Right is Might
I interviewed Khalid Mishal, widely regarded
at the time as the most senior figure in the Islamist
resistance movement Hamas, for Third Way
on the 21st May 2008 at his house in Damascus. I and
spent three hours with him, and we recorded almost 150
minutes. It seemed to me pointless to adopt an aggressive
style, though I would not agree that it was (as some
people have claimed) a cosy interview. He
seemed to both of us to talk with honesty and passion,
as well as some humour.
Alastair Crooke, the former MI6 officer who was Javier Solanas Middle East adviser in 1997–2003 and is now founding director of Conflicts Forum, quotes very extensively from this interview in his 2009 book Resistance: The Essence of the Islamist Revolution. When I sent him my questions beforehand for his comments, he replied: Well, it is a different interview! I have not seen [anything] similar! All I can say is, Thank goodness you are not interviewing me…
The interpreter was Dr Azzam Tamimi, director of
the London-based Institute of Islamic Political Thought.
This translation is by Ahmad alMuhammad, with thanks
to Amjad Taha.
We have a saying in English, The child is father
to the man. Could you tell me a little about your
childhood, and especially the people and the experiences
that, looking back, you feel have made you the man you
Like any Palestinian child, I was influenced by a great
many factors, at the level of the immediate family,
the village or the [refugee] camp, and the society and
the conflict it has witnessed for long decades. I was
influenced deeply by my mother, a devout woman who cares
very much for her children, and a close family, praise
God. My father was a member of the Palestinian resistance
in the Thirties and Forties. I learnt the spirit of
resistance and struggle from him, and I learnt integrity
from him and my mother and my family in general.
The village of Silwad, where I was born, was conservative
and devout. There, I loved life. I loved nature
I loved the land, the trees, the seasons. This made
my commitment to life at the same time profound and
simple, and this simple life fostered in me the values
of honesty, manliness, courage, straightforwardness
and a concern for other peoples welfare.
In my childhood, without question, the Arab-Israeli
conflict started to have an impact on our experience
of life early on. The media then were limited, especially
in the village, but nevertheless we grew up with the
conflict. The event that changed the course of my life
was the [Six-Day War] in 1967. It forced me to leave
my homeland and migrate to Jordan and then to Kuwait.
It was also a turning point in my thinking despite
my young age about the conflict and the Palestinian
Before 1967, I was like any child living in a normal or almost normal society. My studies were
the main interest in my life, especially as, praise
God, I excelled at them I was top in my school.
But after 1967 I became a different person. The suffering
of our people, half of whom now lived under occupation
and half in a diaspora, became the main focus of my
life. I had witnessed the Palestinian tragedy myself.
I had seen the effect of the war on the part of the
West Bank where I lived. I had seen the defeat of the
Arab armies. I had seen tens of thousands of my people
leaving their homeland and travelling east across the
[Allenby] Bridge. Subsequently, I shared the Palestinian
experience of exile.
So, these events left a lasting impression on my life.
And they caused me to grow up quickly, like all of my
people, both inside and outside Palestine.
Your brothers and sisters had the same experience.
What has become of them?
I have five brothers and five sisters. Today, they are
all married and living in various countries, Arab and
non-Arab. Their homelessness is typical of Palestinian
Would people who knew you as a boy be surprised to see
what you have become a leader of your people,
and a leader of the resistance?
I dont know of anyone who finds it surprising.
I stood out among my peers academically, socially and
at sport. In all those areas, praise God, I was distinguished
at an early age. And when I became a committed Muslim,
when I was 14 years old, in that, too, I stood out among
my peers. We formed a religious society in my secondary
school in Kuwait and I was its head. And when we started
thinking about how our people could resist the occupation,
I took a lead in that.
Some people will say that the Arabs started the Six-Day
War and therefore what happened to the Palestinians
is their fault. Is there another point of view?
The way Israel waged the war suggests that they had
a hidden agenda and already wanted, and had planned,
Why did you choose to study physics at university?
I have always been interested in many different things,
which made it hard for me to choose what to study. I
loved science, and especially physics, but I also loved
studying literature and history, Arabic, poetry
and my interest in Islamic studies had also been growing.
But I decided to specialise in physics. I wanted to
study it more deeply I saw myself becoming a
physicist but in the end I found that there are
more urgent priorities in the cause I am fighting for.
You have lived in Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar and now Syria.
