities in serving the objectives rest on their position within the context of resistance as a key programme, and within a working system to which the resistance is the backbone. This is because we are a resistance movement facing a colonialist military occupation opposed to our existence, and so it is natural that armed and all-inclusive resistance be the basis and the decisive factor in this confrontation.
Second: For us, resistance is a means, and not an end, in the service of the aim and the objectives; it is not resistance for the sake of resistance. The elaboration of the resistance concept to make it an end in itself entails many errors in understanding, vision, and in the practical attitude and behaviour, as well as a flaw in decision-making and interest assessment. Yes, resistance is very important, and a primary axis to our project, but it is not the objective. It is the means and the way for achieving this goal, and a strategic tool for liberation.
Third: Hamas is not a military group, but an all-embracing national liberation movement, with resistance as its main axis, its strategic means to liberation and the realisation of the Palestinian national project. At the same time, the movement works in all fields and areas, and has its own aims and political vision. It is a grass-roots movement conscious of the concerns of its people at home and abroad, defending their interests, and seeking to serve them as much as possible in all aspects of daily life.
Fourth: We have limited our resistance to be in opposition to the Israeli occupation alone. Our resistance is against the enemy occupying our land and encroaching on our people and holy sites, and not against anyone else. We did not use resistance even against those who supported our enemies and provided them with all the means of force and the deadly weapons which kill our people. We also adopted the policy of confining the resistance to Palestine and not conducting it outside Palestine. This was done not out of powerlessness, but on account of an accurate estimation of interest, and a balancing of various considerations.
Fifth: We clearly adopt the policy of using weapons and force only in the face of the occupier and the external enemy attacking us; this is legitimate resistance. This means not using weapons and force either in domestic affairs, or in addressing political and intellectual disputes. Addressing disputes within national ranks must be through dialogue, consensus and arbitration by people, through democracy and the ballot box.
The tragic events in the Gaza Strip a few years ago are not a departure from this policy, as this is an entirely different case. There was a Palestinian party which rejected the election result and sought to overturn it, that is, to overturn Palestinian legitimacy, and, unfortunately, they collaborated with the Zionist enemy and the Americans and used weapons against us. It is our natural right to defend ourselves when forced to do so, particularly considering that we did this from the position of a legitimate government formed after fair democratic elections which were approved by the elected Legislative Council.
On the other hand, when we were out of power from 1994 until 2006, and although the Authority had arrested thousands of our members and severely tortured them, and pursued the resistance, its weapons and people, and coordinated (and continues to coordinate) security with the Zionist enemy, we did not respond at that time by using weapons or force against it, and we restricted our resistance to the Zionist enemy alone. We adopted a hands-off policy and restricted our opposition to the Authority, and the management of our dispute with it, to peaceful political and popular means.
Six: We have adopted a policy of not engaging in turf battles in the region, contrary to what others had done in the earlier stages. We never used force and weapons against any Arab state or party even if they harmed and besieged us, or arrested and tortured our brethren, or stabbed the resistance in the back, or incited against us. The Arabs are our brothers and family and they constitute our strategic depth; so we cannot wrong them even if they did so to us. We have committed ourselves to this policy over the past years, and will remain committed to it, God willing, because our battle is exclusively against the Zionist enemy.
Seven: In building the resistance, we took pains to focus on building the resistance activist religiously, educationally, psychologically, and intellectually, ensuring a high degree of organisational and behavioural discipline, commitment to religious and ethical rules of resistance, and developing the capacity for endurance and steadfastness in extreme circumstances, as well as building awareness and clarity of vision in the fighters, sincerity of purpose and intention, and the blending of the religious and national dimensions to develop a strong incentive in the course of jihad and the resistance. The fighter struggles against the occupying enemy in defence of his homeland and holy sites, his people and nation, and his family and honour.
As for the movement’s contribution to jihad and the struggle, it must be noted as a key and substantial point that Hamas succeeded, thanks to God, in building and strengthening its resistance even though it emerged at a difficult time, at a point when many factors and objective conditions for the success of revolutions and liberation movements were vanishing. The most notable of these is the end of the Cold War, the absence of an international ally, and the emergence of an international system based on the uni-polarity of the United States of America, the foremost ally of the Zionist entity, followed by the entry of the world into the “war on terror”, and the pinning of the charge on Islam and resistance movements.
Added to that, although this factor often has various outcomes and implications, is the fact that the resistance in Palestine has been undergoing a suffocating siege for some time, and is deprived of a friendly neighbourhood that can provide strategic and logistical depth, and of a secure rear base allowing for freedom of movement and manoeuvre. All this led to extreme difficulty in the continuance of the armed struggle as it was before, especially working from the outside [of Palestine] to the inside, and the difficulty of providing logistical support to the resistance at home and abroad.
In light of this great challenge, and in order to continue the project of resistance and to overcome obstacles and blockades, the movement focused on a strategy of broadening the participation of the Palestinian people at home, and broadening their involvement in the resistance and confrontation [with the enemy]: starting from stone-throwing, introducing creativity to the first and second intifada in which everyone took part (thus reflecting a new phase of the Palestinian struggle), and introducing new and innovative forms of resistance and open confrontation with the occupation.
Another strategy of movement-building at home was also adopted in terms of recruitment, training, arming and manoeuvre, while making every effort to collect financial and technical support and arms from abroad. When the blockade intensified further, the idea of manufacturing weapons inside, from available raw materials, emerged.
