“When public anger reaches its limit, it explodes on its own”
In recent months there has been rising anger and violence in Jerusalem, centred largely around tensions over the Al Aqsa mosque – is this violence something that you welcome, or that worries you?
For every action there’s a reaction. The action of the occupation targeting the Islamic and the Christian Holy sites, in Jerusalem and Palestine, and specifically the Al Aqsa Mosque, brings about the angry Palestinian reaction. Netanyahu is playing with fire when he allows members of his government, the Knesset, and the extremists to repeatedly storm the Al Aqsa mosque – that’s dangerous. Our fight, is a national fight, but Netanyahu is turning it into a religious fight. He bears responsibility for the consequences of what is happening.
You talk about a religious conflict, did the attack in the synagogue, which left four Israelis and a police officer dead, not suggest that is being acted upon as well by Palestinians – and do you condemn that attack, like President Abbas did?
We can’t take events out of context. I told you, for every action there is a reaction. Netanyahu is playing with fire and he will bear the consequences of that. This is one of the rare occasions when a synagogue was targeted – why? Because there is anger, extreme anger. The Aqsa mosque is for the Muslims. The Muslims were blocked from praying there. The soldiers and the police and the right-wing extremists were allowed to storm in with their shoes, into the sanctuary of the Mosque – this is playing with fire. Netanyahu is responsible for the killing of the Israelis first, and the Palestinian deaths that followed, because of what is being committed against our people and for them not having hope on the horizon for a just settlement of the Palestinian cause.
The attacks that have taken place recently in Jerusalem appear to be taking place without any real leadership, unlike previous intifadas, do you think that these actions – which you say are the result of anger and feelings of resentment in East Jerusalem in particular – make the situation in East Jerusalem better or worse for people there?
The Palestinian people no longer have anything to lose. In light of the continuation of the occupation and settlements, stealing the land, the attacks on women and children, and the Holy sites. This is spontaneous. The reaction is spontaneous – from the young Palestinian men and young Palestinian women. And it gives two messages: the first message is that the Israeli stubbornness, combined with the international impotence in solving the Palestinian issue with a just solution, enabling the Palestinian people their self-determination, and getting rid of occupation and building an independent state – this will lead to chaos in the region, not just in the Palestinian arena, but an open conflict – a blood bath. We warn against keeping the Palestinian issue with no solution and stripping the Palestinian people of hope. The second message is this: those who were betting on the security option for stopping the resistance, and hunting its leadership, and blocking weapons coming to its fighters, and the security cooperation of the Palestinian Authority and the Israelis, with regional and international cooperation – all of this has proven to be useless, because when the public anger reaches its limit, it explodes on its own, and expresses itself in ways that surprises everyone.
So you are criticising the security cooperation that exists with the Palestinian Authority and the Israelis, you are suggesting that the attacks that have taken place shouldn’t be condemned – it sounds like you have lost confidence entirely in President Abbas to lead the Palestinian cause…
Our observations and our estimations, when it comes to the Palestinian leadership’s decisions are discussed in dialogue on the Palestinian-to-Palestinian level, and I don’t want to get into it in the press. I think any Palestinian leader who concentrates on this now is not serving any interest. Let us discuss our internal issues our way, in our own Palestinian sphere. We stand up together in our battle against the occupation, that’s from one point of view. But from another point of view, yes, the Palestinian-Israeli security cooperation is unacceptable, to the public and on the national level, especially in light of what the Israeli occupation is doing through its continued acts of aggression. In light of the dead-end on the political horizon, there has to be a change in the instruments used by the Palestinians – the path of negotiation has been proven to be a failure. For a quarter of a century, negotiations – Palestinian-Israeli and Arab-Israeli negotiations – have proven to be useless. There has to be a change of strategy, and adoption of a programme of national Palestinian struggle with various facets on the ground level, political level, diplomatic level, legal level, media level, public level – and the resistance, with all its aspects, including armed resistance, because the Israeli occupation as it is, like all occupations in history, won’t withdraw from occupied lands, except under pressure, they do not withdraw voluntarily. The Israeli behaviour is giving us this clear message.
