ABOUT MISH´AL´S ASSATIONATION ATTEMTP IN 1997
You are the head of a movement which belongs amongst the greatest enemies of Israel as well as of Western political interests in the Middle East. Your predecesors – Sheikh Ahmad Yaseen and Mr. Rantisee - as well as other leading figures of your movement (chief bombmakers Yahya Ayyash and Muhi Sharif) have been killed by agents of [the Israeli secret service] Mossad. Israel also attempted to poison you personally. And now we are sitting in a heavily guarded house. So, what is it like to live "in the sights of an Israeli sniper"?
Let me stress that Hamas is a movement that is primarily an enemy of the Israeli occupier. Israel was the one who commenced with the occupation of the [Palestinian] territories. So it is not correct to say that Hamas is against the West. We are against those who are against us. We resist those who occupy us. Otherwise, we are open to the whole world. Regarding the danger: all Palestinian leaders have been able to adapt themselves to these most difficult of circumstances. This is not only the situation of Khaled Mishal and of the Palestinian leaders, but of all the Palestinian people, who are threatened from within and without. But despite this danger, we do not feel disturbance or fear. Palestinians with their nature have learned to live in the atmosphere of danger and are used to live with death. This is our destiny. That is why we fight the occupiers with all our braveness! Neither the Palestinian leader nor Palestinian child are afraid. It is a strange case when the executioner is more afraid than the victim. It is the occupier who is afraid. He is afraid because he knows his aggression is illegal.
OK, let's recall the year 1997: Israeli under cover agents with false identities, poison squirted into your ear, the Jordanian King requesting a poison antidote. This all seems like a James Bond film - and it is what the media writes about. What is the real basis of the story?
Very briefly, Israeli Mossad agents under the direction of [then Israeli prime minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and [then chief of the Israeli secret service Mossad] Danny Yatom went to Jordan, without respecting the peace accord between Israel and Jordan. They had false identities as Canadians. They had planned my quiet assassination, so as to avoid the anger of King Hussain and of the Europeans. They used a chemical substance in this mission, which shuts down the centers of breathing control. This was to be a crime without the leaving of a trace. But the agents were surprised by my bodyguard, who succeeded in catching two of them. Within ten hours of their mission I had lost consciousness and was only able to breathe with the help of a respirator. As fate would have it, the quiet mission turned to be a very noisy one. [Then Jordanian] King Hussain acted very bravely and forced the Americans and [then] President [Bill] Clinton to exert Pressure on the Israelis to deliver the antidote. And Netanyahu was finally obliged to supply it.
How did your family react during the assassination attempt and how do they tolerate that you are putting your life on the line for the Palestinian question?
During the assassination attempt, my father, mother, wife and children all acted with a calm spirit, patience, with respect for the unavoidable and with belief that all is in the hands of God. They knew that in the context of acting against the Israeli occupier, such a thing was bound to happen. Regarding the family, it´s true that they were more anxious in the past, but they are used to it now and feel secure about me - this is a part of sense of security and of braveness of the Palestinian people. Any Palestinian by his nature prepares himself to be sacrificed, and more, is ready to sacrifice his children and family.
ABOUT RELATIONS WITH THE WEST
Despite the fact you stress you are not against West, Hamas' relations with the West remain more than tense. What is your personal attitude to the West? What do you know about us? Does Western culture - literature, films, music - inspire you?
I spent a lots of time studying Western culture, especially as a young man between the ages of 14 and 17, and I continue to be in touch with some sources of Western culture to this day. At that age I read the books of the English philosopher Colin Wilson and the books of Victor Hugo, especially Les Miserables, Dostoevsky´s Crime and Punishment and the books of Charles Dickens. I was not exposed to music very much, though I have read about Mozart and Beethoven. What I found very interesting was European paintings from Da Vinci all the way to modern art. Later I visited many European countries as well as the US and during these visits I was introduced to their history and culture, going to museums and galleries. I read books about the history and civilization of these countries.
Does it help you to understand and overcome the differences you may have with Westerners?
I consider it an important part of ones culture upbringing to be introduced to other cultures as well, as it is normal to have contacts and communication between different cultures and this is an opportunity for one to see what exists elsewhere. It gives one diversity, a sense of openness and a sense of tolerance. Then you have a place in your life for the thinking of others and not only for your own living. And this is how the situation should be: cooperation between civilizations, not struggle. But in my case I did it with my own, Arabic-Muslim, cultural background. To be open to other cultures is necessary, however not at the expense of your own culture, of the culture of your Home and region. This Arabic-Muslim culture of mine I have built from childhood, either on the level of language, literature, ideology or history.
