It's always interesting to see how long it takes Mahmoud Zahar to pop up as the bloodthirsty voice of Hamas whenever there is a conflict with Israel.
Yesterday, according to The Times, in "a televised broadcast recorded at a secret location" (wonder why?) Zahar was at it again, promising that Hamas would kill Jews abroad in revenge for the attacks on Gaza.
Zahar, it is easy to forget, is a doctor, whose first mission ought to be the saving of life rather than pledging to obliterate Jews. But ever since meeting this deeply unpleasant specimen in 1992, I have wondered how Zahar squares his obligation to the Hippocratic oath with his vengeful statements of hatred.
I went to see Zahar in his home in Gaza, one of the few homes with his own private mosque in the courtyard. I was with another journalist, also Jewish, a woman who wrote for a Dutch evening newspaper. She was blonde and as apparently Aryan as I was brunette and...
Our Palestinian fixer had warned us that we had to dress appropriately to speak to a devout Muslim: long sleeves, long skirts, heads swathed in scarves, a dress code with which we were happy to oblige. Mohammed, our fixer, was clearly nervous and uncomfortable around Zahar; it had taken him weeks to persuade Zahar to talk to us and he repeatedly warned me, in particular, not to divulge what newspaper I worked for. Zahar, however, was relaxed and calm; he wanted to lecture us, which he did, at length, about Hamas's superior morality in the Gaza Strip. Eventually, much to the discomfort of
Mohammed the fixer (who was Fatah through and through), I got fed up and began to argue with him. Mohammed sank lower and lower in his chair while Zahar and I exchanged debating points.
Finally, our audience was over. My colleague and I went outside the courtyard and sat in the car, but Mohammed was called back. With a look of pure terror on his face, he returned to the house to speak to Zahar. He came out, his face a rictus. Zahar, he said, despite my "lucky" inability to provide him with a business card, had figured out who I was. "He says he can smell the Jews."