But the commitment of Hamas to armed resistance doesn’t seem to fit with the reconciliation deal that was done with Fatah – the establishment of a national unity government under President Abbas, who has signed up to the Quartet Principles which stipulate non-violence. Does this reconciliation deal still stand? It feels like it has fallen apart because you are coming from such a different position to the President…
Reconciliation is a national necessity, and we must hold onto it. We in Hamas are committed to it. There are hurdles in front of the reconciliation and there are stumbles along the way. We have to solve it and remove these hurdles. When it concerns resistance, this is not alien to the Palestinian psyche, or the Palestinian history, and all the elements of the resistance are there because of the continuation of the occupation and settlements and aggression and arrests, and breaking the sanctuary of the holy sites, as I said before. What we agreed on in the reconciliation, years ago, whether in Cairo or Doha, and also in the national reconciliation document in 2006 – it talks about the right of the people to resistance, therefore officially Fatah has committed itself to resistance. Hamas is committed to resistance. All the factions are the same, nobody rejects resistance. Maybe some statements by people in charge and leaders talk about something else, but they take responsibility for this. We never agreed, at any stage in the process of reconciliation, to abandon resistance, because this is rejected on a national level. But we do ask for finding a common strategy on how resistance should be run, when to use this form of resistance, and when to use another form of resistance. Yes, this is accepted, in fact required and Hamas is ready for coordination and in drawing up a strategy for the struggle together in coordination with our brothers in Fatah and with the Palestinian Authority leadership.
You talk about armed resistance not being a new tactic, and you also talk about the political processes and procedures not having worked over the last few decades, but there’s very little evidence to suggest that the resistance approach has worked either. Is there not an argument to say that if you, as leader of Hamas, in a reconciliation government, refuse to condemn attacks on civilians, and continue to argue that Israel should be attacked in an armed, violent way, as well as a political way, that you play into the hands of the Israeli government – while you exist in the form that you do now, Benjamin Netanyahu never has to do a deal, you are his ticket to the rest of the world to say ‘I can’t do a deal’.
I think Netanyahu’s position is now revealed to everyone in international public opinion. Even in the West. Put Hamas aside, what about Mr. Mahmoud Abbas? He has positions which satisfies western and american standards. And with all this, what has Netanyahu done in return for it? Nothing. He thwarted all peace initiatives even the american efforts that were hosted by Mr. John Kerry for almost a year. Therefore the problem is not in the Palestinian position, whether it was from Fatah or Hamas, or the Palestinian leadership – the fault is in Netanyahu’s position. This is from one point, from another point – we really don’t target civilians, but the open Israeli violence creates angry reactions, as I explained before. Therefore it is Netanyahu who takes responsibility. Let me give you an example, during the last aggressive war on Gaza, look at the casualties of the Palestinian people – 12,000 or more wounded and more that 2,000 martyrs, mostly from civilians. On the other hand the casualties from the Israeli side were mostly military people. That is proof that Hamas, when it was defending Gaza, its people and itself against the Israeli aggression it was very focused on targeting the military fighters. Whereas Netanyahu was committed, when he failed in confronting with the brave Palestinian fighters, he targeted the women and the children. Half of the victims of the last war were children and women. And the destruction of houses. He committed a unprecedented crime in the Gaza strip. Netanyahu is guilty in all circumstances. What he uses to get away with this? excuses that are known to everyone. Therefore we saw changes in the Western positions, whether in some parliaments such as what took place in Britain, and in France, and in Sweden, and in Spain, and also through some western intellectuals, who started to understand the justice of the Palestinian cause.
We will come to the recognition votes shortly, but I want to talk about Gaza first… One of the things that was noticeable about this last war, was that Hamas’ rockets struck further and deeper into Israel than ever before. But is it not the case that the comparatively low number of civilian deaths was not as a result of you simply targeting military areas, but actually down to Israel’s use of public shelters and the iron dome missile defence system, which made your rockets less effective – they were targeting towns and cities within Israel. And if your rockets weren’t having an impact comparatively to the number of people that were killed, was that Palestinian blood worth the fight? You said this would be a conflict that would not end with the return to the status quo – but the blockade is still in place, even though so much Palestinian blood was spilled, was it worth it?
When you put the equation of gains and losses, that is right when it is your decision to go to war. But when you are defending yourself, you are forced to defend yourself, regardless of gains and losses. We did not start the war. The Israeli army was the one that attacked us. Therefore we defended ourselves. They bear the political and moral responsibility. Second, our missiles, this is our ability. But we are committed to target military posts. And to prove it the Israeli dead, mostly were from the soldiers. The heroes of the Qassam brigades and the Palestinian resistance when they smuggled into Israel during the war, they were able to target villages which had civilian Israeli populations, but we targeted only military posts, that is proof of our credibility and seriousness. But Netanyahu owns sophisticated military machine, with modern complex weapons, provided by the West and America – he targeted civilians, he targeted hospitals, UNWRA schools, the infrastructure, the electricity, mosques and places of worship. This is proof that he is committed to punishing the Palestinian people that embraced the Palestinian resistance. Yes we are suffering, but we live under occupation. We are not living in an independent state. We did not start the aggression. We did not attack anyone. We were attacked by the Israelis and Gaza today is suffering, and the siege must be lifted. This prison should end. It’s the biggest prison in history. Gaza must have a port and an airport, that’s the responsibility of the international world. To rebuild in a hurry. The building must be fast. Construction and rebuilding is required quickly. There are parties who seek to punish our people in Gaza, therefore this is a message through you to the western governments in europe and the united states, and in the east and west – they must accelerate the rebuilding, and not allow this tragedy, this palestinian tragedy to continue in Gaza, as much as it is in Palestine also.