FUNDAMENTALISM AND LABELLING
Hamas has its roots in the Muslim Brotherhood movement, which in the West is considered a fundamentalist movement. Would you consider yourself a fundamentalist or even – how the Americans label you – a terrorist?
First of all I do not accept this classification, which is imposed by one side on the other. To say that such a movement is fundamentalist, extremist or even terrorist – what are the criteria to base such a decision on? And who is the party that is qualified to judge others? Are classifications absolute, or relative? If somebody considers me a terrorist, I will consider him a terrorist too. In Hamas, we do not have an inferiority complex in front of these categorizations of the bAmerican administration or some Western individuals and states.
It means you think the terrorist or fundamentalist labels on your movement are unjust? Why?
Because it is not the right of the American administration or any other country of the world to be the arbiter of the morality of mankind. Everybody in this world sees others according to their point of view. But no one has the absolute vision for judging others. Yes, our roots go back to the Muslim Brotherhood, we are part of this culture and environment. Some people find it strange that there are Muslim movements in this part of the world. But this is a Muslim-Arab region! In the same sense I do not find it strange that there are Christian parties in Europe, because Europe has Christian roots.
However you are undertaking some terrorist operations against your enemies...
In the Hamas movement we are undertaking a just resistance against the occupiers, not terrorism, as the US terms it. Hamas [Harakat Muqáwama Islámija, Islamic Resistance Movement] is a resistance movement, not a terrorist movement. I do not care what others say about us. The most important thing is if I am doing my duty or not. If I surrender to the Israeli enemy and I am appreciated by the US administration, what will be my profit? My priority is to do my duty towards my nation. And these unfair American criteria will change someday. Remember, they used to consider Nelson Mandela a terrorist and now they consider him a peacemaker and respect him.
Your ideology may be in some parts well known to Western readers, however what are the main points you would like to stress?
First of all, we are a just resistance movement against the Israeli occupier. Resistance is our right as it is the right of any other nation of the world. Secondly, we belong to the culture of this region, the Muslim East, and we bear its culture and identity as every country in the world and all people in the world bear their culture and identity. Thirdly, we are open to the world, we recognize others, and we believe in dialog between civilizations and cultures. We believe in tolerance and justice, we respect human rights, democracy, the peaceful handing over of authority and we are against all forms of oppression. We treat humanity as the children of Adam and Eve and we live together on this planet. This is how the Hamas movement sees itself. But as Hamas respects the rights of others, we can not accept that somebody else is taking our rights from us.
ABOUT THE STATE, AUTHORITY AND ORGANISATION OF THE SOCIETY
The Muslim Brotherhood, from which you are derived, considers amongst its priorities the reinstatement of the caliphate and reuniting of Dar Al-Islam. Do you respect contemporary types of state, or do you refuse this and aim to establish different models in Palestine?
The dominant form of organization of society in the contemporary world are national states and we have no problem to deal with this model. Every nation can have its own national state, like the Czech people, Egyptians and Palestinians. There is no contradiction between having a national state and some greater sort of unity such as an Arab League, Islamic Conference or European Union if they can find common elements such as geographical, cultural or economical interests.
Back to my question. What type of state do you want in Palestine?
We believe that the basis of the national state should be – and this is valid for the Palestinian state - democracy with free elections. We are against dictatorship. This state must belong to all people [compare the Israeli statement that Israel must be a Jewish state, remark of Foreign Desk], and it does not matter if its citizens are Muslims or Christians, there is no difference between races and religions. We in Palestine are of the same race - Arab Palestinians. We see our state as being based general happiness and on the fight against corruption, on the respect for human rights. Culture and religion is a free choice of all sons of their native country, it cannot be imposed. There is no contradiction with being proud of your past. You cannot be connected with your past but you have to deal with your present and try to look forward to your future. A good state serves its citizens and at the same time tries to improve its conditions of life and to be a country of scientific progress and not deterioration.
ELECTIONS AND DEMOCRACY
Elections and democracy are seen as a Western state concept. You followed that concept many times, but for example in 2006 the West refused to accept the Hamas victory in fair general elections. Are you not disappointed by this Western attitude?
But democracy is an Islamic concept as well! The main problem is that the West behaves to Palestine according to a double standard. I am not talking about the whole of the West, but about certain states. Anytime you disagree with their interests, they make a problem from that. And this was the case of the 2006 elections. We try to promote our rights, especially our right to resistance. We want from the West to accept our right for resistance, defense and existence. And I ask the people of the world to try to see this topic as the Palestinians see it, not as the Israeli occupiers see it.
