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Home > Public Debates convened in 1998 >

Sheikh Ahmad Yaseen - On the Issue of the Opposition

1998-08-18

InterviewV

 Sheikh Ahmad Yaseen

On the Issue of the Opposition

August 18, 1997  

Abdel Rahman Abu Arafeh

We have just concluded a dialogue with your brothers in the Hamas movement; we discussed the issue of opposition, mainly to know where the opposition stands in the current situation. The brothers presented intellectual, philosophical and historic positions. Several ideas were posed on the current system and its evaluation, especially on the agreement with Israel . The opposition taking an active role was also an issue under discussion. But, there remains an important element that needs special attention, which is the role of the Islamic opposition, mainly Hamas, in the process of democratic transformation and the extent of its participation in the Palestinian developmental effort at this stage, regardless of its principle stances towards Oslo.

Because of the prevailing state of balances of power, the Palestinian question has witnessed certain conditions and circumstances that led to a new reality in Palestine, making a tremendous impact on the future. Our children and grandchildren will be affected by both the positive and negative impacts. The issue here is whether to criticize the political process and remain in internal conflicts with the authority as a result of the political process, or to try as much as possible to change the situation, so that the present and future effects will have the least impact possible.

If we consider this assumption to be correct, the current process should be considered as a state of national building, even if the national liberation process is still incomplete, and even if it is being carried out through different methodologies, because contributing to this process remains a national task. Certainly, you adopt a clear principle point of view, but it remains a theory if the current situation is not taken into consideration; this theory might become an existing fact or reality, but until then, there is an ongoing process, and the question is: What is the role of Hamas in the national building process

Sheikh Ahmad Yaseen

Hamas exists on the land of Palestine; it also exists in the Palestinian Diaspora; Hamas participates in building, construction, thought, education and humanity and in everything else, which makes it distinguished in this respect. But, the other side is not giving us and does not want to give us our correct role. Do you expect those who close down our institutions to give me a role They are depriving us from action in the homeland; I will give you a simple example -- when I came from abroad after my last trip, Palestinian TV was not allowed even to broadcast my return. The same thing happened with Radio Palestine that was not allowed to cover the news of my return while the whole world, with no exceptions, talked about my tour extensively. They do not even want to publish the news of my return. How do you expect them to give us a role when they deprive us from the simplest matters and even prohibit a news item At the same time, they keep saying: Come and participate in the ministry , while they know very well that the ministry is implementing an agreement totally rejected by us from the start because it is an agreement with Israel. How can I be in the opposition and implement an agreement with Israel against my principles So, my participation in the executive authority, even in the highest positions, will remain rejected because I reject implementing an agreement that I refuse and consider illegitimate.

As for everyday life, we participate in all aspects, we do not stop providing services and participating in the society and among people. But, how can we participate in full when we are denied even holding a march or a festival Even if approval is granted, it is usually given under conditions, for example, it should be held in a hall or closed place; they deny us permits to hold such meetings in spacious courtyards.

We are ready to work in all fields; the movement is ready to participate in all types of institutions and engineering, services and medical societies. Whoever wants to build must know the meaning of building; what we need is not the building of a tower or a building, we need to build the human being first, not to put him in prison and deprive him of all his rights and from participation in the reconstruction of the homeland. We participate and we are ready to participate in all fields, except for one field that we will not work in, which is the executive authority. We reject this because we reject the agreement and we are not ready to implement it or recognize it.

Regarding aspects of everyday life, we are already participating in them. We participate in the media, human, social and economic aspects of life. But, we will not participate in other things. Israel, upon signing the Oslo Accords, requested the elimination of the Islamic opposition under the pretext of fighting terrorism because those who fight and defend their rights are considered by Israel as terrorists while those who fight in Turkey are considered revolutionary and those who fight in Guatemala and Ireland are revolutionary. Therefore, once again, I say the movement is effective and active in all areas. In the summer, we have our own activities, summer camps and education in schools and mosques that are distinguished and well founded. I will give you an example: we have a licensed legal society. When this society planned to hold a summer camp, we were told that we had to apply for a permit for the summer camp; if we plan to organize a festival, we have to apply for a permit; the same thing applies when planning to organize a peaceful march. What do you say now Even the Jews did not treat us in this manner or demand these requirements. In short, the building process requires participation and joint work in all fields, except for the executive authority, which does not serve our cause or our ideology.

Abdel Rahman Abu Arafeh

This is a difficult question; I am sure it is difficult, but I will try to explain it in the following way: Hamas is a main stream in opposition of the Oslo agreement; the Authority realizes that Hamas is a main and important stream but still it is an opposition stream, meaning that it fears Hamas. But at the same time, it sees in Hamas a justification that can be used to minimize the impact of the Oslo process. Accordingly this serves the negotiations process in an indirect way.  

