Doing your revision
25 September 2009
Harry's Place has posted an amusing exchange of emails, from a Comment Is Free thread, in which a reader tries to pin down Anas al-Tikriti on his claim that several leading Hamas figures view the Hamas charter as "incorrect, inappropriate, inaccurate and certainly unfit for use"; and that "a complete revision of the Charter is underway, while the current Charter is in no way being cited as any kind of central document, reference or manual for the movement, nor has it been for over a decade."
When Dave Rushmore, the author of the Harry's Place post, queries this, Anas al-Tikriti admits that he has no knowledge of how, where or when this revision is taking place or will be concluded, but insists that "many Hamas leaders have publically rejected it [the charter] and many more have called on it to be revised and replaced." Again, when pushed, al-Tikriti fails to identity a single example of a Hamas leader publicly rejecting the charter.
It is not a pleasant experience being pinned down by a tenacious commenter on a blog thread, so I thought I'd give Anas a hand and try to find some examples for him. How about Mahmoud Zahar, a co-founder of Hamas, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and previously the Hamas Foreign Minister in Gaza?
Will you revise your charter?
No. This charter is not the Quran, but it should not be changed because it is implementing the views of every Muslim everywhere.
Not him then. What about Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas Prime Minister in Gaza? There are some - former President Carter, for example - who have reported that he would be open to some sort of revision, although Haniyeh himself does not appear to have made a specific statement on the subject. The closest we have is a statement from his political advisor, Ahmed Yousef, who had been reported as saying that Hamas would distance itself from the Charter:
GAZA, (PIC)-- Dr. Ahmed Yousef, the political advisor to Ismail Haneyya, the premier of the PA caretaker government, denied on Wednesday statements attributed to him by different media outlets that Hamas turned against its charter drawn up in 1988 and that it became part of the past.
"Those statements were certainly distorted and taken out of context from a long TV interview conducted in English with the Palestinian news agency Ramattan; this incomplete extraction led to the twisting of what I meant," Yousef explained in a press release on Wednesday.
The political advisor confirmed that Hamas is proud of its charter because it is a historic document and an important part of Hamas struggle against the Israeli occupation, pointing out that this charter has the credit for mobilizing the Palestinian street and maintaining the Intifada and national constants.
Oops. One last try - Khaled Meshaal, the leader of the Hamas political bureau and the man generally seen as the most senior Hamas figure outside Gaza. What does he have to say about it?
But he urged outsiders to ignore the Hamas charter, which calls for the obliteration of Israel through jihad and cites as fact the infamous anti-Semitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Mr. Meshal did not offer to revoke the charter, but said it was 20 years old, adding, We are shaped by our experiences.
Right - so the best we can find is that Hamas won't change their charter, but everyone else should just pretend it doesn't exist. You might think that this represents progress of sorts: a fudge from the Hamas leadership that allows them to save face while relegating the charter to history. It seems that Meshaal was well aware that people might interpret his comments in this way, and didn't like it; so to clarify his position, he issued another statement to the Palestinian Information Center, which is the closest thing to an official Hamas website:
DAMASCUS, (PIC)-- Khaled Mishaal, the political bureau chairman of Hamas, has denied that his Movement was about to change its charter or stop its resistance against occupation stressing that resistance was a legitimate right for any people under occupation.
Mishaal, in a press release on Tuesday, said that the New York Times did not quote him correctly and what was attributed to him was "erroneous".
Regarding the question by the American paper on Hamas's charter, he said that Hamas was not like others who change their charters to meet the demands of other parties. "This principle is not acceptable," he said, pointing out that the others who changed their charter did not gain anything in return.
Sorry Anas, I tried.
How about the more general claim, that "the current Charter is in no way being cited as any kind of central document, reference or manual for the movement, nor has it been for over a decade"?
I'm afraid this isn't quite correct either. Below is the frontispiece of a copy of the Hamas charter published in Qalqilya in 2004. So while "outsiders" are advised to ignore the charter, Hamas still publishes it for a Palestinian audience. You may recognised the moustachioed face on the top left; he is Saeed Hotari, the suicide bomber who murdered 21 Israelis, mostly teenagers, at the Dolphinarium nightclub in Tel Aviv in 2001.
Dave Rushmore's work in teasing out al-Tikriti's evasions is terrific, but I'm afraid he got one thing wrong. Dave dates the idea that the charter would be revised to 2006, and points out that the work is still not complete after three years. In fact, the rumours of charter revision go back much further. An article [full version not available online] published in the Journal of Palestine Studies as long ago as 1993 advised readers:
One might note that recent rumors to the effect that Hamas is considering far-reaching changes in its charter have been vigorously denied, notably by Hamas leader Dr. 'Abd al-'Aziz al-Rantisi.
Sixteen years on, Hamas leaders are still denying that they will change their charter, no matter how many times they are asked about it. Despite this their supporters and apologists in the West insist that the charter will be changed, or that it is so old now that it should just be ignored; despite the fact that Hamas still publishes it in Arabic. There are good reasons for this: the Hamas charter is a foul document, which shows Hamas to be an utterly repellent organisation. No wonder Anas al-Tikriti and others wish it would go away. Their problem is that Hamas refuses to stick to the script.