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Hamas celebrates 25 years with rocket and vow to gain all Israeli land

UPDATES: A brief item about the Observer’s correction of its wrong translation of the Arabic for ‘to fight’ as ‘to kill’ is second, commentary on Meshaal’s ‘political theater’ by Richard Silverstein is third and last, Uri Avnery on how the starting point – and power – of the speaker determines the horizons of their land. [Thus the Near East/ Proche-Orient of the West European empires became the USA’s Middle East today. Making Ireland and the UK their Near East?]

Tens of thousands of Hamas supporters gathered in Gaza City near a large replica of an M-75, a Hamas rocket, that bore the words “Made in Gaza.”. Photo by Wissam Nassar for The New York Times


Leader Celebrates Founding of Hamas With Defiant Speech

By Steven Erlanger, NY Times
December 08, 2012

GAZA CITY — Khaled Meshal, the political leader of Hamas, gave a defiant speech on Saturday, vowing to build an Islamic Palestinian state on all the land of Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Speaking before tens of thousands of supporters to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the founding of Hamas, Mr. Meshal said the Jewish state would be wiped away through “resistance,” or military action. “The state will come from resistance, not negotiation,” he said. “Liberation first, then statehood.”

His voice rising to a shout, Mr. Meshal said: “Palestine is ours from the river to the sea and from the south to the north. There will be no concession on any inch of the land.” He vowed that all Palestinian refugees and their descendants would one day return to their original homes in what is now Israel.

“We will never recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation, and therefore there is no legitimacy for Israel, no matter how long it will take,” he said. “We will free Jerusalem inch by inch, stone by stone. Israel has no right to be in Jerusalem.” He also promised Palestinian prisoners held in Israel that they would be freed using the same methods that had worked in the past — the kidnapping of Israelis and Israeli soldiers, like Gilad Shalit, who was released last year in a prisoner exchange after five years as a hostage.

Mr. Meshal’s harsh words reflected longstanding Hamas principles rather than new, specific threats toward Israel. But they will only reinforce Israel’s belief that Hamas is its enemy and intends to continue to use military force to reach its goals.

The anniversary of Hamas’s founding is Dec. 14, but the organization moved the celebration forward to honor the first uprising against Israel.

Mr. Meshal, on his first visit to Gaza after 45 years of exile, having fled a West Bank village at 11 with his family during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, was in a joyous but not conciliatory mood. He promised Palestinian unity, but only on the basis of Hamas’s principles, which would mean a subordinate role for Fatah, the main Palestinian faction in the West Bank. He called the United Nations General Assembly’s vote granting Palestinians enhanced status as a nonmember observer state — engineered by President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank — “a small step but a good one.”

He insisted that Hamas had won a great military victory by achieving a cease-fire with Israel last month after eight days of rocket launchings and airstrikes, and said it could form the basis, with the General Assembly vote, of a new Palestine Liberation Organization that would contain all Palestinian factions. An inclusive Palestinian Authority and a P.L.O. based on Hamas principles, however, would almost surely find itself shunned by Israel and much of the world. It would also be a humiliating defeat for Mr. Abbas, who supports a two-state solution and has negotiated with Israel.

The P.L.O., run by Mr. Abbas of Fatah, is the sole legal representative of the Palestinian people and does not now include Hamas.

The celebration took place under cloudy skies, with periods of rain. But few of the supporters, many waving green Hamas flags, left the crowded square.

Mr. Meshal and Ismail Haniya, the Hamas prime minister in Gaza, emerged together from a giant replica of a Hamas rocket called the M-75, which is supposed to be able to travel about 45 miles from Gaza City, putting it close to Tel Aviv. Many experts have said they think the M-75 is a repainted Iranian Fajr rocket, but the one on display bore the words “Made in Gaza,” in English. The crowd cheered and a band played a song praising Hamas leaders for being fearless in the face of death.

The stage featured the rocket, a banner showing the walls of Jerusalem and the Dome of the Rock, and large photographs of Mr. Meshal and of Ahmed al-Jabari, Hamas’s military commander who was killed by an Israeli strike on the first day of November’s fighting.

