Dr Abdul-Aziz Al-Rantisi: 1947 - 2004
The Israeli assassination of Hamas Gaza leader Abdul- Aziz Al-Rantisi on 17 April has been condemned around the world as an unlawful and provocative crime.
Only the United States, Israel's guardian and ally, condoned the grisly murder, on the ground that Rantisi presided over what the US classifies as "a terrorist organisation".
The assassination, coming less than a month after that of Hamas founder and spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, has left Palestinians and Arabs despondent, reinforcing the conviction among many that Israel only understands the language of force.
Indeed, the extra-judicial killing, whose graphic images were televised around the world, demonstrates that Sharon's Israel is not really interested in reaching peace and reconciliation with the Palestinian people, but rather in liquidating their leadership in order to bully the Palestinians into capitulation.
Abdul-Aziz Ali Abdul-Hafiz Al-Rantisi was born in the village of Yibna (between Jaffa and Askalan) in 1947, in what is now Israel. His family joined an estimated 750,000 Palestinians fleeing their homes to escape terrorist organisations such as Lehi, which was responsible for the Deir Yassin massacre on 9 April 1948.
His family eventually settled at the Khan Younis refugee camp south of Gaza where, like other refugee families, it fell prey to abject poverty, especially in the years immediately following the events of 1948.
During his childhood, Al-Rantisi was so poor that he went to elementary school barefoot and had to work at an early age, while still in school, to help support his family.
Upon finishing high school in 1965, Al-Rantisi enrolled in the College of Medicine at the University of Alexandria in Egypt where he received a degree in medicine in 1972. A few years later, he obtained a Masters' degree in pediatrics from the same university.
During his college years, Al-Rantisi was exposed to the ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood which he continued to espouse until his death. He was deeply influenced by such popular Islamic revivalist preachers such as Abdul-Hamid Kishk and Al-Mahallawi.
Upon returning to Gaza in 1976, Al-Rantisi was appointed a resident doctor at Nasser's Hospital in Khan Younis. However, as an active Islamic nationalist, Al- Rantisi found out that his medical practice took most of his time and limited his ability to be politically active.
For this reason, the young doctor decided to join the new Islamic University of Gaza, where he taught genetics, virology and other science courses.
His teaching job at the Islamic University allowed Al-Rantisi, a charismatic, extemporaneous and eloquent speaker, to influence many of his students who came later to form the nucleus of the Islamic Resistance Movement, known by its Arabic acronym of Hamas.
In 1987, Al-Rantisi was one of seven co-founders of Hamas, along with such prominent figures as Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Salah Shehadeh and Ibrahim Maqadmeh, with the stated purpose of fighting the Israeli occupation under the banner of Islam. Three of his fellow co-founders were assassinated by Israeli missile strikes before him.
Predictably, this soon put Al-Rantisi and his colleagues on a direct collision course with the Israeli occupation regime.
In January 1988, just after the outbreak of the first Intifada (1987-1992), Al-Rantisi was arrested for the first time by the Israeli army on charges of "endangering the safety and security" of the Israeli occupation forces and jailed for three weeks.
After his release, Al-Rantisi was quickly jailed again on 4 March 1988, when he was sentenced to two years and a half in prison for "organising and leading an illegal group" and "involvement in preparing and printing anti- Israeli leaflets".
During his interrogation, Rantisi was subjected to physical and psychological torture at the hands of Israel's Shin Bet which radicalised him further.
Al-Rantisi was released from his prison cell in September 1990, but was re-incarcerated before the end of the year and placed under "administrative detention" for an entire year at the Ketziot detention camp in the Negev desert.
One of the most crucial phases of Al- Rantisi's life began on 17 December 1992, when former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin ordered him and 415 other Islamic activists deported to South Lebanon.
There, at the village of Marj Al-Zuhour, Al- Rantisi for the first time rose to prominence outside of Hamas ranks as he became the official spokesman of the deportees, enjoying unprecedented media exposure.
When Al-Rantisi and the deportees were allowed to return, he was imprisoned by Israel for close to three years for "indulging in illegal activities" at Marj Al- Zuhour.
Al-Rantisi was finally released from Israeli prison in 1996 to become one of the most outspoken critics of the Oslo Accords.
This invited the wrath of the Palestinian Authority of Yasser Arafat whose various security agencies began hounding Al-Rantisi for his acrid criticism of the Oslo process and advocating of violent resistance.
Indeed, between 1996 and the outbreak of the Al- Aqsa Intifada in September 2000, Al-Rantisi was imprisoned in solitary confinement in PA Jails several times.
Al-Rantisi was convinced that there was no possibility for a "compromise" or "a middle way" between Israel and the Palestinian people, and was at odds with most of the Palestinian leadership in his refusal to recognise Israel on its pre-1967 borders.
Al-Rantisi was a firm believer in the Palestinian refugees' right to return to the hometowns and villages that they fled or were expelled from when Israel was created in 1948.
Last year, during an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly, he said that a peace that was based on the perpetuation of oppression, theft and ethnic cleansing would not last long, and would only be a protracted truce at best.
Al-Rantisi was among the few Palestinian leaders who did not hesitate to wholly support suicide bombing attacks against Israel, on the ground that Palestinians had no means to defend themselves except their own bodies.
A few months ago, Rantisi explained his stance in this regard. "Is their children's blood more precious than our children's blood? Why is it OK for them to slaughter our children in cold blood while it is a crime to attack their settlers? Let them stop killing our children and we will stop killing theirs. But we cannot and will not accept a situation where our children are slaughtered and their children are spared," Rantisi told the Weekly at the time.
This uncompromising stance made Rantisi a marked man. On 10 June 2003, he narrowly escaped an assassination attempt when an Israeli helicopter gunship fired several missiles at his car. The attack failed to shake him as he emerged at a press conference an hour later more defiant, vowing to continue the resistance "until we earn our freedom from these criminal colonisers".
Rantisi knew all too well he was likely going to lose his life in the struggle against Israel. In one of his last interviews with the media, he said he would rather go down fighting than die of natural causes. "If I were to choose between death as a result of a cardiac arrest and death in an Apache attack, I will choose the Apache."
Al-Rantisi is survived by his wife Rasha, four daughters and two sons.
By Khaled Amayreh