WorldNetDaily conducted an exclusive interview with Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Zahar, the most senior Hamas member in all of Israel and the Palestinian territories; second in power only to overall Hamas leader Khaled Meshal, who resides in Syria. The conversation has been translated from Arabic by Ali Waked.
WND: Dr. Al-Zahar you’re the leader of Hamas, which has attacked and killed a large number of Israeli civilians. Are you a terrorist?
AL-ZAHAR: If I am a terrorist then there is a need to change the history of America and all of Europe. In this case we must call all the freedom fighters of America, like George Washington, a terrorist. Same for Charles de Gaulle, who fought against the occupation of France. Was he also a terrorist? From [President] Bush’s point of view I am a terrorist, but America which kills children is not a terrorist state? Israel, which has already killed more than 4,800 Palestinians, with more than a third of that number being children, this is also not terrorism from Bush’s point of view. Unfortunately, history is being written in dirty ink through a dirty vision.
WND: OK, then what is terrorism?
AL-ZAHAR: Terror is the use of mass-destruction weapons against innocent and weak people to impose on them your policies and political facts and solutions.
I want to ask about what happened [when America pounded the caves in 2001 during operations in Afghanistan] at Tora Bora? And what happened and is still happening in Fallujah? Are the Americans shooting chocolates and biscuits on the local and innocent population? No, they are shooting missiles.
What about the Americans in charge of their prison in Abu Ghraib, sending dogs on the prisoners. Is this OK? And a president who lies to his people and says the war in Iraq is led in order to abolish the mass-destruction weapons while it was discovered there were no such weapons in Iraq. Is it OK? Is it OK that the Americans who say they want to establish democracy in Iraq nominate a Kurdish agent as president of this country? What about promoting Ahmed Chalabi and [interim Iraqi Defense Minister Hazem] Shaalon, who stole millions in Iraqi currency? Is this democracy or is it no more power of the majority? Is this the cultural and democratic message of Bush to the world?
WND: If you knew President Bush were reading this interview, what would you have to say to him?
I am telling him that I think he is doing an enormous historical crime by fighting against Islam and giving Islam adjectives like fascism and terrorism. He is hurting American interests. No honorable person can deny the contribution of Islam to humanity and its development.
Therefore, I say that President Bush puts in danger American interests when he chooses to fight against Islam and describes Islam in a negative way that makes him face 1.3 billion Muslims in the world. It is stupid that a person decides to push the West and Islam into a confrontation. Doing so puts in danger his own interests.
WND: Hamas has taken responsibility for some of the Qassam rocket attacks before, during and after Israel’s Gaza withdrawal. Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has now threatened to assassinate you if there are more Hamas rocket attacks from Gaza. What’s your response to his threat?
AL-ZAHAR: These threats of Mofaz do not exist in reality. These are only talks. Mofaz knows that every attempt to hurt the leadership of our movement means the launch of immediate attacks against Israelis living around Gaza, which creates a lot of pressure on the Israeli government, especially after the withdrawal from Gaza. The impact of these threats of assassination on Hamas is positive at the level of the movement and its position among Palestinians. While the impact of our attacks on the Israeli government and society will be very negative.
WND: Was Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza a victory for Hamas and other Palestinian groups’ so-called resistance operations against Israelis? Did your resistance operations cause Israel to leave Gaza?
AL-ZAHAR: This is not a matter of analysis and interpretation. [That our operations caused Israel to withdraw from Gaza] is the truth and the reality and we lived this reality during the last few weeks. The withdrawal happened after years of political and diplomatic activity that achieved nothing. The military resistance, the tunnels, the explosions of Israeli military posts, as well as the explosions of tanks and stubborn fighting every time the Israeli army entered our territories, all this is what caused the withdrawal. The resistance caused Israel heavy damages, including on Israeli soldiers and Israeli society. Therefore, the resistance is the Palestinians’ main tool and option and will remain so.
WND: Does that mean this kind of resistance you describe will work to get Israel out of the rest of what you say is Palestinian land?
AL-ZAHAR: That must be the conclusion of [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon from what happened in Gaza. Sharon must realize what brought him to withdraw from Gaza and do the same thing in the West Bank. But if sharon does not understand the message from what happened in Gaza and will try to impose a reality in the West Bank, we will not have any choice.
