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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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