Hamas Set for Change?
Interview with Hamas Member Muhammad Nazal
Many might have argued that the floor was indeed shaken underneath
Hamas, if not Palestinian resistance as a whole. On the domestic
level, the departure of the movement's founder and spiritual guide
Sheikh Ahmad Yassin set the ground for a number of questions over the
future of the movement and its reaction to the assassination. On the
regional and global level, Muslims from around the world have
considered the assassination a direct attack on their dignity,
resolve and the quest for freedom, symbolized in the person of Sheikh
IslamOnline interviewed Mr. Muhammad Nazal, a member of its political
bureau, for an answer to many of the questions raised over the future
of Hamas resistance; its forms, means and leadership. Is Hamas on the
verge of fundamental changes affecting its future with Israel
IOL: In view of the recent assassination of the Sheikh. How do you
think it will affect the future leadership of Hamas? Will there be
significant changes in the management of the organization?
There will be no changes in the strategies of Hamas. As for the
leadership of the movement, Dr. Rantissi has been chosen to be in
charge of leadership in Gaza, as for the prime person in charge now,
he is Mr. Khaled Meshaal the chairman of the political bureau, as no
changes had undergone to his post.
The management of Hamas is not centralized. Sheikh Yassin was a
father figure to us all. He was the spiritual guide of the movement.
Yet the management of the movement has always been defused, and
Rantissi and Meshaal have always been important leading figures in
IOL: There are many observers who noted that the assassination of
Sheikh Yassin will in fact lead to further radicalization of Hamas.
Some fear the possibility that the group will disintegrate into
separate factions that will become more focused on militancy, which
could affect other services in the organization. Your comments?
There is no reason for such fears, such fears are only the hopes of
the Zionist enemy, they thought that by assassinating Sheikh Yassin
they would create a gap or disorder in the movement.
Radicalization? Hamas has never been a radical movement, it is an
institutionalized movement with a clear agenda, and its policy is
carried out in accordance with the consensus of the majority of the
IOL: Sheikh Yassin was a father figure to all Palestinians. How will
Hamas fill this void?
Surely, Sheikh Ahmad Yassin was an important symbol to the
Palestinians, yet this doesn't mean that the Palestinians are unable
to create new leaders. The Palestinians introduced to the world a lot
of leaders that carried the cause and strife.
IOL: In the statement by Qassam brigades following the assassination,
there was an unclear announcement that the duty to take revenge for
the life of the Sheikh is now the duty of all Muslims, not just
Palestinians. Are they suggesting that Muslims everywhere are now to
take militant operations from all around the world?
Of course not, we advise all Muslims to take their role in military
operations against the Zionist enemy, but only inside Palestine. If
there are people able to cross the borders and enter Palestine they
are asked to answer this call for Jihad as soon as possible.
IOL: What are the chances of the resistance moving to out of
Palestine's borders? Do you plan on targeting Zionist interests all
over the world?
No, the policy of Hamas is to fight inside the Occupied Territories
IOL: Will Hamas change its outlook now to include enmity towards the
US directly? Is it likely to participate in operations that are
directed at US interests?
It is not our policy to target American interests; our resistance
will be only against Zionists.
IOL: But wasn't the Sheikh assassinated with US armaments? Do you not
feel that the escalation against the US itself might serve your
It is true that the USA is the prime supporter of the Zionist entity,
but we don't see that it is wise to open more than one front; our
fight against those who occupied our land is legally, ethically and
Blood on a Wheelchair
Ahmed Yassin - The Man Who Revived a Nation
By Kareem M. Kamel
Researcher - International Relations
"The West demands from us that we stop the resistance. Instead of
asking the occupiers to leave our land, they ask us to surrender to
The peace that reinforces occupation, settlements, and
the exiling of the Palestinian people, is not really peace."1 -
Sheikh Ahmed Yassin
"Yassin's martyrdom is a new beginning for the resistance, jihad, and
Intifada and will have repercussions and consequences far more
dangerous than this usurper entity [Israel] has so far seen."2 -
Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbullah Secretary General
Sheikh Ahmed's assassination was met with Palestinian vows of revenge.
