Headlines, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa

MIDEAST: ‘Hamas Against Zionist Ideology, Not Judaism’

David Cronin

GAZA CITY, May 14 2009 (IPS) - A founding member of Hamas says he hates all weapons and insists that his organisation is not anti-Jewish.

In an interview with IPS, Sayed Abu Musameh described frequent claims in the European and U.S. press that Hamas’s charter is based on enmity towards Jews as a “big lie”.

Speaking in the remains of the Palestinian Legislative Council headquarters in Gaza City – bombed by Israel on the third day of the offensive against Gaza it launched in late 2008 – Husameh drew a distinction between followers of Judaism and the Zionist ideology to which most politicians in Israel’s main political parties subscribe. Such an ideology, he said, has led Israel to tighten its control of the Palestinian territories and their most important natural resources, including water.

“In our culture, we respect every foreigner, especially Jews and Christians,” he said. “But we are against Zionists, not as nationalists but as fascists and racists.”

Musameh also contended that Hamas has long been ready to agree a truce – known in Arabic as a hudna – with Israel but that Israel had refused all offers and imposed a crippling economic blockade on Gaza. The firing of Qassam rockets on the Israeli cities of Ashkelon and Sderot was designed “not to destroy Israel or to destroy Israeli people” but to “make them notice our siege.”

Described by some observers of Middle Eastern affairs as one of the key “moderates” in the Islamic resistance movement, Musameh has expressed a strong interest in visiting Belfast to study whether lessons learned from the Irish peace process could be used to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hamas leaders recently held discussions with Gerry Adams, who as leader of the political party Sinn Féin has convinced the Irish Republican Army (IRA) to cease using violence.

“I hate all kinds of weapons,” said Musameh. “I dream of seeing every weapon from the atomic bomb to small guns banned everywhere.”

Since Hamas won a surprise victory in Palestinian elections in January 2006, 40 of Musameh’s fellow members of the legislative council, including chairman Aziz Duwaik, have been jailed. Contact with his imprisoned colleagues – or with the 11,000 other Palestinians held by Israel – is impossible, Musameh said.

The destruction of the council’s building has meant that video conferences between Hamas and its rival Fatah can no longer take place. Yet even before the attack, the council (described as a parliament by many Palestinians) was unable to operate properly as Israel had prevented Fatah politicians in the West Bank from travelling to Gaza for meetings.

After a joint Fatah-Hamas government – that was shunned by the U.S. and European Union – collapsed, Hamas took charge of running the Gaza Strip in 2007. Local human rights activists have protested strongly at some of the measures it has undertaken, particularly how it closed down more than 200 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that it accused of being affiliated to Fatah. Most have subsequently been allowed to resume their activities.

Despite speaking out against Hamas’s tactics, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) in Gaza says it is vital that Europe and the U.S. encourage reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. “If the coalition government had been accepted by the international community or at least by Europe, we wouldn’t have an internal conflict (in the Palestinian territories),” said the PCHR’s Hamdi Shaqqura.

Governments that have refused to deal with Hamas because they consider it extremist are displaying double standards now that they agree to have contacts with an Israeli government that includes Avigdor Lieberman, who is seeking that Arabs within Israel’s internationally recognised boundaries should be stripped of their rights as Israeli citizens unless they pass a ‘loyalty test’ to the state, Shaqqura said.

“Europe can do a lot in terms of Palestinian dialogue,” he added. “It must encourage Palestinians to reach a compromise, and if parties can reach a compromise, it must be respected by the international community. The international community must end its hypocrisy. It has accepted Lieberman, it has accepted a racist.”

Khalil Abu Shammala, director of the Al-Dameer Association for Human Rights, said: “Hamas won the (2006) election. This was the Palestinians’ democratic choice, so the international community should accept it. Why not give Hamas the chance to govern and give people the choice of whether they trust it or not?”

Some analysts believe that hawkish politicians in Israel and their allies in the previous U.S. administration led by George W. Bush deliberately sought to foment strife between Fatah and Hamas as part of a colonialist ‘divide and rule’ strategy.

Amjad Shawa from the Palestinian NGOs Network said that bickering between the political parties “suits completely” the agenda being pursued by the Israeli government. Still, he argued that human rights activists should denounce any violations that occur regardless of who perpetrates them.

“I cannot say that Hamas has prevented the right to association but there is a violation,” he added. “We will face any violations by Hamas or Fatah or whoever. We will not keep silent.”

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