Many people in the West would say: There are so many
Arab countries where Palestinians can live, they dont
need a homeland. Can you explain why it is so important
to you to go back to that little patch of country?
Let me give you some images that express how I feel
about my land. Although I lived in a village for only
11 years, it still has a powerful influence on my life.
Those years are to me as the roots are to a tree. My
greatest delight is to open the window and see the trees,
and the sun as it rises or sets. My greatest delight
is to go to the park and sit on the ground, and as I
sit on the earth I recall the smell of the soil of Palestine,
the soil of Silwad. My greatest delight is to eat fruit,
not from a package but from the tree, because for 11
years I used to eat grapes and figs, and all the fruit
that grow in Palestine, straight from the tree.
When I was at university I returned to Silwad, in the
summer of 1975. My village is on a high hill and as
soon as I saw it [in the distance] I started to cry,
and I did not stop crying until I reached it. This feeling
of belonging to ones homeland, I believe, comes
naturally to every human being. What is unnatural is
when a person is cut off from that sense of belonging.
And that is how I now live and so do millions
But your brothers and sisters have settled overseas
It was not their choice. We were all forced to leave
and are not allowed to return to our homeland.
And there is another dimension to this. Your belonging
to the land is also a belonging to your history. As
the proverb says, He who has no past has no present. Where are your roots? What do you belong to? What is
your identity? If you lose this, you become just a cog
in a machine, or a grain of dust in the wind, without
And so you find that today, whether they were born in
Palestine or outside it, whether they live in harsh
conditions or have a comfortable life perhaps
in an Arab country, or in Europe or Australia or Canada
or America no Palestinian considers anything
a substitute for the land of Palestine. They see their
lives abroad as temporary while they wait to go back
to their homeland. Some Arab satellite channels, for
the 60th anniversary of the Naqba, interviewed
some who lead lives that are happy and affluent, and
some are wealthy, and yet they all said the same thing:
there is no alternative to the homeland. And they are
sure they will go back, though some of them are 70 or
80 years old.
There is so much wrong with the world when a person
needs to bring proof to convince other people that he
cannot live without his homeland, though this is a natural
need. You dont ask someone: Why do you need
food? Isnt air or water enough? Even though,
they say, we live in a global village and there is unprecedented
communication between societies, there is no substitute
for ones land. We have a poem that says: No
matter how many times you fall in love, the real love
is the first one. How many places a young man loves!
Yet he longs only for his first home.
Unfortunately, although politicians know how important
[this sense of belonging] is for people, in an age of
big multinationals and mass media they want globalisation
to override these unchanging human values, which are
common to both East and West.
You spoke of how much is wrong with the world. Do
you ever find yourself doubting the justice of God?
Absolutely not. I believe in the One God who is just,
wise, strong, gentle and merciful to his subjects. That
is the main reason. But I want to offer two pieces of
evidence that prove to me and to anyone who believes
in God that he does not wrong anyone. First, it is true
that there are injustices in this world, and God sees
them; but this is not because he likes injustice, or
accepts it, but because he has given us unlike
the plants and the animals freedom of choice.
The second thing is that justice will be done in the
afterlife. God will judge everyone for what they have
done in this world, and the judgement will be exact
and fair. Whoever has been oppressed will receive justice
at his hand, and oppressors will be punished. So, there
is no injustice with God it is something utterly
foreign to him. If people are oppressed, either they
will get justice before they die or God will compensate
them in the hereafter. Either way, their rights will
not be forgotten.
Nelson Mandela famously said, The struggle
is my life, and for many people that sums up the
heroism of the man. It occurs to me that if he had been
speaking Arabic, he would have used the word jihad.
Can you explain what jihad means to Hamas, and
in particular to you?
I would like first to explain how the people of this
region feel and think, because the distorted stereotype
of Palestinians, or Muslims, or Hamas, that is presented
in the West prevents you from seeing the reality. We
have two states of mind that go together: they may seem
contradictory but they complement each other, and both
are very human. One is a state of compassion and love
towards people who are not hostile or aggressive towards
us to all people, including the poor and those
of a different religion or race. The other is of strength
and steadfastness, courage and defiance in facing those
that attack us. This is part of what it means to be
human a normal person is obdurate towards those
who are hostile and merciful towards those who live
This is where the concept of struggle, of jihad,
of resistance comes in. This is not our attitude to
everyone; we engage in struggle, jihad, resistance
against the enemy who steals our land and destroys our
houses, commits sacrilegious acts against our holy places,
assaults children and women and kills people. It is
our normal, natural right to resist, to struggle against
them. All the laws given by God, and international law,
give us this right. So, jihad is a response to
aggression; it does not itself initiate aggression.
