Last Updated September 7, 2015
21 September 2010 – A United Nations monitoring committee said today that Israeli and Palestinian investigations into the deadly conflict in the Gaza Strip that ended early last year have so far been inadequate. In March, the UN Human Rights Council decided to establish a panel of independent experts to “monitor and assess any domestic, legal or other proceedings undertaken by the Government of Israel and the Palestinian side” in light of the allegations raised last year in the report of the UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission into the Gaza conflict – known as the Goldstone Report. That report alleged that both Israeli forces and Palestinian militants were guilty of serious human rights violations and breaches of humanitarian law during Operation Cast Lead, which took place from December 2008 to January 2009. “The parties responded, albeit in a different manner, to the call of the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council to meet their obligations to investigate allegations of crimes detailed in the Fact-Finding Mission report,” said Christian Tomuschat, chair of the committee of experts.
“The investigations, however, remain incomplete in some cases or fall significantly short of meeting international standards in others,” he added in a news release. The Committee, which issued its report today, said that while it received no response to its numerous requests for cooperation and access to Israel and the West Bank from the Israeli authorities, it did receive cooperation and assistance from the Palestinian side. “A lack of cooperation from Israel has hampered the Committee’s assessment of investigations into serious violations of war crimes,” Mr. Tomuschat stated. “Israel has published a lot of information on their investigations, but its refusal to cooperate with the Committee made it impossible to assess whether inquiries met international standards.” Despite the lack of cooperation, the Committee was able to draw some conclusions based on official submissions and numerous interviews with military experts and Palestinian witnesses with knowledge of Israeli investigations. “Israel conducted investigations into many incidents, but only four resulted in criminal indictments, one of which led to a conviction for a credit card theft,”
Mr. Tomuschat noted. The Committee found that these inquiries did not cover all allegations made by the Fact-Finding Mission. It found that Israel had not undertaken investigations into high-level decision-makers and had also failed to investigate claims of human rights violations in the West Bank alleged to have occurred at the time of the conflict. As for the Palestinian side, the Committee met with members of the independent Commission set up by the Palestinian Authority to investigate alleged human rights violations committed by public officials in the West Bank. “The Committee concluded that those investigations conformed with international standards. However, the Commission was unable to investigate fully allegations of serious violations of war crimes occurring in Gaza due to difficulties the Commission faced in accessing the Gaza Strip,” the experts stated. The UN Committee was however able to assess the work of two Committees of Inquiry established by Hamas, the de facto authorities in Gaza. The first, made up of Hamas officials, “made no serious effort to address the allegations raised by the Fact-Finding Mission,” it stated. The second body provided information on measures taken to redress violations in Gaza, but failed to substantiate assertions that political prisoners had been released and criminal prosecutions had taken place, the experts added. The UN Committee will present its report to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council on 27 September.
Israel’s military broke international laws during a raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, a UN Human Rights Council investigation says. Its report said the action by commandos, which left nine dead, was “disproportionate” and “betrayed an unacceptable level of brutality”. It said there was clear evidence to support prosecutions against Israel for “wilful killing”. Israel rejected the report as “biased” and “one-sided.” It insists its soldiers acted in self-defence during the 31 May raid. Nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists were killed and many others injured after Israeli commandoes boarded the six-ship convoy as it tried to breach an Israeli naval blockade of Gaza. The convoy’s passengers were detained and later deported by Israel. There was widespread international criticism of Israel’s actions, which severely strained relations with its long-time Muslim ally, Turkey. In a 56-page report, the UN panel of three international lawyers said: “There is clear evidence to support prosecutions of the following crimes within the terms of article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention: wilful killing; torture or inhuman treatment; wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health”. The Convention is an international treaty governing the protection of civilians in times of war.
The UN fact-finding mission also said the Israeli blockade of the Palestinian territory was “unlawful” because of a humanitarian crisis there. The panel had interviewed more than 100 witnesses in Britain, Jordan, Switzerland Turkey, but not in Israel. Before the report was released, Israel dismissed the Human Rights Council as being biased, politicised and extremist. After the findings were published, it said the report was “as biased and as one-sided as the body that has produced it”. “Israel… is of the opinion that the flotilla incident is amply and sufficiently investigated as it is,” said the Israeli foreign ministry in a statement. “All additional dealing with this issue is superfluous and unproductive.” The Israeli government has begun its own independent inquiry into the flotilla raid, the Turkel Commission. It has two foreign observers, but critics say its remit is too narrow. There is also a separate UN inquiry – ordered by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon – into the raid. Israel has said it will co-operate with the investigation.
