Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal was interviewed in Doha by Milliyet writer Asli Aydintasbas.
Khaled Meshaal, although perhaps not as much as an Israeli politician, is very well protected. By the time I reached Qatar’s capital, Doha, to interview the Hamas leader, the Israeli-Palestine cease-fire had just collapsed. Meshaal is a name pursued by the world media. As if that weren’t enough, we heard that Mahmoud Abbas had left Ramallah and come to Doha to meet Meshaal. I was almost certain that my interview would be canceled. But after waiting one day in my Doha hotel, I was given an appointment by Hamas.
Come at 9.30 pm
After endless assassinations attempts against its leader, Hamas takes security seriously even in Qatar, its closest ally. They don’t tell you where you are going to meet. I was told to walk toward a mosque nearby. Someone met us in the street.
Clear answers without evasions
Once we got to Hamas' office, Meshaal’s security people took everything we had to another room to check. It is no joke. In 1997, Israeli agents tried to kill Meshaal in Amman. He barely survived. After the check, we leave our phones outside and sit in an air conditioned room. It is 45 degrees (Celsius, or 113 degrees Fahrenheit) outside.
A short time later, Meshaal entered the room with a smile, saying, “Hello, sister.” Before I could extend my hand, he put his hand on his chest to politely tell me that he doesn’t shake hands with women.
Our conversation went very smoothly. I asked him tough questions which he handled deftly. There is no doubt that nowadays the Hamas leader is much more persuasive than scores of heads of state and government in the Middle East. He thinks fast and answers without trying to evade the question.
But as Meshaal spoke I realized once again that an Israel-Palestine peace, even a cease-fire, is a very remote possibility. Hamas insists that for a cease-fire the blockade on Gaza must be lifted. After 2,000 deaths and 10,000 wounded it has to show its people that they had gained something. Israel sees the lifting of the blockade as a reward for Hamas and resists it.
As I was leaving I told Meshaal: “I heard your family watches Turkish TV serials.” He replied, “Is there anyone in the Arab world who is not watching them? Those serials are habit-forming. Even in regimes hostile to Turkey, people watch them.”
People of Gaza tell us to stand firm
Milliyet: I am putting myself in place of a woman, a mother in Gaza. After all this destruction and death, I would have never asked Hamas to “continue the war.” I would say, “Enough already.”
Meshaal: If Hamas had started the war, you would be right. But Israel started it and Hamas is defending its people. Of course, nobody wants deaths of family and children. That is human nature. But to want to live free and dignified in your own country is also human nature. People in an occupied land want to live freely. Even at the most difficult moments of the war, when their houses were destroyed and their neighbors killed, the people of Gaza were telling us “Stand firm. Don’t give up until the blockade and occupation ends.” In Gaza, people have been dying in slow motion since 2006. It is only in faster motion now. We want an end to slow motion and fast motion deaths. End of occupation.
Milliyet: You are facing an opponent you cannot defeat militarily or politically. Why not go step-by-step in negotiations instead of demanding all in one time? First a cease-fire and than slowly lifting of the blockade …
Meshaal: We are not offered a step-by-step solution. Nobody puts such a calendar on the table. There is only plenty of talking. They say we will give you a small portion of what you want, and think about it later.
Milliyet: Israel poisoned you when Netanyahu was in power in 1997. You barely survived after a long coma. Do you hate Netanyahu?
Meshaal: Hate? The matter of the country is not a personal matter. This is not between Netanyahu and me. My life is not any more important than all the other people killed by Netanyahu’s army.
Milliyet: ISIS (the Islamic State, or IS) is an enemy of Hamas. They had some tough words for you. What do you think of that organization?
Meshaal: Some would like to focus on ISIS and rule this region as forever in combating terror mode. But we are a national liberation movement. What they say about us is not important.
Milliyet: You accuse Israel of killing women and children. Recently in an interview you said your ethical values are higher than those of Israel. But if your rockets had hit targets or if Israel didn’t have its Iron Dome system, you too would be killing women and children. So what is your ethical difference?
Meshaal: First, let’s look at results: 80% of deaths in Palestine are women and children. In Israel, 90% are soldiers. Second, our weapons are very basic. We don’t have sophisticated arms like Israel. Even if we had them, we wouldn’t target civilians. [The Izz ad-Din al-]Qassam brigades, before attacking an area, warn Israeli civilians not to go there. Israelis, on the other hand, with all their intelligence systems and smart weapons, intentionally target civilians. People take refuge in UN schools and Israel hits them there.