Sometimes in Islamic culture the term jihad is
applied to any exertion aimed at achieving good, in
resisting the devil, in resisting evil desires, in resisting
the enemy that attacks the land. It should not be directed
at peaceful peoples such aggression is not permitted
in Islam. Islam does not permit the use of force to
resolve political disputes within society, or between
societies; but when someone uses force against you,
you use force to resist them. There is no ambiguity
Your enemies try to bracket Hamas with al-Qaida
and say you are all the same. Can you clarify whether
you see what al-Qaida does as jihad, and
do you welcome it when Osama bin Laden expresses support
for the Palestinians?
I dont want to talk about others, but if anyone
is in doubt about Hamas, they need only ask the questions:
Has Hamas ever fought outside Palestine? And has it
ever resisted anyone other than the Israeli occupation?
Any fair-minded person will see the difference.
In March this year, after Israels operation Hot
Winter had killed scores of people in the Gaza
Strip, al-Aqsa TV reported: Mr Mishal expresses
his wish to be in Gaza at this tense and painful moment,
noting that he also wishes his four sons could be there
and be martyred just like the other
I think that people in the West can understand you
wanting your sons to fight, but wanting them to die
is something we cant understand and it makes you
seem inhuman to us. Can you explain this mentality to
First of all, I must set an example to others and commit
myself and my family to the same principle I call others
to follow. This is the duty of a leader. He should not
sacrifice others while he does not sacrifice himself
and his children. Also, if I was living in Palestine,
my children would naturally be fighting, like all the
children of our people. But I dont require them
to do so. I encourage them, but I dont make them.
Jihad is a choice, not an obligation to be imposed
The third thing is that the Palestinians, like Nelson
Mandela, feel that their life is struggle and resistance.
When you live every day under occupation, your natural
behaviour This is what people in the West should
understand: every day, we suffer aggression, killing
and siege, with houses destroyed and families homeless.
We have 11,600 people held in Israeli prisons, some
of them children and women, some of them elderly
a thousand of them sick. When someone sees his life
destroyed and sees that the world cannot help
We see that the United Nations can do nothing. There
is no international will to force the Israelis to leave
our land as it forced Saddam Hussein to leave Kuwait.
In these circumstances, you are obliged to resist if
you want to live with dignity. If you dont, youre
not behaving normally. Its just like if a person
is sitting at home and suddenly a fire breaks out in
the house. The natural response is to get some water
and pour it on the fire. When you live in an occupied
land, its natural to take up arms to resist.
And this becomes a matter of pride for a dignified person.
You feel proud that you are doing your duty, just like
a person who puts a fire out or when someone
goes to rescue someone who is drowning, it is his duty
but he feels proud to be doing it. So, you find that
Palestinians are proud of their struggle even though
it is forced upon them. We feel that this is what it
means to be a man, this is what it means to do the right
When Third Way interviewed Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi,
he told us: The enemies of the Palestinians are
more interested in life than in sacrifice. Does
that mean that you are more interested in sacrifice
than in life?
This is surely a rather sophisticated concept that needs
clarification. We, like all human beings, love life,
but we love life with dignity. We do not like to live
in humiliation, under oppression. Perhaps and
this is what the sheikh probably means there
are people who do not care how they live, they want
just to live even if it is in humiliation. People
in this region Arabs in general, and Muslims
do not want to live like that.
But when we say, as Palestinians, as Arabs, as Muslims,
that in order to free our people from injustice and
occupation we are ready to die, we say this not because
we hate life, no, but because we want to die so that
the rest of our people can live in freedom and dignity.
It is a matter of some people sacrificing themselves
so that the rest of the people may live. It is because
we have a responsibility not a hatred of life,
or a death wish.
When Mossad tried to assassinate you in 1997, how
did that affect you? Did it change your outlook on life?
It did not change my course, but it made me more positive
about life. I became more courageous in the face of
death. My faith became stronger that a man does not
die until his time comes. That is, I will die when God
decides, not when Mossad decides. It also made me more
resolute in fulfilling my responsibilities.
In our experience, Israeli threats have one of two effects:
some people are intimidated, but others become more
defiant and determined. I am one of the latter.