260. The attack on the flotilla must be viewed in the context of the ongoing problems between the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority and People. In carrying out its task, the Mission was exposed to the depth of conviction on both sides of the correctness of their respective positions. Similar disasters are likely to reoccur unless there is a dramatic shift in the existing paradigm. It must be remembered that might and strength are enhanced when attended by a sense of justice and fair play. Peace and respect have to be earned not bludgeoned out of any opponent. An unfair victory has never been known to bring lasting peace.
261. The Mission has come to the firm conclusion that a humanitarian crisis existed on the 31 May 2010 in Gaza. The preponderance of evidence from impeccable sources is far too overwhelming to come to a contrary opinion. Any denial that this is so cannot be supported on any rational grounds. One of the consequences flowing from this is that for this reason alone the blockade is unlawful and cannot be sustained in law. This is so regardless of the grounds on which it is sought to justify the legality of the blockade.
262. Certain results flow from this conclusion. Principally, the action of the IDF in intercepting the Mavi Marmara in the circumstances and for the reasons given on the high sea was clearly unlawful. Specifically, the action cannot be justified in the circumstances even under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.
263. Israel seeks to justify the blockade on security grounds. The State of Israel is entitled to peace and security like any other. The firing of rockets and other munitions of war into Israeli territory from Gaza constitutes serious violations of international and international humanitarian law. But action in response which constitutes collective punishment of the civilian population in Gaza is not lawful in the present or any circumstances.
264. The conduct of the Israeli military and other personnel towards the flotilla
passengers was not only disproportionate to the occasion but demonstrated levels of totally unnecessary and incredible violence. It betrayed an unacceptable level of brutality. Such conduct cannot be justified or condoned on security or any other grounds. It constituted grave violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law.
265. The Mission considers that several violations and offences have been committed. It is not satisfied that, in the time available, it can say that it has been able to compile a comprehensive list of all offences. However, there is clear evidence to support prosecutions of the following crimes within the terms of article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention:
- wilful killing;
- torture or inhuman treatment;
- wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health.
The Mission also considers that a series of violations of Israel’s obligations under international human rights law have taken place, including:
- right to life (article 6, ICCPR);
- torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (article 7,
- ICCPR; CAT);
An Israeli doctors’ group has been named as one of the four winners of this year’s Right Livelihood award – dubbed the alternative Nobel prize. Physicians for Human Rights Israel was recognised for operating mobile clinics in occupied Palestinian territories and campaigning for patients’ rights. The Rights Livelihood awards honour the power of grassroots change, the Sweden-based foundation said in a statement. Four recipients will share the 200,000 euro (£172,000; $273,000) prize. The award was founded in 1980 by Swedish-German philanthropist Jakob von Uexkull to recognise work he felt was being ignored by the Nobel Foundation. Other winners of the 2010 awards include Nigerian and Brazilian environmentalists, as well as Nepalese community activists.
The prize will be presented to the four recipients in a ceremony at the Swedish parliament on 6 December, four days before the Nobel Prizes are handed out. Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI) was included for its “indomitable spirit” in working for the right to health for all people in Israel and the Palestinian territories, the Right Livelihood foundation said in a statement. The Tel Aviv-based group was founded in 1988 at the start of the intifada by Dr Ruchama Marton and Israeli and Palestinian physicians. It provides healthcare to impoverished Palestinians and migrant workers, and lobbies against what it sees as repressive policies of the Israeli government. In a statement, Dr Marton said that the award strengthens the group’s “ongoing struggle against all sources of oppression”. As a result of the blockade of Gaza, hospital facilities are extremely poor, medicines are scarce and dozens of people die each year waiting for permission to be treated in Israel, the UN has said. Although Israel and Egypt have eased the blockade of the Gaza Strip, the movement of Palestinians is still severely restricted. Israel says the restrictions are necessary to pressure militants to stop firing rockets from the Hamas-run territory.
Posted: August 31, 2010 02:58 PM by
With pundits in most capitals already predicting failure for the US-brokered Palestinian-Israeli peace talks to begin on Thursday, it seems only natural to start asking the question: “What’s next?” To get a jumpstart on what surely will be an onslaught of new, competing narratives vying for prominence in the post-peace process era, I headed to Damascus to talk to a man who has predicted the failure of this process from the start. And yet who — against all logic — has never been invited to sit at the negotiating table. Khaled Meshaal, head of Hamas’ political bureau, is an unassuming man who sauntered into our interview room unattended and chatted with me in English while we awaited his staff. The young father of seven — three daughters and four sons, in that order — is grounded, smart and energetic. We met at 1:00 a.m. when I was fading fast, and he was just getting started. There was a lot of ground to cover, but more than anything I wanted to leave the interview knowing what Hamas stood for. The resistance group, I felt, had left people confused in recent years. By moderating their stances and altering their language to accommodate changing realities in the Middle East, Hamas had become a bit blurry at the edges. Do they recognize a two-state solution? Do they reject the peace process outright? What do they think about the role and imperatives of the international community in resolving the longstanding conflict between Palestinians and Israelis? And most importantly for me — how does one today define an organization that has evolved so much since its inception?
