Doctor Naser Dine Muhammad Ahmad Shaer is the Vice- Prime Minister and Minister of Education and higher learning in the Palestinian government formed by Hamas. Born in 1961, originally from Nablus, father of six children, this professor of law and legislation, rector of the Faculty of Law at the National University of Al Najah, hunted by Israel, finds himself obliged to live in clandestinity. He talks here about a subject the “West” refuses to admit: that Hamas is well integrated into the social fabric and that, confronted with Israeli oppression — as with the Lebanese and Hezbollah —Hamas is “like a fish in water” in Palestine.
Silvia Cattori: The Palestinians voted for Hamas in an election considered as free and honest by the international observers. However, the result wasn’t accepted by the United States and the European Union both of whom still refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the new government. The West tells you: “We will give you our financial support only if you put Hamas aside”. Moreover, the European Union stopped its financial aid until the new government is put aside. So, for the first time in history, we could see a people under occupation submitted to international sanctions for having voted freely. How will you overcome these obstacles and avoid even more suffering for your people already stricken by the occupation?
Naser Shaer: There is a misunderstanding, an incredible misunderstanding on the part of the “West” about us and about our government. We must remember that two-thirds of the Ministers and MPs who accepted to work with the government formed by Hamas are not members of the Hamas movement. This government is formed by technocrats, professors, men and women educated in and graduated from western universities, and who are specialists in such and such fields.
S.C.- Which party do you belong to?
Naser Shaer: I was never involved in politics, and I don’t belong to any party.
S.C.- The Palestinians I meet day after day do not understand the punishment imposed by these states, states that always speak about human rights and disregard the crimes committed by Israel. In order to get out of this impasse, will you not be obliged to form another government?
Naser Shaer: When Hamas won the elections, it had three ways of forming a government. The first one was to form a government composed only of people belonging to Hamas. The second one was to compose a government comprised of all the parties. The third one was to form a government composed in part of people belonging to Hamas, and in part of people who do not belong to Hamas. Hamas acted in a pragmatic way. The choice was made based upon people’s competences and not on the basis of the fact they belonged to Hamas. We have Christians in the government. The Minister of Planning, for example, has worked previously in this field, demonstrating real competence. As for me, as Minister of Education, I have fifteen years of experience in this field. That is to say that this government, which was wrongly qualified as Islamic, includes a majority of technocrats and of highly qualified specialists. The ministers who belong to Hamas are a minority.
S.C.- At the end of June when the Israelis kidnapped half of your government here in the West Bank - that is to say 8 ministers and 15 MP - was your name not on their list?
Naser Shaer: They tried to arrest me, but I was not at home the evening when the soldiers came. That is why I have to be very careful not to be arrested. Look, I shut off my phone. I never sleep at the same place; I change places every night. I hope now that it will become easier than it was during these last weeks.
S.C.- Can the Israeli army suddenly appear?
Naser Shaer: Yes, they can. That is why I spend just a few minutes in an area, and why I will to leave you soon.
S.C.- Is it possible to govern under such conditions?
Naser Shaer: It is very difficult. But, even so, we still work. Our employees go on working in the ministries. When the Hamas government was formed, the employees of the ministries were not changed except in the leading positions.
S.C.- Was there not some reticence on the part of those who, feeling attached to the former government, didn’t accept the arrival of Hamas?
Naser Shaer: Before they arrested some of the members of the government, there was some tension among Palestinians. We did our best to put an end to dissensions. We work together, we are united, we help each other. We are happy now that there is no serious problem, even if we have some disagreements on this or that point. But, in general, we have agreement. We are happy to work and to share power with our President Abou Mazen. We plan to form a new government. But not before the Israeli release the ministers and MP they arrested.
S.C.- You seem to be optimistic?
Naser Shaer: Optimistic, yes.
S.C.- Through their sanctions, Israel, the United States and the European Union did not hide that they wanted to bring down the Hamas government. They are waiting until the people, in complete distress, end up by revolting against you. Will their strategy fail?
Naser Shaer: They have already failed. They didn’t succeed changing the minds of the people. That is why in the last few days they have allowed for several tens of millions of dollars to be paid by an Egyptian Bank. That means to us that they find themselves in a position which is morally unacceptable and that they will have to find a way out to put an end to these sanctions.
S.C.- Can you understand why the European Union is aligning itself with the positions advocated by Israel and the United States, thus classifying your government as a terrorist organization?
Naser Shaer: Because of Israeli propaganda which is overwhelming in the “West”, and also, maybe, because the United States and Europe do not want to listen to our voice, to our suffering. As you know, most of us studied in the West, most of us spent five, ten, fifteen years in America and in Europe. We know western culture. Myself, I studied at Manchester University. After getting my PhD, I went to New York University. We know everything about the West. The problem is not with us as persons, our culture, our religion; the problem is that Israel does not want this government to succeed. Israel would like us to fail. That is why Israel is goes on saying to the world that there is not any Palestinian that they can talk to. First, I reiterate here that our government does not close the door, everyone is welcome. We are open and ready to get in touch with all states and their representatives. We keep the door open, we are ready to have relations with any government in the world. Secondly, when people outside think that we might fail, after six months of this regime of sanctions they can see that our people are still with us, at our side, even though there is no money, no salaries and a worsening situation.
You can go into the street, and you can ask the people what they think. They will tell you that they like us, that they need us to continue with dignity, and that they need us go on maintaining an honourable stand.
Believe me, should some Israeli soldiers come now in order to arrest me, you would immediately see people coming to warn me to leave the area. In a minute I will be in shelter far from here.
S.C. - Do you mean that the majority of the people here will not move away from Hamas, even though the “West” goes on with its policy designed to strangle them?
Naser Shaer: Yes. And why? Because they know that this government that the “West” is punishing is working for the interests of all the Palestinians, and not of the interest of this or that group. We do not work alone; we work with our people, for all the Palestinians. That is why people like us so much. That is why this government will not fail. It is clear for them that the authorities they elected want their weal, want to succeed, want to do everything to ease their difficulties and to force the occupation. That is why the western governments tried to divide us and to make pressure on us through money.
S.C.- The problem is that, on December 27, 2001, The Council of Ministers of the European Union put Hamas-Izz al-Din al-Qassem on the list of terrorist organizations. Then on September 6, 2003, Hamas itself was put on the list, responding to the will of Israel and the United States. If there is no hope that these latter states reconsider their position, do you think that the Europe will end up revising its position?
Naser Shaer: It is my wish. The Palestinians need a support in many fields, and the Ministry of Education I am heading is badly affected by that situation. Education is of utmost importance for our youth brutalized by the occupation and we cannot leave a vacuum.
S.C. - Some countries, like Switzerland, for instance, did not put the Hamas movement on the “terrorist” list. They are not bound to the sanctions. Can they partly fill the vacuum?
Naser Shaer: Yes, they have to know that every country is welcome. We are open to work with everybody without any condition.