So we accepted the task with these enormous challenges, siege and persecution, and faced it bravely and resolutely through innovation, creativity, diversification, self-reliance, counting on God in all circumstances, and continuously seeking friends, allies and available support. We thought to ourselves that, even if we remained by ourselves in the field, and lost all support from others, we would persist in our resistance and we would not give it up or end it, and we will continue urging our nation to support us and take part in this honourable duty, quoting Allah Almighty’s statement to the Prophet (peace be upon him): “You shall fight in God’s cause; you are responsible only for your own self; and inspire the believers to do the same. It may be that God will neutralise the power of those who reject faith. God is much more powerful, and stronger in the ability to deter” (Surah 4, Verse 84). We used to quote this despite our conviction and confidence in our nation’s faithfulness and its commitment not to abandon its responsibilities towards the central issue of Palestine and of confronting the Zionist enterprise. Our nation clearly realises the essence of the Zionist enterprise and the danger it poses to the whole region and the world.
Another addition by Hamas, in terms of jihad and the struggle, is innovation in resistance and its methods, tactics and tools, such as expanding martyrdom operations and developing them to become a lethal weapon against the enemy, and striking deep at its security. An innovation was the manufacture of weapons locally and transforming this into an actual and real project that could be relied on, even if temporarily, given the difficulty of obtaining weapons from outside. The most prominent example in this regard is the manufacture of weapons which were initially dealt with lightly on account of their simplicity and their limited range and effectiveness, but which have evolved to advanced stages and have become a real nuisance to the enemy, with growing impact on its security.
Another important example is the development of the resistance’s capacities in the face of Israeli incursions, and the success in defending Palestinian areas and towns following the distinctive model of Gaza and the heroic attempt in the Jenin camp, where all conventional methods were used and were complemented by the use of tunnels on a large scale to defend and challenge. This went even so far as to withstand a real war wherein the enemy was routed and its objectives thwarted – like in the Zionist enemy’s war on the Gaza Strip in 2008-2009, which actually was the largest war waged by Israel on Palestinian land.
A further addition is the improvement of resistance to being able to achieve and liberate part of the land. The Palestinian resistance, with its military wings and qualitative martyrdom operations, and with the significant impact of our people’s second uprising, was able to force the Zionist enemy to leave the Gaza Strip and dismantle its settlements for the first time in the history of the Zionist entity.
This clearly means that the Palestinian revolution, through the development of capacity, momentum and tools, as well as innovation and diversification of methods and tactics, and through determination and patience, has become a real and reliable option whose ability to withstand, defend and achieve, even if step-by-step, can be trusted by the people despite the enormous difference in and the continuing imbalance of power compared to the enemy.
The resistance was also concerned with an important aspect in its experience as a resistance movement, namely, the alternation between escalation and abatement in line with the conditions and circumstances of our people, serving the public interest, and sound political judgement. The calm could be self-chosen or undeclared as was necessary, and as part of the resistance’s decision-making, or it could be announced publicly by agreement of the resistance forces, in return for specific demands such as discontinuation of Zionist aggression, lifting the siege, and so on.
We, along with other resistance factions, exercised this with all consciousness and courage and took responsibility for our people and their interests. But, in all cases, we exercised this on the basis of clinging to resistance and developing it further as our strategic option for liberation. In the battlefield and on the path of resistance and liberation, the movement offered – as did others from our people – a prominent galaxy of martyrs from its finest leaders, icons and cadres, led by Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, founder of the movement; Abdul Aziz al-Rantisi; Jamal Mansour; Jamal Salim; Ibrahim al-Makadmeh; Isma’il Abu Shanab; Salah Darwazeh; Yousef Sarakji; Saed Siam; Nizar Rayyan; and thousands of other noble martyrs.
The movement also offered illustrious figures in the history of Palestinian military activity, such as Imad Akel; Yahya Ayyash; Salah Shehadeh; Mahmoud Abu Hannoud; and dozens of other martyrs who cannot all be named here, though their names will remain in the Palestinian memory and history of struggle.
Another aspect, and a very important addition, is the introduction of the Islamic religious dimension to the battle alongside the national one, with all the significance of Islam in the life of the people and the nation, and the spirit, strength and vigour it endows the strugglers with, as well as enhancing motivation for resistance, the ability further to endure, persevere and withstand, and Islam’s ability to mobilise the masses and stir their feelings in the face of the occupiers.
Furthermore, this essential dimension has increased the rallying of the Arab and Islamic nation’s masses and their support for the Palestinian people and their resistance, especially during major events such as the war and blockade on Gaza, and all matters relating to Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque. Islamic sentiments are among the most important links between the masses of the nation and their elites and Palestine. Thus, the forceful entry of Hamas – with its clear Islamic identity – onto the battlefield was a decisive factor in raising the broad Arab and Islamic momentum, and invoking it for the cause and the Palestinian resistance.
How do you see the issue of laxity in shedding blood?
There are strict established conditions regarding blood and the lives of people, stressed by the Qur’an and the Sunnah [the Prophetic example]. The Prophet (peace be upon him) never stressed anything like he stressed this issue. He repeatedly emphasised it, particularly in his Farewell Sermon, and so it became central in the charter of the nation. There are also codes of ethics and national customs that people subscribe to so as to establish internal peace in their societies, and everyone should abide by these rules and not violate them.