You talk about the need for the world to step in and assist in rebuilding Gaza back into a live-able condition, but given your situation as an organisation now – where you are under pressure from the regime in Egypt, with President Sisi creating a buffer zone along the Gazan border; your backers in Iran are busy with other things, including the nuclear negotiations and the fight against Islamic State, you are becoming increasingly isolated it seems. Would it not make sense, if what you really want to do is assist the people of Gaza to rebuild there lives, to take steps that makes it easier for the world to work with you – while there is armed resistance, most governments can’t work with you.
We are not isolated. Yes there are hurdles, and there are changes in the region. There are crises and open files in various Arab and Islamic countries. But we are not isolated. We are carrying a just cause. Hamas, since it was established, almost 30 years ago, has been used to working in difficult situations, and it overcame all of these difficult situations, God-willing, because it is embraced by its Palestinian people and its nation, therefore there is no fear from that aspect. But the question is what Palestinian position required from Hamas or from Fatah or from the other Palestinian factions that will satisfy the international world to help us achieve our goals? We showed every flexibility required to reach a solution when the Palestinian powers all agreed to a resolution based on the 1967 borders, what more do they want? We fixed our Palestinian house according to democratic means since 2006. The West rejected it and the Israelis rejected it and there are parties that conspired against it. What does the international community want? The international community knows that the stubbornness is from the Israeli leadership. And you know that Israel is being over-run by the right-wingers, as we saw in the developments of the Israeli governments recently – the Israeli right-wing is the master of these times, it is the one provoking our people in the Holy sites, it is the one insisting on stealing the lands, and with settlements, which conflicts with the international opinion. And with all this, they don’t do anything. We as Palestinians gave everything required to make the just peace a success, but the international community is in-between impotence and pandering or being hypocritical towards Israel, and is biased towards it, at the expense of logic, and actually at the expense of the western interests, not just the Palestinian rights.
You describe Hamas as an Islamic Nationalist Liberation Movement, there’s another Islamic movement getting a lot of headlines at the moment – The Islamic State. Do you sympathise with any of their goals and aspirations, or actually does it cause you problems that this group, that claims to be representing Sunni Islam is now so dominant?
We have to look at the essence of things, and not their outside appearance. The US wants to explain things just from how it sees things. Islamic State and other movements similar to it were created in an environment made by circumstances, the main one being what Israel does to the Palestinian people, the american occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the western bias, led by the US, towards Israel, the negative western positions towards the Arab Spring, and the political and democratic developments in the region, the support western governments have given to Arab dictators in the region, with the behaviour of some regimes in the region that adopt the iron-fist security brutality, with the sectarian discrimination, all of this created an environment that allowed Islamic State and others groups to appear, with the existence of course, of those who follow extreme ideas, which exist in all religions and peoples in the world. And we are against extremism. Whether it is ideological or political, and against killing according to your identity or your sect, or your ethnicity or religion. But these phenomena flourished in these circumstances. So how if you add to it, like when the West announces a war on IS through an international alliance, it is implementing a security-intelligence game to deal with this phenomena for certain calculations. The story therefore is very complicated. We in Hamas have a national cause. We are focusing our struggle and our resistance inside Palestine against the Israeli occupation, that is our vision and we do not interfere in other countries’ affairs, but we are pained by what is going on in Islamic world, especially in view of the complications and the blood-bath and in light of the western and regional policies that deals with Arab and Muslim blood in an exploitative way.
So the Hamas goal is still entirely focused on the creation of the Palestine that you want – can you paint a picture for me of what the ultimate success, for Hamas, would look like?