While nearly everyone in the crowd carried Hamas flags, Mr. Haniya and Mr. Meshal brandished large red, white, green and black Palestinian flags from the stage, pressing the day’s theme of reconciliation and Hamas’s claim to leadership of the larger Palestinian movement, encouraged by the latest fighting and by the victory in Egypt of the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is the Palestinian branch.

“We are imposing a new reality on the Israeli occupation,” said Salah Bardawil, a Hamas spokesman. “All the factions are here, and the Hamas flags embrace the Palestinian flags and the Fatah flags. We need to extend the Arab revolution to all Palestine from the sea to the river, and every refugee returns to his home.”

But Hamas is also anxious, some members say, about the current challenges to President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt, who ran as the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate. To ride the wave of a Muslim Brotherhood ascendancy is fine, they say, unless it fails.

Those who came said they were thrilled to be here, proud of Hamas and its claims of victory over Israel in November. The conflict ended without an Israeli ground invasion and in a cease-fire brokered by Egypt, leaving Hamas with the sense that it had stood up to Israel despite the deaths here and the loss of many of its largest rockets.

The rally was also an entertainment for those with young children, providing a sense of excitement in what can be a difficult life here.

Many expressed the hope that Hamas and Fatah could finally reconcile in the interests of a Palestinian nation. Some Fatah representatives were invited to the rally, but few yellow Fatah flags, let alone Palestine flags, were seen in the waves of Hamas green. But Fatah flags were often attached to poles also bearing Hamas and Palestine flags.

People recalled that at an earlier rally here marking the cease-fire, a senior Fatah leader, Nabil Shaath, praised “the resistance” for its victory over “the enemy” and added, “The war has turned Hamas into a legitimate partner for Fatah.”

Abu Muhammed, 43, said he thought that the day showed Hamas’s new sense of self-confidence and demonstrated that “the mood is going toward reconciliation.” Nearly everyone in Gaza wants the two factions to reconcile, he said. The split “only favors Israel,” he said.

Mr. Meshal is thought to be more favorable to reconciliation with Fatah than is Mr. Haniya. But Mr. Haniya also basked in Mr. Meshal’s presence.

A man named Wissam, who refused to give his surname, said Hamas was trying to show its dominance, but for him, “It’s one day for one movement in Gaza, but there are other movements.” Every faction, he said, “wants to show that they are the biggest and most important in the field.”

After pushing Fatah out of Gaza in 2007, Hamas banned Fatah anniversary celebrations.

Wissam wanted all the factions to celebrate together on one day, he said. When reminded that there was already a Palestinian national day, he shrugged and said, “That day is considered to be Fatah’s.”

Fares Akram contributed reporting.


Not ‘kill’ but ‘fight’
Sunday Observer amends article on speech by Meshal

By Friends of Al-Aqsa
December 09, 2012

Thank you to all who responded to Friends of Al-Aqsa call and contacted the Observer to make a correction to Meshal speech.

Observer has now corrected the text and removed ‘kill’ and replaced it with ‘fight’.
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Observer misquotes Hamas as wanting to kill Zionists

By Friends of Al Aqsa

Today 9 Dec Sunday Observer in UK reported that the Head of Hamas in his speech on 8 Dec in Gaza said, “We don’t kill Jews because they are Jews. We kill the Zionists because they are conquerors and we will continue to kill anyone who takes our land and our holy places … We will free Jerusalem inch by inch, stone by stone.”

In reality he said, “We do not fight the Jews because they are Jews. We fight the Zionist occupiers and aggressors. And we will fight anyone who tries to occupy our lands or attacks us. We fight those who fight us, who attack us, who besiege us, who attack our holy places and our land.”

The replacement of ‘fight’ with ‘kill’ is a gross error of mistranslation that misleads a reader to what Khaled Meshal said and portrays a negative perception of the Palestinian resistance and their perspective.

Please write to the Observer requesting a correction and an apology and or submit a letter.


Meshal’s Triumphal Welcome in Gaza

By Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam
December 10, 2012

A few days ago, Khaled Meshal made a triumphal, first-ever visit to Gaza to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Hamas’ founding and the movement’s “triumph” in Operation Pillar of Cloud. Hundreds of thousands of Gazans greeted him as he delivered a hardcore message of defiance to Israel. He avowed, in a statement that likely deliberately echoed the Likud motto, that the resistance would liberate every inch of Palestine from “the river to the sea.”

