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Sheikh Abdullah Nimr Darwish, the founder of Israel's Islamic Movement, says the Muslim world, including Hamas, will be willing to negotiate recognition of the State of Israel only after a Palestinian state is created.
"Muslim recognition is contingent upon the creation of a Palestinian state established in the territories conquered by Israel in 1967 with East Jerusalem as its capital," says Darwish. "Until then there is nothing to talk about."
Darwish, who will be 60 in two months, has over the last 25 years - perhaps more than any other Muslim Israeli leader - spearheaded the Islamization of Israel's Arab population, which today numbers about 1.2 million or about 20% of the total population of Israel.
Since the mid-1980s the Islamic movement has built mosques, injected Islamic content in school curriculums and brought about a renaissance of Islam among what was once a relatively secular Arab populace.
Darwish was born in Kafr Kasim the same year as the founding of the ÃŸtate of Israel. He contracted polio as a child and to this day has only limited movement in his right hand, while his left hand appears to be almost totally paralyzed.
Like many young Israeli Arabs after 1967 who came under the influence of orthodox Islam, Darwish traveled to the West Bank to pursue Islamic studies. He studied at the Islamic Institute in Nablus.
In the early 1980s he was arrested for his anti-Israel activism and in the mid-1980s he established the Islamic Movement. The Islamic Movement split into the northern and southern wings in 1998.
Sheikh Raid Salah of Umm el-Fahm, who studied at the Islamic College in Hebron, headed the breakaway, more extremist, northern wing, while Darwish led the southern wing.
Darwish met with The Jerusalem Post at his office in Kafr Kasim.
What are the main ideological differences between your more moderate southern wing of the Islamic Movement and the northern wing headed by Sheikh Raid Salah?
First of all, I do not accept the statement that the southern wing is more moderate. Both wings are faithful to Islam. And both accept Israeli law as binding.
However, we think that the majority of the Israeli public wants peace, while over there they believe that Israelis do not want peace. We believe that it is beneficial to run for the Knesset while they believe there is nothing to gain from it.
Can Islam reconcile itself to the State of Israel?
Abdel Azziz Ibn Ba'az [the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia from 1993 until his death in 1999], ruled that is was permitted to sign a peace treaty with a non-Muslim to arrive at a cease-fire and sulcha [peace agreement] that was either temporary or even permanent.
[Egyptian] Sheikh Yousef Kardawi [the grand mufti of the Moslem Brotherhood, including Hamas, who has in the past supported suicide bombings against Israeli women and children - MW], stated that we are not willing to recognize Israel until a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital is created. Imagine that. But first there must be a Palestinian state, only then normalization.
And the Muslim Brotherhood has said that if they take over the leadership of Egypt they will honor agreements with Israel.
How could Islam ever reconcile itself to Israel if it splits the entire world into two domains: those presently under Muslim rule Dar al-Islam [house of peace] and those which Muslims aspire to conquer Dar al-Harb [house of war]?
Those definitions were written by imams living many years ago. They gave a legal definition that differentiated between two countries. But since sheikhs wrote these definitions other sheikhs can come along and make changes. It is possible to introduce a third category called Dar al-Ahd or house of truce.
This third category could be relevant even for a nation like Israel that conquered Muslim land. The final decision on that would have to be made by the grand Muslim leader. But it is possible as long as the laws of Israel do not contradict the foundations of Islam.
What is your opinion about the shooting of Kassam missiles on Sderot?
I am opposed to it, just as I am opposed to the attacks launched by Israel planes on Gaza's residents. Each side blames the other for starting the conflict. I want to believe both sides - so let's arrange a cease-fire.
There is no moral right to allow either Beit Hanun or Sderot to remain under fire.
Why do you oppose defining the state of Israel as Jewish?
Because doing so endangers my very existence here. "Jewish" and "democratic" do not go together. Saying that Israel is Jewish is a justification for discriminating against Arabs. Saying that it is democratic is a way to give freedom to Jews.
There are already enough obstacles to the peace process. Why add more? Besides, even Israelis have not decided yet who is a Jew.
Israel should be striving to recreate a state that is not an army bunker, a state in which its citizens do not live in constant fear.
I could live with a definition of Israel as a state for all its citizens and for the Jewish people.
This week, on the Tenth of Tevet, religious Jews will commemorate the Holocaust. What is your opinion of Holocaust deniers?
It is a crime. To deny that people, both Jews and non-Jews were killed in the Holocaust is crazy. Even Germans admit they did it.
Do you think the Holocaust is a justification for the creation of the state of Israel?
That is something that can be argued about. Many Europeans supported creating the Jewish state not because they wanted a national home for the Jewish people, rather because they wanted a solution to the Jewish question.
I believe the Shoah protects Israel from European and US pressure to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians because they are embarrassed of what they did to the Jews. Because of the Shoah the Palestinian people suffer.
If the US and the Europeans were real friends of Israel they would force the Israelis to make peace. If you see two people fighting and these two people are bloody from all the blows they have dealt each other, wouldn't you try to stop the bloodshed? I do not want to believe that the US and the Europeans are permitting the bloodshed to continue because they want to take revenge against the Jews.
Many forecast a civil war in the West Bank if Israel tries to evacuate settlements. Why can't Palestinians agree to living side by side with Jewish settlers in a Palestinian state?
First of all, the settlers would never agree to it. But even if they did it would be impossible. The Jews have this feeling of superiority. They think they are better than everyone. Maybe it is because of the Exodus from Egypt, maybe it is because of the Holocaust. The Jews suffered, they were persecuted and now they want to make others suffer as well.
Darwish adds that he thinks it was a mistake for Israel to demand that the Hamas as a political party recognize Israel.
The 2006 elections in which the Hamas won a landslide victory were conducted under the umbrella of the Oslo Accords.
The Palestinian Parliament was a creation of Oslo and the Hamas ran for this parliament. But when Israel and the western world blocked Hamas from realizing the fruits of the election results by turning Hamas into a pariah, they basically forced Hamas to abandon politics and resort to terrorism.
Instead of asking [Hamas Prime Minister] Ismail Haniyeh's government to recognize Israel, Hamas was asked to recognize Israel. That's like asking the National Religious Party or Lieberman to recognize a Palestinian state.
And even if Hamas might be willing to talk about recognizing Israel. What are the borders of this Israel? Even I, Sheikh Darwish, do not recognize post-1967 Israel.
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