Moussa Abu Marzouk heads Hamas’ international relations office based in Doha, Qatar. He was previously head of the Hamas politburo. Once seen as the successor to Hamas leader Khalid Mashal, he lost the internal Hamas election in May 2017 but remains a core member of the group’s political bureau. His family is originally from Yavne in Israel but was forced to move to the Rafah refugee camp in 1948, where he was born. Excerpts from an exclusive interview with Frontline:
On October 7, Hamas surprised the world by taking on one of the world’s strongest armies. But the way Israel is retaliating, the way civilians and children are getting killed, the question arises if it was worth it?
The scene did not begin on October 7. The root of the problem is the decades-long occupation, during which hundreds of massacres were committed against our people. Israel kills our people daily with or without the resistance. The siege on the Gaza Strip is 17 years old, and it is a harsh siege in which the occupation has admitted that it controls even the calories consumed by Gazans. There are hundreds of victims and massive losses, and it is destroying the future of the majority of young people in the Gaza Strip. Is the solution to surrender? Even surrender is not accepted by the Israelis, and what they accept is either killing the Palestinians or expelling them from their land.
We are a liberation movement fighting an occupation supported by Western countries, and all we want is freedom because we do not accept to live under occupation. Just as the Indian people rejected the British occupation and expelled it in the end.
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Hamas killed many civilians and took many people hostage, including Israeli civil rights activist Vivian Silver. What was the motive of the operation?
There are false Israeli narratives about civilian deaths. According to the testimony of the Israelis who lived through the events, our freedom-fighters did not kill them. Rather, some video clips prove that the fighters cared for Israeli children. An Israeli woman said that a fighter asked her permission to take a banana and eat it. Can someone who asks for permission to eat kill civilians?
There are also Israeli testimonies that those who killed Israeli civilians was their army because the army bombed the houses surrounding the fighters, killing dozens of civilians, and the extent of the destruction proves that it was at Israeli hands. Our fighters had light weapons and armoured vehicle shells. As for the music festival used by Israeli propaganda to claim that Hamas killed them [people attending it], we did not know that there was a festival in that area. The Israeli army and security services arrived at the celebration before the fighters arrived there to evacuate them, so the area became a military zone and clashes occurred. Also, according to the confessions of some Israelis who were witnesses, the Israeli army killed many civilians when it fired missiles.
When the Israeli army collapsed on the Gaza borders, chaos occurred. Hundreds of our citizens and other factions from the Gaza Strip entered the occupied territories and captured many Israelis. We informed all concerned parties that we will release civilians and foreigners, and we do not want to keep them. It is not our principle to capture them, but we want to create the proper circumstances to be able to release them. This is difficult under the intense bombing of the Gaza Strip. Even the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] cannot reach its warehouses due to the intensity of the bombing. So how can they be released when we do not know their whereabouts?
“All we want is freedom because we do not accept to live under occupation. Just as the Indian people rejected the British occupation and expelled it in the end.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stated that one of the objectives of your attack was to derail the Abraham Accords; Israel’s normalisation of ties with Arab countries.
The normalisation agreements between Israel and the Arab countries do not need an attack, because they do not express the [views of the] Arab people. These people have already rejected normalisation. For example, Egypt and Jordan signed peace agreements with Israel more than 40 years ago, but their peoples have strongly rejected the occupation. Therefore, we are not afraid of the normalisation agreements because they will fall on their own.
Across the world, there now seems little scope for armed resistance movements. They are now designated as terrorist groups. The West is standing behind Israel. How is Hamas holding itself up in this new geostrategic environment or is there any scope for a peaceful movement?
When Britain colonised India, it was the superpower in the world. However, the Indian people resisted the occupation. We tried the peaceful path for 30 years, and the Fatah movement signed the Oslo Accords. What was the result? We did not get a Palestinian state as they promised us, and the West Bank has become like isolated islands because of the settlements that have consumed it, and Gaza is besieged. It is easier for a Palestinian in Gaza or the West Bank to reach any country in the world than to reach another part of his own country, whether the West Bank or Gaza.