Firstly, Hamas is clearly a national liberation movement that has at it roots a “resistance” outlook. It’s focus is the liberation of Palestine from Israeli occupation, and the group’s Islamist character complements rather than competes with Hamas’ political objectives. Secondly, Hamas’ resistance of occupation is at the heart of its strategies — be they efforts to reach out and engage, or to take up arms. The strategy may change with evolving regional and global realities, but the group’s objectives stand firm. In a nutshell: While the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority enables Israel to enjoy a pressure-free occupation, Hamas ensures that Israel’s occupation remains always under pressure. And so we come to this last leg of the US-brokered peace process. Ostensibly, under the internationally-sanctioned land-for-peace formula, a major goal of negotiations is to end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands. So why then would Hamas not stand fully behind a peace process that sought to accomplish some of its very own goals? And why too would US mediators not invite the participation of a group that won the Palestinian popular vote in their last elections?
Here is what Khaled Meshaal had to say about the prospects and challenges of peace, and where we find ourselves at this moment, on the eve of direct peace talks:
SN: The peace process has been going on for 19 years — what in your view has been the major reason for its failure thus far?
KM: Three reasons. First of all, Israel does not want peace. They talk about peace but they are not ready to pay the price of peace. The second reason is that the Palestinian negotiator does not have strong cards in his hand to push the peace process forward. The third reason is that the international community does not have the capability or the desire to push Israel towards peace.
SN: On Thursday, direct talks begin again between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel — the US has worked hard to bring this about. What are your thoughts on this round, the US’ role and prospects for a breakthrough?
KM: These negotiations are taking place for American and Israeli considerations, calculations and interests only. There are no interests at all for us as Palestinians or Arabs. That’s why the negotiations can only be conducted under American orders, threats and pressure exerted on the PA and some Arab countries.
The negotiations are neither supported nationally nor are they perceived as legitimate by the authoritative Palestinian institutions. They are rejected by most of the Palestinian factions, powers, personalities, elites, and regular people — that is why these “peace talks” are destined for failure. This represents a perfect example of how the US administration deals with the Arab-Israeli conflict — how American policy appears to be based on temporary troubleshooting instead of working toward finding a real and lasting solution.
Consecutive US administrations have adopted this same policy of “managing conflict” instead of “resolving conflict.” This can be useful for American tactical and short-term purposes, but it is very dangerous on the long-term and the strategic levels. This approach will ultimately prove catastrophic for the region.
SN: There is debate about whether Hamas accepts the premise of a two-state solution — your language seems often vague and heavily nuanced. I want to ask if you could clarify, but I am also curious as to whether it is even worth accepting a two-state solution today when there has been so much land confiscation and settlement activity by Israel in the West Bank and East Jerusalem?
KM: Hamas does accept a Palestinian state on the lines of 1967 — and does not accept the two-state solution.
SN: What is the difference between the two?
KM: There is big difference between these two. I am a Palestinian. I am a Palestinian leader. I am concerned with accomplishing what the Palestinian people are looking for — which is to get rid of the occupation, attain liberation and freedom, and establish the Palestinian state on the lines of 1967. Talking about Israel is not relevant to me — I am not concerned about it. It is an occupying state, and I am the victim. I am the victim of the occupation; I am not concerned with giving legitimacy to this occupying country. The international community can deal with this (Israeli) state; I am concerned with the Palestinian people. I am as a Palestinian concerned with establishing the Palestinian state only.
SN: Can you clarify further? As a Palestinian leader of the Resistance you have to give people an idea of what you aspire to — and how you expect to attain it?
KM: For us, the 20 years of experience with these peace negotiations — and the failure of it — very much convinces us today that the legitimate rights of Palestinians will be only be gained by snatching them, not by being gifted with them at the negotiating table. Neither Netanyahu nor any other Israeli leader will ever simply gift us a Palestinian state. The Palestinian Authority has watered down all its demands and is merely asking for a frame of reference to the 1967 borders in negotiations, but Netanyahu has repeatedly refused to accept even this most basic premise for peace. Nor will America or the international community gift us with a state — we have to depend on ourselves and help ourselves.
