Nizzar Rayyan, the Hamas leader who was killed, along with two of his wives and several of his children, in an Israeli bombing raid earlier this week, was one of the more bellicose Hamas leaders I have known. I saw him last in Gaza two years ago, at a mosque in the Jabalya Refugee Camp, where I spent quite a lot of time (my book Prisoners explains why).
was one of the more Islamically-learned Hamas leaders I've met (Sheikh
Ahmed Yassin was learned as well, I think, but he was very hard to
understand; Abdel Aziz Rantisi, who was the least pleasant of all the
Hamas leaders I've known, was not very learned at all). In particular,
Rayyan was interested in the hadith, the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, with a special interest in hadith
that painted Jews in a negative light. Rayyan and I discussed the
writing of Ibn Taymiyya, the Muslim scholar who lived seven hundred
years ago, and who is the intellectual forefather of Sunni radicalism
today (it was Ibn Taymiyya who elevated jihad to a kind-of sixth pillar
of Islam). Like Ibn Taymiyya, Rayyan was preoccupied with Muslim
apostasy. He never quite said so, but I could sense that he thought of
Abu Mazen and the other leaders of the Palestinian Authority as
traitors not only to the cause of Palestine, but to Islam itself. "You
cannot be loyal to Allah and to the CIA at the same time," he said of
his P.A. enemies.
There are things I didn't know about Rayyan, such as that he had four wives - a fact that tells you something about the culture of Hamas - but I knew that he was sincere in his devotion to the cause of Israel's annhilation. The question I wrestle with constantly is whether Hamas is truly, theologically implacable. That is to say, whether the organization can remain true to its understanding of Islamic law and God's word and yet enter into a long-term non-aggression treaty with Israel. I tend to think not, though I've noticed over the years a certain plasticity of belief among some Hamas ideologues. Also, this is the Middle East, so anything is possible.
There was no flexibility with Rayyan. This is what he said when I asked him if he could envision a 50-year hudna (or cease-fire) with Israel: "The only reason to have a hudna is to prepare yourself for the final battle. We don't need 50 years to prepare ourselves for the final battle with Israel." There is no chance, he said, that true Islam would ever allow a Jewish state to survive in the Muslim Middle East. "Israel is an impossibility. It is an offense against God."