This is the month for Palestinians to remember their Nakba, or "catastrophe," in which more than 700,000 women, men and children were pushed off their land and rendered homeless refugees by the Israeli attacks before, during and after war in1948.
Interview with the Sheikh
Gaess: Earlier this year The New York Times quoted you as saying that the focus of HamasA is an end to the occupation. But to that quote the Times writer added, "by that he (Yassin) means an end to the Jewish occupation of historic Palestine," which is all of Palestine. That's totally different from an end to the 1967 occupation, and it suggests that the goal of Hamas is the destruction of Israel. So I need to ask you, when you refer to ending the occupation, do you mean the occupation since 1967 or the whole deal?
Yassin: All of Palestine is occupied. And there is an entity for the Zionist movement on Palestinian land which embodies apartheid. We want a place that absorbs Palestinian Muslims, Jews and others without differentiation.
Q: But as I understand it, Hamas is an organization formed to end the 1967 occupation, or am I wrong about that?
Yassin: I accept the 1967 border as a stage of the struggle but not as the definitive solution because we still have the right to our land. My home is in Ashkelon [on what is now Israel's southern coast] and not within the 1967 boundaries, and millions of refugees still have homes inside Israel.
Q: I understand that time often creates opportunities we can't even see right now, but, given our limited horizon, is a two-state solution at least a possibility? Can we think of a two-state solution without necessarily thinking that there has to be continued armed struggle after that?
Yassin: Our recognition of an Israeli state is conditioned on their recognition of our rights. Since we still don't have a state -- I don't have a home to settle on -- that means we're not in a position to recognize Israel.
Q: Is a two-state solution possible if Israel recognizes a Palestinian state?
Yassin: To predicate a question on "if" isn't practical in this situation. We can't say "if Israel is not there." If it were that easy, there would be no problem. What we can say is that a solution based on 22 percent of the land for the Palestinians and 78 percent for the Israelis is unjust. Still, Israel has not even acknowledged the Palestinians' right to 22 percent of our homeland.
Q: I'm trying to understand as an outsider what a mutually acceptable solution might be. Short of the idea of an Islamic state in all of Palestine -- most of the international community and certainly the Jews of Israel would oppose that idea -- I'm thinking, as we talk, that perhaps ending Israeli apartheid is one of the longer-term goals for achieving a settlement. But I'm also wondering, do you think the only alternative is an Islamic state in all of Palestine, or is there another alternative?
Yassin: Our core position is that the Israelis stole our land and our homes and the whole world supported them, and now, when we are asking for our land back, the world is not supporting us, and this is unfair.
Q: America was founded, in part, on the same injustice. The Indians -- the native Americans -- were dispossessed of their land bit by bit, put on reservations and then essentially marginalized, but at least they are almost equal citizens now because there's substantially an end to apartheid in America.
Yassin: And my own best vision for Palestine is of a land for Christians, Jews, Muslims -- a state where everyone has equal rights.
Q: And it doesn't necessarily have to be an Islamic state?
Yassin: That question should be left for the democratic process. Let the people select the kind of state they want, in the same way that the United States is a state for all its people and they solve their differences democratically as equals.