By John Perazzo
| August 24, 2005

Anyone who believes that Israel‘s withdrawal from Gaza has even the remotest chance of fostering a spirit of reconciliation among Palestinians ought to consider the ongoing, venomous declarations of 60-year-old Mahmoud al Zahar, the most senior Hamas member in Gaza. Al Zahar has had some alarming things to say lately about Israel‘s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip – most recently in an interview that appeared in the August 18 edition of Asharq Al-Awsat, the leading daily international newspaper in the Arab world. The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) has provided translations of Zahar’s comments, among which were the following:

·        When asked whether Hamas would continue its violent resistance even after the Israeli withdrawal, al Zahar said: “Our plan is not to liberate the Gaza Strip, nor is it to liberate the West Bank or to liberate Jerusalem. Our plan in the first stage is to liberate the lands occupied in 1967. Those who view it as a strategic solution and those who view it as an interim solution have agreed upon this plan. Therefore, we will not take over the Gaza Strip and live there peacefully while the Zionist enemy is detaining thousands of our sons and occupying the West Bank. The resistance must move to the West Bank to expel the occupation.”

·        When asked whether Hamas would take up its militant operations in the evacuated Israeli towns after the withdrawal, al Zahar replied: “Firstly, there are no Israeli towns. These are settlements. If the aggression and occupation continue, the Palestinian people will have no alternative but to defend themselves.”

·        When asked whether Hamas recognized the existence of the state of Israel, al Zahar proclaimed: “We do not and will not recognize a state called Israel. Israel has no right to any inch of Palestinian land. This is an important issue. Our position stems from our religious convictions. This is a holy land. It is not the property of the Palestinians or the Arabs. This land is the property of all Muslims in all parts of the world.”

·        In response to the statement, “Israelis fear that Gaza could become the land of Hamas after the withdrawal,” al Zahar replied angrily: “Let Israel die.”

·        When asked whether Hamas had planned its manner of entry into the evacuated settlements, al Zahar said, “We will enter the settlements and sully the dignity of Israel with our feet. We will stand on the ruins of the Israeli settlements and tell our people we have prevailed.” 

These non-conciliatory statements are nothing more than rewordings of the positions that al Zahar had previously enunciated in July, when he told the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera that Hamas would “definitely not” accept coexistence with Israel even if the Israeli Defense Force were to retreat to the pre-1967 borders. “It [coexistence] can be a temporary solution, for a maximum of 5 to 10 years,” al Zahar said candidly. “But in the end Palestine must return to become Muslim, and in the long term Israel will disappear from the face of the earth. . . . We won’t disrupt the Israeli withdrawal, let them get out of here and go to hell. The problem will be afterwards, because in the hearts of every Palestinian, the liberation of Gaza must be accompanied by the liberation of Jerusalem and the West Bank.”

Zahar’s stated views are entirely consistent with those of Hamas as a whole. Since the day of its December 14, 1987 creation, Hamas itself has been most consistent in its positions on how to deal with Israel. The group’s founding charter explicitly mandates that a jihad of armed attacks against the Jewish state must be pursued until Israel is eviscerated from the globe. Among the charter’s assertions are the following:

·        Israel will rise and will remain erect until Islam eliminates it as it had eliminated its predecessors. The Islamic World is burning. It is incumbent upon each one of us to pour some water, little as it may be, with a view of extinguishing as much of the fire as he can, without awaiting action by the others.”

·        “[O]ur struggle against the Jews is extremely wide-ranging and grave, so much so that it will need all the loyal efforts we can wield, to be followed by further steps and reinforced by successive battalions from the multifarious Arab and Islamic world, until the enemies are defeated and Allah’s victory prevails. Thus we shall perceive them approaching in the horizon, and this will be known before long: ‘Allah has decreed: Lo! I very shall conquer, I and my messenger, lo! Allah is strong, almighty.’”

·        “Only under the shadow of Islam could the members of all regions coexist in safety and security for their lives, properties and rights. In the absence of Islam, conflict arises, oppression reigns, corruption is rampant and struggles and wars prevail.”

·        “. . .  Hamas has been looking forward to implement Allah’s promise whatever time it might take. The prophet, prayer and peace be upon him, said: The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him!”

·        The Islamic Resistance Movement [Hamas] believes that the land of Palestine has been an Islamic Waqf [a religious endowment belonging ultimately to the Muslim nation’s ruler] throughout the generations and until the Day of Resurrection, no one can renounce it or part of it, or abandon it or part of it. . . . This is the status [of the land] in Islamic Shari’a, and it is similar to all lands conquered by Islam by force, and made thereby Waqf lands upon their conquest, for all generations of Muslims until the Day of Resurrection.”

·        “[Peace] initiatives, the so-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement. For renouncing any part of Palestine means renouncing part of the religion; the nationalism of the Islamic Resistance Movement is part of its faith, the movement educates its members to adhere to its principles and to raise the banner of Allah over their homeland as they fight their Jihad. . . . There is no solution to the Palestinian problem except by Jihad. The initiatives, proposals and International Conferences are but a waste of time, an exercise in futility.”