I am not about to defend the extremism or intransigence of Meshal’s message. But I will explain the important aspects of this speech, his visit to Gaza, and what they portend for the future. First, while Meshal may’ve delivered an unyielding speech, he is known as a far more moderate and flexible leader than his Gaza-based Hamas counterparts. Mahmoud Zahar, for example, the Hamas foreign minister, has refused to participate in any public events with Meshal.

That means to me that there was a certain element of political theater in Meshal’s speech. He was in a sense coming into the lion’s den in Gaza. A place that had just successfully resisted an Israeli onslaught and won major concessions from Israel in the ceasefire agreement. He could not very well sound like Mahmoud Abbas or Salaam Fayyad before such people.

There were several important aspects of this speech that should be noted. In what must’ve been a shocking moment for many who attended, the flags of Fatah joined those of Hamas in the crowd. Instead of warring with each other, the rivals buried the hatchet, at least for the day if not longer. Meshal made a point of affirming it is critical that Palestinians unite and solve their differences. This may signal the resurgence of a move toward a national unity government, a goal that has eluded both factions for the past six years, since Fatah launched a failed coup attempt at the behest of Elliot Abrams and the Bush administration in 2007.

Several observers have commented on Meshal’s future ambitions. It’s fairly clear that there is substantial resistance to his moderate course among the Gaza Hamas leadership, including Haniyeh and especially Zahar. The group’s ultimate leader announced a few months ago that he would be stepping down from his position. Egypt allegedly requested that Meshal remain Hamas’ leader for the time being. But he won’t stay forever.

If Hamas and Fatah can mend fences there will be new Palestinian elections. It is quite possible that Meshal might run for president of the PA. Replacing Abbas, someone who’s outlived any usefulness he ever had, would breathe new life into the PA under a unified banner.

All of this is deeply alarming to the Likudist government, which sees Palestinian unity as a dagger in Israel’s heart. The loss of a quiescent PA under the Fatah-led rump regime would be a major blow to the Occupation. Israel wants either to maintain the status quo of Israeli domination of a feeble PA or to negotiate an agreement that offers little to the Palestinians and much to the Israelis. With Meshal leading the PA, the Palestinians would likely present a far tougher negotiating position.

It is not Meshal’s terrorist past or his rejectionist rhetoric that Israel fears. It is his status as an effective leader who might actually deliver a real peace deal, but one which would demand more compromises than Israel is willing to make.

If Israel and especially the Obama administration were far-sighted and pragmatic they’d realize that a PA under Meshal, that represented all the Palestinian people, would be a political entity that could negotiate a real, lasting peace agreement with Israel. They would free Marwan Barghouti from an Israeli prison so that he could become prime minister under Meshal and lead a true unity coalition. But they are neither pragmatic nor far-sighted and will not rise to the occasion.

If Obama continues to reject Hamas, he runs the risk of maintaining a U.S. policy that becomes so out of touch with reality on the ground that events take their course without this country being able to play any meaningful role. This is precisely the posture we were forced to adopt during the Arab Spring. Our former strongmen allies fell and we were so neutered by our support for discredited oppressive regimes, we couldn’t take up the cause of democracy and reform as we should. This will happen with Hamas as well unless we change our tune.

There will be those among the pro-Israelists here who will quarrel and say that anyone who has called for the liberation of all of Palestine and said Israel was illegitimate is someone with whom peace is impossible. To them I say, Yitzhak Shamir once bombed the King David Hotel and assassinated Count von Bernadotte. Begin once massacred Palestinians at Deir Yassin. Sharon slaughtered Palestinians at Kfar Qassem and encouraged the Sabra and Shatilla massacre. Yitzhak Rabin called for breaking the bones of Palestinian protesters.

Politicians say lots of things which they may or may not mean when they say them, while their future actions belie those earlier statements. What interests me is not the boilerplate praise for the resistance, but the concrete evidence that he is a leader who understands the need for flexibility in resolving the conflict.