As a Palestinian leader, I tell my people that the Palestinian state and Palestinian rights will not be accomplished through this peace process — but it will be accomplished by force, and it will be accomplished by resistance. I tell them that through this bitter experience of long negotiations with the Israelis, we got nothing — we could not even get the 1967 solution. I tell them the only option in front of us today is to take this by force and by resistance. And the Palestinian people today realize this — yes, it has a steep price, but there is no other option for the Palestinian people. The Palestinian people tried the peace process option but the result was nothing.
SN: While Hamas has not been a participant in the peace process, many of the Arab nations have pushed for these very negotiations. So then why have they persisted with these talks if most of them think the process is futile?
KM: This bloc (of Arab nations) which has pursued the peace process strategy with Israel is ready to continue with habitual and continuous negotiations without even a single outcome. They will continue with this peace process with Israel because they are not ready to turn to the other option.
SN: And the other option is?
KM: The confrontation of Israel. The other option is resistance — which will gain the strong cards to pressurize Israel. In short, a weak party (this Arab bloc) will adopt a course of action though he knows that he will see no positive outcome, as he does not have his own strength and has no strong cards. At the same time there is also a great pressure on The Resistance from America and Israel in order to prevent our success. If the peace process is blocked without hope, there is no option for the Palestinian people — for the people of the region — but the option of continuing with resistance, even though they realize the pressure that will come, and even though they realize there is a conspiracy against The Resistance.
SN: Well one of these Arab nations that keeps pushing for the peace process is Egypt. Egypt is also a party to the siege of Gaza. And yet Hamas accepts the decision of the Arab League to choose Egypt to mediate reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. Why did Hamas accept Egypt as a mediator?
KM: There is no doubt we have differences with Egypt regarding many of its political positions and decisions. But the reasons for Egypt’s mediation of reconciliation talks are different. The first is that Egypt is a major country in the region — it is not easy for other nations to just bypass them on any issue. The second reason goes back to geopolitics and the history between Palestine and Egypt, which make Egypt more vested in the Palestinian issue than virtually any other country.
The third reason is that the reconciliation itself consists of two parties — Hamas and Fatah. No mediator in this reconciliation effort will succeed unless both groups agree to their participation. Fatah simply refuses the intervention of any other Arab country as this will anger Egypt. We in Hamas do not refuse Egypt as the caretaker for the mediation — what is important for us is not whether we have X or Y as the mediator, what is important to us is that reconciliation itself has to be advanced in a correct way. And it was evident in the last round that the main impediment to this reconciliation is American interference.
SN: But then does reconciliation become impossible if Egyptians always cave to US pressure?
KM: Yes, there is an American pressure where Egypt is concerned. Mahmoud Abbas is also acquiescing to that same pressure and this undoubtedly makes the reconciliation more difficult.
SN: Why, in your view, does the West not engage directly with Hamas and make you a partner to the solution? Surely the only path to a comprehensive peace is a solution agreed upon by all major parties to a conflict?
KM: The West is trying — either because it lacks the capability or desire — to get somewhere in the region through pressuring the Palestinian side, and not pressuring the Israeli side. The Americans are still convinced today that if they continue pressuring the Palestinian and Arab negotiators — and not get Israel angry — they can reach some breakthrough through this process. The time is coming when they will reach a dead-end because the Palestinian people will simply not agree to any solution which will not provide for all their legitimate rights.
SN: Well some Palestinians would. It appears that the Palestinian Authority is prepared to strike a deal that does not address the Palestinian refugees’ right of return. But could that be a real solution?
KM: I am talking about a majority of Palestinians — not the few. The Palestinian Authority cannot reach a solution with the Israelis without the approval of the majority. Any rightful representatives of the people will advocate for, and not disregard, the Palestinian people’s ambitions and legitimate rights. In short, the West will discover sooner or later that any solution that will not fulfill the rights of the Palestinian people will not be successful and will not be implemented. In that very particular instance, when they finally decide to respect the desires and ambitions of the Palestinian people, they will decide to engage with the Hamas movement. To clarify… though we are open to them, the key for the success of any solution is not through the West or the Americans — we believe that the key to success will come through pursuing our national rights. The change will be made from within the region — whether America is satisfied or not — because anyone who is awaiting change from the West today will not get any change.
SN: There are rumors that Hamas has been secretly talking to US officials for about two years — is there any truth to this?