After years of failed negotiations from 1991 until [the collapse of the Camp David Accords in] 2000, negotiations that took place in every capital in the world brought no results. After all that the Palestinians had no choice other than the resistance. And this is the option that the great majority of our people, except a minority of opportunistic people, is deeply convinced is the best choice because any negotiation with the occupiers will be helpless and will not bring back to the Palestinians any of their rights and it will not free their lands.
WND: Hamas’ official website had an article in Arabic that said Qassam rockets will be the future strategic weapon of your group instead of focusing on suicide attacks. The article said you would eventually fire rockets into Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Is this Hamas’ plan?
AL-ZAHAR: These reports are Israeli propaganda. Still Palestinian territories are occupied and if the political negotiations will fail, we have the right to use all the tools we have in order to free our occupied land. … What is taking place here is not a pure war in which Israel uses pure and clean weapon against us. This is a war in which Israel is responsible for ugly crimes; therefore, it’s our right to use every weapon we have.
WND: When you talk of occupied Palestinian land, are you referring to the West Bank and the eastern sections of Jerusalem, or do you mean the entire state of Israel? Let’s be clear here. Is your goal the destruction of Israel?
AL-ZAHAR: No one will deny the fact that before 1948, the state of Israel did not exist and that for thousands of years this land was part of an Islamic and Arabic land. History proves that this is the land of the Palestinian people and we will never give up any part of it. If our generation will not succeed to liberate all of historical Palestine then that mission will be for the following generations.
WND: Let’s say Hamas liberates all of Israel and the Palestinians are in control. What would you do with all the Jews and Christians living there?
AL-ZAHAR: To begin with, I must say that we differentiate between Zionism and Judaism as a religion. I suggest you ask the Christians living among us about their lives. They have very good lives. And let me tell you that it would not be a big surprise if in the future there would be a Christian among the Hamas leadership. In the past on our lists for the professional union elections there was a Christian candidate.
As for the Jews, we must remember that when they were expelled in 1290 by the British, they found a shelter in the Islamic states. This was also what happened when they were expelled by the French in 1302 and in the year 1492 by Spain. And I do not want to mention the German crimes in modern history. In all these cases, the Jews found a shelter and honorable life in the Islamic states. Wasn’t there a Jewish minister of finance in the state of Islam when it ruled Spain? He was called Musa ben Maimon. And ask the Jews about their life now in Morocco. The question you pose has no base in history.
WND: If Hamas were in charge, would you ban Western music or mixed functions between men and women? Would you make women wear head-dresses? There have already been reports of Hamas banning music festivals and imposing strict Islamic law.
AL-ZAHAR: I hardly understand the point of view of the West concerning these issues. The West brought all this freedom to its people but it is that freedom that has brought about the death of morality in the West. It’s what led to phenomena like homosexuality, homeless and AIDS.
The Palestinian people are Muslim people and we do not need to impose anything on our people because they are already committed to their faith and religion. People are free to choose their way of life, their way of dress and behavior.
It is wrong to think that in our Islamic society there is a lack of rights for women. Women enjoy their rights. What we have, unlike the West, is that young women cannot be with men and have relations outside marriage. Sometimes with tens of men. This causes the destruction of the family institution and the fact that many kids come to the world without knowing who are their fathers or who are their mothers. This is not a modern and progressed society.
Here I refer to what was said in the early ’90s by Britain’s Prince Charles at Oxford University. He spoke about Islam and its important role in morality and culture. He said that the West must learn from Islam how to bring up children properly and to teach them the right values.
WND: Palestinian legislative elections are currently scheduled for January. Do you think Hamas will win big? Will your group be a part of the overall Palestinian government?
AL-ZAHAR: The results of the elections will decide whether we’ll be in the government or out of it. We will be part of the parliament, but as for the government we must wait for the results.
About our chances, I can say that in the local Gaza elections we saw good results that surprised the Palestinian polling institutions. In the coming elections our people will choose between the activities and achievements of the Palestinian Authority, which is very mediocre, failed and corrupt, and our activities and work, which has been successful in all fields of life.
The population will be asked to decide between our strong record and powerful plans and those of the PA. By the way, it is not normal that a party that has failed in everything will base its campaign on a slogan that says, “I’ve got promises for you.” We will have a strong and representative list of candidates. Our goal is to achieve a position in which we will be a part of the decision making based on true political partnership.
