Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Asharq Al Awsat Interviews Hamas”s Mahmoud al Zahar | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Senior Hamas leader, Mahmoud al-Zahar (REUTERS)

Senior Hamas leader, Mahmoud al-Zahar (REUTERS)

Senior Hamas leader, Mahmoud al-Zahar (REUTERS)

In an exclusive interview, Asharq Al Awsat spoke to Mahmoud al Zahar, a senior figure in Hamas, from his home in the al Sabra neighborhood in Gaza City. He survived an assassination attempt by Israeli forces in September 2003 which killed his first-born son and destroyed his home, which has since been rebuilt. The interview went as follows:

Q) How does Hamas view the current Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip?

A) The withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza and the evacuation of the settlements is an important historical event. It will shape the Palestinian conflict the Arab and Islamic worlds and the rest of the world.

It represents a failure for Israel. If we say that Israel is carrying out the withdrawal because of what the United States will give it, this is void because for decades, Israel has been enjoying American financial, economic, and security support as well as the American veto. The withdrawal has no connection to this matter. Depicting the withdrawal as an attempt to improve Israel”s image in the West is also wrong, because Sharon is paying a much higher domestic price than what the plan could provide in terms of improving the image of Israel worldwide. He is paying a price as manifested in the rift in the Likud Party and in Israeli society and the destruction of many cultural and ideological beliefs. Until now, settlers have repeatedly claimed the land was given to them by God.

Even the Separation Wall, despite its damaging and negative effects, represents a containment of the Zionist ideology and heralds a final battle to resolve the conflict. The attempt to present the plan as a unilateral withdrawal and as a gift by the Israeli side to the Palestinian people is wrong. Sharon said he would crush the Intifada in 100 days, and he could not. It ended his presence in a significant area. Sharon said that the settlement of Netzarim represented an important part of the Israeli security posture and its fate is the same as the fate of Tel Aviv.

The withdrawal will have negative effects on Jewish immigration and increase emigration from Israel. This withdrawal will be an example to be followed in the West Bank against Sharon”s will. The methods used in the Gaza Strip will be more effective in the West Bank. The withdrawal will have important effects on the situation of the resistance. It will have extremely important effects in Afghanistan and Iraq , and will lift the morale in the Arab and Islamic worlds.

We are facing a historic moment in which the Palestinian resistance is victorious with its primitive methods and the determination of a group of Palestinian people to sacrifice the most precious things they have to achieve victory. We feel now that the sacrifices we made were not in vain, because their results were not only evident in the Gaza Strip but everywhere else. Sharon”s attempts to paint a beautiful picture to the world will not endure in Israel. The Islamic movement in Palestine and in the rest of the world will have great success. This will be the beginning of a permanent and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian issue.

Q) Do you think that the resistance factor was the only factor that forced Israel to withdraw or were there other factors involved?

A) When people fall under occupation, they choose one of three solutions: negotiation as a strategic solution to achieve liberation, resistance, or a combination of resistance and negotiations. The Palestinian Authority adopted negotiation as its strategic choice; it has yet to yield results. The Vietnamese example showed that negotiations after victory would achieve results. The French people were divided after the Nazi occupation into the Vichy government, which collaborated with the Germans and the liberation movement led by General Charles De Gaulle.

Hamas said that resistance is the solution and events have proved it was correct. No one can claim the withdrawal was a unilateral step and a gift from Sharon . It was a crushing defeat to the dignity of the Jewish State, which could not find a solution to the Al-Qassam missiles, to the operation that ended the Israeli presence at the Abu-Hawli crossing (the rigged tunnel operation), and to the martyrdom operations. Any attempt to paint a different picture will be useless. The Israeli security says that this is a victory for the resistance and a defeat for Israel. Hamas, on the other hand, is sending a clear message to those who resist to criminal regimes such as Israel .

Q) Will Hamas continue the resistance after the disengagement plan is implemented?

A) Our plan is not to liberate the Gaza Strip, nor is it to liberate the West Bank or to liberate Jerusalem . Our plan in the first stage is to liberate the lands occupied in 1967. Those who view it as a strategic solution and those who view it as an interim solution have agreed upon this plan. Therefore, we will not take over the Gaza Strip and live there peacefully while the Zionist enemy is detaining thousands of our sons and occupying the West Bank. The resistance must move to the West Bank to expel the occupation.