KM: We don’t have any interest in concealing official meetings if they take place. Essentially speaking, there are no official or direct talks with the US administration, except for some meetings that happened at the side of some conference in Doha with low-profile individuals, and we do not consider these direct or official talks with the administration. But we do consider some of these meetings as indirect talks — we know very well that some non-US officials we meet with report to the administration. And yes, we have met some former Democrat and Republican officials, and we know that they too report to the administration. We are interested in meeting with the Americans and the West, but we do not beg for these meetings and we are not in a hurry.
Palestinian resistance group Hamas has beaten some unusual odds to survive today: Israel’s unlawful siege of Gaza has crippled the coastal strip’s economy and left Hamas scrambling to govern a restless population living under increasingly desperate conditions. Its officials and members are targeted by Israel and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA) for detention, torture and extrajudicial killings. Pro-US Arab leaders undermine it at every turn, partly to satisfy American demands, partly because they fear the widespread popularity of any moderate Islamist resistance group among their own populations. Classified by the US as a “terrorist” organization, Hamas has spent the past year battling armed Salafist extremists who want to enforce Islamic law in the Gaza Strip and who view the Hamas leadership as too weak-willed to challenge Israel’s occupation of Palestine. It is ironic that Hamas today is criticized for being hardline — and liberal too. Militant — and not militant enough. Islamist — and not Islamist enough. Iranian stooges — and US pawns, both. I expected to see some of these contradictions in Khaled Meshaal, head of Hamas’ political bureau, when I interviewed him in Damascus recently. What I discovered instead is that, like a select crop of leaders we are seeing in the Middle East today, Meshaal refuses to be seen through one lens only.
A real challenge for US policymakers with their unidimensional approach to regional politics.The former high school physics teacher convincingly argues that the New Middle East is one where nations need to keep their “options open.” He rejects a regional status-quo where countries stay in “blocs” unthinkingly, and vehemently argues against the notion that Mideast democracy and reform cannot advance unless foreign intervention ends. Meshaal may be more of a geopolitical strategist than suspected, but he also manages to stay infuriatingly “on message” most of the time — never a fun thing when you would love a stray impolitic anecdote. Toward the end of our discussion I asked him about his rumored stash of Dubya jokes, and received nothing but a twinkle in his eye in return, though I could swear he almost caved. But Hamas’ goal to end Israel’s occupation of Palestine is no laughing matter, and Meshaal’s earnest focus reflects the gravity of events in the Mideast today. In Part 1 of the interview seen here, he addresses the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and Hamas’ perspective on the recently launched peace talks. This time around, Khaled Meshaal talks about broader regional issues, including the emergence of the “Resistance Bloc,” the New Middle East, relations with Iran, the Ground Zero mosque…and on a more personal note, his relationship with his father:
SN: The “Resistance Bloc” in the Middle East – Syria, Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas – how did it come about?
KM: The forming of this bloc is a natural consequence of events in the region – firstly, the presence of Israel and its atrocities against the region, and then the failure of the negotiation process to achieve something substantial. Even when the Arabs compromised and agreed to the borders of 1967, they did not receive a serious response from Israel. Thus, we have this stalemated situation where Israel has a free hand to do whatever it wants – with the world community turning a blind eye – which leads to the response in the street and to the forming of the bloc you have mentioned. So there is a vacuum. There is a fiasco. There is a frustration. There is an increasing fury and anger among the masses. And now, embarrassment at the official level in the region. There is also the emergence of resistance in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan. This resistance keeps standing up to Israel and keeps developing its capabilities – as you can see, they accomplished some successful results in Gaza and in Southern Lebanon. Resistance has therefore become an attractive model for states in the region. This naturally created an environment conducive to the forming of this bloc.
SN: You mention Israel as a key reason for this Resistence Bloc forming in the Middle East. But I believe this “bloc” has more than just four members – it is more of a “Worldview” which includes Qatar, Turkey, maybe Oman, Iraq and others – the one common denominator being “the desire for a state to act in its own self-interest.” Israel may have been a trigger for this Worldview emerging in parts of the Mideast, but how does a country like Qatar for instance get drawn in?
