The Globe and Mail asked readers to pose question for Hamas. The best were selected and posed to senior Hamas official Ahmed Yousef, an adviser to Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas's prime minister for the Gaza Strip. All questions have been submitted to Mr. Yousef. Here are his answers:
Question: Where is Gilad Shalit? And why won't Hamas let the Red Cross have access to him?
-- Art Zaltz
Ahmed Yousef: The relevant individuals involved in discussions are addressing this question. Hamas cannot allow the Red Cross to have access to Gilad Schalit due to the compromising position this would put the Red Cross in. Knowledge of his whereabouts could compromise the position of a valued international organisation in the Gaza Strip.
Question: If Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "recognized" Palestine as an independent, sovereign state with the right to exist with safe and secure borders, would Hamas reciprocate?
-- Lora Lucero of Albuquerque, New Mexico
Ahmed Yousef: After watching Netanyahu's speeches to the U.S. Congress and AIPAC in the past month it is clear that this is not a possibility whilst he remains in power. On our behalf, we are committed to advancing the Palestinian cause. We have demonstrated this with the achievement of reconciliation between the various Palestinian factions; Hamas collectively made some difficult decisions for the greater good of the people. We will not talk about inconceivable "what ifs" when we have taken practical measures to achieve a united Palestinian voice.
Question: Why is the money you receive from other countries being poured into weapons to kill innocent civilians in Israel, instead of being used to improve the quality of life of your citizens?
-- Sheryl Danilowitz, Toronto
Ahmed Yousef: This is simply not true. We are working hard to build the capacities of our people under an inhumane and illegal siege. Those who visit the Gaza Strip witness the extensive training programmes we have for all parts of our society. Attacks on Gaza regularly result in the deaths of civilians, including children and the elderly. Surely the more pertinent question here is why the United States and others are allowing their financial aid to be spent on supporting an army who kill innocent civilians.
Question: Why has Hamas never cancelled the part of its charter that calls for the total annihilation of Israel? Why should Israel be expected to negotiate "peace" with Hamas on that background?
-- Jonathan Danilowitz, Tel Aviv, Israel, and Jan and Mark Lapedus, Toronto
Answer: The charter was written at a time of great strife during the first intifada of 1987. A group should be judged on its actions and statements in context. Anyone who follows the news and comments of Hamas in recent times will understand the movement's current stance. With Hamas being a social mass movement it is impracticable to suggest a document written twenty-four years ago governs its every belief. If Israel wants to negotiate for peace with the Palestinian people then it has to speak with their elected representatives. It is not about negotiating with one group or another, but with those who the people choose to represent them.
Question: Some of my friends are joining the next flotilla to challenge Israel's naval blockade of Gaza. Do you welcome this action even if most of the participants don't share your religion or social values?
-- Elizabeth Guthrie, Toronto
Answer: Of course we welcome all individuals and groups who show solidarity with the Palestinian people. The flotillas are an important symbol of international support for our cause. The siege is a focal point of the brutal oppression carried out by the occupation; each and every attempt to break it is extremely important to us.
Q: What does "peace" mean to you?
-- Mary Lou Cronin
A: Peace for the Palestinian people means returning to our homes, administering our own nation and being able to freely live on our land. It means living within a Palestinian state with fair, safe and secure borders free from occupation.
Q: Ever since 1948 a lot of Jews fled Arab countries and were welcomed and assimilated in Israel; yet the Palestinians were not particularly welcomed, and certainly not assimilated in Arab countries. How do you feel about this double standard?
-- David Shamoon, Markham, Ont., and Hanna Jodrey
A: The most important point here is not the type of welcome afforded to Palestinian refugees in Arab countries following the Nakba of 1948. The salient point is that the Palestinian people were forced out of their homes, and Jewish people made a free choice to move to Israel. Of course the Jewish people fleeing Arab countries were welcomed into Israel -- the Zionist project was based upon an influx of Jewish communities from around the world. The Palestinians did not wish to be assimilated into Arab countries; they are refugees who are waiting to return to their homes. The double standard is how the international community protected the Jews but abandoned the Palestinians, not the welcome afforded to either group of people.
Q: Do you think it's realistic to have one state where all the people of your region would live together?
-- Brian Fehst of Whitby, Ont., Hugh Jones of Toronto, Diane McLoughlin
A: As Palestinians, we are not opposed to the land being inhabited by all members of the major religions. This land is inextricably linked to the Abrahamic faiths and as such has been home to followers from these religions throughout history. As history proves, Muslims have acted as faithful and inclusive custodians of the land where all faiths are free to practice their religions.
Q: Why does Hamas treat women as second-class citizens?
-- David Pollack, T. Justin Powzy
A: Hamas is made up of Muslims and we as Muslims live by our holy text, the Koran. The Koran speaks equally of both men and women, which we fully respect. In Gaza, women work in all sectors of society from government to engineering. We do not practice any gender discrimination and work hard to build the capacities of our women.
Q: What can Canadians do to help bring about a two-state solution to the conflict?
-- Cory Nicholls, J.M. Deagle
A: The international community has been shamefully supportive of Israel's continuing occupation of Palestine. It is imperative that the citizens of each country tell their politicians that they are unhappy with their foreign policy concerning Palestine. Every Canadian citizen who supports human rights should write to their local representative and demand that Israel be made to comply with international law.
Q: Do you believe that there exists a Jewish people with roots in the Holy Land? Shouldn't they be allowed a state?
-- Mark Surchin of Toronto, Eric Beckerman, Jon Kerner
A: Historically speaking, the Holy Land has been inhabited by members of the three Abrahamic faiths (Islam, Christianity and Judaism). However, the Zionist project usurped this land in order to establish a Jewish state. The indigenous people who were living on the land were forcibly removed from their homes in 1948 and they remain as refugees waiting to return as set out by UN resolution 194. We as Palestinians cannot comprehend why Israel insists that there must be a Jewish state when the land has been home to all three religions over the long course of history.
Q: Why doesn't Hamas reject violence? Do you really think you can win by fighting?
-- Yves Crepeaum, Sackville, N.B., Laurence Knight
A: The Palestinians have been forced into engaging with a legitimate struggle due to the current occupation. The Palestinians must continue in their struggle to liberate their land from the occupying force. The UN resolutions have protected the right for those who lose their homes and land to defend their rights.
Q: Why does your Covenant advocate killing Jews, and your text books teach children to hate?
-- Jillian York, Ran Ukashi of Winnipeg, Christopher Slatter, Jonathan Lampert
A: The Covenant does not advocate the murder of Jews, but for the Palestinians to defend themselves against the continuing occupation. This is a direct reaction to the aggressive, expansionist Zionist project and the growing displacement of Palestinians from their homes. Children are not taught to hate. If anything teaches our children to hate, it is the daily events of the occupation. Sanctions, occupation and the siege have impacted on our children's thinking.
(Questions have been edited for clarity, and similar ones distilled into a single query.)