Q) Will the truce end with the completion of the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip?

A) The truce is scheduled to finish at the end of 2005. The truce was contingent on the release of the prisoners and stopping the attacks. Israel has not abided by these conditions. Our goal was not to hit Israel for the sake of hitting Israel , but to attack the occupation. I stress that the resistance was what drove the occupation out of the Gaza Strip.

Q) Will Hamas resume its operations in Israeli towns after the withdrawal?

A) Firstly, there are no Israeli towns. These are settlements. If the aggression and occupation continue, the Palestinian people will have no alternative but to defend themselves. The Palestinian people are not killing the occupiers or being killed out of fun or madness. The life spent by our generation in killing, imprisonment, and exile is not the life that we want for our sons. We want them to live in security and peace and to live in a homeland in which they are able to move and not to live as slaves of the Israeli enemy.

Q) In other words, the resistance of Hamas in the future will be in response to Israeli actions.

A) No, our position depends on two things: the withdrawal from the Palestinian territories and the extent of the aggression against the Palestinian people.

Q) You talk about attacks on the Palestinian territories as if you recognize the existence of Israel.

A) I strongly disagree with your statement. We do not and will not recognize a state called Israel. Israel has no right to any inch of Palestinian land. This is an important issue. Our position stems from our religious convictions. This is a holy land. It is not the property of the Palestinians or the Arabs. This land is the property of all Muslims in all parts of the world. We regard the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem, and the West Bank as a geographical unit, as mentioned by resolutions 242 and 338, which have not been implemented. We are currently talking about this area.

Q) Let us talk about the relationship between Hamas and the Palestinian authority. Has there been friction recently?

A) When Mahmoud Abbas (Abu-Mazen) was elected, we started talks. Some people in Fatah and the Palestinian authority told Abu-Mazen that he was giving Hamas more than it deserved at the expense of Fatah, and that his policy was leading to the destruction of Fatah, as proven by the success of Hamas in the first and second rounds of the municipal elections. They claimed that we fixed the elections. This was a joke, because no opposition has been able to rig elections.

Some officials of the Palestinian Authority told Abu-Mazen that they could resolve the situation with Hamas militarily. The Interior Ministry, under Nasr Yusuf, issued leaflets saying that anyone firing rockets at the Zionist enemy will be shot. This was an attempt to repeat what happened in 1996 to protect the Israeli borders, arrest those who fire rockets, and confiscate the weapons. Nasr Yusuf was engaged in a confrontation around the Jabalya refugee camp area and deployed armoured vehicles, which the Palestinian people had not seen before. However, he quickly realized that he could not resolve the situation militarily. Now, they are seeking dialogue, and we welcome that.

Q) In his recent speech in the Palestinian Legislative Council, Abu Mazen was unyielding.

A) We responded to the speech. He said that only one authority should exist, and we want one authority. However, regrettably, the only authority that exists is the authority of Israel. Neither Abu-Mazen nor Nasr Yusuf can move from here to there without the permission of the Israeli army. We want a single Palestinian authority, but a strong authority can only exist through elections. Do we have security services and ministries to form an alternative authority? We want a single authority, but we do not want it to be corrupt.

We want an elected authority that represents all the Palestinian people and not an authority that disputes with the people about their livelihood. They are excluding the members of Hamas from jobs in the educational, health, and other fields. In such conditions, we cannot talk about an authority, but about authoritarian rule. If the Palestinian people have rejected Israel”s oppression, do you think that they will accept Palestinian oppression?

There is confusion between the resistance and the chaos caused by the struggle in the Fatah movement. The only legitimate weapon is the weapon of resistance which does not kill innocent people and it not used to resolve factional or family disputes. This weapon forced the occupation to withdraw. We will keep our weapons, because no one can guarantee that the occupation will not return. We hear the threats of the occupation throughout the day and at night. Which do you consider is the legitimate weapon? Is it the weapon that disappeared during the confrontation period, and is used in celebrations, or is it the weapon used to maintain steadfastness and defend the people? Is it the weapon that has driven the enemy out or the weapon that is defending the enemy?