KM: You got this in the same context as I wish to continue. Look at a country like Qatar – it has good relations with the United States, used to have a degree of relations with Israel until the Gaza War, and is considered to be a moderate and liberal state. Qatar’s foreign policy is being formed by the views of its leader, the Emir. The situation in the region created a belief, for a country like Qatar, that if it wants to have a role in the region, it has to open up its options in all directions. The one who keeps himself away from the relevant elements in the region, he won’t be relevant himself. In Qatar you have this leadership – someone who is smart and courageous like the Emir. He understands and realizes full well the aspirations and the mood of his own people and the people of the region. So he adopts those issues and causes which are popular among his constituencies, among those nations – which works well if those issues are already close to his own beliefs and his own interests. Keeping in mind that other Arab countries have for decades been unable to present a successful model that is attractive for others to adopt, this new regional state model has thrived in recent years. These countries – Qatar, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Turkey – share some common elements, but they are not identical to each other. They each have their own modus operandi and interests. Something these nations do share, however, is the self-desire to develop this new trend, but at the same time to remain open – not closed or bound – to enjoying options.
SN: Not dogmatic, as in the past…
KM: …ah yes, not like that. Why should we be dividing ourselves into two blocs – either being against America and the West, or acquiescing 100% to them?
The people in the region, they are looking for leadership to match their own aspirations and ambitions. In a way we need a model where democracy is there, internal reform, successful economy, justice at the social level – and at the same time, there is independence in their political decisions, away from acquiescing to the threats of Israel – and not being a proxy to foreign, American and Western policies. We do not want to wage a war against the world. Or to sever relations with countries. So the nations and the people of the region want a state model based on self respect – without any enmity with the world.
SN: But is it possible to make progress in domestic reforms before foreign interference in the region stops?
KM: My view is that no doubt the foreign intervention is an impediment and has its own negative repercussions. But of course it cannot stop our internal reforms….
SN: It completely stopped the Palestinian democratic process…
KM: The Palestinian situation is different because we are under occupation and don’t have a state. I am talking about stable countries in the region. They have no excuse not to have their own democratic models and reforms — even with foreign intervention — and Turkey is an example of that. Any leadership that genuinely desires to make internal change will do it irrespective of obstacles or foreign intervention. Otherwise if we acquiesce to the notion that the foreign element is the decisive factor in a process for transformation, we will never have democracy, reform, social justice and vibrant economies in this part of the world. In Hamas, we know very well how the intervention of Americans, Israelis and other international actors has had a significant impact on the Palestinian situation — especially if we talk about the control of money and financial assistance. Finances have had a direct impact on Palestinian politics, which is why the Palestinian Authority — Salam Fayyad, Mahmoud Abbas – is very weak. Hamas realizes the impact of this element on us and on the Palestinian situation, but we will not acquiesce to it.
SN: Do you think Hamas’ more conciliatory positions in recent years has “watered down” your organization? Have any of these efforts reaped any rewards for you whatsoever?
KM: The “openness” which you acknowledge yourself, comes neither from changing Hamas’ position nor from acquiescing to external pressures — this openness is part of Hamas’ strategy: On the one hand, we have remained steadfast in our determination to attain the legitimate national rights of our people and to continue the resistance. On the other hand, in politics, we proceed with an open mind. How do we do this? I restrict my battle to Israel only. Our battle is not with the United States of America — nor with the West. Yes, the American policies and some Western policies are hostile to us, but there is still no way that my battle is with them. So I am open – I can talk and I can engage in dialogue with the West and with the Americans. But I will not acquiesce to them. We have confidence in ourselves and independence in our decisions – we will not be a proxy for anybody, and our enemy is only restricted to the occupation – to the Israelis.
SN: Ok, but in all fairness, Hamas once was in large part about armed resistance like Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ) is still today. There are all these demands on Hamas from the international community today — to accept the Quartet Principles, accepting all the treaties, recognizing Israel, renouncing violence, etc. So your efforts to engage has landed you somewhere between PIJ and Fatah — and not so distinguishable any longer. I know exactly what those two organizations are about — but Hamas…not so much.
KM: You want a very distinctive or explicit answer. Either you adopt this track or that track. What you are suggesting in your question is not what Hamas desires.
Firstly, Hamas did not reduce its level of resistance because we wanted to present some flexibility with the Quartet conditions, or even to satisfy the West. The level of resistance diminished because of very objective field conditions inside Palestine. This goes for Hamas, Islamic Jihad — for everybody. I mean it wasn’t our political decision to downsize the resistance, but it happened because of the significant security pressures in the field — security pressures from both Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Secondly, Hamas is not practicing being a “moderate” movement to satisfy the other side or expecting something in return from the West — not at all — it is part of our own personality, our creed, the strategy we believe in. The West will decide to engage with Hamas when they are convinced that they will not achieve anything in the region without engaging with Hamas. And this time is coming.
SN: Israel is helping you a great deal these days, it seems? They are drawing censure from all quarters about their behaviors since the Gaza war, flotilla killings, Mabhouh assassination, settlement activity, destruction of the Bedouin communities in the Negev, etc.
