I was surfing the net searching for articles by Derek Brown and found this touching obituary. Thank you Derek.
Leader of Hamas for just 25 days, he fought for a free Palestine
- The Guardian, Monday 19 April 2004 11.48 BST
Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi, who was assassinated by the Israeli military aged 56, was leader of the militant Islamist group Hamas. He had held that post for just 25 days, since the near identical killing of the group’s founder, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin (obituary, March 23).
Both men were targeted by helicopter gunships. Israel claims that Rantissi was responsible for the deaths of hundreds, mostly civilians, who died in suicide bombings and other attacks. He himself claimed he was a political activist, unconnected with the paramilitary side of Hamas.
The distinction was fine: Rantissi never missed an opportunity to urge militant strikes against Israeli targets. Once, the former paediatric doctor said he condoned the murder of Israeli children, if that would secure the future of young Palestinians.Rantissi was born in the town of Jibna, close to Ashkelon. The town now has a Hebrew name, Yavneh: most of its Palestinian population, including the Rantissis, fled in 1948 during Israel’s confrontation with surrounding Arab states.
The young Rantissi was brought up in the refugee camps of the Gaza Strip, at first under Egyptian control and then, after 1967, under Israeli occupation.He trained as a doctor in Egypt, and later became a paediatrician working in Gaza. During his time in Egypt, Rantissi was influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood and he returned to Gaza a committed Islamist.
Throughout the 1980s he was at the forefront of tax strikes and other low-key forms of protest. He spent several years in Israeli prisons, and was a founder member of Hamas in 1987.Still, he was hardly a household name. That changed when, in late 1992, Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was provoked into rounding up some 415 Islamist militants, and depositing them on a bleak hillside in south Lebanon, close to the village of Marj al-Zuhur. The camp became a magnet for journalists, and Rantissi, with his near-perfect English, became the main spokesman for the exiles.
I interviewed him in June 1993: Rantissi was a perfect host, organising a tent for the night and answering all questions with candour.Rantissi, for all his shrill rhetoric at public meetings, was a quietly spoken man, who could give the impression of being reasonable even when saying the most outrageous things. At Marj al-Zuhur, he deftly turned a general question about compromise back into a particular one. He asked with a smile: “If Israel was established in Britain, would you accept compromise?”By the time a reluctant Rabin allowed the exiles to return in 1993, Rantissi was well known around the world. By that time too, the astonishing White House handshake between Rabin and Yasser Arafat in September of the same year had held out a tantalising vision of regional peace.
Rantissi and his comrades made it plain that they would have nothing to do with what they saw as a shameless sell-out but, cleverly, they exercised just enough restraint over the militants to prevent the Arafat regime from cracking down hard.Still, Rantissi and many others served spells in Palestinian prisons. All restraint evaporated in September 2000 when Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, sparked the second intifada by swaggering into the compound of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem under heavy armed guard. Almost 1,000 Israelis and more than 3000 Palestinians have died since then, with Hamas making a bloody contribution to the slaughter.Rantissi never stopped insisting that the whole of Palestine must and would be “liberated”. He knew what such an uncompromising line would lead to, but he refused to be intimidated.A married man with six children, he declined to use safe houses.
After the Yassin assassination, he remarked that everyone had to die sooner or later. “It’s death, whether by killing or by cancer. Nothing will change. If by Apache [helicopter] or by cardiac arrest, I prefer Apache,” he said.
· Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi, doctor and militant leader, born October 23 1947; died April 17 2004