WESTERN DOMINANCE AND WESTERN WEAK POINTS
For the last 200 years, the West has dominated world cultures and areas which were centers of civilization in the past, through its economic and military power. Do you think this dominance will finish one day and that Arabs may dominate the world again?
The dominance of somebody over another is not natural. This is why it should not be a permanent situation and we, Arab umma, should get rid of such dominance. There are subjective factors which are the reason for weakness and indecision of the Arab nation. And then the factors of those who govern [the world] to prevent Arabs from independence and prosperity. None of these attempts will last a long time. I am sure that Arabs will get rid of any kind of foreign dominance in the near future.
The contemporary economic crisis reveals the weaknesses of the Western social, state and economic model. Do you have any alternative for the organization of state and society?
As Muslims we believe that the Islamic economy is the solution. It does not mean the economy should have a rigid form. I am talking about the principles and values of Islamic economy: These principles are healthy and the West should study them. Some of the principles which caused the contemporary economical crisis are refused or forbidden by Islamic economy. This is the part of the openness of civilizations: the West can take advantage from it. For example, Islam has a balanced principle between personal property and public property. One does not take the place of the other. Islam also maintains a balance between physical and spiritual needs. In Islamic culture you are not asked to live your spiritual life separately from your material life. At the same time it is not good or correct for one to live away from ones spiritual life. And this principle is one of the advantageous characteristics of Islamic culture.
ABOUT SOCIAL SYSTEM AND JUSTICE
Hamas is investing significant finances into social infrastructure and social welfare in the Palestinian territories. Many families rely on Hamas money much like the Western unemployed rely on money from the social security system. How much do you spend on charity and social help every year and where do you get this money?
Islam provides us with the concept of social justice, so this is part of our duty to help our people. Hamas is morally concerned about fighting against the occupier and ensuring a good standard of life for people under occupation. Politically we want freedom and self-determination for our people. At the same time, we want a good standard of living and dignity for them, even under occupation. Life in dignity and peace for life helps people fight against occupation. Hamas is building social institutions and fights against corruption. Money for these activities comes from people from all over the world - from Arabs, rich Palestinians - and these people believe in Hamas as a trusted intermediary to provide social services to the Palestinian people, in Gaza, West Bank and refugee camps.
ABOUT JIHAD AND ARMED STRUGGLE
What were the key reasons for starting the suicide attacks in 1993? How can justify them in front of the world? And how can you personally justify it in front of your wife and children?
Self- sacrificial actions were a response to Israeli slaughters, especially in the Ibrahimi mosque [in Hebron] in 1994 [the attack of Israeli physician Baruch Goldstein, who killed 29 and wounded 150 praying Muslims in the mosque]. This is normal human behavior. Every action has its reaction. And the one responsible for it is the person who began this action. We do not aim to kill Israeli civilians, children and women. But Israeli crimes provoke this reaction of the Palestinian people, that they are even willing to blow up their bodies.
Did you personally order some of the attacks and do you agree with them?
I am a political leader and I do not intervene in military actions. There is a military section of the movement that is responsible for planning, arming and organization of self-sacrificial actions, for actions against the occupier. [The so-called Izz ad-Din al-Qassam brigades - the military wing of Hamas]. And my position as political leader? I support the Palestinian people and their fight for their rights with all the means that they have. And I ask the world to provide modern arms to the Palestinian people to be able to defend themselves!
At the beginning of May you said in an interview you would stop rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza. Does this mean that you understand that Israel cannot be defeated by armed struggle? Or did you just change the strategy and now you want to defeat Israel by peace?
I did not say that! I was asked by journalists from the New York Times “why don't you fire rockets these days”. And I answered that the decision about resistance - including the firing of rockets - is based on three factors: firstly, the implementation of the right of the Palestinian people to struggle against the occupation, secondly, evaluation of the living conditions of the Palestinian people, and the third point is to reveal that it is the Zionist enemy who is responsible for this bloody conflict in the region. But your conclusion is not right, because if this was the case [of impossibility to defeat Israel by armed struggle] we would not choose armed resistance. On the contrary, Israel is the one that sees on a day to day basis that a military course only is not capable of bringing them peace and security in the region, especially after the failures in Lebanon in 2006 and during the war in Gaza in 2008/09.