Throughout history, wars, revolutions and peace treaties were always
regarded as major harbingers of social and political change. An often
overlooked force for transformation has been political assassination.
In many cases where influential leaders or figureheads were
assassinated, a cascade of interrelated consequences and events
usually occurred, far exceeding the expectations of those who
committed the assassination itself. In this respect, one must note
how the 1914 assassination of the heir to the Habsburg throne,
Archduke Franz Ferdinand, by nationalist Serbs set in motion a series
of unstoppable events that resulted in World War I - a tragic
conflict in which millions died.
For millions of Muslims, the assassination of Hamas leader and
founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin represents a watershed event, perhaps
signaling a turning point in the Arab-Israeli struggle and in the
overall Western-Muslim conflict that has recently taken on global
proportions with the US' declared "war on terrorism." It is worthy to
note that even some Israeli officers referred to the event as a
transformative one, equivalent in its importance to Sharon's visit to
the al-Aqsa mosque which sparked the current Intifada in September
Perhaps the most telling account of Yassin's martyrdom and its
possible repercussions came from an editorial in the International
Herald Tribune, which read: "The assassination of Sheikh Ahmed
Yassin, a figure whose symbolic stature on both sides of the Arab-
Israeli conflict far surpassed the actual potential of his paralyzed,
feeble body, is certain to become one of those pivotal events around
which passions and hatreds coalesce
Sheikh Yassin was already an
icon in the Arab world, now he is a martyr."4
Yassin seared into the Palestinian consciousness that death to harm
an occupier is glorious.5
Israel's assassination of Sheikh Yassin was met with Palestinian vows
of revenge. Senior Hamas leader Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi
suggested: "The battle is open and war between us and them is open.
They are the killers of prophets and today they killed an Islamic
symbol." Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, part of the Fatah organization,
called for "war, war, war on the sons of Zion. An eye for an eye.
There will be a response within hours, God willing."6 Tens of
thousands of Palestinians, fist raised in anger, chanted: "By blood,
by sword, we sacrifice for you!" as they mourned the death of the
enigmatic Palestinian leader, killed by Israeli missiles in a predawn
airstrike as he returned home from prayers in a nearby mosque.
Arab television channels replaced scheduled programs with live
coverage of Yassin's funeral. Mourners among a crowd of 200,000
reached out to touch the flag-draped coffin in the biggest turnout in
Gaza since Arafat's triumphant homecoming in 1994 after interim peace
deals with Israel. A few hours later, a statement published on an
Islamist website purporting to be from al-Qaeda urged retaliation
against the US and its allies for Israel's assassination of Ahmed
Yassin.7 However, the swiftest military response to Israel's crime
came from Hizbullah, whose fighters fired rockets and mortar shells
at Israeli military outposts in the occupied Cheb'aa Farms on the
Lebanese-Israeli border. Near Tel Aviv, a Palestinian man attacked
three Israelis with an axe, causing minor injuries. Other scattered
outbreaks of violence left at least five Palestinians dead and caused
dozens of injuries as protesters clashed with Israeli troops.
Israel's extra-judicial killing of a frail quadriplegic as he left a
mosque in the early hours of the day was no doubt the ugliest
expression of state terrorism, the act of a mafia rather than a state
governed by responsible leaders educated in civilized international
norms. However, this was not an unexpected move by the bloodthirsty
government of Ariel Sharon, given regional and international silence
at Israel's daily atrocities in the Palestinian territories. The
heavy-handed US military presence in the Middle East and the mild
response of Arab governments to Israeli carnage most certainly gave
Sharon the "green light" to proceed with his trail of terror.
The Bush administration's first response came from National Security
Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who refused to condemn the killing, instead
rationalizing it by pointing to Yassin's "terror" connection,
suggesting that the US had not set any "red lines" for Sharon's
behavior.8 After all, the US was already aware that Israel wanted to
eliminate Sheikh Yassin from the simple fact that it had already
tried and failed to assassinate him last year.
Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi now controls Hamas in Gaza.
Interestingly, the timing of the attack came just weeks after Sharon
announced his intention to implement a disengagement plan in which
Israeli forces would withdraw from Gaza. In fact, a team of top
Israeli officials, including Sharon's Chief of Staff Dov Weisglass
and national security chief Giora Eiland, was headed to Washington to
discuss the withdrawal plan with American officials. The recent
strike against Hamas' leader was supposedly intended to prevent a
situation where Hamas can claim that Israel is withdrawing from Gaza
under pressure from the organization, just as Hizbullah had claimed
after Israel's unconditional withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000. In
this regard, Yassin's assassination can be seen as part of an
Israeli "offensive" before its expected disengagement. Following
Yassin's assassination, Israeli security sources declared that Israel
will try to kill the entire leadership of Hamas, irrespective of
further attacks by the militant group. Israeli Defense Minister Shaul
Mofaz declared Hamas a "strategic enemy of Israel," and an Israeli
ministry spokesman added that "it is very important to weaken Hamas
in view of the application of the separation plan."9
More importantly though, there was a sense of Israeli confidence that
Washington would not oppose the operation since both it and Pakistan
are in the midst of an extensive military campaign on the Pakistan-
Afghanistan border to capture al-Qaeda leaders. Sharon may have
believed that if the Americans can kill, arrest and torture hundreds
of Islamists and send them overseas to cages in Guantanamo Bay, they
would definitely not object to the assassination of a single man in
Gaza. Indeed, the assassination of Sheikh Yassin was reminiscent of
the US assassination of an alleged al-Qaeda lieutenant in Yemen by a
missile launched from a CIA drone in November 2002, exhibiting the
same disregard for the norms of international behavior.
Yassin - The Man and the Message
Perhaps one of the most influential leaders in the history of the
Palestinian resistance movement, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin was an
exceptional ideologue, motivator, strategist, and inspiration for
thousands of Palestinians yearning for independence. The frail and
ailing Yassin, although himself the picture of physical
powerlessness, probably did more than any other figure to sear into
the consciousness of young Palestinians the notion that death sought
in order to inflict harm upon a hated occupier is glorious.10
Since his early days, the Hamas leader was the inspiration behind
both the 1987 and 2000 uprisings, refusing to accept the pessimists'
objections to what they felt was a road to collective suicide. Yassin
always asserted that since the Palestinians were fighting from a much
weaker position, they must be prepared to accept much greater losses.
In his mosque sermons and teachings, Yassin repeatedly portrayed
suicide attacks as a divinely inspired means for the helplessly
oppressed to strike at a powerful oppressor. The elderly sheikh
insisted that Israel is a militaristic garrison state which had
blurred the line between civilians and soldiers, explaining that
Hamas did not exclusively target Israeli "civilians," except in
direct retaliation for the death of Palestinian civilians. He saw
this as a necessary tactic to "show the Israelis they could not get
away without a price for killing our people."11
Yassin asserted that the Palestinians must be prepared to accept
The current Intifada, which erupted in September 2000, represented
the ultimate vindication of Yassin's thinking. Islamist, nationalist
and secular Palestinian movements scrambled to follow Hamas' suicide
bombing strategy, with every movement boasting of its martyrs and of
its willingness to sacrifice its sons for the larger goal of national
liberation. For mainstream Palestinians, "martyrdom" remained the
ultimate goal - a concept repeatedly invoked at every Palestinian
mass rally and in videotaped messages left behind by suicide
Born in 1936 in Majdal near the coastal town of Askalan, in what was
then Palestine under the British mandate, Sheikh Yassin's political
views were forged at a time of humiliation and defeat for the
Palestinians.13 Father to eleven children, the elderly sheikh belongs
to one of many families expelled from their homes by invading Israeli
forces during the first Arab-Israeli conflict of 1948. After a
childhood accident left him a quadriplegic, he devoted his early life
to Islamic scholarship and studied at al-Azhar University in Cairo,
the birthplace of the Muslim Brotherhood. It was there that he
developed the belief that Palestine is Islamic land "consecrated for
future Muslim generations until Judgment Day," and that no Arab or
Muslim leader has the right to give up any part of this territory.
