The Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) has since its formative years in the 1980s staunchly called for armed resistance against Israeli occupation and refused to acknowledge or participate in peace talks.
Headquartered in Syria, the PIJ is much smaller than Hamas but both groups find their inspirational roots in the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.Fathi al-Shaqaqi, the group’s leader, was killed in Malta in 1995 in what many believe was an Israeli commando operation. Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, a British-trained academic who lectured in Middle East studies at the University of South Florida, was selected by the leadership to succeed al-Shaqaqi as the group’s secretary-general.
Ramadan Abdullah Shallah: I think the biggest threat to the Palestinian people today is the absence of direction. They are losing the sense to decide which way to go in leading this march, this struggle to gain their freedom and independence.
The Palestinian leadership, the former Palestinian leadership, entered the peace process more than 15 years ago in order to achieve an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. But if we look at the achievements today we realise that they have not accomplished anything because the Israeli policies that are being implemented in Jerusalem and in the West Bank leave no chance for any kind of an independent Palestinian state to be established. These policies include the confiscation of land, the threat to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the threat toward Jerusalem, the threat against the right of return of Palestinian refugees, and the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip, where more than 1.5 million people are living in the largest prison in the world without any helping hand from Arab and Muslim countries. Most recently we also witnessed the position of the Palestinian Authority regarding the Goldstone report on Israeli war crimes committed during the war on Gaza last January. We consider the call to delay the vote on the findings of that report a sin rather than a mistake. In this case, the Palestinian leadership was trying to help the Israelis and give them a way out of this dilemma rather than help the international community to apply pressure on the Israelis and label them as war criminals. This effectively means that the Palestinian people have forfeited their right to challenge and condemn their enemy. Do you really think the Israelis saw the Goldstone report as a "dilemma" or a serious threat? I think what was new in this report is the challenge to Israel's legitimacy because it is the first time that the international community comes together and demands that Israel be taken to trial and condemns Israeli policies so harshly. This is the first time we hear the world say "no" to Israel's actions, atrocities and aggression. The criminal war launched by Israel against the civilian population in Gaza actually attracted the attention of the whole world and now we are seeing the results of the efforts exerted by human rights organisations and the international community to raise this issue. This is something new and promising for the Palestinians to hear, irrespective of what the report says against us as Palestinian resistance groups. What matters to us is to hear that Western sources, institutions and countries are condemning Israel.
You said it was a sin that the vote was delayed; who are you identifying as the sinner in this action? Well everybody knows who the sinner is. Our stance toward the Palestinian Authority's position regarding the Goldstone report does not involve personal matters. We are concentrating on the action taken, on the position expressed, rather than the persons themselves. We believe that the action undertaken by the chairman of the PA is a political and moral sin. Even some Palestinian factions – such as the Popular Front, and the Democratic Front – condemned the PA's actions as crimes committed against the Palestinian people. So, if Mahmoud Abbas's partners are labelling this as a crime, what more can I add as PIJ's point of view? Do you think the criticism and pressures from within Palestinian society could threaten to unravel the PA? What happened in Geneva is something serious and dangerous and there are different ways to follow up on this matter. The most important step now is to seek various options to re-organise the Palestinian entity and decision-making structure in order to know in the future how the Palestinian leadership arrive at their decisions. If Abbas was a member of a democratic Palestinian leadership, I do not think he would have taken the decision to delay the vote. There would have been checks and balances and certainly he would have been advised by others not to follow through on such a decision. But he personally made these decisions and now he is paying the price. What is important for us today is to revise the entire Palestinian situation through dialogue in order to re-organise Palestinian institutions and find new representation and a new process for decision-making in politics. Let us assume that Palestinian politics are re-aligned and a more integrated decision-making process is put in place, like you mentioned. George Mitchell, the US envoy to the Middle East, has been making numerous visits to discuss the peace process with Arab, Israeli and Palestinian leaders. What is PIJ's position regarding talks with Israel? First of all, we do not believe in negotiations with Israel. We do not recognise Israel as a legitimate entity within this region and see it as an invading body that was cultivated in this area as a representative of Western interests and colonial powers. Israel is an occupier and they expelled the indigenous people of the land – the Palestinian population who are now living as refugees throughout the world. Their rights to return to their homes have been denied to them. We do not trust the so-called peace process. From our point of view, nothing has been achieved since the Madrid conference and the Oslo Accords signed by Yasser Arafat, the late Palestinian president, in 1993. Even some members of the PA today admit that the situation was better prior to the peace process, at least in terms of living standards, ensuring our economic needs as human beings, and our freedom of movement. Let us, for example, look at the illegal settlements and the settlements in the West Bank since this so-called peace process started. In 1993, there were around 100,000 settlers in the West Bank, including Jerusalem. Today, there are 500,000 settlers – this meteoric increase happened during the so-called peace process. We do not have any kind of peace. Now, with the arrival of the right-wing Likud and the government of Binyamin Netanyahu, we do not even have a process. The process has stopped. Today, the PA attempts to spread hope among the Palestinian people that talks with the Israelis will resume and we will move toward a future Palestinian state. This is merely an attempt to resell the illusions and lies of the last decade. We do not believe that there is any chance to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and within 1967 borders. Netanyahu made it very clear that if the Palestinians want to have a state they must first agree to two conditions: That Israel be recognised as a Jewish state, and that the so-called Palestinian state be demilitarised, which means we do not have an army or sovereignty over our homeland. Such a Palestinian state would be servile to Israel's security. This is what is awaiting the Palestinians. You paint a very bleak picture.