We have talked to other people involved in conflict,
and some have said, There is no peace without
justice and others, There is no peace without
compromise. Can you have compromise and justice,
or do you have to choose?
You may find my answer surprising, but in our case the
Israelis refuse both. They want neither a peace based
on justice nor a peace based on compromise. They want
to keep the land, they want security for themselves
and they want to be the masters of the whole region,
without recognising the rights of Palestinians. Yasser
Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas tried to pursue a compromise.
Did they achieve peace with the Israelis? So, the obstacle
to peace in the region is Israel and American
Hamas has shown a strong commitment to democracy.
You were elected yourself; the cabinet was elected by
your members in 2006; and in his first speech as prime
minister Ismail Haniya told the Palestinian parliament: Hamas will adhere to the democratic choice, protecting
Palestinian democracy and the peaceful rotation of power.
Are you really such enthusiasts for democracy? Isnt
it essentially a Western idea, and isnt Hamas
opposed to the Westernisation of Palestinian society?
Democracy may be a Western term, but as
a conception of how to order the political life of a
society, there are many Islamic elements in it. We practise
a version that may differ from Western democracy in
some details, but the essential principles of freedom,
choice and the rejection of despotism these are
all Islamic concepts.
In Hamas, no one becomes a leader without being elected,
and all are accountable. I practise democracy daily
inside the movement, and it is natural to practise it
in Palestinian society.
Also, I would like to add that I dont have a problem
with making use of a Western idea if it is good.
Isnt there a tension, though, between democracy
and true religion? Democracy requires you to do what
the majority of the people want, but religion tells
you that very often what most people want is not Gods
A good question! Look, in any country democracy is always
a product of the social, cultural, historical and religious
environment. So, we are not afraid of democracy but we fear it when it is imposed on us, or dictated
to us, with a foreign agenda. If the Arab and Muslim
societies in the region are allowed to make free choices
without pressure or influence, we in Hamas do not fear
their choices, we respect them. The important thing
is that there is no interference from America or others.
And you must understand that even piety is a choice,
not an obligation you impose. You cannot compel people
to be devout you can compel them to submit, but
not to have faith.
Another principle of democracy, as far as the West
is concerned, is that everyone is of equal value, and
so are their interests and even, in a sense, their opinions.
Many people in the West have the impression that Islam
does not set the same value on women and their interests
and opinions as on men and theirs. Likewise, it makes
distinctions between Muslims and non-Muslims. Is that
a misunderstanding of Islam or is it a problem
between your faith and your commitment to democracy?
Look, there has been a misrepresentation of Islamic
thinking on these issues. In Islamic culture, all human
beings are equal in value. What God has said is: The
more honoured in the eyes of God are those who are more
pious. Between men and women there is a general
equality, in terms of rights and duties, the right to
own property, the right to be religious, the right to
choose and so on.
But there are differences, because of the difference
in nature between men and women. This is natural. Even
the West observes this. Let me give you an example from
sport. Do you have in the West a boxing match between
a man and a woman? Or a game of tennis? Why not? Because
in the West you recognise that there are differences
in strength and ability. Men and women have the same
right to do the sport, and so in a sport such as athletics
there are records for men and records for women because there are differences between them.
When it comes to Muslims and non-Muslims in our societies,
we share our homeland in spite of our difference in
religion. We did not have a problem with Christian minorities
in our countries, or with Jewish minorities. The Jewish problem arose in Europe. So, your understanding
of Islamic culture is not right. There may be some extremism
among some individuals and groups, but then extremism
exists in both the East and the West.
If Hamas accepts the will of the majority, why before
2006 did you not accept the decision of the elected
Palestinian Authority and give up the armed struggle?
Who said that [the] Oslo [Agreement] reflected the Palestinian
But in 1996 the PA was voted into power by the majority
of the Palestinian people.
You need to distinguish between two things. When the
Authority was elected [in 1996], we did not take up
arms against them or stage a coup against them, even
though they persecuted us and detained us and did illegal
and unethical things to us. But when the Authority was
first established in 1994, as a result of Oslo in 1993,
how was it regarded by the Palestinian people? It was
not endorsed democratically. There was no referendum.
In Europe, when a state is about to join the European
Union or the euro zone, you hold a referendum. We respect
that. I can confirm that if the majority of Palestinians,
inside and outside Palestine, made a choice in an honest,
democratic way, we would respect it.
