Friday, April 30, 2010
‘I'm against September 11th but I support suicide bombings in Israel'
I recently interviewed Jamila Al-Shanti, a member of the Palestinian parliament and the highest ranking woman in the Hamas government. Women’s rights under Hamas rule was the subject of the interview, and my article about this topic will likely publish in Global Post. After the interview, Ms. Shanti allowed me to ask her some questions about the current political situation and about her views on what constitutes terrorism.
Ms. Shanti has experienced and witnessed unimaginable horrors. Israel attempted to assassinate her in a 2006 bomb strike that instead killed her sister-in-law and two of Ms. Shanti's bodyguards. Her uncle died in an Israeli bombing. And she's lost countless friends in Israeli military actions, including an incident in which she says soldiers opened fire on unarmed women. In a 2006 editorial for the Guardian, Ms. Shanti wrote, "The sight of my close friends Ibtissam Yusuf Abu Nada and Rajaa Ouda taking their last breaths, bathed in blood, will live with me forever."
In the past, Ms. Shanti has met some Israeli activists and journalists who she liked and respected. However, she says these Israelis were not Zionist and “acknowledged that Israel had stolen Palestinian land and massacred Palestinians.”
When I asked if the Gilad Shalit cartoon video was intended as a threat, Ms. Shanti looked as if I'd punched her in the gut. She seemed genuinely perplexed that the video was not well-received in western countries. "The whole world is grieving for Shalit," she said sadly, "But they are not grieving for the thousands of Palestinian prisoners. You can find two or three detainees from every [extended] family in Gaza. We consider Shalit as our chance to make a deal....This cartoon movie is a message to the world to create some momentum, to put pressure on Israel to keep the issue of Shalit negotiations alive."
The interview took place in a sparse parliament office. Ms. Shanti generally spoke in a calm, measured voice and smiled kindly during moments of potential tension. She often motioned for me drink my tea and joked that I was too busy taking notes and needed to relax. She emphasized that she liked American people but condemned the American government “which is controlled by the Zionist lobby.” At one point, Ms. Shanti asked me if I was married. When I told her that I was not, she commented affectionately, “You’re young. There’s still hope.” (Ms. Shanti herself never married, contrary to some false internet reports that she's the wife of an assassinated Hamas leader.)
Even when pressed, Ms. Shanti expressed little sympathy for Israeli suffering and contended that Palestinians have a right to defend themselves by any means. What follows is an excerpt of my sobering exchange with Ms. Shanti on the question of why she supports suicide bombings and rocket attacks against Israeli civilians. The only edits I’ve made are marked with “…” and are for the purpose of eliminating redundant statements.
Did you support the September 11th attacks?
No, we are against the September 11th attacks. These were innocent people practicing their daily work. There were even Palestinians and Arabs killed....Hamas is against this. I’m not interested in going to America and killing people there. Why? These people are practicing their normal lives. It’s none of my business. But if you ask me: what’s your opinion on killing Americans in Iraq, I will say yes. That’s a different story.
Many people in America think that the September 11th attacks are similar to the suicide bombings in Israeli buses and coffee shops. They both kill civilians, like innocent women and children.
It’s different. How is it the same? The suicide bombings kill people who kill me….These women in the coffee shops also came to my land and came to fight me. Women in Israel are soldiers as well. The owners of the cafés built their cafés on my land and the attendants of the cafés come to fight me.
What about the children [who are killed]?
The children are killed by mistake. The children are not targets, but they die in the incidents.
A couple of years ago, there was a shooting inside a school in Jerusalem…
Hamas has never done an attack in a school. This is not allowed. In schools? This is forbidden. It’s not Hamas that did this. If this happened, we are not the ones that did this.
Some people say that the Palestinians might have succeeded if they used only non-violent ways, like Gandhi or Martin Luther King.
We are not the ones who do the violence. [The Israelis] are on my land. They killed us. They killed even the newborn babies in the mother’s hands. They are monsters. They planted fear in the hearts of people and came with the mentality of slaughtering. Don’t think about the innocence of the Israelis—we know them. Under every house inside Palestine, you will find the bones of people who’ve been killed by Israel.
The picture of Israel as a democratic state is not true. We know this. The whole world does not know the crimes of Israel. Or they know it and they try not to focus on it. That’s why I want to say that our rights are not diminished by time. Haifa, Yaffa, Tel Aviv, Ashkelon, all of those must come back to us….[Our land] will not come back by giving flowers to the Israelis, but by jihad.
Do you support a two-state solution?
No. I will never allow two states. No way. This is my land. They should go away. But we have another tactical approach that we would accept a state on 1967 borders with the capital of Jerusalem for a temporary period until the whole issue has been solved. The Israelis should know that I cannot recognize a state for them. The next generations will come to fight and kill them. I, Jamila Al Shanti, I’m not from Gaza. I’m from a village in Majda [Ashkelon]. My land is there. How can I give it to them? I want to return to my village.
Some people say that you should make a two-state solution for the sake of peace, for the sake of the children’s futures. What would you say to these people?
We believe that Israel does not want peace and will not give us a state as we want. We have been in the peace process for 20 years and the settlements increased and the assaults on our land increased. Therefore, peace does not work with them and I will never live with them in peace.
Some people might reply that Israel left Gaza and abandoned the settlements in Gaza.
Israel didn’t leave Gaza. Every day they kill people. Every day their snipers are on the borders and kill people. Their tanks still enter. Their airplanes are still in the sky. Israel didn’t leave Gaza. We are in danger day and night.
You said earlier that you liked and worried about the Israeli journalists who used to work in Gaza. Some people say that the Jewish people would not be safe if they lived in a state of Palestine.
In the history of the Jews, it’s never been reported that something happened to them under an Islamic government.…If there was a state and they were citizens of this state, they would be protected, like Jews living in Egypt, or Yemen, or Algeria.
Some people say that the Arabs are the majority in many countries. But the Jewish people have no country except Israel.
How can I answer that? That’s not my problem. This is not their right. America is a big country. Give them some of your land....If you [the Americans] are so sad about them, you should give them a state. Even if the Jews want to live in Palestine, we will not have a problem with that. If they want to take the Palestinian nationality, we have no problem with that.