What Hamas is facing, in terms of pressures mentioned by Sheikh Ahmad Yaseen, makes us feel that Hamas has a duty of moving closer to the Authority in the official and political sense if it wants to keep an active presence despite the principled and non-negotiable position of Hamas. Now the specific question is this: "Is it possible to move closer to the Authority and share in the building process without affecting the [Hamas ] principles and politics, based on the saying (You have your own religion and I have mine)  

We are partners in the homeland and one cannot beg for this partnership from anybody; everyone has his own role to carry out, especially since the belief is that Israel s ultimate goal is to create an internal crisis and make us reach the point of engaging in internal clashes and fighting. Of course, we hope that this goal will never be achieved. In spite of all the contradictions, how can Hamas convey a message to the Authority based on the following formula: Let us remain on two opposite sides on the issue of Oslo; do whatever you want politically, but we are partners in the homeland and we will never reach the point of confrontation with you.

Sheikh Ahmad Yaseen

To begin with, it is as if you are saying, "This is a glass and the liquid in this glass is poison, come and let us drink it together". This is very odd, no I refuse Oslo in principle while you want me to build on its basis. You say this a reality and even if it exists, you recognize it, but I do not recognize it. You accepted it but I did not; how do you expect me to take Oslo as a basis Because I am against Oslo, I am supposed to reject all things resulting from Oslo; if I want to take on a negative attitude, I would say that the Authority now in existence was found on basis of Oslo, which means that we reject it and we will resist it in the same way that we resist the other side of it. But I said no. I say this Authority is part of the Palestinian people, and those who are in the Authority worked and exerted efforts but made a mistake, but this does not mean that I have to follow in their path; I have my own perspective and they have their own perspective. I will never be prepared to shed Palestinian blood, I totally ban the shedding of Palestinian blood, even if they torture me and fight me; I am not prepared to shed Palestinian blood.

As you see, part of us is in prisons, detention centers and subjected to torture; they are drawing the sword of torture on us, but we are not retaliating; I said immediately after I was released from prison that I recognize Abu Ammar as the president of the PA and the president of the Palestinian state; what do they want more than this But if he wants me to nullify my principles, this is rejected; if he wants me to throw down my weapon in the same way he did, this is rejected too; I will not accept that; if he moved from the trench of hostility to Israel to the trench of defending Israel and became a guard for the security of Israel, this is rejected. I cannot disclose my cards to Israel and throw down my weapons while they are still occupying us; Israel has to throw down its weapons first and then start dialogue with me, but to point the weapon at my chest and then tell me let us start a dialogue; this is the language of weapons; the correct concept is either the language of arms or the language of dialogue. However, this does not mean that my respect for him, my determination not to confront him, and my prohibiting the shedding of Palestinian blood, obliges me to throw down my weapon like him and start clapping for the occupation, begging and kissing his hands so that he would give me one inch of my homeland.

The open field between me and the enemy is a bitter struggle; it is either life or death; either victory or martyrdom; this is what we want, so when I respect the Authority and Abu Ammar, and when I announce that I do not want to clash with them, this is because I want to maintain and protect the people; I have many key points by which I can attack the Authority, but I say let us pray to God that they will improve and correct themselves for the better. So, our role is a role of building and not of destruction; we extended our hands to begin a dialogue with them, and work together in the building process for the sake of the people and cause; our enemy is one; we are in the same trench confronting the enemy, but they confront Israel on the table and I reject that because there is only one path to obtain our rights and force them to start a dialogue in the correct sense of dialogue; this is our clear and unwavering position.

Ismail Abu Shanab

I understood the question of brother Abdul Rahman from a different angle. He is asking if there is a way to improve relations with the Authority in terms of the political reality. In regards to this, I say that we portrayed this improvement of relations regarding the building of a society able to confront the occupation. If they want us to build a society, to reinforce democracy and principles of cooperation, to reinforce principles of broadening the institutional system in every region and spread the spirit of security and safety among citizens, we will join forces in this. But regarding their political program, we differ with them; our policy is clear in resisting occupation, liberating the land and achieving our rights.

Sheikh Ahmad Yaseen

Do they really want to build Where is this construction Elections take place in universities and teaching colleges, and when the Islamic bloc wins, they nullify the results; at al-Quds Open University, they calculated and found that they had lost, so they closed it and canceled the entire elections; students hold sit-ins with PLC members and carry banners; they [the Authority] then send their soldiers with clubs, and then they issue warnings and decisions to fire people; is this democracy

We are with the people in all fields and areas, but the other side is required to go down to these fields and treat the people in the right fashion; democracy does not come from one side; you, as a man of authority, must reinforce democracy and not me; we do not want to see a security man strike here and whip there, etc. are we in a military system or what kind of system are we in

They have to choose either the Palestinian people and their security, unity and future or the Israeli security and occupation; there is nothing in between. What we see today is the protection of Israeli security regardless of whoever dies from the Palestinian people; tell me honestly, is there any ordinary citizen in this country who feels relaxed and secure How can citizens be secure and relaxed when a product is sold in Israel for one penny while in Gaza the same item is sold for two or three pennies. It is known where the difference goes while the people cannot find anything to eat; all commercial projects in the country were turned into private enterprises; gas which used to cost twenty [NIS] is now sold for fifty. Only two days ago, one of our brothers told me about an item sold here for three times the price it is being sold in the United Arab Emirates. Where is the authority that secures the welfare and security of the people In any case, this is the alleged Oslo agreement. I would like to hear your opinion on this

Abdel Rahman Abu Arafeh

There is one positive point to be recorded in favor of Hamas because Hamas position has been clear and frank the whole time. Hamas does not give the Authority any excuse to clash with it; I am not saying this because I am in front of Sheikh Ahmad Yaseen or because I am interviewing him, but as a close observer who realizes certain things. There were continuous letters from Hamas stressing that it would not allow fighting among brothers, and this is something appreciated; but we should move to the next phase in the context of finding means to work together in building the homeland and building democracy.

