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Interview with Hamas
The Face of Evil Speaks

Lebanon, May 3, 2002 -- The Daily Star On Line

  • Hamas remains steadfast in rejection of Israel's right to exist
  • Khaled Meshaal denies 1948 borders, condones killing of all Israelis
  • Despite `heavy losses,' politburo chairman says more suicide attacks are to come

Hamas remains steadfast in rejection of Israelís right to exist

Ibrahim Hamidi
Special to The Daily Star

DAMASCUS: Challenging the legitimacy of Israel's existence altogether in the Middle East, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal suspects Palestinian suicide attacks against Israeli targets will pick up again.

"It is unfair," he told The Daily Star in an interview conducted in Damascus, "to demand that our people abandon their only effective weapon (against Israel) - namely, martyrdom operations."

Meshaal, who chairs the politburo of Hamas, says the only difference between the lands on which Israel was set up in 1948 and those the Jewish state occupied in the 1967 War is "one of timespan," which doesn't give any legitimacy to occupation. "Why did Syria, Jordan, and Egypt wage war against Israel in 1967, then?" he asked.

The interview in full:

The Daily Star: Did Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon use Hamas' attack on Netanya to justify launching his military offensive on the Palestinian territories and bypass the Arab Peace Initiative announced at the Arab summit in Beirut?

Meshaal: Some people believe that our military operations are designed with a short-term goal in mind, that they are only launched to achieve a political goal or to derail the peace process. I want to state categorically that the timings of attacks carried out by Hamas are never determined by political events. They are determined by the circumstances on the ground as assessed by the "Izzeddeen al-Qassam Brigades," the military arm of Hamas.

Q. But doesn't it seem to you that Hizbullah is better than Hamas at linking military operations to specific political conditions?

A. Of course. Hizbullah is more integrated in this regard. In Hamas, on the other hand, there is an unmistakable division between the military and political wings. Our actions, moreover, are affected by field conditions on the ground inside Palestine.

Q. Is it your aim to derail the peace process?

A. Resistance is the rule, while the peace process was an exception. The recent past has demonstrated that the peace process has failed miserably, and that resistance is the only available means to get rid of Israeli occupation.

Q. Hamas is being criticized for stopping suicide operations. Critics say that you gave the Israelis an excuse to invade, and then decided to sit back.

A. It is only natural that a period of calm should follow Israel's invasion and crimes. The resistance has sustained heavy losses; its leaderships, cadres and equipment have been hit hard. Sharon's invasion of Palestinian lands has been unprecedented in scope. It involved 40,000 troops, thousands of tanks and scores of warplanes and helicopter gunships. The resistance is now in a self-defense mode; it is licking its wounds and preparing to seize the initiative once again.
The Palestinian resistance has a great capacity for steadfastness, and is able to regroup and resume its activities. What took place at the Jenin refugee camp was a victory for us. Jenin was different from Sabra and Shatila. In Jenin, the massacres happened against the backdrop of a Palestinian victory that lifted the morale of our people.

Q. What would you say to those who criticize Hamas for targeting Israeli civilians?

A. There are several ways of looking at this issue. Let's begin with the intellectual rationale: we must agree first of all on what constitutes a military target and what defines a civilian target. The term "civilian" refers to noncombatants in a conflict between two regular armies. The two belligerents agree not to target such civilians. The term also applies to acts of resistance outside the territory under dispute. In Palestine, however, the situation is different: We were on our native land, and an invader came along and occupied it. We do not recognize either the occupation, or the existence of Israel or the legitimacy of the occupation. To us, all Israelis are occupiers, whether they are civilians, soldiers, or settlers.

Q. So you don't differentiate between the lands on which Israel was established in 1948 and those it occupied in 1967 and are destined to become an independent Palestinian state?

A. The difference between the two is one of timespan only, which does not legitimize occupation and usurpation. Does the passage of time since the lands of 1967 were occupied mean that we have to accept the status quo? The Arab countries only recognized the occupation of 1948 because they were weak and impotent. They did not recognize it out of conviction. Why did the Arabs wage war in 1967? They did so because they believed that the usurpation of Palestinian lands in 1948 was illegitimate.

Q. What political objectives do the suicide attacks have?

A. The Palestinian resistance has very modest resources. The balance of power is seriously skewed to Israel's advantage, and consequently no Arab or international side should appraise our resistance according to conventional yardsticks. Our unarmed people are being subjected to attack by an army using the most advanced and deadly American-made weapons. Moreover, the 350,000 Jewish settlers on the West Bank and Gaza are all armed to the teeth. It is therefore unfair to demand that our people abandon their only effective weapon - namely, martyrdom operations.

Q. Does that include attacks inside Israel proper?

A. Our operations are all defensive in nature. The first-ever military operation carried out by Hamas was in response to the February 1994 murder, by an Israeli settler (Baruch Goldstein), of some 29 Muslim worshippers kneeling in prayer at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron.

Q. There is a belief that such operations against civilians are costing the Palestinian cause its moral advantage, as well as the support of American and European public opinion.

A. The Western world didn't accept martyrdom attacks directed at Israeli soldiers. The US condemned attacks against settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories. The Americans are not objective; their only concern is that no one threatens Israel.

Q. But Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority (PA) have succeeded in winning some sympathy and support by addressing world public opinion.

A. The PA did rely on public opinion, but did that help it in its time of crisis? The international community only supports the strong; only the weak take refuge in the law. We will not beg others for what is rightfully ours; we will take it with our own hands. Rights are acquired, not granted.

Q. What is your definition of "Palestinian rights?"

A. If there is no just solution, there will never be peace. To me, "Palestinian rights" are upheld when every Palestinian can return to his/her motherland.

Q. What (do you think) is Sharon's game plan?

A. Sharon wants to impose a new set of rules in the Middle East. He wants to abrogate the Oslo (Accords) by exploiting the current climate in the United States, what with the "axis of evil" and the war on terror. Sharon wants to evade such fundamental issues as Jerusalem, Jewish settlements and refugees. His game plan is to escalate the situation on the ground so as to weaken the Palestinians' negotiating position. This explains why he called for a regional peace conference just as he was invading the Palestinian self-rule areas.
He is telling the Palestinians to forget Jerusalem, the settlements and the refugees' right of return. He is calling on us to build a Palestinian state on 40 percent of the land. In other words, he wants us to settle for long-term autonomy.

Q. Is Hamas planning to project itself as an alternative to Arafat?

A. The Palestinian people will never accept an Antoine Lahd-type Palestinian leadership that's brought to power on the backs of Israeli tanks.
Moreover, no one party can monopolize the Palestinian cause. Any political vacuum will only be filled by a political consensus that brings together all Palestinian forces.

Ibrahim Hamidi is a Damascus-based journalist specialized in Syrian current affairs



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