A final important note on a major mistranslation of one particular phrase in Meshal’s speech as covered by the Observer and the Guardian. It was especially disconcerting that this error was reported by Harriet Sherwood, who is an otherwise excellent Guardian Israel correspondent. Their original reports quoted Meshal saying:

We don’t kill Jews because they are Jews. We kill the Zionists because they are conquerors and we will continue to kill anyone who takes our land and our holy places … We will free Jerusalem inch by inch, stone by stone.

As Electronic Intifada pointed out, the Arabic root for “kill” and “fight” are similar. But any Arab speaker would know that the specific form of the word Meshal used in the speech meant the latter and not the former. In fact, the Guardian corrected the mistranslation and noted the error. Though the original version will doubtless be heralded by MEMRI and all the other hasbara outfits that live for this stuff.


The Sea and the River

By Uri Avnery Gush Shalom
December 15, 2012

“Palestine, from the Jordan to the Sea, belongs to us!” declared Khaled Meshal last week at the huge victory rally in Gaza.

“Eretz Israel, from the sea to the Jordan, belongs to us!” declare right-wing Israelis on every occasion.

The two statements seem to be the same, with only the name of the country changed.
But if you read them again carefully, there is a slight difference. The direction.

FROM THE sea to the river, from the river to the sea.

Therein lies much more significance than meets the eye. It shows how the speaker sees himself – coming from the East or from the West.

When one says “from the river to the sea”, one sees oneself as belonging to the extensive region known to Westerners as the “Middle East”, a vital part of the Asian continent. The term “Middle East” is, itself, a patronizing expression with colonial undertones – it suggests that the area has no independent standing. It exists only in relation to a far-away world center – Berlin? London? Washington?

When one says “from the sea to the river”, one sees oneself as coming from the West and living as a bridgehead of the West, facing a foreign, and probably hostile, continent.

In its long recorded history, going back many thousands of years, this country – whether Canaan, Palestine or Eretz Israel – has seen many waves of invaders who came to settle here.
Most of these waves came from the hinterland. Canaanites, Hebrews, Arabs, and many others came from the East. They settled here, mingled with the existing population and were soon absorbed, creating new mixtures and establishing natural relations with the neighboring countries. They fought wars, made peace, prospered, suffered in times of drought.

The ancient Israelite kingdoms (not the mythical ones of Saul, David and Solomon but the real historical ones of Ahab and his successors) were a natural part of this environment, as witnessed by contemporary Assyrian and other documents.

So were the Arab invaders of the 7th century. They settled among the locals. These very slowly converted from Christianity and Judaism to Islam, adopted the Arabic language and became “Arabs”, much as the Canaanites before them had become “Israelites”.

QUITE DIFFERENT was the way of those invaders who came from the West.
There were three waves: the Philistines in antiquity, the Crusaders in the Middle Ages and the Zionists in modern times.

Coming from the West (even if, like the first Crusaders, overland)] the invader sees the vast enemy continent before him. He clings to the shore, establishes a bridgehead and advances to enlarge it. Significantly, no “western” invader ever established borders – they advanced or retreated as their forces and circumstances decreed.

This historical picture applies, of course, only to those invaders who came and settled in the country. It does not concern the invading empires which just wanted to control the area. They came from all directions and moved on – Hittites and Egyptians, Assyrians and Babylonians, Persians and Greeks, Romans and Byzantines, Arabs and Mongols, Turks and British. (The Mongols came here after destroying Iraq, and were beaten decisively by the Muslim general Baybars, heir of Saladin, in one of the most decisive battles in history.)
Eastern Empires usually continued through Egypt to the West, turning North Africa into a Semitic sphere. Western Empires continued to the East, towards India.

Tutmosis, Cyrus, Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon and many others came and passed on – but none of them left a lasting mark on the country.

LIKE THEIR predecessors coming from the West, the Zionists had a bridgehead mentality from the start, and have it to this day.

Indeed, they had it even before the Zionist movement was officially founded. In his canonical book, Der Judenstaat, Theodor Herzl, the visionary whose picture hangs in the Knesset plenum hall, wrote that the future Jewish State would form a part of the “wall against Asia”. It would serve as a “forward position of the culture against the barbarism”.

Not just culture, but The Culture. And not just barbarism, but The Barbarism. For a reader in the 1890s, these needed no explanation: Culture was white and European, Barbarism was everything else, whether brown, red, black or yellow.