Ismail Haniyye

Basically, the Authority must start from two basic concepts in this matter:

The First Concept - We should close the book on what is called factional conflict prevalent at one period, in which Fateh lived in a struggle with us and in various locations, including universities. Now, if Fateh considers itself within the framework of an authority, and if it wants to build a people and a homeland s authority, it should get itself out of the context of past conflict.

Fateh still operates as a faction on the issue of taking the initiative and leading the masses, especially since Hamas and Sheikh Yaseen have made it very clear that if the Authority brought this agreement with these surrounding conditions on a silver plate, we would kick it. The issue of establishing an authority or engaging in an authority in this manner does not exist. Hamas has come a long way towards giving you [PNA] political stability. I am not looking for a seat in this location governed by this deal or this agreement. The other party must not look at matters as if I am competing for a seat or a position, as much as we would like to compete in confronting the occupation.

The Second Concept - It should be launched from the relationship with Hamas as a movement which is a partner in the homeland and not an adversary or enemy. With full knowledge that in some cases they act on the basis of the assumption that Hamas is an enemy or an adversary and not as a political competitor. In some cases, disputes with the movement are worse than disputes with the occupation; therefore, it happens that they close the movement s institutions and carry out arrests. They should understand that Hamas is not the adversary and that Hams does not pose itself as a competitor for the seat they claim. The Authority and Fateh must get out of the narrow factional concept and look at Hamas as a future partner and supporter in Jihad and in building a healthy society.

Abdel Rahman Abu Arafeh

Let us envision the following scenario: there is an existing authority with a stronghold on matters, and there are other Palestinian opposition parties, mainly Hamas, which is a movement found on the street with power, heritage and other qualifications. From another angle, there are external forces, perhaps with internal influence, which believe that the movement is the enemy and its head   should be cut off. Hamas realizes this. This is why they are showing maximum restraint; it is not easy; it needs capability and wisdom, but still it remains a negative position, meaning that it is allowing the Authority to make its own assessments and distribute roles, where is the leading role of Hamas

Sheikh Ahmad Yaseen

There are individuals in our movement as well as persons in the Authority who would want to cause a split among the people. They say to the Authority that Hamas wants to wipe you out and that Hamas wants to take your seats and the authority from you; they do all this to bring things closer to clashes and internal conflict. What is my role My role is to put out any spark that might ignite. I tell you, while I was in Syria, Khaled al-Amleh stood up and told me: You contradict yourself ; when I asked why, he said that I say that I am against Oslo and then later I say Our brothers in the Authority with their president Abu Ammar instead of saying that they are traitors or collaborators. I answered that he speaks using this tone because he resides in Syria; I added that if I used Khaled s words in Gaza, conflict and destruction would fall upon the Palestinian people. They do not leave me alone when I say that they are my brothers, so what would happen if I used Khaled s words of treason and so on. The result is known, because a Hamas supporter would start arguing with an Authority supporter and then clashes would occur and then gunfire would start and the situation might escalate further.

I want the whole world to understand that we will not accept to become guardians on the Palestinian people on behalf of the Jews. We will not become protectors of Israel s security at any moment. We will not accept that the Palestinian people will only obtain autonomy. We will not strike each other whatever happens. It is illogical to see Jews building new settlements every day while we fight each other; is it logical to see them build dozens of settlements for 500 Jews in the Gaza Strip while one million Palestinians cannot find anything to eat.

During my first arrest, the Jewish interrogators asked me what I wanted; I answered that I wanted the occupation to leave. Then, they said that if they leave, the factions would come and that we would start fighting each other; I said: Just go away and leave the matter to us; it is our internal issue; we will agree with each other.

I swear that we are not after any seat, car or any other thing they have; we see our usurped homeland and we want to return it; we see our dignity that we must regain; there is no other choice. Therefore, we must put aside our disputes and remember that we are in the same trench and with the same goal, the homeland and the people. According to the saying Look at the bulls fighting each other as they are heading towards the slaughterhouse .

We, the authority and the opposition, are now fighting in the same slaughterhouse and the slaughterer is the same person. He [the Authority] is leading his own path and I am leading my own path. I do not call him a traitor; he does not call me a traitor. But he has no right to throw down his weapon in the same way that I have no right to throw down mine at this time. But, do they have the power to make a certain decision They promised us several times to release prisoners; they are only promises because they have no authority to make such decisions; the decision is in the hands of the Israel. Finally, I say that there are no halfway solutions; this is a matter of principle; God is Victorious, but most people do not realize this .


V As part of the dialogue with Hamas, ATF held this interview with Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmad Yaseen at his residence in Gaza.


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