You have said many times that Hamas has a high
degree of pragmatism. Do you find there is any
tension between your principles as a devout and God-fearing
man and the compromises that practical politics demands?
Or do they come easily to you?
A good question, and I have an answer for you. I believe
that pragmatism or flexibility, in other words
is a necessity; but there is a difference between
flexibility that knows no restrictions and flexibility
within certain bounds and a certain philosophy. In life,
if you want to be inflexible and live without give-and-take,
you have to live alone. As a Muslim, I do not have a
problem in being true to my values while practising
flexibility in my life, both as a person and as a politician.
Even in Islam, there is flexibility in our religious
practice, and allowances in prayer, in pilgrimage,
in fasting and so on. The most important thing is to
It is possible when dealing with other people to find
solutions that do not contradict your commitments, and
in Hamas we do not feel that this is a problem. The
only problem is when a particular degree or form of
pragmatism is imposed on us by the will of our enemies
or by foreign interference.
Surely some Muslim commitments are inflexible? For
example, it is said that Palestine is a waqf
and no inch of its land can be given up because it is
an endowment for all Muslims until the Day of Judgement.
Some people may see that as an extreme position, but
from any angle it looks like a non-negotiable one.
I appreciate that its pointless for me to ask
you anything that is properly a matter for the final
negotiations, whenever they come, between you and Israel;
but can you say what principles will determine the compromises
Hamas can make?
Look, the concept of waqf may be difficult to
explain in an interview like this, because it relates
historically to how Muslims dealt with this land when
Islam arrived here in its early days.
Let me talk instead about a concept that should not
be unclear or unintelligible to any society in the world
today: the concept that peoples have homelands. So,
the British have a homeland, the Americans have a homeland,
the French, the Chinese, the South Africans
how does a person act towards his homeland? If someone
who was born, 60 or 70 years ago, in Liverpool or Manchester
or London insists on his claim to that city, is that
Nonetheless, we in Hamas, like most of the Palestinian
factions, have accepted the idea of a state with the
borders of June 4, 1967. However, we have said that
we will not recognise Israel. Why? Because the Palestinian
people are convinced that this land on which Israel
exists is their own land. So, while they accept a state
with the borders of 1967, they do not want to give legitimacy
to those who occupied their lands 60 or 70 years ago.
So, the formula is simply this: if through politics
we have accepted a state with the borders of 1967, why
should we be forced to renounce our beliefs and feelings
and recognise Israel?
You have talked passionately about the importance
of a homeland. Do you accept that the Jews are entitled
to a homeland of their own?
But why should the Jews have a homeland of their own?
Would you expect the Christians or the Muslims to have
an exclusive homeland of their own? We Muslims never
think of the Jews as a nation to us, they are
a religious community. The Jews lived alongside Muslims
and Christians for many centuries, and can continue
to do so if they wish to but definitely not as
a Zionist state forced upon us.
If Israel is the state for the Jews, how is it that
many millions of Jews nearly two-thirds of the
Jews in the world continue to live as citizens
of other countries around the world? How is it, too,
that you find so many Jews who are opposed to Zionism
and the Zionist state?
Finally, if the West insists, out of a desire to atone
for the sin of the Holocaust, that the Jews must have
a country for themselves, let those who persecuted them
and perpetrated the Holocaust against them give them
a slice of their own country, not ours!
Many Christians in the West are afraid of Islam.
Can you tell me honestly what you think of Christianity?
My answer is not a diplomatic answer: it comes from
my heart and from my mind. Many people in the West do
an injustice to Islam and make false accusations against
it, because they misunderstand it or because they see
some Muslims behaving badly and they generalise, or
because they want to justify aggression, as George [W]
Look today, who is occupying whose lands? The Zionists
are occupying Palestine. Should I conclude that Judaism
is an aggressive religion? Judaism is a religion revealed
by God – we believe in Moses. It is not Judaism
that is to blame, but those who claim to adhere to it
and wrongfully occupy other peoples land in its
Who is occupying Iraq and Afghanistan? America. Would
it be right for me to conclude that Christianity is
an aggressive religion? We believe in Christ. A Muslim
is not a full believer unless he believes in Moses,
Jesus and Muhammad and all the prophets. We respect
all revealed religions. The problem lies with those
who adhere to some of those who adhere to Christianity and in its name, as George Bush does, attack
We are not afraid of Judaism or Christianity as religions.