Back in Gaza, Yassin founded his own movement, al-Mujama al-Islami,
in the 1970s and began to recruit young activists. The Iranian
Revolution of 1979, the rising tide of Islamism throughout the Muslim
world, and the presence of the exiled secular Fatah leadership in
Tunisia allowed Yassin to set up a more radical Islamic movement -
Yassin was arrested for the first time in 1984 for the illegal
possession of weapons and explosives, but released a year later,
after which he worked to create Hamas, the name of which is an
acronym for "the Islamic Resistance Movement."14 In 1989, Sheikh
Yassin was arrested by the Israelis and sentenced to life
imprisonment for allegedly ordering the killing of Palestinians who
had collaborated with the Israeli army. He was eventually released in
1997, in exchange for two Israeli agents arrested in Jordan during an
attempt to assassinate another Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal.
Hamas was able to build support by offering material help through the
charitable funding of schools, clinics and hospitals that provide
free services to families in distress.
New Hamas head Khaled Meshaal has already survived an Israeli
Since its inception in December 1987, Hamas has carried out the
majority of attacks against Israeli targets, becoming the Zionist
state's most lethal enemy. Hamas does not recognize Israel's right to
exist, and its long-term aim is to establish an Islamic state on pre-
1948 borders. Sheikh Yassin was a staunch opponent of the 1993 Oslo
Peace Accords between Israel and the Palestinians, repeatedly
declaring his movement's opposition to all Western peace initiatives
which do not restore the Palestinians' full rights.
Despite his attempts to maintain good relations with the Palestinian
Authority (PA), there were several attempts by the PA to restrict his
activities. In December 2001, one man died in clashes with
Palestinian police after Sheikh Yassin was placed under house arrest.
Shooting erupted again in June 2002 when Palestinian police
surrounded his house. In September 2003, the Israeli army attempted
to kill Sheikh Yassin while he was at the house of a Hamas colleague
The Living Martyr - Consequences & Prospects
Perhaps the most immediate consequence of Sheikh Yassin's
assassination was the outpour of anger throughout the Islamic World
and the revival of street protests in many Arab and Islamic capitals.
The assassination took place only a few days after international
protests commemorating the first anniversary of the beginning of the
US campaign against Iraq. This ultimately added more anti-US and anti-
Israeli sentiment to popular rage at the continued US occupation of
Iraq. Interestingly, even in Iraq, where the US is relentlessly
trying to establish a pro-US government and win the hearts and minds
of the public, thousands of Iraqis took to the streets deploring the
US and Israel for the assassination of Sheikh Yassin.
Yassin's assassination is likely to lead to the further
radicalization of Hamas.
Iraqi outrage over Yassin's killing was not only confined to
the "Sunni Triangle" that has nurtured the insurgency against the US
and its allies. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the Shi'ite spiritual
leader and the single most influential person in Iraq, called on
Muslims to unite against Israel, while the more militant Shi'ite
cleric Moqtada al-Sadr offered the Palestinians "moral and physical
support."15 In an already tense transition process, the extent to
which the US is viewed as complicit in an Israeli action that has
enraged Iraqis will not make the task of US soldiers and officials
there any easier.
Domestically, the immediate consequence of the assassination would be
the increase in the strength and influence of Hamas in the
Palestinian street, and an equal increase in popular disillusionment
with the PA after it appeared incapable or unwilling to protect
resistance leaders despite its numerous security organizations and
international connections. As a result, the PA would find it
increasingly difficult to act against Hamas - actions like collecting
weapons, arresting militants, or preventing the firing of Qassam
rockets, will be politically dangerous for the PA.16
Another possible consequence of the assassination would be that
Hamas, lacking a clear cut leadership, would gradually split into
more radical factions, as happened to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt
after Nasser's execution of Sayyid Qutb. Those factions usually
create their own ideologies and mode of operation that is usually
more radical than, and independent of, their parent organization.