We reconciled Palestinians with different powers and factions on a solution on June 4th 1967 border, to build a Palestinian state. We seek with all Palestinian powers to achieve this purpose, so we can have a state with Jerusalem as its capital, without occupation, without settlements, with refugees allowed back to their homes, and to achieve our national project, our rights and our demands. Our rights, our just Palestinian rights and demands. And to build a modern developed state, which has education, technology, democracy, a peaceful transition of power – free liberties and justice, there is the supremacy of the rule of law, and an opening to the region and the world, with dignity for the Palestinian citizen and equal opportunities, and as you know our Palestinian people are very intellectual, progressive and educated and able to make our futures bright. In summary, we don’t want to live under occupation, or a mandate. And it’s our right to defend ourselves, and resist all aggressions and occupation, to extract our rights for ourselves. We are asking the world to stand with us in this just cause. Hamas is a part of the Palestinian people, and it behaves as a main element of its people, it doesn’t have an independent vision from its people. Hamas does not want to have sole power. Hamas wants to be a partner with its people, powers and personalities, to create a promising Palestinian future.
There are those around the world, and particularly in the Israeli political world, who say such a description is lip-service for the West, and that Hamas and many others in Palestinian politics, can never see the end as the 67 borders; they can never see the dream of what they hold dear without Haifa, without Jaffa. They’d say your description of an ideal state is meaningless, because ultimately you want more than that. And if you want these places, where does Israel fit in?
History, the recent history, nobody can deny it. How can the sons of Palestine whose parents were born in Haifa or Jaffa deny the Palestinian history? It is less than 70 years ago, the Palestinian people lived throughout the land of Palestine, this is a historical fact, and therefore we are not ashamed of it and we don’t deny it and its a right for the Palestinian people. But today we are talking about a political Palestinian vision, that all the political powers agreed on, and Hamas is committed to this. Doesn’t the world respect the democratic gain? This is the decision of the Palestinian powers. And us, as a Palestinian power, do not impose anything on our people. What the majority of our Palestinian people chose in Palestine and outside, we are committed to. This is the Palestinian political programme. The world has to listen to us carefully, and not just hear what Israeli academics say – Israel is the one hiding its intentions. Israel is the one that has ambitions and greed in all the region. And it does not acknowledge certain borders, and they have known slogans, and mass military power – it is the one that kills and attacks. I ask the international community and all the powers in the world to enable the Palestinian people to get rid of the Israeli occupation and to have a free independent Palestinian state on the borders of 1967 with Jerusalem as its capital and our refugees allowed back home. This is a very important part of justice, and its not all the justice, but we accept that, because this is the Palestinian agreement.
You seem clear on what your goals are, where the boundaries are for your organisation, but you are the head of the political bureau of Hamas. Are you confident that the rest of the parts of the organisation will follow the direction you choose – are you confident that the Qassam Brigades, that Salah Al Arouri in Turkey, will follow your lead if you were to sign up to a two-state solution in the 67 borders?
That is a part of the attempts at deception of Israeli propaganda. We in Hamas are a very closely entwined movement, it has a leadership that is responsible for all the affairs of the movement, the political and military, and others, all the people in the movement in their various positions inside or outside and in their different specialisms, stick to decisions of the movement and its policies. Therefore when the leadership of the movement and its political bureau makes any decision in any affair, in any policies, concerning a political issue or military or resistance, or diplomatic movement, the members of the movement follow the decision. The Qassam brigades are not an independent faction, the Qassam brigades are the military wing for the movement, therefore it follows the policies of the movement, and this is the history of our movement – even other factions when there is hope to achieve the national Palestinian project, all the Palestinian powers will work together an be committed to achieve this vision – that is the fact, and anything else, from what the Israeli leadership and other spread, are all excuses to evade their commitments, it is not just certain individuals.
The French parliament had a symbolic vote in favour of recognising a Palestinian state, the UK parliament passed something very similar, the Swedish government became the first in the EU to officially recognise Palestine as a state. Do you think there is a momentum building? And is it something you welcome, because there are those that say such moves simply support the idea of creating a ‘puppet’ Palestinian Authority rather than a full state?
We appreciate those new steps, like the voting in the parliaments in Britain, France, Spain and also the recognition of the Swedish government of the Palestinian State. And also the very brave stands in Latin America, Southern Africa, countries in Asia and the rest of the world – we are noticing this excellent development. We ask for more. We believe that the world has had enough of Israeli aggression and the continuation of this occupation, the world has started understanding the justice of the Palestinian cause, they have started knowing the Palestinian suffering, from siege, from occupation, from settlements, there are embargoes on settlement produce, the world knows that the stubbornness in the behaviour of the Israeli leadership, we ask for more of these steps, and in translating it to changing the foreign policy of the western governments, actually in the world’s governments, and to put an end to the Israeli occupation. As the international community put an end less than two decades ago to the ethnic segregation in South Africa.
This interview has been syndicated from medium.com