HAMAS CHARTER AND TWO STATE SOLUTION
Regarding a two state solution, Hamas has never canceled their Charter from 1988. Right at the beginning it is written: “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it”. Obviously this means the destruction of Israel. Would you still agree?
As I have stressed several times, Hamas accepts the Palestinian state on the borders from June 1967 (before the war). This acceptance includes ensuring the special status Jerusalem and the dismantling of the [Israeli] settlements [on the West bank] and the right for Palestinians to return. This was agreed upon by the National Accord Document in 2006.
Article Eight of the Charter says for Hamas “Allah is its target, the Prophet is its model, the Koran its constitution: Jihad is its path and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of its wishes.” Sounds like Hamas has a concept in mind of an Islamic State. Does it mean that if you win your own state you will establish an Islamic regime with Sharia law and Jews and Christians will be second class citizens?
All Palestinians are equal, no citizen of the Palestinian state is a second class citizen. We are not forcing people to accept our vision. They have the right to choose. But if our people choose democratically to use Sharia [Islamic law], where is the problem? All countries, including in Europe or the USA, use their own political or economical system according to the voice of their peoples. Any citizen of any country respects the system in this state. If I travel to Britain or Germany, I respect the system there. If a state chooses to implement Christianity and another chooses an Islamic regime, it is their right, if they vote for it. It is a mistake to force a regime on any nation. And it is dangerous. And it is a mistake to prevent choice. Whenever such choices are made by the will of the people, it is right. On the contrary, to impose a system on people is bad, to prevent them from choosing what they want is also bad.
Lebanese Hizbullah co-founder Ayatollah Fadlallah said some weeks ago that all the Islamic movements of the region such as Hamas, Hizbullah, the Muslim Brotherhood, should unite to become more powerful. Is it a good idea to have one movement for the region sympathizing with armed struggle?
Did he say this? Cooperation is good and welcomed, but we do not see it being practical to unite the movements since each of the movements has its targets and its aims.
The Lebanese Shia movement Hizbullah which is – like Hamas – supported by Iran is pressuring Israel from the north, Hamas from the south. Do you coordinate your steps in some manner?
We have good relations with Hizbullah, we cooperate in many matters, but we do not coordinate our steps.
Hamas is financially supported by Iran. What is the current influence of Iran on your movement?
There is no influence.
But you use Iranian money. How are you paying them back for their support?
We accept their help, but we never accept any conditioned help.
GAZA WAR IN 2008/09
During the Gaza war, Israel committed war crimes. What about Hamas? A report of Human Rights Watch mentioned that Hamas executed Palestinians and were shooting them in the legs for being collaborators. Was this done in accordance with Islamic law or human rights?
It is not correct to compare our means with Israeli means. Israel had huge weapons and power. Some people talk about rockets fired on Israel – but this was only a reaction. We do not want to attack civilians. That is why we want better and more precise weapons to be able to aim at [Israeli] military targets. And the punishment of traitors? It is a duty of all movements to punish them! I accept that mistakes and injustice could have taken place, but our aim is justice and law.
SOLUTION OF THE CONFLICT
What is Hamas' final target – is it a two state solution? And are you able to come to a compromise with the Israelis? Is this possible at all? Especially a compromise with Netanyahu, who probably ordered and agreed with your killing 12 years ago, and with Mr. Lieberman, who "wants to drown Hamas in the Dead Sea because it is the lowest point on the Earth"? What would this compromise be?
My main task is the Palestinian question, it is not of primary importance if it will be a two states solution or another solution. We want our state, but we want to get rid of the occupiers first. However, Israel is not accepting the two state solution. [Former Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser] Arafat was not successful. [Current Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas is also not successful, and they were both abiding fully with international terms, recognizing Israel. Israel never gives up if it is not under pressure. It is not a question of a compromise with Netanyahu or Lieberman or whoever. We have to concentrate pressure on the occupier. And this pressure must be an armed struggle to achieve something.
Do you really want a Palestinian state? Many Palestinians are working in Israel, with the creation of your own state many of them can lose their jobs and your state could face difficulties, for example can be cut from energy, water etc. And you can face various difficulties and obstructions from Israelis.
Israel does not want an independent Palestinian state, but some kind of autonomous territories. Such territories would be under the control of Israel. But we want a real state - politically, and economically independent from Israel, with its own security. This is the kind of state we want. We do not want any type of state which will have to follow Israel. Palestinians with their experience, education and capability are able to have their own state.
Questions: Zdeněk Lokaj, Damascus, Syria
Editing: Pavel Kučera