Mainstream Palestinian movements have so far avoided any public
alignment with al-Qaeda. However, Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi announced
that Hamas had opened a special account with Israel, calling the
assassination of Yassin a declaration of war on Islam.17 Al-
Rantissi's threats could materialize if several leading cadres of the
Hamas movement decide to align themselves with al-Qaeda's global
objectives and strike at Israeli, Jewish, or American targets
In any case, the most certain result of Yassin's assassination would
be the radicalization of Hamas and the sidelining of moderates within
the movement. One also has to remember that Israel's assassination of
Ismail Abu Shanab in Summer 2003- the most pragmatic of all Hamas
leaders - severely restricted the moderate line within Hamas. The
most recent manifestation of the movement's radicalization was the
choice of Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi - perceived as the most radical of
all Hamas leaders and one who refuses any form of compromise with
Israel - as the new leader of the movement in the Gaza Strip.
The assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin no doubt represents a
turning point in the history of the Arab-Israeli struggle and in the
larger global conflict between the West and the Muslim world. The
occupation of Muslim lands, the support for "friendly tyrants," and
now, the systematic cold-blooded killing of Muslim icons of
resistance, will definitely fuel the cause of radicals in the Middle
East and silence any possible voices of moderation. For millions of
Muslims, Sheikh Yassin was, and always will be, a symbol of
resistance, piety, and self-sacrifice. Interestingly, his legacy of
resistance and steadfastness had a ripple-effect throughout the
Islamic world that far surpassed his frail figure. Perhaps his
assassination was the wake-up call needed for many Muslims to rise
from their present slumber. One only has to remember how the
assassination of Sheikh Abdullah Azzam in Peshawar, Pakistan in 1989,
led to the radicalization of Arab-Afghans and the establishment of al-
Qaeda. Indeed, living martyrs usually come back to haunt their
Kareem M. Kamel is an Egyptian freelance writer based in Cairo,
Egypt. He has an MA in International Relations and is specialized in
security studies, decision- making, nuclear politics, Middle East
politics and the politics of Islam. He is currently assistant to the
Political Science Department at the American University in Cairo.
1- Faisal Bodi, "My Meeting with Sheikh Yasin," Al-Jazeera (English)
March 22, 2004
2- Hussein Dakroub, "Hezbollah Guerillas Attack Border Area,"
Associated Press March 22, 2004
3- Amos Harel, "Hit May Mean `Low Intensity' Conflict is Over,"
Ha'aretz March 23, 2004
4- "A Death in Gaza," International Herald Tribune March 23, 2004
5- Laura King, "Yassin Instilled the Passion for Glory of Martyrdom,"
Los Angeles Times March 22, 2003
6- Andrew Roche, "Yassin Killing Provokes Muslim Fury, US Disavowal,"
Reuters March 23, 2004
7- "Al-Qaeda Vows Revenge," Al-Jazeera (English) March 22, 2004
8- Tony Karon, "How Israel's Hamas Killing Affects the US," Time.com
March 23rd, 2004
9- "New Strike on Hamas by Israel is Expected," International Herald
Tribune March 23, 2004
10- Laura King, "Yassin Instilled the Passion for Glory of
Martyrdom," Los Angeles Times March 22, 2003
11- Faisal Bodi, "My Meeting with Sheikh Yasin," Al-Jazeera (English)
March 22, 2004
12- Laura King, "Yassin Instilled the Passion for Glory of
Martyrdom," Los Angeles Times March 22, 2003
13- "Sheikh Yassin: Spiritual Figurehead," BBC News
14- "Frail Foe of Israel," Al-Jazeera (English) September 6, 2003.
15- Tony Karon, "How Israel's Hamas Killing Affects the US," Time.com
March 23rd, 2004.
16- Ze'ev Schiff, "No Withdrawal Under Fire," Ha'aretz March 23, 2004.
17- Zvi Bar'el, "Now Hamas Could Align with al-Qaeda," Ha'aretz March
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