The New Statesman: Hamas leader interview
What follows are excerpts from the interview of Khaled Meshal by Ken Livingstone, published in The New Statesman.
Ken Livingsone (KL): What is the situation in Gaza today?
Khaled Meshal (KM): Gaza today is under siege. Crossings are closed most of the time and for months victims of the Israeli war on Gaza have been denied ¬access to construction materials to rebuild their destroyed homes. Schools, hospitals and homes in many parts of the Gaza Strip are in need of rebuilding. Tens of thousands of people remain homeless. As winter approaches, the conditions of these victims will only get worse in the cold and rain. One and a half million people are held hostage in one of the biggest prisons in the history of humanity. They are unable to travel freely out of the Strip, whether for medical treatment, for education or for other needs. What we have in Gaza is a disaster and a crime against humanity perpetrated by the Israelis. The world community, through its silence and indifference, colludes in this crime.
KL: Why do you think Israel is still imposing the siege on Gaza?
KM: The Israelis claim that the siege is for security reasons. The real intention is to pressure Hamas by punishing the entire population. The sanctions were put in place soon after Hamas won the Palestinian elections in January 2006. While security is one of their concerns, it is not the main motivation. The primary objective is to provoke a coup against the results of the democratic elections that brought Hamas to power. The Israelis and their allies seek to impose failure on Hamas by persecuting the people. This is a hideous and immoral endeavour. Today, the siege continues despite the fact that we have, for the past six months, observed a ceasefire. Last year, a truce was observed from June to December 2008. Yet the siege was never lifted, and the sanctions remained in place. Undermining Hamas is the main objective of the siege. The Israelis hope to turn the people of Gaza against Hamas by increasing the suffering of the entire population of the Strip.
KL: How many supporters of Hamas and elected representatives of Hamas are there in prison in Israel? Have they all been charged and convicted of crimes?
KM: Out of a total of 12,000 Palestinian captives in Israeli detention, around 4,000 are Hamas members. These include scores of ministers and parliamentarians (Palestinian Legislative Council members). Around ten have recently been released, but about 40 PLC members remain in detention. Some have been given sentences, but many are held in what the Israelis call administrative detention. The only crime these people are accused of is their association with Hamas's parliamentary group. Exercising one's democratic right is considered a crime by Israel. All these Palestinians are brought before an Israeli system of justice that has nothing to do with justice. The Israeli judiciary is an instrument of the occupation. In Israel, there are two systems of justice: one applies to Israelis and another applies to the Palestinians. This is an apartheid regime.
KL: Israel says that the bombing and invasion of Gaza last year was in response to repeated breaking of the ceasefire by Hamas and the firing of rockets into southern Israel. Is this the case?
KM: The Israelis are not telling the truth. We ¬entered into a truce deal with Israel from 19 June to 19 December 2008. Yet the blockade was not lifted. The deal entailed a bilateral ceasefire, lifting the blockade and opening the crossings. We fully abided by the ceasefire while Israel only partially observed it, and towards the end of the term it resumed hostilities. Throughout that ¬period, Israel maintained the siege and only intermittently opened some of the crossings, ¬allowing no more than 10 per cent of the basic needs of the Gazan population to get through.
Israel killed the potential for renewing the truce because it deliberately and repeatedly violated it.
I have always informed my western visitors, including the former US president Jimmy Carter, that the moment Hamas is offered a truce that
includes lifting the blockade and opening the crossings, Hamas will adopt a positive stance. So far, no one has made us any such offer. As far as we are concerned, the blockade amounts to a declaration of war that warrants self-defence.
KL: What are your principal goals? Is Hamas primarily a political or a religious organisation?
KM: Hamas is a national liberation movement. We do not see a contradiction between our Islamic identity and our political mission. While we engage the occupiers through resistance and struggle to achieve our people's rights, we are proud of our religious identity that derives from Islam. Unlike the experience of the Europeans with Christianity, Islam does not provide for, demand or recognise an ecclesiastical authority. It simply provides a set of broad guidelines whose detailed interpretations are subject to and the product of human endeavour (ijtihad).
KL: Are you committed to the destruction of Israel?
KM: What is really happening is the destruction of the Palestinian people by Israel; it is the one that occupies our land and exiles us, kills us, incarcerates us and persecutes our people. We are the victims, Israel is the oppressor, and not vice versa.
KL: Why does Hamas support military force in this conflict?
KM: Military force is an option that our people resort to because nothing else works. Israel's conduct and the collusion of the international community, whether through silence or indifference or actual embroilment, vindicate armed resistance. We would love to see this conflict resolved peacefully. If occupation were to come to an end and our people enabled to exercise self-determination in their homeland, there would then be no need for any use of force. The reality is that nearly 20 years of peaceful negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis have not restored any of our rights. On the contrary, we have incurred more suffering and more losses as a result of the one-sided compromises made by the Palestinian negotiating party.
Since the PLO entered into the Oslo peace deal with Israel in 1993, more Palestinian land in the West Bank has been expropriated by the Israelis to build more illegal Jewish settlements, expand existing ones or construct highways for the exclusive use of Israelis living in these settlements. The apartheid wall that the Israelis erected along the West Bank has consumed large areas of the land that was supposed to be returned to the Palestinians according to the peace deal.
The apartheid wall and hundreds of checkpoints turned the West Bank into isolated enclaves like cells in a large prison, which makes life intolerable.
Jerusalem is constantly tampered with in order to alter its landscape and identity, and hundreds of Palestinian homes have been destroyed inside the city and around it, making thousands of Palestinians homeless in their own homeland. Instead of releasing Palestinian prisoners, the Israelis have arrested an additional 5,000 Palestinians since the Annapolis peace conference in 2007 - actions that testify to the fact they simply aren't interested in peace at all.