Milliyet: Do you believe in democracy?
Meshaal: But of course.
Milliyet: After their experiences in Egypt, Libya, Syria and Iraq, do Arabs still have a reason to believe in democracy?
Meshaal: These experiences cannot justify our giving up on democracy. To the contrary, because of these experiences we must be more persistent for democracy. The enemies of ummah [the Muslim world] are against democracy. Democracy and freedom means human rights and people selecting their own representatives. It is [a] long process but its rewards are high.
Milliyet: If you believe in democracy so much, what are you doing with missiles and guns? Won’t Palestine achieve its goals easier without armed struggle?
Meshaal: We should not confuse these two issues. You are right if you are in a stable, free land. You cannot achieve democracy by use of force. But our struggle is against occupation. It is not a struggle for democracy, but for national liberation.
Milliyet: Some Arab countries remained silent.
Meshaal: This is the first time Hamas has been so alone in the Arab world. Neither Iran, nor Egypt or Gulf countries were on our side. Only Turkey and Qatar. Anyone who watched the last war knows that Hamas is popular among Arabs and even in the entire world. Perhaps some regimes don’t like us, but their people are with us. Netanyahu has so few around him. Yes, some Arab countries were silent. They abandoned us. I asked Allah to forgive those who abandoned us. I know those who betrayed us will be punished when doomsday comes.
Milliyet: Netanyahu compared Hamas with ISIS. What do you say?
Meshaal: For us, Netanyahu is [a] baby killer. He has no right to describe us. For 45 days, he has been killing women and children. There are more than 2,000 deaths. What he does is Nazism. He is a bad copy of Hitler. Under the guise of combating terror, he is legitimizing his own war. But the whole world sees it.
Thanks to the Turkish people
Milliyet: Israel says you broke the cease-fire agreed to in Cairo. Is that true?
Meshaal: Israel both sabotaged efforts of the Egyptian government and also shattered the cease-fire. By lying to the world public and also to the US administration, it spread claims that there was rocket fire from Gaza, hours before the end of the cease-fire. That was a lie. They spread that lie because they wanted to the hit the home of the commander of al-Qassam Brigades. They succeeded in killing his wife and child. All their success until now is to kill women and children, destroy houses.
Milliyet: Netanyahu said Hamas’ spine is broken. There was a report that three Hamas leaders were killed.
Meshaal: That happens in all wars. True, we lost many lives. He is trying to brag, but there is nothing he can do except to kill children, destroy houses. What he is doing to the Gaza people is a holocaust. First he blockaded, then made them starve and now he is killing them with American planes and lethal weapons. Yes, it is true militarily we have heavy losses but al-Qassam Brigades say these are limited. Palestine resistance is strong enough to confront the Israeli enemy. Inshallah, it will come out the winner in this war.
Milliyet: Are negotiations over? Has Hamas left the table?
Meshaal: Political negotiations will have ups and downs. Israel, while destroying Gaza, [is] also trying to prevent Hamas from meeting the needs of the people. But the resistance is also determined politically. We will not give our demands that all Palestinians agree on. First of all, the blockade on Gaza must end. Stop your aggressions and lift the embargo. It is now time to end the occupation, which is the core of the entire problem. Palestine is the last place under occupation in the world and we want that to end. Our strategy is not to fight. We are a national liberation movement. But Israelis are carrying on a classic war with their tanks and planes. We are fighting because we are under occupation. We have to resist. We had our land under occupation of since the days of the British mandate. It has been almost 100 years. We will continue to resist until our land is free.
Milliyet: Turkey and Qatar are your only allies. Do you have a message to the Turkish people?
Meshaal: Turkey’s position is always perfect. It is admired in Palestine and in the Arab world. We are never forgetting the martyrs of the Mavi Marmara flotilla. Even during its presidential elections, Turkey supported us. Its humanitarian assistance was always there. We congratulate Erdogan’s presidency and thank the Turkish people for their support.
Continue reading this article by registering at no cost and get unlimited access to:
- The award-winning Middle East Lobbying - The Influence Game
- Archived articles
- Exclusive events
- The Week in Review
- Lobbying newsletter delivered weekly