Q) Is Hamas interested in seizing power?

A) I do not accept the word &#34seize.&#34

Q) Is Hamas interested in assuming power?

Q) Hamas is a project that responds to all the health, educational, cultural, strategic, and security questions as well as to daily needs. Because Islam responds to every question, Hamas must participate in responding to every question in a practical way. For example, since the Madrid peace conference in 1991, the Palestinian Authority has been talking about the Israeli partner and the peace alliance. We have been saying that we cannot establish political, security, or economic alliance with our Israeli enemy.

On the subject of agents working for Israel, they must be brought to trial. The agents have assumed their positions and no one can hurt them.

On the issue of education, we want to teach the people our history, and we insist that the people must learn the Quran. Even if the Quran attacks the Jews in some of its verses, the people must read it. We cannot agree to the manipulation of the Quran and the religion. We are against any economic cooperation with Israel . We want a local Palestinian economy so that others do not influence it. We want investment, but without kickbacks, bribes, and commissions. If we can make the interest rate zero in this economy, based on Arab, Islamic, and international investment, then this would be an achievement. We want to spread the culture of resistance. We want tourism, but tourism of a people that have dignity. We will change the names of the settlements to represent the martyrs who died attacking them. We will tell the tourists that the honest rifle was able to achieve victory.

Q) Does Hamas have a plan to assume power?

A) Only through elections.

Q) Hamas did not participate in the first legislative elections because it regarded them as the product of the Oslo Agreement. What changes have taken place to prompt Hamas to change its position?

A) The Legislative Council used to be called the Palestinian Council. It was not legislative. It consisted of 88 members. We were talking then about a transitional period. Now we are talking about a liberation period and 132 representatives. I guess the current set up is the product of the Oslo Accords and the situation we find ourselves in the product of the British Mandate and the ongoing Israeli occupation. We will participate in the elections based on a program to end the Oslo Accords.

Q) Will Hamas participate in the presidential elections?

A) What is the problem in that? We represent an alternative to the Authority. We want to serve the people, and the people want servants and not masters. We are part of a larger movement called the international Islamic movement.

Q) Israelis fears that Gaza could become the land of Hamas after the withdrawal.

A) Let Israel die.

Q) Is this an encouragement for the Palestinian Authority to clamp down on Hamas with an iron fist?

A) No one can crackdown on us with either an iron fist or a golden fist.

Q) In other words, Hamas will not impose its control through the use of force.

A) As I said, only through elections.

Q) Have you prepared to enter the settlements?

A) We will enter the settlements and sully the dignity of Israel with our feet. We will stand on the ruins of the Israeli settlements and tell our people we have prevailed. This is nonnegotiable. We will secure the Gaza Strip and prevent anyone from occupying it again. In past experiences, government land was stolen.

The land of the evacuated settlements should serve as the lungs for the economy to breath. Schools, playgrounds, agriculture, and industry should be established on this land. This is our position, which we expressed in the meeting of the national committee formed to oversee the withdrawal. The government to be formed after the elections will determine the future of this land.

Q) In other words, there is an agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas about the future of the settlements” land.

A) Yes. The Palestinian Authority has the right to manage the land after consulting with the committee which consists of representatives of the national and Islamic factions.

Q) Is there a plan for Hamas leaders abroad to return to Gaza?

A) We will never give up our right of return. All of Palestine is our land. When any part of it is liberated, any Palestinian and Muslim will have the right to come. This does not mean that this is consistent with the current Isralei withdrawal form Gaza .

Q) Therefore, will the leaders of Hamas abroad return to Palestine?

A) This is up to them. However, the Hamas movement has international dimensions and relations that it must maintain. Therefore, those who maintain these relations must stay abroad.

Q) What is the relationship like between Hamas and Europe?

A) All the Europeans that we have met admit that the European position is hypocritical and subservient to U.S pressure. They look forward to freeing themselves from such pressures. If you want democracy to express the will of the Palestinian people, wait for the results of the elections. If you regard the Palestinian liberation movement, of which Hamas is part, as a terrorist movement, you must look at history. Was De Gaulle a terrorist? Were those who worked to liberate their countries from occupation terrorists? We do not consider the West as an enemy but we believe Christian Zionism is criminal.