Rami Aman: The Activist who Angered Hamas by Calling for ‘Peace with Israel!’

In an interview, Rami Aman, a Palestinian peace activist, and journalist, speaks about his imprisonment, how Hamas treated him, and his views on the political landscape in Israel and Palestine.

Our conversation, conducted via email and edited only for content and flow, is below.

Thank you for this opportunity Rami. Regarding Hamas, how many times did they arrest you? While in prison, were you tortured physically and/or psychologically? Regarding your family, how did they cope, and is it true that they forced you to divorce your wife?

Hamas has arrested me many times during the past 11 years, in addition to repeated requests to meet with the security services.

But in 2019, I was detained for 17 days and arrested again in 2020 when I was held for 200 days, and I can tell you some of what happened to me the last time I was in prison, and yes, you can say I faced physical and psychological torture.

I was terrified, worried, and tired, they froze my life and arrested my body. From my first day in jail, I realized I was facing new challenges.

In prison you enter this restricted place, your hands bound behind your back, a lot of guns around you, then they cover your eyes, and you say to yourself: “hell is welcoming you.”

You start your trip there inside a big room called “the bus,” you are seated and after a few hours, someone will shave your head as a kind of oppression. I stayed in this room for 18 days, others stayed for far longer. I spent these days sitting in a small chair with my eyes covered, they allowed us to sleep 3 hours per day, and some days it was less. You can’t say anything other than accepting orders like standing up and raising one’s hands for hours on end. I couldn’t feel my arms, legs, and all of my body. As long as you breathe there is a chance to survive.

A protest in 2018 against Israel in the Gaza Strip. (Israel Defense Forces)

They moved me frequently, to meet with investigators who asked me about my activities. They claimed that I was a secret agent. I was answering all of their questions and facing their tortures. All the time I was hearing screaming around me with bad smells mixed in with fear.

My family supported me from day one. Officials allowed me to call my mother after three weeks, and my family visited me for the first time after 60 days. Friends, partners, and lawyers were in contact with me during my time in prison.

I don’t know why they forced me to divorce my wife, I really don’t.

When the judge came to me in prison and asked me whether I was being forced to divorce my wife, I told him yes, he was nervous and told me I should sign now.

This is a divorce under stress and against Islamic law.

What were the conditions of your release?

A Hamas military court sentenced me to a year in prison but decided to halt the implementation of the sentence and released me. The day before my release they pushed my wife to move to Cairo to be with her family.

How would you describe the political and social situation in Gaza today under Hamas?

Gaza, before Hamas’s victory in the elections, was suffering from bloody rounds of an internal conflict and direct Israeli attacks on Palestinian Authority centers and associations, and weapons became available to everyone in Gaza at that time.

People found in Hamas a model that could face the corruption of some individuals from the Palestinian Authority in Gaza and confront Israel, which increased their targeting of leaders and places in Gaza before the elections.

After the elections, Fatah and Hamas did not agree. Rather, I can say that the first siege over Hamas made by Fatah, they didn’t recognize their victory and didn’t respect that, even though the Palestinian president assigned them to form a government, in addition to the Israeli siege that occurred on the Gaza Strip after Hamas’ victory.

A Palestinian stands on top of what was once his house in Gaza. (Marius Arnesen)

Hamas took the opportunity and ruled the Gaza Strip and became more powerful and tried to develop government work and succeeded in that, but it did not succeed in ruling the Gaza Strip alone and did not find a local partner in this, and every person who does not belong to Hamas has suffered. Poverty rates have reached their highest levels. Gaza is now suffering from real disasters due to Palestinian division, the Israeli blockade, and international neglect.

At the beginning of Hamas’ control over Gaza, they tried a lot to Islamize the society through their perspectives. They spent years trying to accomplish that, but they failed. We are a Muslim community, but we are also Christians and Jews.

I think if Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, would visit Gaza, everything would be improved, in my opinion. It is one of his duties towards his people.

Why did you call for peace with Israel? What kind of relationship do you accept with Israel?

I want peace with everyone, we in Gaza deserve all rights like everyone else, I want my internal peace first.

I live in Gaza. Hamas controls Gaza and Israel still occupies the sea, sky, and borders, I can’t travel or use my boat to visit elsewhere because of the Israeli military. Yes, I have problems with Hamas, and I have problems with Israel when they fire, target, or kill Palestinians. Thousands of civilians have been killed due to the Israeli army in the last 20 years and countless injured. I miss a lot of my friends, maybe I will be the next victim. This is painful.

I have very good relations with everyone. I founded the group called the Gaza Youth Committee which includes more than 150 members inside and outside of Gaza, I want to build sessions between people and let them understand and respect each other. Everyone has a right to live in peace with full rights.

I have relations with different people not just in the Israeli community but everywhere and I try to build bridges between people all over the world.

Do you consider Israel a democracy?

