In the midst of the Cast Lead counterterror offensive in late 2008 and early 2009, the Israeli Arab group Ittijah accused Israel of war crimes and called to put Israeli leaders on trial. The organization, which serves as an umbrella group for dozens of Arab non-profits, also accused Israel of genocide.
At the time, researcher Jonathan Dahoah-Halevi interviewed Ittijah's chairman, Amir Makhoul. Makhoul stated that he sees Hamas as a legitimate political group, and argued that terrorist attacks targeting Israeli civilians are not a war crime.
During Cast Lead Hamas fired over 770 rockets and mortar shells at Israel, murdering several civilians, wounding over 180, and destroying houses, schools, and other property.
The interview, conducted in 2008, gained relevance this week in wake of recent developments.
Below is part of Dahoah-Halevi's interview with Makhoul.
Question: What concrete steps do you plan to take?
Makhoul: We're planning a public struggle, demonstrations throughout the country, a general strike today (29.12.08) among the Arab populace, and we're working to make the struggle more organized and put an end to the slaughter. At the same time, we're working on the international level, organizing campaigns to boycott Israel and demonstrations against international groups that work with Israel, such as the United States, the UN Security Council, the European Union, the Egyptian government, and even part of the Palestinian Authority.
Question: You say you plan to bring those responsible to trial in an international court?
Makhoul: Yes, yes, we're doing that. We can't publicize our methods... We're working on that at a very, very high level, internationally.
Question: Who are you planning to target with that plan?
Makhoul: Our targets are the government ministers, the Defense Minister, the heads of the military, military commanders in Gaza and elsewhere, field commanders, the head of the Air Force, there's a series of people who bear responsibility. We won't publish their names yet, because then they'll take defensive action.
Question: You say the entire Israeli people bears responsibility?
Makhoul: We didn't say the entire people, rather, the public. The public, not every single individual. There are those who resist, who fight the occupation. We aren't talking about them. We're talking about those who give their support. The public supports the government's policy and will bear responsibility. This is true in every case in which a people suffers due to crimes or that its government committed crimes.
Question: What do you mean by 'a partner to the crime'?
Makhoul: The German people was responsible for the crimes committed by its regime.
Question: How does Ittijah see the Hamas leadership, does it see it as a ruling power that is a party to war crimes?
Makhoul: No, no. It's an elected governing body. The populace is under occupation. Ultimately, the UN and international law allow war against an occupying power, and one cannot say that Gaza is not occupied, because Israel is responsible for the siege, the siege is not a Heavenly decree.
Question: Organizations like Amnesty International and B'Tselem define rocket fire as a war crime. Does your organization see rocket fire as a war crime like those groups?
Makhoul: No, no. We oppose harming civilians, any civilians, but at the end of the day we know that the Palestinian people's battle is against the occupation and not against the Jews.
Question: Is rocket fire a war crime committed by Hamas?
Question: Is harming civilians not a war crime?
Makhoul: No, no, no, that's something completely different. Israel is not the victim. The victim is the Palestinian people, including Hamas, which is a legitimate movement.
Question: The question is regarding rocket fire targeting civilians. The question is simple – is firing on civilian towns a war crime?
Makhoul: No, no. In and of itself, it's not defined like that... It's not a war crime. The definition of a war crime is different.