We in the movement are keen to do this carefully, by instilling these constraints and legal, ethical and national rules, sensitising the members of the movement, educating them, compelling them to abide by these rules in their behaviour, and practising accountability for any infringements or violations.
Those who need emphasis on these issues are no doubt those in the military domain and the bearers of weapons, so that the weapons are used only in their natural domain against the occupying enemy. For those who carry weapons might be tempted by their feeling of self-power to use their weapons needlessly. The more intense the environment of domestic tension in a society becomes, the more likely will be indulgence and excess in the use of arms.
It should be noted here that the severity of the security experience with the Palestinian Authority in the 1990s, the poor performance of its security apparatus, corruption, harassment of people – especially the resistance movements, primarily Hamas, and the torture and insulting of its leaders, all created feelings of indignation and severe pain, and wounded souls that will never heal as a result of that harsh experience. This rendered the domestic environment in the Palestinian community unsound and unhealthy, tense and irascible, and increased narrow partisanship and partiality to the self and the faction at the expense of the overall national interest. These are defects we must all work to address; we must work together and take responsibility to get rid of them, because that would be in the interest of the country, the cause and all of us, and because the prolonging of such defects and phenomena is detrimental to all, and harmful to the cause and the national interest.
The possession of arms, the sense of power, and large forces often cast on their owners vanity and self-admiration, lure them into laxity in their use of weapons, and may cause them to make mistakes and abuse the rights of others. By nature, man exceeds proper bounds when he becomes rich or strong, as God Almighty says: “But man transgresses all bounds, in that he looks upon himself as self-sufficient” (Surah 96, Verses 6-7). Preventing such transgression requires discipline and control through religious, moral and patriotic commitment, and through the enactment of constraints, rules and penalties, and by being held answerable for abuses and irregularities.
We in the movement exercise this approach with its two parts: the religious, moral and patriotic deterrent; and checks, balances, accountability and penalty in the case of violation. These are issues related to religion, national interest and people’s rights. We are also keen on the integrity of intentions and purity of motives of the fighters, so that jihad, effort and behaviour are always purely for the sake of God, and for the homeland and its interest, away from the passion for revenge or personal motives. Despite all this, mistakes still occur; this is part of human nature.
Abuses and mistakes occur in the experiences of all nations and peoples, as with all armies of the world, and as in the case of the ugliness we see practised against the vulnerable and occupied peoples in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, as an Arab and Muslim nation, and by virtue of our religion’s principles, our morals and cultural heritage, we need always to commit to the highest standards of ethical and behavioural discipline, and firmness towards errors and abuses, for our morals are not to be practised only among ourselves but are, rather, universal and human and should be practised with everyone, regardless of their religion or race.
Even at the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) there were excesses and errors, but dealing with them was firm and fast. The Holy Qur’an addressed one of these cases in the verse: “O you who believe! When you go abroad in the cause of God, investigate carefully, and say not to anyone who offers you a salutation: ‘You are not a believer!’ while you covet the perishable goods of this life. With Allah are profits and spoils abundant. You too were once in the same condition, till God conferred on you His favours. Therefore carefully investigate. For God is well aware of all that you do” (Surah 4, Verse 94).
The Prophet (peace be upon him) was firm in addressing these violations, few as they were, and the prophetic traditions in this regard are well-known, as partiality towards principles, values and morals is the basis of religion and the foundation of the nation.
From here, in compliance with Islamic rules and ethics, following the example of the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah (because we consider commitment to them a religious obligation and a source of goodness and bliss) and in fulfilment of our people’s and nation’s national interest, our policy in the movement is based on the non-endorsement of errors and violations, and in not legitimising them no matter where they come from. We, rather, consider them to be at variance with the approach of the movement, its thinking and commitment, and we penalise the offenders and abusers firmly.
Hamas and International Relations
Are you satisfied with your achievements in international relations? What is the position of these relations in the thinking, programmes and priorities of Hamas?
International relations in the political thinking of Hamas has several dimensions.
The first dimension: conviction that the Palestine battle, in one of its aspects, is the battle of humanity against Israeli injustice and oppression, and against the racist Zionist scheme targeting the world and humanity as a whole and threatening the interests of peoples and nations, since its evil and dangers are not limited to Palestine and the Palestinians and the Arabs and Muslims.
The second dimension: the necessity of promoting our just cause and winning more friends who support our legitimate right to resist occupation and aggression. It has been shown that there is still good in the human conscience, and that it could be awakened and moved in our favour if we present our case well, and strive to reveal the truth of the Zionist entity. The case of breaking the Gaza blockade, and the success in winning a large number of sympathisers with this issue through the movement of ships to Gaza is an example of the importance of this dimension. We recall and emphasise that the confrontation with the Zionist entity – through the people and resistance, as was the case with the Gaza War, south Lebanon and the flotilla, is what exposes the ugly face of this entity, and not negotiations and meetings with it as these polish its image and cover up its reality and crimes.
The third dimension: just as Israel encircles and haunts us on the international stage, we too must follow it in all international forums, and not leave the stage to it. Unfortunately, the official Arab and Islamic side has fallen far short of this objective, and its true role has been absent. However, what mitigated this deficiency are the efforts of the Palestinian, Arab and Islamic communities who recently moved more effectively on the international arena and scored significant results and important breakthroughs. They helped win friends and supporters for the Palestinian cause and Arab and Islamic issues, and worked so as to expose the ugly and ruthless face of Israel, whose aggressive and brutal behaviour has shocked human conscience and sentiments because it runs counter to the ethical values of Western peoples and the peoples of the world. These communities have also contributed, through their activities, to the pursuit of Israel legally and judicially.
