I knew the Hamas leader Dr. Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, who was assassinated by Israel in April of 2004. Rantissi took over Hamas after its founder, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, was assassinated by the Israelis in March of that year. Rantissi was born in what is now Israel and driven from his home in 1948 during the war that established the Jewish state. He, along with more than 700,000 other Palestinian refugees, grew up in squalid camps. As a small boy he watched the Israeli army enter and occupy the camp of Khan Younis in 1956 when Israel invaded Gaza. The Israeli soldiers lined up dozens of men and boys, including some of Rantissi's relatives, and executed them. The memory of the executions marked his life. It fed his lifelong refusal to trust Israel and stoked the rage and collective humiliation that drove him into the arms of the Muslim Brotherhood and later Hamas. He was not alone. Several of those who founded the most militant Palestinian organizations witnessed the executions in Gaza carried out by Israel in 1956 that left hundreds dead.
Rantissi was a militant. But he was also brilliant. He studied pediatric medicine and genetics at Egypt's Alexandria University and graduated first in his class. He was articulate and well read and never used in my presence the crude, racist taunts attributed to him by his Israeli enemies. He reminded me that Hamas did not target Israeli civilians until Feb. 25, 1994, when Dr. Baruch Goldstein, dressed in his Israeli army uniform, entered a room in the Cave of the Patriarchs, which served as a mosque, and opened fire on Palestinian worshipers. Goldstein killed 29 unarmed people and wounded 150. Goldstein was rushed by the survivors and beaten to death.
"When Israel stops killing Palestinian civilians we will stop killing Israeli civilians," he told me. "Look at the numbers. It is we who suffer most. But it is only by striking back, by making Israel feel what we feel, that we will have any hope of protecting our people." [ for more click on the heading]