Senior Hamas Leader, Mahmoud Zahar claims a victory for the resistance after the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, and attributes Hamas’ tremendous popularity to their translucent style of governance in a system still plagued with corruption.
Interview conducted by Erica Silverman, Gaza City
Palestinian factions maintained the agreed upon ‘period of calm’ while Israel evacuated all 21 Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip. Since, Hamas has held seemingly endless celebrations marking the “success” of their resistance while calling for Palestinian unity.
President Mahmoud Abbas has kept Hamas involved in the political process, despite the fact they will challenge his own Fatah party in the coming January legislative elections.
Hamas has entered the democratic process, although the group is still committed to a violent resistance to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories. Zahar applauds the role of the Egyptian delegation in mediating between Palestinian factions, and demands that the Palestinian Authority take responsibility for internal security matters.
Q.) There was a consensus reached among the Palestinian factions, and the Israeli settlers did not evacuate under fire. What was Hamas’ role in facilitating this coordination and maintaining this period of calm?
A.) Our aim was to push the Israelis out, either under fire or quietness. We succeeded and our goal is achieved. Because of the resistance Israel reached the conclusion they should leave; their existence here was costing them too much.
Q.) How active has Hamas been in the “Withdrawal Committee” comprised of the top level leadership from different factions. Has Hamas been involved in the coordination for the celebrations and the return of settlement land post withdrawal?
A.) We have almost succeeded to reach a conclusion regarding the seaport, concerning the waste products of the settlements, the agricultural policy after the withdrawal, and the presence of the Israelis at Rafah crossing. We are in contact with the [Palestinian Authority] ministries concerning the withdrawal… Two days before [the withdrawal] we met with Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and agreed to have a common celebration with the PA and all Palestinian factions, and after that it is the right of every faction to celebrate to his will.
Q.) Can you give a statement regarding the recent assassination of Musa Arafat and the subsequent kidnapping of his son, Menhal and who do think should be held accountable?
A.) The people that executed the killing and kidnapping are a Palestinian militant group, the Moqwama Shabiya [Popular Resistance Committee]. They are responsible and declared that frankly. The people are very happy about what happened; Musa Arafat was a criminal.
Q.) What is the relationship between the PRC and Hamas?
A.) We have a good relationship with all the Palestinian factions that run a resistance against Israel.
Q.) The security situation in the Gaza Strip is deteriorating. Considering that the PRC was able to carry this out and take credit for it, how do you think the PA should respond?
A.) This was because of the corruption of the PA administration. They allowed their people to kill, to take the money of the Palestinian people, and this was a reaction.
Q.) What do you think of the PA’s ability to control the security situation?
A.) They are unable. First of all they need to control the security affairs inside the PA. What happened was a reaction of the PA security forces against their own member, Musa Arafat. They [PA security] in no way interfered to stop this attack. They were aware of what would happen and for 45 minutes nobody interfered.
Q.) Does Hamas provide security for the Palestinian people?
A.) It is not our responsibility. If we were to provide security the American people will say they are carrying guns, they are an alternative authority. They would not allow two armies with the Palestinian state. We discussed this, they [the PA] are responsible, and have to face their responsibility.
Q.) If and when Hamas is successful in the coming legislative election, how will Hamas improve the security situation?
A.) Our program, fist of all, would abruptly end corruption.
Q.) How would Hamas respond to the families that continue to take the law into their own hands? For example, the recent wave of kidnappings.
A.) Why are the people doing so? What are they collecting guns? First they were fighting against the Israelis and now they are afraid of the PA administration because they are listing to the statements of Tawfik Abu Khoosa [PA Ministry of Interior spokesperson] that there is only one weapon and there is one army that is legal. Nobody trusts them. Musa Arafat’s actions are in the minds of the Palestinian people, and they are not going to give anyone the chance to repeat this process. They have to protect themselves not only on the organizational level, but also on the familial level. If the people feel secure they will react positively to any administration that will protect them.
Q.) Can you comment on the popularity of a recently elected Hamas mayor, Abu Osama (Ahmed Al Kurdi) in Deir El Balah?
