Hamas Official Lays Out Post-Election Plans

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Muhammad Abu Tir, a top politician in Hamas, talks about what the group's victory in last week's parliamentary election means for relations with Israel. Tir says the overwhelming Hamas victory in last week's elections shows the Palestinian people want a change. And he has quite a few ideas, starting with the separation of boys and girls in school and introducing a more Islamic curriculum.


This is Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

In the Gaza Strip today, dozens of Palestinian policemen took over the Palestinian Parliament building. Most of the security forces are from Fatah, which lost to Hamas in last week's Palestinian parliamentary elections. Now the victory of Hamas has brought many previously unknown figures to the Palestinian political scene, and NPR's Linda Gradstein met the man who is number two on the Hamas list to become a Cabinet minister.


Outside Mohammad Abu Tir's house in a village on the outskirts of Jerusalem is a green Hamas flag. Inside there's a lot of green as well, from Hamas flags on the wall to the living room set in green velvet.

Abu Tir is known for his bright red dyed beard. He says the prophet Mohammad also dyed his beard red with henna. Abu Tir is also known for having spent 25 years, almost half his life, in Israeli jails, for providing weapons used during the first Palestinian uprising, or intifada. Originally a Fatah supporter, he became religious in his mid-20s while in jail, and he joined Hamas after it was formed in the late 1980s. Abu Tir was released in a prisoner exchange with Israel in 1985, and later became one of the commanders of the military wing of Hamas involved in planning attacks on Israelis and buying weapons.

Abu Tir says the overwhelming Hamas victory in last week's elections shows the Palestinian people want a change. And he has quite a few ideas, starting with the separation of boys and girls in school and introducing a more Islamic curriculum.

Mr. MOHAMMAD ABU TIR (Hamas member): (Through Translator) Why do we have immorality in the West? Isn't it because of co-education? Isn't it because of the mixing? Our society is conservative, and when we separate, we bring up these children along the morals and along the modes of virtue, and in such a way we keep our society clean.

GRADSTEIN: Abu Tir, dressed in an expensive suit and tie, says Hamas will try to raise the educational level and stress respect for teachers. He says too many Palestinians are graduating from high school without being able to read and write well. He says the Islamic Sharia should be a source for Palestinian laws.

Mr. ABU TIR: (Through Translator) You have to understand that Islamic Sharia is the basis of our behavior and our laws. However, we will not impose it on anybody.

GRADSTEIN: Abu Tir says he knows Israelis are worried by the Hamas victory, but if Israel ends its occupation of Palestinian territory, he says, there's no reason to worry.

Mr. ABU TIR: (Through Translator) The Israelis are worried. Their worry stems from the oppression that they have exercised on the Palestinian people. Why don't they urge their forces to withdraw from our land? Haven't they had enough of oppressing and suppressing of our people?

GRADSTEIN: When asked if Hamas will resume its suicide bombings inside Israel, Abu Tir says Hamas has more important things on its agenda.

Mr. ABU TIR: (Through Translator) They try always to talk about suicide attacks. They don't realize that we have our priorities in the reform and change coalition. If they are afraid of us waging a whole wave, a new wave of suicide attacks, they should ask the occupation to withdraw.

GRADSTEIN: When asked what Cabinet position he would like in the new Palestinian government, Abu Tir says he is a soldier for the Palestinian cause and ready to take on whatever job he is given.

Linda Gradstein, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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