We are I wouldnt say afraid,
but we are opposed to all who commit aggression, whether
it is under the banner of religion or under a secular
Do you have any personal friends who are Christians?
Of course. Of course.
Do you have any personal friends who are Jews?
No, I dont have any Jewish friends, because I
havent lived in the West and Ive never lived
in an area where there were Jewish people.
I will tell you a meaningful story. A few months ago,
I was passing through one of the Arab airports. I was
just like any other passenger, among the people. Many
people came to me to greet me, shake hands with me and
hug me. They expressed their love and appreciation.
There were among them those who were religious and those
who were not. One of them shook hands with me warmly
and introduced himself, and said he was from a town
called Beit Jala in the West Bank, which is known as
a Christian town in Palestine. He told me that he was
Christian and that he voted for Hamas, and said: We
are with Hamas and we support Hamas. This is commonplace
in Palestine. Christians in Palestine support Hamas,
and we have good relations with the Christians in Palestine.
As you may be aware, one of our candidates in Gaza in
2006 was Kamal Taweel, who is a Christian.
And, also, from now on you are my friend.
Here is a short question
Your questions are short but they raise big issues.
George Bush has called the conflict in the Middle
East a battle between good and evil. Is that how you
Yes but the other way round.
This does not apply to Palestine only. Any people that
is invaded and occupied represents good and the invaders
and occupiers represent evil, whoever they are.
Much of the conflict over the Middle East is fought
with words, and perhaps the most powerful verbal weapon
in your enemies arsenal is the word terrorism.
Its a word that can do a huge amount of damage,
but you could say it is rather indiscriminate, because
no one agrees what it means. Id like to know what
you understand by it.
First of all, we in Hamas and Palestinians in
general do not submit to American terminology.
There is something we call the terrorism of terminology
and this word is used by America to impose its
will on the world.
Put simply, terrorism is the unjust use of force or
intimidation in order to oppress other people. This
is I do not say the Palestinian or the Arab definition
of the term, it is the original, human definition. On
that basis, America is the premier terrorist power in
When you resist aggression or occupation, that is not
terrorism. It is legitimate self-defence.
When we questioned Sheikh al-Qaradawi about suicide
bombing, he said that it is part of the justice
of God that some people have a readiness to sacrifice
themselves that their enemies do not possess.
Some people would say that this weapon has done more
damage to the Palestinians than to Israel. For example,
the reason why so many people in the West condone the
wall the Israelis are building on Palestinian land is
that they accept the Israeli argument that it is legitimate
self-defence against suicide bombers.
Look, given the imbalance of power and the lack of weapons
and support to match those of the occupiers, the Palestinian,
as Sheikh Qaradawi said, feels compelled to turn himself
into a human bomb as a kind of expression of resistance.
Historically, martyrdom bombings came as a response
to massacres, especially the massacre at the Ibrahimi
Mosque in Hebron, where [Baruch] Goldstein killed 29
people who were praying and injured scores of others.
So, these operations were a natural response to the
massacre of civilians, of people who were worshipping
As for their effectiveness, dear brother, any action
in the world has both positive and negative results.
We recognise that these operations have a negative impact,
especially in terms of world public opinion, and we
know that Israel takes advantage of them to justify
its aggression; but the basic effect of these operations
has been twofold. First, they have shaken the validity
of the theory of Israeli security and you know
how important security is to the life of Israel. This
is something that some people try to conceal.
And, second, what is the message that these operations
deliver? The most important message is that the Palestinian
people will never capitulate. If they do not find weapons,
they will fight with their bodies. And this, I assure
you, is what is going to cut the conflict short. This
will compel Israel to recognise Palestinian rights.
Can you foresee a day when Muslims, Jews and Christians
will live together in harmony between the Jordan and
the sea? What will have to happen to make it possible?
That was the case in the past, and it can be so again
in the future. What matters is that occupation and aggression
come to an end, and the Zionist ambitions on which the
Zionist movement was based. If a Muslim comes to attack
me and oppress me and take away my home and my rights,
I will fight him, and the same applies to Christians
and Jews. We do not resist Israelis because they are
Jewish, we fight them because they are occupiers.
I believe that the Quran, like the Jewish Bible,
suggests that sometimes it is legitimate, and even proper,
to hate other people. Can I ask you: Do you hate the
No, hatred is not mentioned in the Quran. You
judge actions, not people, and when someone changes
his behaviour, you change the way you deal with him.