A.) Every member of Hamas who succeeded to be mayor has achieved success... in Beit Lahiya and in Beit Hanoun. They are doing their best and are bringing a big change. In Dir Balah they are checking every morning to make sure municipal workers came to their jobs, paving new streets, new ways, and facilitating and improving the municipal activities. This is not satisfying America, because America is looking for a corrupt system to cooperate with them and Israel.
Q.) The western media often attributes Hamas’ popularity to the social services they provide. To what do you attribute Hamas’ tremendous popularity?
A.) It is not a recent phenomenon. Hamas is representing the consciousness of the Palestinian people. Hamas is representing the real attitude of their religion, the religion of the Palestinian whether they are Christian or Muslim…We are proud of our history. Hamas is presenting a purified system to run the administration by the most peaceful method which is elections. Regardless of the political aid or social aid, Hamas is setting a good example of how life has become much better on the political level – municipal and parliamentary - and social levels.
Q.) The Untied Stated and the European Union still consider Hamas a “Terrorist” organization. Are you still negotiating with EU representatives?
A.) They [the Bush administration] are criminals, they left the black classes in New Orleans to be killed by a natural disaster and they did not interfere. They are real “terrorists,” it is a matter if conviction. This administration is describing the freedom fighters as terrorists. America is committing state crimes against innocent people in Iraq, Afghanistan, in Palestine, and even Venezuela.
Q.) Would you negotiate with the US?
A.) The US is not our interest. We are fighting for the liberation of our land, protecting our people, battling corruption – these are out interests - whether this is satisfying America or not. America is not considered as our God, we are not obedient to this administration. This administration is going to loose their popular support as we are watching.
Q.) What is your position toward the EU?
A.) We have no bad feelings toward the EU, but they have a hypocritical policy. They are afraid of America. They are afraid from Israel. They do not want to be described as anti-Semitic. They are not expressing their feelings honestly.
Q.) How do you feel about the role Egypt has taken negotiating with Israel on behalf of the Palestinians, and negotiating between Palestinian factions?
A.) The Egyptian government is serving two interests - the Egyptian interest to keep this area quite before the elimination of the occupation, and also to make reconciliation inside the Palestinian society, and to give the chance for elections. Up to this moment the Egyptian policies are acceptable. In the future we will escalate our relations with Egypt because this is the only chance for the Gaza Strip to connect with the Arab and Muslim world.
Q.) What is your position regarding the Rafah crossing?
A.) During his visit Mr. Omar Suleiman stated we [Egypt] will not allow Israel to be there. If they are there, Hamas will not accept it. The Egyptian administration told us they will not allow Gaza to become a big prison, and they will not accept the existence of the Israelis at the gate. Concerning the commercial gate, called Kerem Shalom, if the PA accepts this and if we succeed in the elections, we are going to make an end to this gate.
Q.) Your position toward Israelis is that all civilians are considered the ‘enemy’ since there is mandatory military service for all citizens. What is your position toward Muslims that are living in Israeli and/or the Arab-Israelis?
A.) They are our brothers, our relatives.
Q.) Many of them are Israeli.
A.) They are not Israeli. They are under Israeli control, when they took their land in 1948. They are forced to use the Israeli passport.
Q.) The settlers were portrayed as victims as they were evacuating. What is your response to this image?
A.) They are victims….because they killed only 4,000 Palestinian people, one third of them children? They are victims; because they occupied our land…they came from Ethiopia, from America. This is a shameful, historical mistake. It is a shameful thing to consider these killers and thieves as victims… The American media belongs to the Israeli Zionists, whether they are Jewish or Christian Zionists.
Q.) Al Jazeera will launch an English channel this year. Do you think this will present a more accurate picture of the Palestinian situation to the rest of the world?
A.) It should be. Occupation is a big disaster. Not just for the Palestinians; for the Egyptians, Syrians, Ethiopians, and for international peace. The defeat of the Israeli aggression will serve international interests.
Q.) The PA has asserted the occupation continues even though the Israelis have withdrew, since they are still maintaining control over the border crossings, the sea port…
A.) [Interrupts] Ok, it is a first step … it is a clear picture of the success of resistance and it is a big victory.
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