The fourth dimension: we are interested in forging a network of relations, strong and effective at all levels, international as well as Arab and Islamic. We have created in our group a special section for international relations because we consider it a factor of strength, opening up and winning international support for the cause and the movement.
The fifth dimension: the forging of international relations starts here, from within the region, for here is the plant, and the harvest is there in the West, while hard work is required in both. This means that the primary basis for achieving a breakthrough and success in international relations is strength on the ground, and being ingrained in it, united around our people and our nation, practising resistance and resoluteness. [With such a foundation], the world will respect us and realise that there will be no peace or stability in the region unless they deal with us and accord us the consideration we deserve, respect our interests, rights and legitimate demands, and retreat from their current policies of bias towards Israel and disregard for the Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims.
We have scored successes in this field, thanks to God. Yet the road is long and we have a long way ahead of us. We are relatively satisfied with the achievements, considering the scale of obstacles facing us and being thrown in our path. It should not be forgotten that the level of the relations and the yield achieved does not depend on us alone, but also on the other side. This is how political and human relations take place.
If we are to measure the yield from the efforts we exerted, compared to the degree of Zionist penetration and influence in the world, the gap will seem wide. Western policy – which views Israel as its natural extension and chooses to support it without limit, the weakness of Arab performance and diplomacy, and the incitement by certain Palestinian and Arab parties against the movement have, no doubt, impacted on the extent of success and achievement.
We currently have a host of official relations on the international level, such as the relations with Russia, some Latin American countries and Asian and African nations. We also have other official international relations (some are covert in view of the conditions of the other party) and indirect relations through former officials who communicate with us with the knowledge of the officials in their countries; this is the case with the United States of America and others. All of this is an important development, and it will not be long, God willing, until this develops into open and consistent official relations with the movement.
We are not talking here about international relations from the viewpoint of eagerness, desperation, urgency and a search for partisan glory. Rather, we are forging these relations and following up on them with poise and self-respect, with the purpose of reaping gains for the Palestinian cause rather than for narrow partisan ones.
Alignments and axes
In recent years, the Arab arena has witnessed a number of different axes and alignments. Hamas has been classified by some as being within the axis of rejection. How do you view this situation dominating the Arab political scene, where do you see yourself with regard to it, and do you believe it to be in the interests of the nation?
I will answer this from three angles.
First angle: There is a reprehensible gathering, and another gathering which is praiseworthy. The reprehensible gathering is an assembly, for example, on the basis of race or narrow national ideas in opposition to other people; it invokes categorisation and internal alignment on the basis of the country or the nation. But if people rally to do good, to support the Palestinian people, resist the Zionist enemy, challenge normalisation, resist the efforts of enemies to infiltrate the nation, confront American hegemony and the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, and stand in the way of attempts to rob the nation’s wealth, all this constitutes a praiseworthy gathering, and cannot be equated with the other one.
Therefore, when we say that we are for resistance, adherence to Palestinian rights, the right of return, have a bias for Palestine, Jerusalem and the nation’s sacred places, and that we reject the Zionist occupation and refuse to succumb to the dictates of the enemy, then this is something we are proud of and do not hide. This is the duty of the nation. God Almighty says: “Help one another in righteousness and piety and do not cooperate in sin and aggression.” Hence, coming together for such cooperation is desired, and we should not be afraid of being accused of bias towards one of the axes in such a case.
Second angle: we do not consider our commitment to resistance and refusal to submit to the Quartet’s and the enemy’s conditions and the American-Israeli vision of the settlement and relinquishment of Palestinian rights to be undermining of Palestinian or Arab parties. Rather, [we consider it to be an undermining] of the Zionist enemy. As for those whose agenda intersects with the enemy’s, or who succumb to them and go along with them under pressure, and participate in besieging us or inciting against us, those are the ones who are placing themselves against the mission of the resistance.
However, we do not antagonise anyone from our people and our nation, and we have not formed a Palestinian, Arab or Muslim axis against another Palestinian Arab one. We continue to reach out to all, and are keen to communicate with everyone and establish relationships with everyone. If there is a break or chill in relationships with someone, it is this person or group who chooses this break or chill and not us. Everyone is aware of this fact, because we reach out to all Arabs – some of them respond positively, and others do not.
Third angle: if it was acceptable to disagree in our politics and analysis of the political situation when the accord was being put to the test and when people were paying heavily for the resistance, is it acceptable to disagree today after the accord has been proven a failure with an obstructive political horizon and very heavy costs and consequences, much heavier than the costs of the resistance?
We call on all the nation’s states and forces to rally together with us in our natural environment as a nation. When the nation undergoes occupation, our natural environment and our priority should be the resistance. When we undergo aggression it is natural to unite in the face of aggression; and when the nation enters a stage of independence, then our natural environment and priority would be reconstruction, economic advancement and cultural renaissance in all its dimensions.
Today, the nation should respond to the current challenges and place itself in its natural environment. We hope that everyone would be in this environment, particularly considering that they have tried and failed and found out that betting on the Americans and others is futile. The Americans have been tried in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan, and were tried before that by the Shah of Iran, and the results were dismal. We say to the Arab and Islamic regimes: “The shortest way to maintain your regimes and even your stay in power is by siding with your nation and the people’s choices.”