Successive Israeli governments are right-wing and they created the Palestinian right-wing as well. Democracy exists, but there is no democracy for those who want to practice it, but there is still a democracy.

However, some Israelis are looking for a change.

What do you think about the Arab parties in the Israeli Knesset? Do they have the power and influence to make an impact?

Arabs living in Israel are concerned about Palestinian issues in the Occupied Territories but not primarily. There is a big gap between the Arab parties in the Knesset. They are busy fighting and wasting time instead of making a real impact.

Do you think reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas is possible?

No, I don’t think so, it’s not possible. We need to find a Palestinian generation working to achieve Palestinian reconciliation. Fatah and Hamas need a partner to help them reconcile their differences.

If Hamas and Fatah decided to work towards reconciliation this would only help the Palestinians.

To what extent do you think it is possible for Hamas to win again in Gaza? How popular is Hamas with the Palestinians?

Hamas will win again in Gaza, no, absolutely. Hamas has made a lot of mistakes in Gaza, but they still have their supporters, but they will never catch the same ratio from 2006. I don’t know if the Palestinians in the West Bank will vote for them, but I understand that Hamas has their audience and supporters there.

The majority of the Palestinians are independent and looking for new nominations, but Hamas has remained in power so far due to structural corruption within Fatah.

How do you assess Iran’s role in the Palestinian issue? Do you think that one-day peace will be possible between Iran and Israel?

It depends on [Iran’s] vision for the Middle East, not on what the Palestinians really need.

Peace is always possible, we just need some seeds everywhere and we can find peace, there are a lot of voices talking about that but maybe they need to put some plans in place.

We are witnessing reconciliation between Arab governments and Israel. Do you think that this peace will be long-lasting? Was this peace merely an Arab concession to Trump or a strategic move with long-term goals?

Israel was smart and the Trump administration guided Arab governments to sign agreements, but in my opinion, the long-term benefits of these agreements will be fleeting if we are only talking about photo-ops between Arabs and Israelis. The situation on the ground must change for the Palestinians.

Is there anything you would like to add?

I spent my detention in two prisons, and I had prisoners with me pending political, intellectual, religious, and armed cases.

There are those who are guilty and there are those around whom suspicions revolve, but for the interrogators, both of them are guilty so as not to prove the opposite, and therefore they sometimes practice physical, psychological, and moral torture with detainees while I was there.

In prison, everything is forbidden, there are no mirrors, watches, and cigarette lighters, you do not see yourself and are not allowed to ask about the date. I spent the first 3 weeks blindfolded and they only let me shower once.

After that, I spent a month moving between small cells in the prison, and I met prisoners, and I used to talk with them and try to make them stronger, and smokers like me are allowed to smoke 3 times a day.

In this prison, you do not see the interrogators, when they sit with you, your eyes are covered by black glasses or a piece of cloth, they do not allow you to see them, but I certainly felt them all as if I was watching them, and at the same time there were those who were trying to help me and bring me food and cigarettes.

I did not have much contact with the prisoners, but I certainly left a good impression on all of them. I am sure of that. There are prisoners who called and visited me after they were released from prison.

I was broken, tired, and exhausted, my body was hurting and my mind was always busy with my mother, my father, my sisters, my brothers, my nephews, my aunts, my friends, and my wife, too.

When I was in the prison, I believed that my friends around the world were making a great effort to get me free.

I spent this period of my detention remembering all of them and the situations that brought me together with them, and I know their love and the extent of their support, including Ghadeer, Roni, Gershon, Carah, Jeff, Huda, Maram, John, Guy, Ruth, Kovi, Ramez, Muhammad, Lara, Jehad, Julia, Karly, Steven, Ken, Harlan, Khalil, Dina, Ephraim, and others.

They made great efforts and communicated with all representatives of the world. More than 70 organizations submitted a statement from within the United Nations calling on Hamas to release me, and this was 165 days after my arrest.

I knew that I was not alone and this was what always motivated me and gave me the courage to face any difficult situation.

Then, at the beginning of August, I was transferred to another prison, and my file was transferred to a military court, and my trial is according to the laws of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which Hamas does not recognize.

This prison is considered one of the central prisons in the Gaza and it includes political detainees, drug dealers, criminals, and we were allowed to watch TV and make many calls.

I did not want to learn anything that made me feel that I was imprisoned. I used to follow sports and political news, watch movies and series and laugh a lot when I watch a movie whose story revolves around escaping from prisons, and I always woke up early and read the Qur’an Al-Karim, many books and thinking about what to come.

I believed that I would go out at any moment and I had to prepare for that. I used to count my days and write my diaries. Sometimes I felt that I was an actor in one of the American films that I watched as a teenager about torture during World War II.

I used to tell myself that I was making a movie, and once again I told myself that my plane had fallen in an unknown place and that I was waiting for rescuers and I had to live temporarily with this event until they arrived by helicopter and save me.