Five Questions For Hamas

Hamas started a public relations campaign on Friday to explain their position to the world. They announced that there would be a high level Hamas official available for each of the next five days to answer questions about Hamas. If you had a question all you had to do was tweet it using the hashtag #AskHamas and a Hamas official would be available to provide an answer.

This could have been a great opportunity to challenge Hamas's basic assumptions. It could have been an opportunity to prod it in a thoughtful way to rethink its approach and hopefully change its behavior. Instead, Hamas was buried with thousands of trolling posts that it will probably ignore or dismiss as the work of evil Zionists who just want to discredit it.

Here are the questions I would like to ask Hamas if I could. The first two questions are based on Chapter 11 of Hamas Charter which says

The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine has been an Islamic Waqf throughout the generations and until the Day of Resurrection, no one can renounce it or part of it, or abandon it or part of it. No Arab country nor the aggregate of all Arab countries, and no Arab King or President nor all of them in the aggregate, have that right, nor has that right any organization or the aggregate of all organizations, be they Palestinian or Arab, because Palestine is an Islamic Waqf throughout all generations and to the Day of Resurrection. Who can presume to speak for all Islamic Generations to the Day of Resurrection? This is the status [of the land] in Islamic Shari’a, and it is similar to all lands conquered by Islam by force, and made thereby Waqf lands upon their conquest, for all generations of Muslims until the Day of Resurrection. This [norm] has prevailed since the commanders of the Muslim armies completed the conquest of Syria and Iraq, and they asked the Caliph of Muslims, ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab, for his view of the conquered land, whether it should be partitioned between the troops or left in the possession of its population, or otherwise. Following discussions and consultations between the Caliph of Islam, ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab, and the Companions of the Messenger of Allah, be peace and prayer upon him, they decided that the land should remain in the hands of its owners to benefit from it and from its wealth; but the control of the land and the land itself ought to be endowed as a Waqf [in perpetuity] for all generations of Muslims until the Day of Resurrection. The ownership of the land by its owners is only one of usufruct, and this Waqf will endure as long as Heaven and earth last. Any demarche in violation of this law of Islam, with regard to Palestine, is baseless and reflects on its perpetrators.

So here are some questions that need to be answered.

1) The other Arab states have backed one version or another of the Saudi peace plan since 2002. Obviously, they do not believe all of historic Palestine is an Islamic Waqf and they do not buy the claims of your Charter. What makes you believe your interpretation of the Quran and Hadith is right and everyone else's interpretation is wrong?

2) Haj Amin al-Husayni, the Grand Mufti and President of the Supreme Muslim Council in British Mandate Palestine, wanted to stop the sale of land to immigrating Jews in the 1920's and 1930's.  Yitzhak Reiter wrote a scholarly analysis of the historical basis of Hamas's claim that all of Palestine is a waqf. (See my simplified summary of the highlights of Reiter's analysis here.) Reiter wrote:

in the mid-1930s, al-Husayni himself appealed to the local Palestinian Arabs to endow their private lands as waqf in order to prevent their sale to the Jews.   . . . Since the SMC [Supreme Muslim Council] controlled the sharia courts, which were entitled by law to approve every transqaction of   waqf   properties, the Grand Mufti hoped that granting the lands   waqf   status would give his SMC the legal power to control land sales.  This very fact proves that in his mind Palestine was not   waqf   territory, as Islamist today claim; rather, he recognized private ownership of lands but he wished to change its legal status to waqf.  However, Palestinian Arabs did not respond to his appeal

If all of Palestine was already a waqf, then why did al-Husayni feel the need to try to get Palestinian Arabs to assign their property to a waqf? And why did they refuse?

Even if the entire land is part of an Islamic waqf, why can't Palestinians bargain away or sell part of it if they can get something more valuable in return. (peace, monetary compensation?) Reiter notes:

the endowed properties per se hove no holy nature. . . what was of a pious ('holy' in the eyes of many Palestinians and Islamists) nature and should be eternal is the charitable purpose of the waqf and not the endowed lands or other properties.


Reiter provides several examples where Islamic jurists (qadis) have ruled that waqf land could be sold or leased for long periods of time especially  "if the property in question becomes valueless and unproductive."   Waqf property transactions were legitimize by qadis if they benefited the endowment or if the properties were under physical or economic distress.  He notes that between 1917 and 1948, "thirty-two out of fifty-six real-estate transactions in Jerusalem involved waqf properties that changed hands."

One family waqf of twenty dunams (about 5 acres) was sold to the English Sports Association for use as an athletic field.  This sale was particularly noteworthy because, as Reiter notes:

The qadi who permitted the transaction was employed by the SMC [Supreme Muslim Council headed by Hajj Amin al-Husayni] which also approved the sale.  Given the political sensitivity of selling such a large   waqf   plot in Jerusalem, it is implausible that the qadi who was subordinate to Hajj Amin al-Husayni did not receive the latter's consent prior to giving his approval.  Hence, al-Husayni, who ruled that lands in Palestine are a holy asset that should not be transferred to non-Muslims, did not prevent the sale of a twenty-dunam plot of   waqf    land in Jerusalem to a British foundation

So if all of Palestine was part of a waqf, and if it is impermissible to sell part of this waqf to non-Muslims, then why didn't al-Husayni prevent the sale of land to the English Sports Association?

Given these questions, and given that Israel and its supporters use the Charter as an excuse to avoid serious negotiations with the Palestinians based on the claim that they have no true partner in the peace process, why not radically change the Charter? Why not say that you are willing to live with a state designed for the protection of Jews within the 1967 boundary if Israel will end its blockade of Gaza and its occupation in the West Bank and give the Palestinians living within Israel's 1967 border full equal rights, including the right to purchase land from the state and the right to marry a Palestinian living outside of the Green Line and live with him or her within Israel, provided their spouse passes a security clearance? A change like this in your charter would deprive Israel of a justification to bomb Gaza and will light a spark under the BDS movement should Israel not become more flexible and reasonable in its approach to the Palestinians.


3) Will Hamas allow Gazans to vote on whether it should cease the threat of armed resistance to Israel--including the building of tunnels and rockets--and take a strictly nonviolent approach instead? Should Gazans be allowed to vote on whether Hamas should restrict its efforts pressure Israel by concentrating on promoting BDS and taking Israel to the International Criminal Court?  Taking this approach would deny Israel any plausible justification for launching another military attack on Gaza and increase sympathy for the Palestinian cause.

4) Would Hamas accept Jews praying on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif

  1. IF they pass a security clearance,
  2. IF they sign a statement that acknowledges that the Haram al-Sharif is the Third holiest site for Muslims,
  3. IF this signed statement also condemned all attempts to damage or destroy the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock,
  4. IF this signed statement also declaired that Muslims should be allowed unimpeded access to their holy sites at all times, AND
  5. IF this signed statement included a clause stating that their prayer on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif should not be interpreted as a change of status or the relinquishing of the Jordanian waqf's responsibility for the site to Israel.

Hamas may claim that Jews don't need to pray there because the Haram al-Sharif was never the site of Jewish Temples. But can Hamas recognize and respect that Jews, rightly or wrongly, sincerely believe it is the site of their Holy Temples and some of those who are religious have a need to pray there? Can Hamas take the position "We do not necessarily believe the Temples were there, but we acknowledge that Jews believe this and we will respect that belief so long as they acknowledge and respect our belief that Mohammad ascended to heaven from this site and do nothing to impede our worship there"?

5) Obviously Hamas will not recognize Israel as a Jewish State, but could it under any circumstances recognize Israel as a state designed for the protection of Jews? I explain the subtle but important difference between these two concepts here and here.