For me myself, as for everyone in Palestine, our hatred
is for the crimes the Israelis commit against us.
In our Islamic culture, whether your neighbour is a
Muslim or a Christian or a Jew, you have to treat him
well, and he has a right that we call the right
of the neighbour. In such a culture, Muslims and
Christians and Jews in this region lived without conflict.
Do not forget that Palestine is the land of messengers
and messages from heaven! It has always had a genuine
culture of tolerance.
Nevertheless, it is a general human observation that
conflicts such as this one, even when they are over,
leave a legacy of hatred and often it is religious
people who have done the most to deal with it. Are there
concepts in Islam that will help to restore harmony
in the Middle East once a political resolution has been
Of course. Islam has many different remedies for hatred
and conflict between people. First, it reminds people
that they are children of Adam and Eve and so they are
brothers and sisters in humanity. Second, it has regulations
to prevent aggression and the theft of other peoples
property the behaviour that leads to hatred.
Islam has rules to punish oppressors and aggressors,
because when people who have been oppressed feel that
the law upholds their rights, they feel comfortable
and do not cherish hatred. It is when people feel they
have been oppressed and no one has given them justice
that hatred thrives. Punishing the oppressors is a cure
for the hatred of the oppressed.
Islam sets a notable example in two ways. The
first way is justice, where you take what is due to
you from the oppressor. But then there is another way,
which is forgiveness: you forgive the oppressor in the
hope that God will reward you. For example, if someone
hits you, you can hit him back or you can forgive him
in pursuit of Gods reward. However, this applies
only at the individual level, not at the level of peoples
Whenever verses in the Quran state a rule, they
usually end by reminding us of God and the Day of Judgement.
When you feel that you have a Lord who will give you
justice and a day will come when God will reward you,
you do not become preoccupied with your problem. This
is the teaching of the Quran, but I believe that
in essence all the revealed religions have the same
spirit, though the rules are different.
What one thing could Israel do to persuade you that
it was serious about making peace?
Withdraw as all the Palestinian factions have
demanded to the borders of June 4 , dismantle
the settlements and recognise the Palestinians
rights, including Jerusalem and the right of return
[for the refugees of 1948]. The alternative is for Israel
to continue on the path to escalation and Israel
will be the first side to lose as a result.
I understand that there is a list of demands, but
if peace is to come, it is going to be a process. What
I am asking is: What could Israel start to do now that
would persuade you that it is changing?
I learnt in physics that there is something called the
threshold. Within the atom, for an electron to
move to another orbit
I think we call it a quantum leap.
Yes. Sometimes when that threshold is crossed, it leads
to big changes. Sometimes it leads to a new power, a
new state both in matter and in human life. The
start that is needed from Israel is to admit that it
has wronged the Palestinian people, oppressed them and
taken their land, and consequently to recognise their
When Third Way talked to Gerry Adams in 1996,
he came across as so earnest and reasonable, we felt
we needed to title the interview Is He Sincere?
There are people in the West who say that you are very
moderate when you talk to our media, but when you talk
to your own people its a different matter. How
do our readers know that what you have said to me today
When I talk to Palestinian or Arab audiences, there
are usually foreign journalists present. So, my language
is the same, whether I am addressing Arabs or foreigners.
A simple example: when I talk to the West, I say that
we accept a state with the borders of 1967, and before
my people I say that we accept a state with the borders
of 1967 (with the qualifications that everyone knows,
of course). Our discourse is the same we are
not afraid of the truth. When we are persuaded of something,
we have the courage to declare our conviction in front
of our people and in front of others.
One of the virtues of this movement is that it has taken
some difficult steps, and though perhaps some other
Palestinian factions objected to them, it was convinced
about them and about their importance. Take the calming,
or truce, for example. Hamas took this initiative many
times. We did not have a dual discourse, talking of
escalation when we spoke to our people and when we saw
foreigners saying we want a truce.
Hamas is not a small movement that is not called to
account for what it says. We are a big movement that
faces the consequences of what we say and so we think
carefully about what we say. Here is a practical example:
if Hamas wanted to be duplicitous with the West, God
forbid, we would not have been so candid in refusing
to recognise Israel. So, our position is clear whether
we are addressing the region or addressing the West.
Photographs © Andrew Firth
Back to the top