The official Arab leaderships allowed themselves the opportunity to be engaged in many experiments and attempts on the path of compromise and negotiations. The most recent of these was the Arab Peace Initiative, through which they sent a clear and generous message that the Arab states were willing to provide benefits in return for steps taken by the other party. Eight years have elapsed since this proposal was mooted, without any respect being given either by the Zionist enemy, the US administration, or the international community – except for a few complimentary phrases.
During our meetings with many Arab officials and leaders, we continue to tell them: “After this experience, and after reaching a dead-end, is it not worthwhile to stop and look for alternative options?” We used also to say to them that withdrawing from the settlement plan and the Arab Initiative did not mean entering into official wars – which are not possible today – with Israel. Another option is to support the resistance, and thus the nation can rally behind a realistic and pragmatic option which has proven able to withstand and able to score some achievements, an option that is bound significantly to develop in terms of its weight and influence in the Arab-Israeli conflict, especially if it finds support.
If official wars with the enemy are impossible today because of the imbalance of power, it is difficult for the nation – as things currently stand – to engage on a programme of a regular Arab war against Israel. So let the realistic and practical option be resistance, which we have tried and which has succeeded in driving the occupiers out of southern Lebanon and Gaza, and whose effects are being seen clearly in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Hence, we believe that calling on the nation and its forces to line up in their natural environment is not an abstract or emotional theory but is, rather, based on a practical option that has been successfully tried. The nation is capable of using this option on the official and popular levels, particularly since the negotiation option has failed and in light of the contempt displayed by the enemy leaders towards us, as well as successive US administrations’ betrayal of the Arabs and the Muslims – even of their friends and associates.
Hamas and Jews
Is the resistance of Hamas directed against the Zionists as Jews or as occupiers?
We do not fight the Zionists because they are Jews; we fight them because they are occupiers. The reason behind our war with the Zionist entity and our resistance to it is the occupation, rather than differences in religion. Resistance and military confrontation with the Israelis was caused by occupation, aggression and crimes committed against the Palestinian people, and not because of the differences in religion and belief.
We are well aware that Israel invokes religion to advance on the battlefield. They also employ historical grudges, distorted texts, legends and myths, and religious sentiments in the battle against the Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims. Even the leaders of secular Zionism had used religion since the beginning of the Zionist movement and exploited it politically; and the Zionist entity was originally based on religion and racism. Despite all this, our religious differences with them is not what created a situation of war and resistance against them; we fight them because they are occupiers.
For us, religion is a cornerstone to our lives, belonging and identity, our culture and our daily actions; it is the energy that promotes patience and steadfastness, and gives rise to more sacrifice and generosity. This is a tremendous energy in the face of injustice, aggression and the powers seeking to harm our people and our nation. But we do not make of religion a force for engendering hatred, nor a cause or a pretext for harming and assaulting others, or grabbing what is not ours, or encroaching on the rights of others.
Hamas and Christians
What is the Hamas view of Christians and their role in the Palestinian cause?
Islam dealt with the Christians in a special manner compared to other religions, as in the [Qur'anic] verse: “You will surely find that, of all people, the most hostile to those who believe are the Jews and those who are polytheists; and you will certainly find that, of all people, the nearest in friendship to those who believe are those who say: ‘We are Christians’.” The historical relations between Christians and Muslims have had a special status since the conquest of Palestine, when the second caliph, Umar ibn al-Khattab, received the keys to the city of Jerusalem. A special relationship between Muslims and Christians was formed thereafter.
What is more, Palestine enjoys an exceptional status, being the land of prophets and messengers, the birthplace of Jesus (peace be upon him), and the place of Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) night journey. Palestine is one of the foremost examples of coexistence and tolerance among all faiths. This is a legacy carried by the Palestinians – whether Muslims or Christians – and has resulted in the evolution of the historical relations we see.
In the past decades, since the 1930s when the late Haj Amin al-Husseini sponsored Christian and Muslim conferences, Muslims and Christians have had mutual concerns, and have cooperated to face mutual challenges. Palestinian Muslims and Christians were in the same boat against the Zionist occupation. This was reflected in the role of our Christian brothers in the contemporary Palestinian Revolution when all factions united as one people.
Since the formation of Hamas, the relationship with the Christian brothers has been normal and good, and there were no problems between us and them. This despite the fact that some Palestinian forces tried, unfortunately, to scare Christians with the idea of the new movement, reminding them that it is an Islamic movement in order that they might promote the notion of an allegedly inevitable contradiction between Hamas and Christians. However, these attempts at intimidation failed, and Christians found the movement to be close to them, dealing with everyone with tolerance, openness and respect. During the second Palestinian intifada, the movement took into consideration the specificities of Christian festivals, and was careful that strike days did not coincide with Christian festivals and events, just as it was also keen to protect Christian property. Not only this, but Hamas was also keen on an active Christian role in Palestinian political life. The movement’s leaders, at home and abroad, held several meetings with Christian national religious figures.
For these reasons, Hamas won broad support among Christians before and after the 2006 legislative elections. There were many Christians who voted for Hamas, and we supported them in the West Bank and Gaza, too. For example, Dr Husam al-Tawil – a Christian – won [a seat] in Gaza owing to votes from Hamas and its supporters. The number of Muslims who voted for him was several times the number of Christian votes – given that the number of Christians in the Gaza Strip is small.
