Hudna, resistance and war on Islam
Graham Usher met Ahmed Yassin, the Hamas founder and spiritual leader, in his house in Gaza's impoverished Sabra district
For a man heading Israel's death list, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin exudes an almost Buddhist-like calm. On 6 September an Israeli fighter jet tried to kill him courtesy of a 500lb bomb dropped on a residential building in Gaza City. Fifteen Palestinians were wounded. Yassin escaped with scratches. Now, there is a single armed guard. Yassin's only other nod to security is to no longer sleep at home. The interview came after a joint Hamas-Islamic Jihad attack on a Jewish settlement in Gaza that left three Israeli soldiers dead, amid talk of a new Palestinian cease-fire and a month or so after Yassin announced George Bush had "declared war on Islam".
Sheikh Ahmed Yassin
What are Hamas's terms for a cease-fire [hudna]?
We haven't yet met with Abu Alaa [Ahmed Qurei, Palestinian Authority prime minister] so we don't know what his proposals are. In all cases our stance will be determined by what serves the interests of the Palestinian people. If it is in the interest of the Palestinian people to have a hudna, we'll have a hudna. If it isn't, we won't.
In the past we declared a unilateral cease-fire and reached an understanding with the PA. We gave the Israeli enemy a hudna for 50 days, but the Israelis did not commit to it. They continued with their aggression, killings and crimes and erected this separation wall that they continue to build. Their settlements are still stealing our land. There are house demolitions and destruction all over the West Bank and Gaza. Just yesterday in Gaza they demolished three towers under the pretext that they were built close to a settlement. Tell me where are the families living in those towers to go? So it is not a question of what Hamas thinks or what Fatah thinks. It is a question of the Palestinian national interest: does this lie in resistance or in the declaration of a hudna?
Last week Hamas and Islamic Jihad announced a military alliance. Since then there have been two Hamas operations against soldiers in Gaza and the West Bank. Does this mean Hamas is moving away from suicide attacks against civilians inside Israel in favour of attacks on soldiers and settlers in the occupied territories?
Our main battle has always been against Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers. The attacks inside Israel are operations we carry out in response to Israeli crimes against our people. They are not the strategy of our movement. Our strategy is to defend ourselves against an occupying army and against settlers and settlements.
It is an exaggeration to call the Hamas and Islamic Jihad announcement a military alliance. It is rather a message that our people are united in the face of Israeli aggression. Since Israel does not differentiate between attacking this group or that, we are saying our people can work individually or collectively to face this aggression. But it would be wrong to call it an alliance.
You said recently that George Bush has "declared war on Islam". What did you mean?
After 11 September Bush declared the war [against terrorism] to be a Crusade. There are other voices in America today that say it is a religious war. And since the war started it has been directed exclusively against Muslims: against Muslims in Afghanistan; against Muslims in Iraq; against Muslims in Palestine. There are many resistance movements in the world, like the IRA for instance. But it is only Islamic resistance movements that are put on the terrorist list. This is what I am saying.
So is America now an enemy for Hamas, the same as Israel?
America's interests cannot be separated from Israel's interests. There is an existential connection between them. It is America who supplies Israel with money and weapons. It is America who defends Israel on the UN Security Council by vetoing every resolution raised against it. We did not fight the Americans or the Europeans. We fight only the Israeli enemy that took our homes and homeland. So why did America and Europe put us on the list of terror?
But are you saying Hamas and Hizbullah's struggle against the Israel and the resistance against America in Iraq is now the same struggle?
If America can have an alliance with Israel, why shouldn't there be an alliance between countries that neighbour each other and share common interests, language and ideology? It's true the fields are not the same. In Lebanon there is a state with borders. The Palestinian situation is different. We can have military cooperation with other factions in the Palestinian territories. But we cannot have this with Hizbullah in Lebanon. There are perhaps opportunities for greater political cooperation, at least more cooperation than exists now. But there can be no cooperation in the field because every situation is different.
Do you think Ariel Sharon is planning to invade Gaza?
Israel re-occupied the whole of the West Bank, but the martyrdom [suicide] and military operations have continued. I think Israel will think one thousands times before invading Gaza. Gaza has 1.2 million Palestinians living in crowded places and the resistance will be strong. But if Sharon wants to occupy Gaza, let him come. Israel will pay the price.