As It Happens·Q&A

Hamas official says ceasefire is only a temporary solution and won't last forever

There will never be peace in the Middle East until Israel pulls out of the occupied Palestinian Territories and ends its blockade against Gaza, says a Hamas spokesperson.

Ceasefire brings end to 11 days of fighting that left 243 Palestinians, 12 Israelis dead

Palestinian supporters of the Hamas movement celebrate after a ceasefire, brokered by Egypt between Hamas and Israel, came into effect. (Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images)

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There will never be peace in the Middle East until Israel pulls out of the occupied Palestinian Territories and ends its blockade against Gaza, says a Hamas spokesperson.

A ceasefire came into effect Thursday between Israel and Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, capping 11 days of intense violence wherein Israel bombarded Gaza with airstrikes, and Hamas fired rockets into Israel.

Gaza medical officials say 243 Palestinians, including 66 children, have been killed, and 1,910 people wounded. Israeli officials say 12 people were killed in Israel, including two children.

An Israeli defence official told As It Happens this week that the majority of Palestinians killed were militants — a claim the militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad deny.

Basem Naim, the head of international relations for Hamas, spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off on Friday. Here is part of their conversation. 

Hamas is claiming victory after these 11 days. What did Hamas accomplish?

Hamas was not initiating this round of escalation. Hamas was only trying to defend the rights of our people in Sheikh Jarrah, and in Al-Aqsa compound, where the Israelis have repeatedly attacked innocent worshippers and tried forcefully to evict Palestinians from their homes. 

But there were … Palestinians and even Jewish Israelis who were very angry about those very things — the police raids at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the planned evictions in East Jerusalem. There were people who were pursuing a peaceful protest against that. Why did you reject the idea of peaceful protest and begin your rocket fire?

We were an inherent part of these peaceful protests and peaceful activities.

I was in contact with a lot of diplomats [and] UN agencies to try to attract an international intervention so that they can oblige the Israelis to stop their atrocities. But all these activities for more than one month — it was in vain.

Does Hamas want to coexist with Israeli Jews?

We have said it a lot of times. We don't have any problems with any Jews. Our conflict is not against Jews or Christians or any religion. It is against occupation, first.

Second, in 2017, Hamas has issued its political charter and it is clear that Hamas [is] accepting the 1967 borders.

[Editor's Note: The 1967 borders refers to Israel's de-facto borders before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, in which Israel took over East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan, the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, and the Golan Heights from Syria.] 

The question is: is Israel officially ready to accept an independent sovereign state for Palestinians?

What we are reading, what we are hearing, what we are watching — I am talking about the official position of the Israeli government — [is] that there is no place for an independent Palestinian state between the river and the sea. And this is the official position of the Likud Party.

Adi Vaizel looks at the damage caused to the kitchen of his house after it was hit by a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip earlier this week in Ashkelon, Israel. (Amir Cohen/Reuters)

Understood, but you were not firing rockets at the Israeli government. You are not firing rockets at the [Israeli Defence Forces]. You were firing rockets into neighbourhoods of Jewish civilians. You were firing rockets into Israeli towns. You were attempting to shoot them, but of course, they have the Iron Dome [missile defence system]. But you were attempting to kill Jews, were you not, in this past 11 days? Was that not the intention of that rocket barrage?

Why do you present it as if we are attacking Jews? By the way, we are the occupied people. We are the oppressed people. We are trying to defend ourselves. And this is our guaranteed right.

You are guaranteeing the Israelis the right to defend themselves. At the same time, we have also the right to defend ourselves. Israelis have no right to besiege Gaza now for more than 15 years, to suffocate two million people, and then we call it self-defence.

Palestinians have also tried to raise their voice against the oppression, including armed resistance. And you make a comparison between some people under occupation who are using very simple homemade projectiles with the strongest army in the region, who have more than 200 nuclear weapons, all sophisticated military facilities and supported blindly by the United States, lastly by $735 million US [worth of] more sophisticated, precise weapons to attack our families.

I understand everything you're saying, but you were firing these rockets at neighbourhoods. You were firing these rockets at civilians in Israel. These are not military targets.

And who are the targets of Israeli forces in Gaza?