I recall here, because of its symbolic significance, an incident that happened in an Arab airport. A certain person approached me, introduced himself as a Palestinian, said that he was a Christian from Beit Jala, and that he had voted for Hamas and still supported it. He was not obliged to say this, and nobody pushed him to say it; he did it on his own, and expressed his feelings. This is a model of the good relationship between the movement and the Christian brothers from among our people.
We are dealing with the Christians as a fundamental component of the people and homeland, and an active part in the struggle against the occupation, without the consideration that this is a Muslim and that a Christian. We are partners in the country, and everyone has rights and duties. When we recall religious figures prominent in the struggle of the people of Palestine, we recall, among Muslims, Sheikh Raed Salah, Sheikh Ikrima Sabri, and [among Christians] Bishop Atallah Hanna, Bishop Capucci, and so on. We all share in defending Jerusalem and the cause.
Hamas may have surprised some liberals and secularists in the Palestinian arena who thought, or even promoted the idea, that, by virtue of its Islamic identity, it will isolate itself and that a tenuous relationship may develop between us and Christian Palestinians. They were surprised when their expectations did not materialise. This is because religion is not about isolation and detachment; on the contrary, faith motivates a person to be tolerant, to be respectful of others, and to recognise their rights.
Hamas and women
Islamic movements are commonly accused of contempt towards women and marginalisation of their role in political and social life. How do you view these charges in light of your experience in Hamas?
Unfortunately, there is a gap between the true concepts of Islam regarding woman, and their more recent practical application. There is an erroneous application and behaviour that results from backwardness and does not come from the texts and spirit of the Shari’ah.
Even at the present time, however, and despite the good level of progress in the Arab and Islamic countries, there are still errors in the application [of the Shari'ah] arising from many customs, traditions and concepts which emanate from certain situations and specific environments, and do not arise from the provisions of Islam itself.
Women in the texts of the Qur’an and hadith (prophetic traditions) are charged with duties just as men are, and when the Qur’an speaks about Shari’ah and its provisions, it mentions men and women together because everyone is charged with and has individual responsibilities. This is evident in God Almighty’s saying: “The Believers, men and women, are protectors one of another: they enjoin what is just, and forbid what is evil,” and “Never will I suffer to be lost the work of any of you, be you male or female. You are members, one of another.” And, in the Prophet’s words: “Women are the twin halves of men.” There are also other such Qur’anic verses and hadith in this vein.
Women in the Islamic concept of thought, jurisprudence, mandate and role are – indeed – one half of society, and woman has been given her prestige and respect. However, there is a huge difference between respect and appreciation for woman and her rightful role [on the one hand], and abusing her and presenting her as a cheap commodity as is done in the Western civilisation [on the other]. There is a difference between preserving woman’s chastity and modesty and safeguarding her rights while according her a suitable role, and dealing with her as a commodity of lust and pleasure. These ethical regulations are not just Islamic; they are innate and human.
We in Hamas are keen, as regards women, to invoke Islamic concepts and their unadulterated application which are not marred by the ages of backwardness or the weight of social norms and traditions that stem from the environment rather than the religious text, especially since the environment of Palestine is not a closed one but a historically civilised one enjoying plurality and openness to all religions, civilisations and cultures.
With this pure and original conception, and as a part and an extension of the Palestinian experience and its legacy, Hamas assigned a distinctive role for women in its operations. The role of women was highlighted during the intifada, in the resistance and all forms of struggle efforts, not only as mother, wife and sister to the strugglers, but also as one herself, carrying out commando and martyrdom operations, supporting her brothers and martyrs, and providing logistical assistance. There are also sisters who drove fighters to the operation site, as happened in the Sbarro operation and others. In the Zionist jails, there are tens of captive sisters enduring the suffering in prison and paying the toll of jihad side-by-side with their brothers.
The role of women is significant in the Palestinian arena and in the movement, whether at work, jihad and struggle, in the field of social charity and educational work, or political and syndicalist work. The Palestinian woman is educated and cultured, and her activity in schools and universities is no less than that of a man.
Proceeding from our Islamic terms of reference, Arab cultural identity and the distinctive Palestinian environment, women in Hamas occupy an advanced position. In political action, and before the Legislative Council was created, women had significant activities in the Palestinian student movement and in various unions; and when Hamas took part in the legislative elections, women enjoyed a strong presence and a large share on our lists, as well as in the government formed by Hamas.
It is true that some Islamic movements and groups are criticised for neglecting the role of women, but we find, on the other hand, cases of depravity and misdemeanour – impinging on ethical concerns – with some secular parties and forces. Hamas was keen to develop a moderate vision which would grant woman her authentic role, without breaking from Islamic principles, values and ethics, and at the same time being free from isolation, seclusion and marginalisation. I believe we have succeeded in that, thanks to God. Women also have an important role on the organisational level in Hamas, which seeks better to develop their role and participation within the organisational structure of the movement.
Future of the Zionist project
Through your reading of the course of the Zionist project and its current reality, how do you see the future of this project? Is it moving towards realising “Greater Israel”, or is it in decline and regression?