Well, the situation itself is bleak. I did not paint this picture from my own imagination, because if you look at what is happening in Jerusalem today, it is a very bleak picture. For example, if you take the threats facing the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is the symbol of the holiness and sacredness of the Palestinian cause – the Israelis are sparing no effort to plot and destroy the Mosque; they are digging tunnels under the Aqsa and the alleged Temple of Solomon will be built in place of a demolished Aqsa. In Jerusalem today there is a threat to demolish more than 11,000 Palestinian homes. Some 180 have already been demolished. And this may be something strange to your readers, but when the Israelis decide to demolish a home, they charge the Palestinians living there the cost of the operation. This is close to $25,000. They first inform the family that their house is illegal and that it must be demolished. If the Palestinian family cannot pay, then they have to destroy their own homes. Also, while we are on the topic of Jerusalem, more than 50,000 Palestinians in Jerusalem have lost their Jerusalem ID cards – the hawiya maqdasiya – as part of Israel's continuing Judaisation of the city. Today the number of Palestinians accounts for 35 per cent of the population of East and West Jerusalem. The Israeli plan is to reduce the Palestinian population of the city by 80 per cent; they are trying to impose a Jewish identity over Jerusalem. This is the outcome of the so-called peace process. Everything that has been carried out in Jerusalem has been under the umbrella of peace talks. The right-wing Likud government has a plan to finish with the Jerusalem file and to declare Jerusalem the eternal and united capital of Israel. So what is the PA waiting for? What can we get out of this peace process? There is nothing left of the land to give to the Palestinians, nothing to negotiate over, to create an independent state. If, as you say, the peace process has failed to give Palestinians their rights what does the PIJ propose as an alternative? Well, the first thing is for the international community to recognise that the Israeli existence in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, at least, is illegal occupation. Once we have this recognition then the Israelis must withdraw from this land. If they do not agree to withdraw peacefully, we have no other alternative except to continue resistance. As a national movement, we consider ourselves as freedom fighters; we have the right to defend our land, our people and our holy sites like Al-Aqsa Mosque. This is the alternative – the legal and legitimate resistance that all nations engage in against colonialism and outside occupation. You want Israel to accept UN Resolutions 242 and 338 which call for a return to pre-1967 borders? I do not know whether we are looking for these resolutions, but if they accept and apply these and withdraw from the land, I am not going to reject Palestinian efforts to have an independent entity within 1967 borders. However, I consider that the entire land of Palestine is ours and that the Israelis have no right to build so-called Israel as a Jewish state on that land. If Israel does withdraw to 1967 borders, would you make peace with them then? I am not going to answer this question until I see their behaviour, I am not answering hypothetical questions.
Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, has called for a one-state solution. Is that feasible? To me as Islamic Jihad, I do not think it is our duty to suggest such political solutions. We consider ourselves as freedom fighters and our main duty is to fight the occupation until we get back our rights. The other party – the Israelis – should be suggesting solutions, not us, because they are responsible for the creation of the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian problem. However, if we are to compare the so-called two-state solution to the one-state solution, there are many observations. I personally do not accept the one-state solution because that would mean recognising Israeli and Jewish existence on Palestine without having the Israeli and Jewish leadership also recognise our rights as Palestinians to live in this land and to have our freedom and dignity. In the broader meaning of the geopolitical situation in the region, I do believe that this area is the Arab and Muslim homeland. When we have Jewish existence and co-existence with the Israelis, the whole region will become the 'New Middle East'. The identity of the ummah (Muslim motherland) will be threatened, and the whole region will be re-defined on a new basis if you have a new one-state entity – call it what you will, Isratine or Palisreal. I do believe that Israel is an alien entity and they have no right to live as a legal part of this region. So if I go back to compare between the two solutions – despite all my remarks and observations – I still consider the one-state solution more just than the two-state solution. Under the two-state solution, the Palestinians already recognised – in advance – Israel's existence on 80 per cent of the land of Palestine. They are currently negotiating with the Israelis over the remaining 20 per cent. But half of this area is already in the hands of the Israelis, so what is left for us to bargain and negotiate over – is just 10 per cent of Palestine. On the other hand, under the one-state solution we would share the entire land of Palestine. If we put aside all the other factors that I mentioned – politically, the one-state solution is better than the two-state solution. I am not saying this in favour of the one-state solution but to show that the two-state solution is a disaster for the Palestinian people.
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