This is why our people no longer believe in peaceful solutions alone. We believe in comprehensive resistance that includes armed resistance and popular resistance. Our people participated in the Great March of Return and hundreds of thousands went out on the Gaza border daily to demand that the siege be broken so as to return to our country. We want our freedom regardless of the form of resistance.
“Our people no longer believe in peaceful solutions alone. We believe in comprehensive resistance that includes armed resistance and popular resistance. ”
You came to power in Gaza in 2006. Many people say that if you had focussed on governance, you could have turned it into a Hong Kong or Singapore. It could have turned into a regional business hub, and you could have set an example. But your actions made it a battleground.
It is strange to hear that our actions are the cause of what is happening. The Hamas movement was founded in 1987. We took over in 2006, and they besieged us so that we would not rule well. Israel, the United States, and the unjust Western world worked to make us fail, and yet we remained steadfast. Israel deliberately targeted us systematically in order to annihilate us.
What is also strange is [the statement] that “Hamas could have converted Gaza into Singapore but chose to turn it into a battlefield”. Can you build a single successful economic project in a city full of thieves and criminal gangs? It is not possible. So, how do you want me to build an integrated economy? The first step for prosperity is getting rid of the criminals and then build the state. We were indeed the most advanced country in the region before the occupation came; and when the occupation came, we lived through wars, displacement, and asylum until half of the people became refugees outside Palestine.
We want to live in development and prosperity, but answer me: is there a single people anywhere who were able to build a prosperous state while still under occupation?
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You have started the war, what is the end game now?
The one who started the war is the one who occupied my land, expelled my people, and besieged me. My operation is targeting the Israeli army. This is within the framework of legitimate resistance against any occupation. Hundreds of young men, who were under blockade, were able to humiliate the strongest army in the region, and we will continue our resistance until we gain our freedom, and our freedom is the end of the game.
You have unprecedented backing and sympathy from Arab nations and outside the Arab world this time. How will you utilise it for the overall settlement of the Palestinian issue? Are you looking for support beyond Iran?
The Palestinian resistance existed before the Iranian revolution, and Iran provides us with support, and we thank it for it, and we are open to receive all kinds of support from various parties and countries. In this regard, I would like to emphasise that the current policy of the Indian government is harmful to India’s interests. The alliance with Israel is a coup against India’s historical legacy in its relations with the Palestinian people and the Arab countries. India has vital interests in the Arab region, and India’s relations with Israel will classify India as a hostile country to the Arab people, and this builds a psychological barrier that will harm Indian interests.
“The easiest option may be to abandon resistance and accept Israel, but we see the truth in Mahatma Gandhi’s saying, “The right path is always the most difficult.””
You have often stated that you do not recognise Israel. But Israel is a reality. If you do not accept the two-state solution, what is the way forward?
If you want me to accept Israel because it is a reality, why didn’t India accept the British occupation as a reality although Britain at that time had more power than Israel? Israel was a regional power whose power was declining, whereas Britain at that time was a superpower. The easiest option may be to abandon resistance and accept Israel, but we see the truth in Mahatma Gandhi’s saying, “The right path is always the most difficult.”
Is it possible for Israel and Palestine to coexist for the sake of peace? Is it acceptable to Hamas?
You are asking the lamb, “Do you agree to coexist with the wolf?” You must ask this question to the power that possesses nuclear weapons and the most advanced weapons in the Middle East because it is the root of the problem. As for us Palestinians, we went for the Oslo option and the two-state solution, but the occupation built its state and prevented us from establishing a Palestinian state. In fact, the current Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, has said that he wants to prevent the idea of establishing a Palestinian state from [entering] Palestinian minds. Is it possible to coexist with these ideas? Is it possible to coexist with those who believe that a good Palestinian is a dead Palestinian?
There is an impression that Palestinians are fragmented and divided. Nobody would like to engage with a fragmented movement.
This is a ridiculous argument because the Palestinian division occurred in 2006, that is, six decades after the founding of Israel. Why did the world not support the freedom of the Palestinian people during these decades? Today, the world is looking for an excuse of Palestinian division to accuse the Palestinians of being behind the decline in international support for them. I advise you to go back to the history of the Indian people’s revolution. During the liberation process there were differences in positions and opinions.
Iftikhar Gilani is an Indian journalist based in Ankara.