Factual data reinforce the conviction that the Zionist project has no future in the region. There is a real decline in this enterprise, for which expansion was an important characteristic, and it is no longer able to continue in this way. The construction of the wall (while recognising its negative repercussions on the Palestinian people), and the withdrawal from southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip are but practical examples of this decline and regression.
Israel – which used to wage war on its neighbours and win easily – was able to take the fight to its enemy, and used to strike everywhere. Now, its heartland is a field of battle for the Palestinian resistance. This is a repetitive phenomenon. The so-called “Israeli home front” is now threatened in every war or confrontation and is paying the price for its leaders’ adventures. Moreover, the ruling class in Israel today – and on the level of many military, political and security leaders – no longer has the capacity of the first generation who built this entity, nor the will to fight that they had had, not to mention rampant corruption in the ruling class, a growing number of suicides, the evasion of military service, and the declining performance of its security institutions.
Israel has not won a real war since 1967, except for the invasion of Beirut in 1982. This is an important indicator of the decline of the Zionist project’s ability, and the fact that it has no future. In my estimation, the “Greater Israel” project has come to an end, simply because the Zionist enemy is no longer able to accomplish it, and because Israel continues on the same path as did apartheid South Africa. This is a growing conviction for many neutral politicians and observers.
After more than 60 years since the establishment of this entity, and when the question in the Israeli street is not only about the security of Israel, but also about its future and destiny, this is an important and serious development. When the Israeli community questions the basis of its existence and future, and the feasibility of its enterprise, then the countdown must have begun, God willing.
Saying this is not enough, however; what is required is building on it. We are not calling for an underestimation of the Zionist entity’s strength and capabilities. It is the sensible who do not underestimate their enemy, and the Zionist entity still has many elements of power. Nevertheless, this realistic reading and vision, based on many facts and indicators, should prompt us not to succumb to Israeli threats or conditions for political settlement, and not to deal with the Zionist project as an inevitable destiny. The real option and alternative to the policy of submission and the state of helplessness, waiting and getting bogged down in negotiations, is resistance. The Palestinian people are able, God willing, to continue the resistance, but they need the backing and participation of the nation.
There is debate among many international groups as to whether Israel still constitutes a strategic asset for Western interests in the region. Do you think there is a chance that some international parties might reconsider the usefulness of continued unlimited support to the Zionist entity?
One of Israel’s strong points was its ability to promote itself in the West as part of Western civilisation and as an extension of it, carrying its values, way of life and political system of democratic governance. It also used to present itself as a victim of Nazism in order to draw Western sympathy. Today, Israel is no longer so – especially after the “Goldstone Report”, its crimes in the war on Gaza and in Lebanon before that, and its crime against the Freedom Flotilla, as its aggressions have affected hundreds of nationals from dozens of countries, including Western ones. Today, Israel is living in a state of exposure, and a situation where the moral rationale it earlier used to claim and promote is being shaken. Israel is falling morally, and its true ugly face is being exposed. This is a very important development.
The Western embrace of Israel has suffered a big shock, especially among the peoples of the West and the elites, due to its heinous crimes and due to the Palestinian steadfastness which exposed it for what it is, and highlighted the just Palestinian cause and its human face. Negotiations will result in Israel polishing its image for public relations purposes. When Israel loses its international incubator, it inflicts upon itself a heavy loss, because it is not an authentic part of the region, but rather survives on the support of the international community, especially the West. The Western mind, on the other hand, glorifies force, adores it and bases its policies upon it. Today, the Zionist entity no longer appears to the West as being capable of imposing what it wants in the region, and this means that Western confidence in the ability of this entity forcibly to impose its desires in the region is eroding. This has undoubtedly changed the image of Israel and its functional role in the West from being a profitable investment to becoming an onerous burden; this will gradually impact on Western interaction with the Zionist project in the future.
All these factors demonstrate the premature ageing of this enterprise. Usually, when senescence appears early in any physical structure, it indicates a flaw in formation or immunity, as well as a surrounding rejecting environment which brought about this ageing. Without the slightest doubt, Palestinian steadfastness and resistance, and the steadfastness and support of the nation, as well as the continuing confrontations with the [Zionist] project and nonconformity with its will, is what exposed this enterprise and its flaws. Hence, the project aged early and is no longer able to carry out the same adventures and score the same successes as in the past. In short, the Zionist project, like all other enterprises of occupation, settler-colonialism and aggression throughout history, has no legitimacy because it is alien to our region and lacks the elements of survival. It will, thus, end up like all other similar projects.
Future of the Region
What is your vision of the region’s future in the next five years?
The region today is in the throes of labour, and the next five years are likely to witness a continuation and expansion of this labour. We hope it will ultimately result in positive changes and a promising fruit, God willing, even if difficult. We have confidence and hope that the future will be to the benefit of the nation and the Palestinian resistance and cause. No doubt the nation is today going through a stage of advancement, but it is – unavoidably – a difficult one that might be accompanied by a lot of pain, and so it requires more patience and determination, and the doubling of efforts on the one hand, and the escalation of resistance and confrontation with the occupying enemy on the other.
Some people believe that this reading of yours is optimistic and unfounded. On what basis do you construct your expectations?
Our reading is not fanciful, and is certainly not defeatist. Our reading is realistic and based on numerous facts, proofs and indicators. One of these is that the resistance endeavour in the region has evolved significantly, and has proven its presence and effectiveness. Not only this, but the resistance endeavour has endured and scored important successes, even though it is working under unfavourable conditions and is facing major challenges, the most important of which is the regional and international imbalance of power, and the state of weakness and division in the Arab and Islamic countries.
