A prominent Islamic scholar declared Thursday that Israel has no right to exist, during a landmark visit to the Gaza Strip in which he was feted as the “imam of the Arab Spring.”
“This land has never once been a Jewish land. Palestine is for the Arab Islamic nation,” Yusuf al-Qaradawi said.
Qaradawi arrived in Gaza late Wednesday from Qatar for a visit seen as one of the most high-profile visits to the Palestinian territory since the Islamic group Hamas violently seized control in 2007.
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh kissed Qaradawi’s right hand upon his arrival, calling him “the grand imam of modern Islam and the grand imam of the Arab Spring.” Hundreds of Hamas supporters waved at his passing convoy.
“It is a great moment for me to meet with you, the people of Palestine, and all the components of Gaza society,” Qaradawi said in a speech at a welcoming ceremony. But he also acknowledged that he was being hosted by just one part of what is a divided Palestinian society, saying that he hoped to meet with “all Palestinians” on his next visit.
The Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, which governs in the West Bank, condemned Qaradawi’s visit. It says his presence is cementing the rift between the two Palestinian factions.
“Any visit that carries a political significance, that acknowledges the legitimacy of Hamas in Gaza, is considered harmful and against the interest of the Palestinian people,” said Mahmoud Al Habash, minister of religious affairs in the West Bank.
The visit by the Egyptian-born, Qatar-based cleric is the second trip by a prominent figure to the Strip in the past several months. In October, Qatari emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani became the first major Arab politician to visit Gaza as Hamas’s guest.
Qaradawi was made famous by his popular TV show and is widely respected in the Muslim world. He has published over 100 books about Islam and Muslim law, and many consider him Islam’s leading theologist.
Over the years, Qaradawi has been at the focus of many controversies, including claims that he called for Iraqis to fight all Americans on their soil, saying “there is no difference between civilians and soldiers.”
In April, Qaradawi pulled out of an interfaith conference in Doha because of the presence of Jews, the Al-Arab newspaper in Qatar reported.