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by John Perazzo


Anyone who believes that Israel's withdrawal from Gaza has even the remotest chance of fostering a spirit of reconciliation among Palestinians ought to consider the ongoing, venomous declarations of 60-year-old Mahmoud al Zahar, the most senior Hamas member in Gaza.

(Mahmoud Al-Zahar. Reuters)

Al Zahar has had some alarming things to say lately about Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip - most recently in an interview that appeared in the August 18 edition of Asharq Al-Awsat, the leading daily international newspaper in the Arab world. The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) has provided translations of Zahar's comments[1], among which were the following:

These non-conciliatory statements are nothing more than rewordings of the positions that al Zahar had previously enunciated in July, when he told[2] the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera that Hamas would "definitely not" accept coexistence with Israel even if the Israeli Defense Force were to retreat to the pre-1967 borders. "It [coexistence] can be a temporary solution, for a maximum of 5 to 10 years," al Zahar said candidly. "But in the end Palestine must return to become Muslim, and in the long term Israel will disappear from the face of the earth. . . . We won't disrupt the Israeli withdrawal, let them get out of here and go to hell. The problem will be afterwards, because in the hearts of every Palestinian, the liberation of Gaza must be accompanied by the liberation of Jerusalem and the West Bank."

Al Zahar's stated views are entirely consistent with those of Hamas as a whole. Since the day of its December 14, 1987 creation, Hamas itself has been most consistent in its positions on how to deal with Israel. The group's founding charter[3] explicitly mandates that a jihad of armed attacks against the Jewish state must be pursued until Israel is eviscerated from the globe. Among the charter's assertions are the following:

Given these unequivocal positions, it is quite evident that Hamas has no intention of embracing a negotiated peace with Israel; the only solution it will accept is Israel's elimination from the planet. For Hamas, the issue of concern is not how land can be divided and apportioned most equitably for each side, but rather of how a nation of Jewish "infidels" can be driven permanently into the sea.

This self-evident reality gives rise to the most crucial of questions: To what degree do the positions of Hamas reflect the attitudes of Palestinians as a whole? After all, if Hamas were in fact nothing more than a fringe element of Islamist extremists with whose methods and ideals most Palestinians disagreed, there might indeed be reason to hold out hope that a peaceful solution could be hammered out and pursued. But the facts regarding this question are not heartening.

A September 2003 poll[4] conducted jointly by Public Opinion Research of Israel and the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion found that only 13 percent of Palestinians agreed with the statement that Hamas is a terrorist group; 82 percent agreed that Hamas is a freedom-fighting organization; and a mere 10 percent believed that bombings targeting Israeli civilians in buses and restaurants could be classified as acts of terrorism. These attitudes suggest that the ethical and moral gulf dividing Palestinian from Israeli culture is so vast as to be unbridgeable.

An April 2004 poll of 506 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip found that for the first time ever, Hamas, which has long been the most popular faction in the Gaza strip[5], enjoyed stronger support among Palestinians than did Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement. In that same survey, 76.5 percent of respondents supported the continuation of Hamas' suicide attacks against Israel; only 15.4 percent were opposed such attacks.

In a November 2004 Al-Arabia network survey[6] of some 113,000 individuals throughout the Arab world, 73.2 percent of respondents said they wanted a Hamas official to replace the recently deceased Yasser Arafat as Palestinian leader.

In December 2004, municipal elections[7] for local councils were held in 26 Palestinian communities. Hamas, participating for the first time in Palestinian elections, won a majority of council seats in nine communities, while Fatah took control of 14 towns. "This is an outstanding result for Hamas," noted the Palestinian analyst Ali Jerbawi. "The 26 localities were selected from the beginning according to strongholds of Fatah. So the results should have been more for Fatah than Hamas."

In local council elections[8] held in Gaza in January 2005, Hamas won at least 75 out of the 118 seats it contested. The ruling Fatah faction of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas won approximately 26 seats. Correspondents interpreted the results as a significant blow to Fatah, and a great leap forward for Hamas.

In local elections[9] held in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in May 2005, Hamas again made a very strong showing against Abbas' Fatah movement. Further establishing itself as a potent political force, Hamas won 23 of the electoral races - including those in Qalqiliya, Rafah, and Beit Lahiya, the three largest towns being contested.

In summation, Hamas has developed into a major political entity to be reckoned with, enjoying immense and ever-growing popularity among Palestinians. The respective mindsets of Hamas and the Palestinian population alike are imbued with deep contempt for Jews and the state of Israel. This hatred has been nurtured by decades of poisonous rhetoric pouring forth from the font of Yasser Arafat's propaganda machine. Ugly characterizations of Jews have been a constant theme of Palestinian state-controlled media outlets, schoolbooks, and religious leaders. Consequently, Palestinian culture has become one of unsurpassed bigotry, a fact that does not bode well for hopes that its people are capable of committing, for any extended period of time, to living peacefully alongside Israel.



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John Perazzo is the author of "The Myths That Divide Us: How Lies Have Poisoned American Race Relations." Contact him by email at

This article appeared in Front Page Magazine August 24, 2005. It is archived at


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