KM: Yes of course, Israel is acting against its own interest. They want more regional hegemony, more power. They commit fatal mistakes against themselves, leaving no future for Israel. Occupation has no future, occupation will never be legitimized. It is only the weak people who live this fallacy, these false dreams — and we are not weak. We are realistic and so we will achieve our ambitions. Yes, today Israel is more powerful than us – the balance of power is not in our favor today. There is a Palestinian and Arab weakness, there is an American bias, there is weakness in the international community’s plans, but nevertheless the Palestinian people will ultimately win.
SN: Your political foe today — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — was also prime minister in 1996 when he ordered your assassination. The attempted killing drew the direct intervention of US President Bill Clinton and Jordan’s King Hussein who forced Netanyahu to provide an antidote for the toxin administered to you by Mossad agents. Politically, Netanyahu is your enemy — but what are your emotions toward this man on a personal level?
KM: I say but the truth, so you must believe me. For me there is nothing personal, there is no single personal feeling toward him — the only feeling I have is regarding his position towards my people. He is my enemy. Not because he tried to assassinate me – but because he is occupying my land. He is killing my people. Other than that dimension of being an enemy, an occupier in my homeland — I don’t have any additional personal feelings about him. I consider myself bigger than this — than having a personal clash with him. The suffering of my people is more important than my own suffering. The most important lesson out of this assassination attempt for me is that every individual has a pre-decided “time” from the almighty Allah, whether he dies in an assassination attempt or in his bed. If anything, this incident has made me more brave. We have a proverb which says “courage will never be a reason to shorten your life, nor would cowardliness be a reason to extend it.”
SN: The war drums are beating against Iran — what are your thoughts on this?
KM: At the Israeli level it’s increasing and worsening, but I believe that it will need some time at the American level. I believe that Israel will need American support to wage a war. The Israelis will not be in need for direct support of the Americans for the war on Lebanon, but they will for a war on Iran.
Israel does not want peace. Israelis — historically speaking — live on wars and battles. The failure of Israel in the last two wars, in Southern Lebanon and in Gaza, reinforces this image in front of the world. They want to save their face, they want to change the history — hence they are preparing for wars.
SN: We are often told that Hezbollah and Hamas take marching orders from Iran, and that Iran plans to use you folks in a proxy war against Israel. So let me ask you this…If Israel launched a military attack against Iran, how would Hamas react?
KM: We are not agents for anybody. We are not tools in the hands of the others. For sure we, Hezbollah, Iran and Syria have many things in common — especially in terms of resistance — but just as certainly, we are not a proxy for anybody, nor do we plan wars in other states. Hamas is not a “superpower” that can intervene to defend Hezbollah or Syria or Iran. Israel and America try to portray this — that we are proxies for each other — but this is very unrealistic.
SN: When you went to Saudi Arabia recently, Saudi Prince Faisal asked you whether you chose Iranians over Arabs….
KM: Correction – he asked whether our relations with Iran were at the expense of our relations with the Arabs and the Palestinian national interest. I told him: “yes, we have relations with Iran and will do so with whomever supports us. We will say thank you to them, but this is not at the expense of our Arab relations.” We are a resistance movement, open to the Arabs, to the Muslims and to all countries in the world, and we are not part of any agenda for regional forces.
SN: A senior member of the Islamic Action Front in Jordan told me that in the first year after the Iranian revolution, 80 books were published on the Shia but that there had only been three, maybe four, such books published in the decades before the revolution. This division between Muslims continues to be exploited by different parties — what can be done to diffuse this situation?
KM: You know the differences between the Sunni and the Shia is very well established historically, and it is still present today. But how to address this situation? Yes, some of the International parties they try to exploit to do as you say: divide and rule. And some parties in the region, official and non-official entities both, yes they want to make it a reason for war between the two worlds — a sectarian battle — between Shia and Sunni.
We, in Hamas, see ourselves — Sunni and Shia — as different sectarian-wise, but all part of one world. So we have to accommodate this difference and be united to confront the foreign enemy.
SN: Have you been reading about the Ground Zero mosque controversy in New York city? What are your thoughts on this very sensitive debate in the United States?
KM: Naturally speaking, America has to be in harmony with its own declared values. It’s not fitting or appropriate for Americans – under the guise of an anti-terrorism war – to fight Muslims by restricting them in their rituals or religious practice. One of your citizenship rights is to practice your religion. If they are American and they are Muslim American, they have the right to build a mosque as part of their citizenship rights.