And we put that question to the Israelis. The same question we're putting to you.

Our conflict is with Israeli occupation, and it is not with Jews at all. 

Palestinians walk through the rubble of a building destroyed by Israeli airstrike in Beit Hanun in the northern Gaza Strip. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)

You're saying that you're defending yourselves, you're defending the Palestinians from the Israelis by firing these rockets. Who were you defending yourself from in those Israeli towns and cities you fired the rockets at?

Because we are targeted 24 hours, seven days a week, by the most highly sophisticated weapons. By the way, if you live in Gaza, not only during the attack, during the aggression of the last week, you can hear the drones 24 hours, seven days a week, above your head in the sky, and they can target anyone at any time.

And these provocations and killing attacks are the daily story. Therefore, we are only trying to raise our voice. We are only trying to knock the doors of the biggest open-air prison here in Gaza Strip. We cannot accept to die in silence, to die in peace. Either the siege [has] to be lifted unconditionally and immediately. Otherwise, the Israelis are creating ...

Otherwise what, sir? What will you do?

We are talking about a pure political conflict. If the root of these conflicts are not tackled and fixed by ending the occupation, by ending the siege, by ending the aggression against our people in [predominantly Palestinian East Jerusalem neighbourhood] Sheikh Jarrah, by accepting and guaranteeing the rights of Palestinians, of independence, freedom and dignity, you have to prepare yourself or we have to prepare ourselves for the next escalation.

Not because we want it, but because [of the] continuous suffocating [of the] the people in their existence in Gaza and in the West Bank. If they are not stopping these policies, they are creating the conditions for the next explosion.

The cities in Gaza, you know far better than I, they are in rubble today. You have hundreds of people who are dead in Gaza. You have thousands of people who have no homes. Their houses were destroyed by the Israeli assault. But you knew that would happen. You knew that if you fired rockets that Israel would respond with such force. Your people have no Iron Dome. They have no shelters. You knew there would be possibly these kinds of casualties. Does Hamas have to accept some responsibility for the state that Gaza is in today?

But do you remember the Palestinians two years ago [who] went to the fence in thousands every Friday peacefully, men and women and elderly, to raise their voices against the siege?

Yes, we know that, sir. But I'm asking you right now, do you have to accept...

No, I mean — by the way, I [had] to leave my house because it [was] attacked by a rocket. I'm in my apartment.

But have you read how many Palestinians died because they have been denied entrance or to the crossing to get treatment abroad? How many Palestinians died of malnutrition?

I appreciate that, sir. I know you're a doctor.

The choice is you have to die either peacefully without any noise or you have to die with Israeli sophisticated missiles.

So what do you say to the Gaza families who are burying their loved ones today about that sacrifice?

It is really sad for me.

Palestinians know that the way to freedom and dignity, sometimes you have to pay the price. Unfortunately, this is the way to freedom. It is sometimes painful and expensive.

Palestinians children flash peace as crowds of people celebrate the ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas. (Fatima Shbair/Getty Images)

And is that the message you have for those Gazan families who are burying their loved ones?

We are living with them. And we have made a lot of tools today to the families, who have lost their houses, who have lost their beloved, to be beside them, hugging them, trying to support them. Because we are part of this history. We are not someone who was watching from outside. We have also lost our houses. We have lost our beloved people.

Without justice for the Palestinians, no peace can be achieved. We might achieve calm for one week, one month, one year. But without tackling the root of the problem, we will continue to witness every now and then a new round of escalation. And Israel will continue to cause or to be the cause of the instability, uncertainty in the region.

What do you say then to Jews in Israel who do want coexistence with the Palestinians, who do want to see that Palestinians have their own state, but are afraid of Hamas and its intentions? 

Why, to be afraid?

You've been killing them for the past 11 days. Maybe that's part of the reason.

No, they have to revolt to protest against the regime. They have to revolt against their dictators or regimes or right-wing extremists who have spoiled the peaceful coexistence in Jerusalem. 

We are ready for our state [with] '67 borders, an independent, free democratic state with Jerusalem as the capital, with preserving the right of return for Palestinians. Where is the problem in this demand?

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from The Associated Press. Interview produced by Chris Harbord. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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