WND: The Palestinian Authority, backed by the international community, is demanding that you disarm before participating in January’s elections. Does Hamas have plans to disarm?
AL-ZAHAR: In this issue, it is not Hamas against [PA President] Abu Mazen. Abu Mazen will be obliged also to face large parts of his own Fatah movement who are armed. There are also many members in the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and they all carry weapons. Abu Mazen must face other organizations too, like the Popular and Democratic Fronts, the Islamic Jihad, the Popular Resistance Committees and not only Hamas.
But what reason do they have to ask us and the other organizations to disarm while the enemy is continuing to attack the Gaza Strip and is planning to occupy it? Didn’t Sharon bombard Gaza with aircraft after the withdrawal? Didn’t he put in position artillery and threaten to use it? If any of this happens, who will defend the Gaza Strip? Will it be the PA that is against any armed struggle and that has never done anything against Israeli attacks? Therefore disarming the organizations is not a possibility. If we are disarmed, how will we face Israel while it is trying to occupy the Gaza Strip again?
WND: If Hamas wins in the elections, will your group focus on building a life for the Palestinians and abandon operations against Israel?
AL-ZAHAR: The resistance is a tool used to liberate the occupied territories. Once these lands are free, we can speak about other issues. The resistance is not a train that can just be stopped. It exists in order to remove the occupation, and once this happens our activity will focus on rebuilding what was destroyed by the occupation, on developing the economy, the society, the culture, the education and the health car.
Hamas started as a movement that dealt with these civil and social issues in giving our people services in many fields they did not have. We gave them a different level of services. Cleaner, more successful, more committed and more productive. Therefore we don’t see ourselves obliged to choose between the armed struggle on the one hand and authority and power on the other hand. We managed all these years to successfully combine the two.
WND: Hamas has admitted to kidnapping and killing Jerusalem resident Sasson Nuriel last month, releasing a video of your members interrogating the Jewish merchant with a blindfold strapped around his head. Should Israel expect more kidnappings of its citizens?
AL-ZAHAR: The issue of kidnapping is not new. This tool of kidnapping has existed since the ’80s and even before. Israeli soldiers Ilan Saadon and Avi Sasportas were kidnapped in order to free our prisoners. And if kidnapping will be the only way to get our prisoners freed, we shall do everything needed. There is occupation, there are prisoners and we have rights to get back, therefore we have the right to use any method in order to get our rights back.
WND: Israel is saying al-Qaida agents are in Gaza. That they were able to enter when the border with Egypt was wide open immediately following Israel’s withdrawal of its troops from the area. Is al-Qaida in Gaza? And in general, do you work with al-Qaida?
AL-ZAHAR: All these talks about the presence of al-Qaida is Israeli talks and propaganda. Israel tries to link al-Qaida, which acts abroad, and the resistance in Palestine in order to gain sympathy in the international community and in public opinion against Hamas and the Palestinian resistance. Israel tried in the past to link the Sept. 11 attacks to the Palestinian resistance.
We know that Israel tried through its agents to have contacts with marginal activists in the Palestinian resistance. The agents represented themselves as al-Qaida members and tried to tempt these people with money and weapons. This is part of the Israeli effort to represent things even though they are not that way, in order to say that al-Qaida exists in the Gaza Strip. I don’t believe there is any presence of al-Qaida in the Gaza strip. We in the Hamas, with the great number of activists we have, why would we need the help of al-Qaida or any other group in order to fight the occupation? We hardly even collaborate with other Palestinian organizations.
WND: A bit of a side question. The PA recently formed a new investigative committee to look into late PLO Leader Yasser Arafat’s demise. Do you think PA elements were involved in Arafat’s death?
AL-ZAHAR: I can tell you from the beginning that this committee will never publish its results. It will not do so in order to keep from harm elements and members in the PA. Also, its members do not want Palestinian elements and other personalities and even other states to be involved in their investigation. I, myself, as a doctor wonder what is the disease Arafat supposedly had that cannot be diagnosed and that the big France did not succeed in diagnosing. This is a crime and it is a political issue. And many persons, many elements and many states are not interested in clarifying this story in order to prevent problems. I also believe that Arafat died a long time before the official statement of his death was given. He died at least a week before it was announced.