Larry Cohler-Esses from The Forward went to Cairo to interview Mousa Abu Marzook, Hamas’s second-highest-ranking official, in the first such interview a senior Hamas leader has conducted with a Jewish publication.
“Why am I here?”
This was not an existential plea to the cosmos. It was, rather, the first question I put to Abu Marzook at the start of the interview: Why had he agreed to a request by a Jewish news organization to talk with him in-depth in a lengthy and probing exchange?
“We don’t have originally something against the Jew as a religion or against the Jew as a human being,” he said. “The problem is that the Israelis kicked out my family. They have occupied my land and injured thousands of Palestinians…. I have to differentiate between the Jew who did this problem to my people and [American] Jews like you, who never did anything bad to my people.”
Abu Marzook waved away the contention that, in fact, most American Jews strongly support Israel as a Jewish state — in many cases, quite actively — and sympathize with their fellow Jews there. Speaking of Americans in general, he said, “Those people who have sympathy for the Jews [in Israel], it’s because of their history with the Jews. If you look carefully at what happened to the Jews in Moscow or Madrid, in Spain or in Germany or Poland, that’s very bad…. Anyone who historically his father or grandfather did something like that [to the Jews], he should be ashamed.”
This made Abu Marzook’s comments the next day in defense of the Hamas Charter all the more surprising. The charter, a lengthy, multi-part founding document composed in 1988, contains several sections that have been widely condemned as anti-Semitic.
The first such section cites a hadith, or saying of the Prophet Muhammad:
“The Day of Judgment will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews.”
The second section cites passages from “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” an early 20th-century forgery now widely attributed to the czar of Russia’s secret police, that depict world Jewry as a nefarious international force through Western history. The passages cited hold “world Zionism” as responsible for, among other things, the French and communist revolutions, the control of media and finance worldwide, and the machinations of “secret societies,” including the “Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, the Lions in different parts of the world” that have been formed “for the purpose of sabotaging societies and achieving Zionist interests.”
Abu Marzook said that the charter does not govern his organization.
“We have many, many policies that are not going with the charter,” he said. “But when you talk about ‘change the charter,’ there are many Hamas people talking about changing the charter. That’s a debate inside Hamas, because there are many, many policies against what’s written in the charter.”
Asked specifically about changing the passages on Jews, Abu Marzook acknowledged no such amendments existed. But he defended the hadith as being taken out of context. The passage, he said, did not apply to all Jews — just those in Palestine.
As for the Protocols, “The Zionists wrote it, and they said, ‘No, we didn’t.‘ [It’s] linked to Zionists,” he said.
Informed that the document was, in fact, a forgery, Abu Marzook appeared nonplussed. “Really? This is the first time I know [about this],” he said.
For a Hamas leader who had lived and studied in the West to respond in such a manner seemed a stunning reflection of a movement that remains deeply insular and parochial, even as it now seeks wider legitimacy.
Abu Marzook spoke hopefully of the influence of the Arab Spring as a boon to his movement. The rise of fellow Islamist groups in Egypt and elsewhere could help bring the issue of the Palestinians to the fore, he said, even if, in the short term, Muslim Brotherhood groups, now responsible for governing, emphasized domestic concerns.
He alluded to the debate that the Arab Spring has sparked within Hamas itself, including discussion of converting the group fully into a political party that eschewed its own separate militia or guerilla arm, as has occurred with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. “There are some people in Hamas thinking [that] way,” he said. “But personally, I’m against any kind of political party, because Hamas is a political party and a resistance. You can’t divide this.”
But asked how the Arab Spring’s themes of civil resistance and demands for openness, transparency and democracy might influence Hamas, Abu Marzook looked puzzled. His group operates in areas, such as the occupied West Bank, in which it remains an illegal organization, he noted. And its status in several Arab countries also makes open operations impractical. He declined even to offer a dollar figure for its operating budget.
Might Hamas, for example, consider opening a window on debate within the secretive Shura Council, a body that will soon select a new leader even though no one, including its purported constituents, knows who its members are and how they will vote?
“This is not the interest of people in any way,” Abu Marzook replied.