Those who view the reality of the resistance in Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan will realise that resistance has become the only real option on which the peoples of the region can depend to confront the forces of hegemony and for resisting occupation, defending the land and interests and safeguarding their independence, and to repel aggression from any nation in the world, even if it is as powerful and mighty as the United States of America.
Resistance in the region has not only held out and succeeded in accomplishing strides in liberation – as in Gaza and south Lebanon – and held out in the face of large wars, but it also entangled the invading forces – who seek directly to control the region – in such huge trouble and dilemmas that they are now forced to reconsider their calculations. The people and the resistance of the region have – thank God – forced these major powers and nations to accord some consideration to this nation, after being tempted by the Arab governments’ weak policies into more greed and underestimation and disregard for us when formulating their foreign policy and important decisions for the region.
The Zionist war on Gaza and the Freedom Flotilla incident have exposed something important in the course of the conflict, which is that the nation still sees Palestine as its first cause, and that the nation’s people, however frustrated, are still able to recover and mobilise significantly in record time, facing real issues and serious confrontations with the enemy. This inherent vitality in the nation, reflected in some of the junctures and hot spots, was one of the factors and causes – according to our information – which prompted Western countries to put pressure on Israel to accelerate the cessation of the recent war in Gaza, fearing the repercussions of sweeping Arab and Islamic anger and its effects vis-à-vis the current political reality in the region and Western interests therein.
There have also been important positive transformations in recent years in the positions of a number of Arab and Islamic countries which, together with the resistance forces, created a situation of increasing power and independence, bias for the resistance endeavour and the interests of the nation, and rejection of external conditions and pressures. There are also rejectionist countries allied to the resistance, and they have made remarkable progress in terms of their role in the region, along with other Arab states which developed their position and honestly and courageously expressed their support for the Palestinian resistance, the choice of the Palestinian people and the democratic choice demonstrated by the 2006 elections.
We recently saw the emergence of the Turkish regional role, on a positive course towards the independence of political decision-making and economic advancement, promotion of the democratic experience, openness to the Arab and Islamic nation, remarkable and effective engagement on the question of Palestine and other regional issues, and the adoption of strong and courageous positions, all of which indicate a transformation in the region and across the nation, strengthening the trend towards advancement and change for the better.
There is no doubt that there is a clear recognition by all, even those who stubbornly deny it, that the strategy of settlement and negotiations has failed miserably and has reached an impasse, after nearly 20 years of its adoption as the sole option for the overall Arab official policy based on so-called “moderation”. [There is also a recognition] that all successive US administrations, on which the Arab states counted for help in making this strategy successful, did nothing for them but embarrassed and let them down, giving them mere talk and promises, and changing time-lines, while still giving the Zionist entity political and practical support.
Although the advocates of this strategy are unwilling formally to admit failure, lest a vacuum should form resulting in the call for an alternative, the work in this region must definitely drive everyone to seek an alternate more serious and self-respecting strategy which will better be able to face the reality posed by Israel everyday on the ground in defiance of everyone – moderates and non-moderates. The policy of waiting, marking time, sticking to the current policy, testing failed options and reproducing them repeatedly is no longer feasible or possible.
In addition, the general Arab official policy seems, unfortunately, unable to keep pace with the changes in the region, the rise of new players and the growing roles of other players, and the resulting challenges facing the Arabs and their security, interests and regional roles – especially those of the major countries.
Although America continues to weigh influentially on several countries in the region, there is hidden resentment starting to grow towards it in these countries. This includes even those who are friends with the United States, simply because it lets them down and does not help with issues concerning the Arab nation – particularly with respect to the Arab-Israeli conflict – and indulges the Zionist entity and other regional countries at their expense, something which increases their embarrassment in front of their people, and weakens their ability to continue marketing and defending the political moderation strategy based on settlement and negotiations.
One of the proofs that strengthen our confidence that the future of the region is in our favour is the weakening position of the Zionist entity. It is true that it is still ahead militarily, and that the balance of power still works for it, but it is currently encountering many failures. Yes, it is capable of waging war, but it has long been unable to achieve victory.
All the facts mentioned above, and what they sometimes reflect of bitterness and sometimes of promising signs, with a growing awareness among the peoples of the region – especially the Arab people, with the open media space and the inability to hide the facts, with a growing return of the nation’s peoples to their authentic Arab-Islamic identity and cultural roots, and their increasing concern about the current situation of the Arab nation and its destiny and future, national security and regional and international roles and its major issues, at the forefront of which is the Arab-Zionist conflict… All this, in my opinion, stimulates the nation into real and significant change that has become inevitable. It is this which makes me (and those who think similarly to me) confident that the coming years will be, God willing, for the benefit of our nation, notwithstanding the current bitterness, pain and concerns. This view is reinforced by the fact that this region, as evidenced by the facts of history, had always eventually succeeded in regaining the initiative and defeating the forces of aggression.
We are a great nation, proud of ourselves, our religion, our land, our history, our culture and identity, with Palestine and Jerusalem as our beating heart and an indicator of our life and survival. Therefore, we will not tolerate the Zionist entity for long and we will defeat it just as we defeated the Crusades and the Mongol advance in the past. “For it is by turns that We apportion unto people such days (of fortune and misfortune)” (Surah 3, Verse 140).