·        “I indeed wish to go to war for the sake of Allah! I will assault and kill, assault and kill, assault and kill.”

·        “…The Nazism of the Jews does not skip women and children, it scares everyone. They make war against people’s livelihood, plunder their moneys and threaten their honor. In their horrible actions they mistreat people like the most horrendous war criminals.”

·        “The Zionist invasion is a mischievous one. It does not hesitate to take any road, or to pursue all despicable and repulsive means to fulfill its desires. . . . [Its] secret organizations, some which are overt, act for the interests of Zionism and under its directions, strive to demolish societies, to destroy values, to wreck answerableness, to totter virtues and to wipe out Islam. It stands behind the diffusion of drugs and toxics of all kinds in order to facilitate its control and expansion. The Arab states surrounding Israel are required to open their borders to the Jihad fighters, the sons of the Arab and Islamic peoples, to enable them to play their role and to join their efforts to those of their brothers among the Muslim Brothers in Palestine. The other Arab and Islamic states are required, at the very least, to facilitate the movement of the Jihad fighters from and to them. . . . Israel, by virtue of its being Jewish and of having a Jewish population, defies Islam and the Muslims.”

·        “Zionist scheming has no end, and after Palestine they will covet expansion from the Nile to the Euphrates. Only when they have completed digesting the area on which they will have laid their hand, they will look forward to more expansion, etc. Their scheme has been laid out in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion [the infamous 19th-century forgery that speaks of a Jewish plot for world domination], and their present [conduct] is the best proof of what is said there. Leaving the circle of conflict with Israel ! is a major act of treason and it will bring curse on its perpetrators.”

Given these unequivocal positions, it is quite evident that Hamas has no intention of embracing a negotiated peace with Israel; the only solution it will accept is Israel‘s elimination from the planet. For Hamas, the issue of concern is not how land can be divided and apportioned most equitably for each side, but rather of how a nation of Jewish “infidels” can be driven permanently into the sea.

This self-evident reality gives rise to the most crucial of questions: To what degree do the positions of Hamas reflect the attitudes of Palestinians as a whole? After all, if Hamas were in fact nothing more than a fringe element of Islamist extremists with whose methods and ideals most Palestinians disagreed, there might indeed be reason to hold out hope that a peaceful solution could be hammered out and pursued. But the facts regarding this question are not heartening.

A September 2003 poll conducted jointly by Public Opinion Research of Israel and the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion found that only 13 percent of Palestinians agreed with the statement that Hamas is a terrorist group; 82 percent agreed that Hamas is a freedom-fighting organization; and a mere 10 percent believed that bombings targeting Israeli civilians in buses and restaurants could be classified as acts of terrorism. These attitudes suggest that the ethical and moral gulf dividing Palestinian from Israeli culture is so vast as to be unbridgeable.


An April 2004 poll of 506 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip found that for the first time ever, Hamas, which has long been the most popular faction in the Gaza strip, enjoyed stronger support among Palestinians than did Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement. In that same survey, 76.5 percent of respondents supported the continuation of Hamas’ suicide attacks against Israel; only 15.4 percent were opposed such attacks. 

In a November 2004 Al-Arabia network survey of some 113,000 individuals throughout the Arab world, 73.2 percent of respondents said they wanted a Hamas official to replace the recently deceased Yasser Arafat as Palestinian leader.  

In December 2004, municipal elections for local councils were held in 26 Palestinian communities. Hamas, participating for the first time in Palestinian elections, won a majority of council seats in nine communities, while Fatah took control of 14 towns. “This! is an outstanding result for Hamas,” noted the Palestinian analyst Ali Jerbawi. “The 26 localities were selected from the beginning according to strongholds of Fatah. So the results should have been more for Fatah than Hamas.”

In local council elections held in Gaza in January 2005, Hamas won at least 75 out of the 118 seats it contested. The ruling Fatah faction of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas won approximately 26 seats. Correspondents interpreted the results as a significant blow to Fatah, and a great leap forward for Hamas.

In local elections held in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in May 2005, Hamas again made a very strong showing against Abbas’ Fatah movement. Further establishing itself as a potent political force, Hamas won 23 of the electoral races – including those in Qalqiliya, Rafah, and Beit Lahiya, the three largest towns being contested.

In summation, Hamas has developed into a major political entity to be reckoned with, enjoying immense and ever-growing popularity among Palestinians. The respective mindsets of Hamas and the Palestinian population alike are imbued with deep contempt for Jews and the state of Israel. This hatred has been nurtured by decades of poisonous rhetoric pouring forth from the font of Yasser Arafat’s propaganda machine. Ugly characterizations of Jews have been a constant theme of Palestinian state-controlled media outlets, schoolbooks, and religious leaders. Consequently, Palestinian culture has become one of unsurpassed bigotry, a fact that does not bode well for hopes that its people are capable of committing, for any extended period of time, to living peacefully alongside Israel.