In short, aside from the political differences, the freedom of practicing religious rituals and having religious freedom — for all religions — should be granted without having disparity or political differences brought into it.
SN: Not too long ago, I was talking to someone from the US Military’s CENTCOM who lamented the fact that there was never very much information available about the “personalities” of the Resistance leadership — he enjoyed the fact that Hezbollah’s foreign relations chief revealed in an earlier interview that he sometimes watches the Oprah Winfrey show with his wife. So I promised I would ask one personal question on his behalf, and it is this: What was your relationship with your father like growing up?
KM: Tell him to meet me and I will explain everything! I am the eldest son of my father. We were 11 children, and being the eldest made it a special relationship. In our culture, when a man or woman becomes a parent, they are nicknamed after their first-born child, and my father was therefore called “Abu Khaled” or “father of Khaled” his whole life. My father fought the British Mandate and the Israeli terror gangs like Stern and Irgun. This is one of the influences that passed from my father to myself — I have taken that spirit of resistance from him. And of course, within part of our Islamic and Arab culture, the deep emotional relationship between father and son — this is also part of it. My father passed on many of his qualities to me — resistance; the practice of religion; courage and resolve; a democratic soul. He was very fair in his approach within the family, inside the home. He used to give us freedom and it has had its own impact on my upbringing. The child that gets such a democratic atmosphere will have more confidence in his or her decisions. Since I was a young boy, my father gave me complete liberty — I have now brought the same policy to my own seven children. My father was also a leader in his tribe, and with the clans and families at a social level. In a way he was a reference for our town on social affairs, so one major part of his personality was to be open to all horizons for the benefit of the family and the town. I was brought up with this environment, and I got this openness from my relationship with him.
29 September 2010 Last updated at 21:22
Jewish activists who sought to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza say they were treated harshly when Israeli forces seized their vessel. Yonatan Shapira, an Israeli air force pilot turned peace activist, said he was shocked with a Taser gun while passively resisting arrest. And a British journalist said he was “ambushed” and “almost strip-searched” by commandos on board the vessel. Israel’s military had said the vessel was seized peacefully on Tuesday. It declined to comment on the activists’ accounts. Earlier this year, Israeli commandos killed nine people in clashes on board a Turkish ship trying to reach Gaza. Israel says its blockade is designed to prevent weapons being smuggled to the militant Hamas movement which runs the territory. Yonatan Shapira, a member of left-wing group Combatants for Peace, said he was treated “brutally” by Israeli soldiers when the ship was intercepted some 20 miles (30km) off the coast of Gaza on Tuesday. “After they boarded, I was standing with my hands around Reuven Moskowitz, the 82-year-old holocaust survivor,” he told BBC News. “We were trying to protect each other and singing: ‘We shall overcome.’ “The Israeli navy captain came closer and pulled out his Taser gun and said: ‘If you don’t let go… it will hurt.’
“We continued to hug and he shot me twice on my right shoulder. It was painful, but not as bad as the third shot. “He moved the life vest I had on, so he could reach closer to my heart and shot me, which made me lose control of my body. It felt like an epileptic attack or something. At that point I couldn’t hold anything and they grabbed me brutally to the boat.” British photo-journalist Vish Vishvanath confirmed that Mr Shapira had been hit by the stun gun. After his deportation to London, Mr Vishvanath said he had been “almost strip-searched” by Israeli special forces, who confiscated all his equipment. “About three commandos ambushed me and took all my camera gear. They confiscated my cell phone because it had a camera on it,” he told the Press Association. He said the activists put up “a lot of resistance”, but that no violence was used. The Irene, dubbed the Jewish Boat for Peace, was carrying what the activists called a symbolic amount of medicine, a water purifying kit and toys.
The Israeli army diverted the boat to the port of Ashdod and said the gifts would be screened and transferred overland to Gaza. All five Israeli activists were questioned and released without charge. Three of the four foreign nationals were deported late on Tuesday. The fourth, a German nurse, would be deported in the next few days, organisers said. Israel and neighbouring Egypt shut down Gaza’s border crossings when an Israeli soldier was captured in June 2006, and tightened the blockade further when the Islamist Hamas movement gained control of Gaza a year later. Israel began allowing consumer goods into Gaza after its May raid on a Turkish aid ship sparked international outrage. Nine activists were killed when Israeli commandos intercepted the ship in international waters. But it still blocks all exports from the territory, imposes a complete naval blockade, and severely restricts the movement of people. Israel says the naval blockade is required to stop arms being smuggled to Hamas, but critics and humanitarian groups say this amounts to collective punishment of the territory’s 1.5 million people.