In today’s Israel, five generations later, this mentality has not changed. Ehud Barak coined the phrase which reflects this mentality more clearly than any other: “We are a Villa in the Jungle”.

Villa: culture, civilization, order, the West, Europe. Jungle: barbarism, the Arab/Muslim world surrounding us, a place full of wild animals, where anything can happen at any moment.
This phrase is repeated endlessly and accepted by practically everyone. Politicians and army officers may replace it with ”the neighborhood” (“Shekhuna”). Daily examples: “In the neighborhood in which we live, we cannot relax for a moment!” Or: “In a neighborhood like ours we need the atom bomb!”

Moshe Dayan, who had a poetic streak, said two generations ago in the most important speech of his life: “We are a generation of settlers, and without the steel helmet and the cannon we cannot plant a tree and build a house…This is the fate of our generation, the choice of our life – to be prepared and armed, strong and tough, or otherwise the sword will slip from our fist and our life will be snuffed out.” In another speech, a few years later, Dayan clarified that he did not mean just one generation – but many to come, endlessly – the typical bridgehead mentality which knows no borders, neither in space nor in time.

(Just a personal remark: sixty-five years ago, a year before the foundation of Israel, I published a pamphlet which opened with the words: “When our Zionist fathers decided to set up a [national home in this country] they had the choice between two courses: They could appear [as] a bridgehead of the “white” race and the master of the “natives” [or] as the heirs of the Semitic political and cultural tradition [leading] the war of liberation of the Semitic peoples against European exploitation…”)

The difference between sea-to-river and river-to-sea is not just political, and far from superficial. It goes right to the roots of the conflict.

BACK TO Meshal. His speech was a reiteration of the most extreme Palestinian line. The same words could have been delivered seventy years ago by the then leader, Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. It is the line that has played into the hands of the Zionists and condemned the Palestinian people to disaster, to untold suffering and to its present situation.

Part of the blame must go to the Arabic language. It is a beautiful tongue, and can easily intoxicate its speaker. Modern Arab history is full of wonderful orators, who got so drunk on their own words that they lost contact with reality.

I remember an occasion when the Egyptian president, Gamal Abd al-Nasser, an outstanding rhetorician and the idol of the Arab masses, was making a sensible speech about Egyptian affairs, when somebody in the crowd shouted: “Palestine, oh Gamal!” Nasser forgot what he was talking about and launched into a passionate exposition of the Palestinian cause, heating himself up more and more, until he was obviously in a kind of trance. It was the state of mind which led him into the Israeli trap in 1967. (Israeli politicians since Menachem Begin are, fortunately, very poor speakers, speaking very inferior Hebrew.)

One could say, of course, that Meshal’s speech before the masses was just a politician’s bid for popularity and does not really count – what counts is the very different positions he adopted behind the scenes in Egypt and Gaza. That might sound reasonable – but is not.
First, because speeches influence the speaker. It would be very difficult for him to extract himself now from the verbal trap he set up for himself, even if Arab listeners have learned to take grandiose speeches with a grain of salt.

Second, because extreme Arab speeches immediately become ammunition in the hands of Israeli extremists. They reinforce the general contention, also from Ehud Barak, that “we have no partner for peace”. Meshal’s mirror image, Avigdor Lieberman, has already used this speech as his main weapon in repulsing the European condemnation of Netanyahu’s new destructive settlement project.

IN REALITY, Meshal is now more than ever ready for compromise (as was Nasser at the time he made the speech I mentioned.) He has indicated that while not ready to make peace with Israel himself, he would accept a peace agreement signed by Mahmoud Abbas and ratified in a Palestinian referendum. He also indicated that such a peace should be based on the 1967 borders. He knows, of course, that Abbas is ready for an “agreed” solution of the refugee problem – agreed, that is, by Israel. This means that only a symbolic number will be allowed to return to Israeli territory.

Trouble is, in his exciting public speech he said the very opposite, and worse. So did Nasser, and it killed him. So, for some time, did Yasser Arafat, until he saw the folly of this method. As, I think, will Khaled Meshal, in due time.

There is no escape from the simple truth that there will be two states between the river and the sea – as well as between the sea and the river.

Unless we want the whole country – sea to river, river to sea – to become one vast graveyard.

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